Friday, October 13, 2006

Corey Lidle and the Fearmongers

It is inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.
-H.L. Mencken

The Corey Lidle crash in NYC had all the makings of a perfect media storm. It happened in the news capital of the nation. It happened near the site of the 9/11 attacks and was superficially similar. One of the deceased was at least semi-"famous." Finally, the crash involved a light aircraft, of which few media people - or their audience - seem to know much about. So a lot more has been made of this crash than, say, a non-celebrity pilot plowing into an apartment building in Santa Monica.

The media coverage predictably has unleashed an ignorant backlash from both politicians and the editorial pages. New York Rep. Anthony Weiner compared the East and Hudson River VFR corridors to "the Wild West"; Senator Chuck Schumer delivered this little gem of idiocy: “A smart terrorist could load up a small, little plane with biological, chemical or even nuclear material and fly up the Hudson or East rivers, no questions asked." Republican NY Governor George Pataki got in on the act by declaring that the FAA “needs to take a much tougher line” on GA flights over NYC. Mayor Bloomberg, himself a pilot, seemed to the sole voice of reason: “We have very few accidents for an awful lot of traffic. Every time you have an automobile accident, you’re not going to go and close the streets or prohibit people from driving.”

Potentially more harmful than blustering politicians was a woefully ignorant editorial from USAToday. Some choice quotes:
"The incident raises security concerns about the 220,000 small planes in the USA and the 5,500 airports that serve them. While 9/11 prompted a crackdown on commercial flying, many of the vulnerabilities of small planes have never been addressed."

"Small planes fly dangerously close to skyscrapers housing millions of residents and workers."

"The public saw Wednesday that a small aircraft crashing into a high-rise causes far less damage than a jetliner. But should a terrorist get hold of a plane and fill it with explosives or a biological weapon, the public also saw how little there is to stop him from flying into such New York icons as the United Nations headquarters and the Statute of Liberty, both of which Lidle flew past."
If you scroll down to the comments section, USAToday's readers quickly took them to the woodshed, as did Phil Boyer in an "opposing view" editorial. Anybody with a modicum of aviation knowledge would've known the facts that Boyer and others did. It wouldn't be hard for a non-pilot who's interested in the truth to get those facts. So, why didn't the politicians or the USAToday editorial staff do so? Is it possible that needless fearmongering works to their advantage? Every politician wants his constituents to see him as their "protector." This is one of those rare opportunities. The news media has long presented itself as concerned about their audience's well-being, the better to use scare tactics to gain ratings.

This concept extends well outside aviation, and it is a real threat to the survival of any democracy. Many of the founding fathers feared that democracy would lead to illogical mob rule as a result of people's own ignorance and bias. This fear resulted in the strong system of checks and balances we have today; but even this system cannot withstand the erosion of our rights if those in public office and the media use tragedies for their own advantage by magnifying the threat.


MyFlightBlog said...

Great post! I know all pilots must have felt ill the other day watching the coverage.

Anonymous said...


I just posted on my blog how I'd just spent the last few hours reading every single post on yours! Great blog, kudos, keep it up, etc.

As a "stunted" student pilot, perpetually stuck at 40 hours for the past 10 years (long story), it always grinds my gears (with apologies to Peter Griffin) when I hear the pundits, politicians, (and worse) political pundits vomit whatever little knowledge of aviation they possess to scare even more people about general aviation.

It's sickening, truly sickening.

Ted "Mr. Las Vegas" Newkirk said...

If a group want so use chemical or biological weapons, I'd guess that a rented Ryder moving truck would be a lot easer way to move them around and park them where needed than running a plane into a building.

The attach on GA is unfortunate, especially since becoming a GA pilot takes a lot of time, money, and dedication.

I very much agree with this not making half as much news if it happened in Des Moines (or as noted, Santa Monica). I continue to be amused at how those in the Eastern time zone have this notion that the entire earth revolved around New York City.

While my following comment are by no means a way to diminish the loss or magnitude of 9/11, if the 9/11 hijackers had flown into a tall building in Portland, Kansas City, Birmingham or similar, the story wouldn't have had nearly the impact it did.

Perhaps the national media needs to give us a break and realize that most of their viewers don't live in New York and New York events don't quite have the same impact to the rest of us. I mean, I was up very late and watching a major cable news show based out of New York (one that I otherwise enjoy), and they were showing some wreck on the Long Island Expressway and the affect if was having on traffic. Which probably mattered to less than .01% of their viewers.

Bottom line: Feel very bad about Lidle, but as Sam noted, the story was blown out of proportion because it happened in New York City.

Sam said...

Ted -

There's pretty good evidence that the WTC was chosen as a jihadist target (both in '93 and '00) because it was in NYC, the better for extensive live media coverage to increase the attack's impact. A surprising number of the top al-Qaeda people have spent significant time in the West, and they've picked up a few ideas on how to use our culture against us.

Ron said...

I am surprised Las Vegas hasn't been a target yet. Or maybe it has. It certainly would represent everything an Islamic terrorist would want to destroy.

I was just there this past week and my girlfriend was wondering aloud about the security in casinos. I have a feeling that massive security is actually present in Las Vegas, it's just cleverly hidden along with the rest of the Vegas casino secuity apparatus.


Sam said...

Las Vegas would certainly represent western decadence, but not western domination. The "decadence of the west" is a useful thing for recruiting fervent young jihadists but the top Islamist leaders are more concerned about countering western political, economic, and military power, as these are all the greatest barriers to their stated goal of establishing a single theocratic state across the Islamic world. In this context, the targets chosen on 9/11 were quite logical: powerful symbols of American economic and military might.