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License to Learn: Media mania

‘I’ll get back to you’

My approval/disapproval relationship (mostly disapproval) with the news-entertainment industry began in 1978, when a TV news anchor described how a collision occurred between a Boeing 727 and a Cessna 172 over San Diego.

Rod MachadoMy approval/disapproval relationship (mostly disapproval) with the news-entertainment industry began in 1978, when a TV news anchor described how a collision occurred between a Boeing 727 and a Cessna 172 over San Diego. She picked up a classic instrument hood with a plastic headband sporting several small holes for manual size adjustment and placed the device backward on her head, with the headband covering her eyes. Then she suggested that the pilot of the Cessna 172 collided with the Boeing 727 because he couldn’t see very well through the headband’s tiny holes. Oy vey!

Excuse me, Ms. Headband Lady, the fellow wearing the hood wasn’t the only pilot on board, and he wasn’t peeping through holes, either. There was a flight instructor in the right seat who wasn’t wearing a hood (especially the way you’re wearing it). Furthermore, the Boeing 727 hit the Cessna 172, not vice versa.

Of course, no one would know who hit whom had they read a Los Angeles Times piece about the collision. The Times actually published a graphic showing the Cessna 172 overtaking and slamming into the Boeing 727’s right wing. Hmmm, I don’t believe I’ve ever found a power setting in a 172 that would allow that to happen.

More recently, what about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? If you happened to tune in to CNN, you might have heard a prominent news anchor ask former DOT Inspector General Mary Schiavo, “Is it preposterous to think that a black hole caused 370 to go missing?” Really? Doesn’t this anchor know that the TV show Lost was science fiction and not a PBS documentary?

After running out of every conceivable guest expert—including anyone who had ever peeped at an airplane through small plastic holes—a prominent news channel called me. They wanted commentary on the flight simulator that the captain of Malaysia 370 kept at home. What they really wanted was commentary on how this supposedly nefarious device could be used to practice hijacking an airliner. I stated my strict terms for the interview and heard the caller say, “I’ll get back to you.” Click! Never heard a peep from him again. Perhaps he stepped into a black hole?

It’s human nature that we often innocently claim knowledge where little exists by overextrapolating our own experience. Reporters, journalists, and TV anchors might honestly believe they know a lot about how airliners fly because they sit inside them while they’re in motion. When discussing last year’s Asiana 214 crash at San Francisco, one (nonpilot) TV anchor suggested that he knows how dangerous it can be to land at San Francisco without the use of a glideslope because he’s landed there many times—in an airliner.

Really? Sitting in first class while sipping the last remnants of his prelanding appletini does not lead me to believe that our newsman knows anything about flying an airliner. It turns out that the landing runway for Asiana 214 had an operable visual approach slope indicator (VASI). Our anchor didn’t mention that. Perhaps he didn’t know what type of flowers the VASI held.

Of course, there are many TV anchors and news reporters who do an outstanding job, and AOPA has honored a number of them over the years. Either they are pilots and/or they’re smart enough to ask good questions while offering accurate and unbiased reporting. The late Hal Fishman of KTLA in Los Angeles was one of these individuals. He was a pilot and he was smart. We need more folks just like him in the media.

Make no mistake; I want the media to report accurately on aviation. That’s why I will talk to reporters, albeit reluctantly. When I do, I always feel as if I’m in the African bush wearing fresh porterhouse-steak slippers. I feel the danger of misrepresentation lurking behind every camera, every mic, and every notepad. Call me paranoid, but I always make a personal recording of these interviews just in case the truth gets twisted or the facts end up on the cutting-room floor. Skeptical of the media? Me? Well, my Kalahari slippers come in three variations: prime, choice, and select.

Despite all that, the news media still surprise me. A while back, I received a call asking if I wanted to participate in an aviation reality show. I replied that I was already involved in an aviation reality show. He asked about the name of the show and when was it on. I replied, “It’s on now, and it’s called the Rod Machado Does Aviation Stuff Show and you’re today’s guest star.”

The last thing I heard was, “I’ll get back to you.” Click!

Rod Machado’s newest book is the How to Fly an Airplane Handbook.


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