Accuracy in Media

Over the weekend, the media engaged in a concerted effort to suggest that any mention that the cancellation of 1,800 Southwest Airlines flights last week was due to President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 mandates are part of a right-wing conspiracy theory founded on a few online rumors. 

But despite protestations from media like BuzzFeed News, which contends that union denials about a Southwest pilot work stoppage prove that there was no “sick out” by its pilots, the union denials only prove that the union understands that a work slowdown, or “sick out” would be illegal under the contract and subject both the union and union leadership to possible heavy financial penalties for losses by the airlines. 

And normally such paradoxes would intrigue the press and force them to ask more questions. But where COVID-19 is concerned, there is no room for self-doubt or questions.  

“Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which represents nearly 10,000 pilots, pushed back repeatedly against reports that pilots protesting the vaccine mandate were behind the massive number of cancellations,” said the curiously incurious BuzzFeed about union denials. 

Likewise, Politifact also suggested that unions denials prove that there was no “sick out” by union pilots. 

“I would not accept union denials on the face of it,” said Michael LeRoy, a labor law expert and professor at the University of Illinois. 

While LeRoy said he had no idea if there was a work stoppage behind the cancellations, he also said he’s seen cases where work stoppages like this were organized either by grassroots workers or by union officials “with a wink and a nod.” 

In either event, it’s not something that the union would admit to, as it could incur financial culpability, LeRoy said.   

In 1999, for example, a federal judge ordered pilots to pay American Airlines $46 million for a “sick out,” more than the value of the union’s assets of $38 million.  

So while the union’s statement does not prove that a work stoppage was behind the flight cancellations, it’s hardly proof that a work stoppage didn’t occur. 

And normally, such paradoxes would intrigue the press and force them to ask more questions. But where COVID-19 is concerned, there is no room for self-doubt or questions.  

In part, one reason why the idea that COVID mandates were behind the flights being canceled was because it was clear early on that someone was lying about something in regard to the cancellations.  

Southwest blamed the air traffic controllers and the weather, which was denied by the air traffic controllers and the weathermen. 

“No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday,” the FAA said according to NBC News. “Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place. Please contact the airlines for details about current flight schedules.”

Crews “out of place” would imply staffing problems by the airline, not by air traffic controllers. 

And normally, such paradoxes would intrigue the press and force them to ask more questions. But where COVID-19 is concerned there is no room for self-doubt or questions.  

Whatever the case may be, don’t count on the curiously incurious press to carry the burden of finding the truth about what happened. 

This is COVID-19, after all. And the Biden administration is failing. It’s time to rally the water bearers. 




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