Friday, October 20, 2006

Here's how media bias works

BA jet seconds from disaster in US 'near collision' | the Daily Mail: "A packed British Airways jet was just seconds from disaster after plummeting out of the sky in a dramatic near miss over America, it has emerged.

BA flight 2166 carrying 175 terrified passengers, three pilots and 11 crew plunged 600 feet in a bid to avoid collision with another plane above it."

This is actually a lovely example because, for a change, it's not particularly political. But observe the phrasing: "plummeting out of the sky"; "174 terrified passengers"; "plunged 600 feet."

Sounds pretty scary, huh? But let's think about what the story actually says: the BA plane had been told to proceed from 16,000 feet to 20,000 when TCAS --- the collision avoidance system --- told the pilots it had detected a possible collision and told them to descend. The plane then descended --- "plummeted" --- from 16,000 feet to 15,400 feet. It was an unexpected maneuver, and four of the crew were knocked off their feet, and got bruised up. The person they interviewed said it "felt like turbulance."

Now, as a sometime pilot and damn near professional air traveler, here's how I'd describe it: "We were climbing out of Orlando when the pilot surprised us by descending suddenly for a couple of seconds. I thought it was just a bit of clear air turbulance, but the pilot said he had to maneuver to avoid another plane. A little exciting, and I guess a couple of flight attendants got knock off their feet, but we went on to London. Sort of exciting at the time, but no big deal."

What's the difference? The "colorful" verbs. "Plummeted from the sky" --- about 4 percent of its actual altitude. "Seconds from disaster" --- just like you're seconds from disaster when you have to make a sudden stop in traffic.

It's not the maneuver than changedc: it's the words. "Plummeted from the sky" is illusion. It's not false ... but it's not very much the truth either.


Unknown said...

I sometimes wonder if these people will run out of adjectives.

Today I made the mistake of turning on my car radio when ABC news was coming on and they were reporting on the Amara incident in Iraq.

They were hysterical. Iraq is spiralling out of control. The city is under the control of the militias and the coaltion is helpless, all is lost, It is ruin, untter and complete chaos and...and.... then it was over. Just like that.

Oh yes and the DOW started the day over 12,000 but the reporter said we were not out of the dark yet.

It was so stupid. I thought good God man get a grip.

A bomb neve blows up in Baghdad, it always rocks it. Have you noticed that?

chuck said...

That's not media bias. That's media stupidity. No doubt some think it sells even as the media plummets in public esteem while trying to avoid financial disaster.

It was so stupid. I thought good God man get a grip.

We're numb, I tell you, numb!

Unknown said...


Yes, it is in one ear and out the other.

Charlie Martin said...

No, I think it's both media bias and a demonstration of the mechanics of how it works. "Bias", in that they are biased toward turning things into catastrophes; a demonstration because it shows how things can be manipulated, especially for an ignorant audience.