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Wed, Mar 20, 2013

Aero-Ignorance 101: ABC News' 'Many Small Plane Crashes...' Story

Riddled With Error, ABC Story Damages GA In A Number of Ways

Aero-News/Analysis/Opinion By James R. Campbell, ANN CEO/Editor-In-Chief

Ya gotta pity Rich Stowell right now... after being approached by a National news network some months ago to work with them on a story about people with interesting occupations, he had little idea as to how that effort was destined to turn out as poorly as recent data suggests.

Stowell, a leading expert in the teaching of unusual attitudes, stalls and spin training, took an ABC news reporter "up for a spin" several months ago with the best of intentions... only to see the story finally hit the airwaves months later, riddled with error and slanted to take advantage of the sensationalism surrounding a spate of tragic accidents that have little in common with each other and are still WAY too recent to even attempt to dissect their respective causes.

The TV story (see screen grabs from ABC News above/below) was poorly edited and definitely re-edited (from what was originally espoused and intended) together to use the recent accidents to make it seem more responsive to these tragedies... even though the original interview did not (and could not) have anything to do with the editorial slant influenced by the gore of recent events... but then again, folks, if it bleeds, it leads... right?

Even sadder than the video pieces, were the written stories published all over the world, based on the interviews they conducted with Stowell... stories that were riddled with error and somewhat intellectually dishonest in that the interview data was not meant to respond to accidents and circumstances that hadn't even happened yet -- and wouldn't happen... for months.

The stories, syndicated in a number of markets and credited to Jim Avila (allegedly, a pilot) and Serena Marshall, shocked us (and a number of others commenting on the story, online, as well) with a number of mistakes, errors and some dangerous misinformation.

Phrases like "Death spiral" and "spin dives" were used while  statements that discussed, "barrel rolls caused by high wind or turbulence" or "Because when an airplane stalls, it doesn't have enough speed to fly..." were pretty tough to read without wincing and being accompanied by a little bit of editorial nausea. Somewhere, somehow, there is a (so-called) editor that needs to be disciplined for letting such grievous errors see the light of day.

And then of course were the errors that seemed designed to alarm the public about the dangers of all these airplanes that might be falling from the sky because, after all, "More private pilots are in the air now than ever..." (Don't we wish!). Other statements like, "...small planes average five accidents per day," fail to explain that most of those accidents are survivable, and often do not involve serious injury.

Pilots, when faced with a microphone and/or a TV camera have two choices... one is to try their best to explain a complex subject like aviation to news-folks with hopes that they'll take the time to get it right... and other is to refuse to cooperate because so many members of the general media not only don't get it right, but do awful and damaging stories when they subsequently get it (so) wrong. Right now, Rich Stowell... a great pilot, and a nice guy, is probably rethinking whether he'll ever cooperate with the general media again, because this outing was a disaster for all concerned... even though Rich did his best to portray  aviation in an honest and truthful light and was let down by a few 'journalists' who apparently could not be bothered to get their facts straight... and as a result, GA is the loser... again.

We deserve better than this... and as a member of the media who has watched standards decline rapidly in the last few years, I'm not expecting to see much change in our fortunes. I hate to say it... but as it stands, most pilots are better off avoiding the general media when asked to participate in the making of this kind of "news." When the best efforts of a pro like Stowell can't cut through the fog of today's 'reporting,' most of the rest of us can't expect much better.

Flyer Beware...

FMI: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/plane-crashes-secrets-staying-safe-avoiding-accidents-18760718, http://news.yahoo.com/many-small-plane-crashes-avoidable-better-pilot-training-010506521--abc-news-topstories.html, http://abcnews.go.com/US/small-plane-crashes-avoidable-pilot-training-ntsb/story?id=18760176

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