Biased USA Today Article Proves Again
That Traditional Media Hasn't a Clue

10:43 AM

This week's hatchet job on general aviation by USA Today again showed everyone in the GA community how misinformed the traditional media can be. This article goes far beyond the scope of "reporting" and is a classic case of a media outlet bowing at the feet of a large lobbying group. If you wish to read the industry response to this charade of an article, AOPA, NBAA and EAA have their replies now online.

Years ago when I was in the traditional media, we were taught to investigate both sides of an issue, track down reliable sources for each argument, verify the information those sources provided, and report a story as an unbiased third party. Any journalist who has been in this game for a while knows that what is left out of a story is as powerful as what is put in. And, by leaving out key facts that would have put into question the very nature of the article, a writer is as guilty as if they had made the whole thing up out of thin air.

First, let's look at what AOPA had to say about the piece:
“The story is completely devoid of journalistic balance that fails to acknowledge the millions of Americans who benefit from the nation's 5,200 general aviation airports every day,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. AOPA’s media relations staff learned of the story a week before it was published and had a lengthy conversation with the USA Today reporter, but was not included in the article."
So the reporter had facts to dispute his own reporting, but CHOSE to omit them. Instead, USA Today's scribe wrote this:
"In the first full accounting of the 28-year-old Airport Improvement Program, USA TODAY found that Congress has directed $15 billion to general-aviation airports, which typically are tucked on country roads and industrial byways."
Wow, $15 billion is being squandered so that fatcat CEOs can land at ghost town little airports "tucked on country roads" far from metro areas. A decade ago, we might have been set back on our heels by a number like $15 billion, but in today's world, that is chump change you can find under the sofa cushion. Had the USA Today reporter been reading the Miami Herald, he would have found a far more egregious example of government waste to report:
"The [government agencies] have expanded criminal ''strike forces'' that existed under the Bush administration, most recently to Detroit, but also have committed about half a billion dollars to fraud prevention efforts this year. They are working on sharing suspicious billing information with Medicare -- an agency notorious for paying claims fast without verifying them -- to help stop fraud and waste. Experts estimate the huge entitlement program loses at least $60 billion to fraud every year, with Miami-Dade County at the center of the national crisis."
When we delve into the numbers quoted in the USA Today piece, it becomes to make the case that this story was designed solely to further an agenda:
The USA Today article said payments for improvements at GA airports are "the result of an obscure federal program that raises billions of dollars a year through taxes on every airplane ticket sold in the United States. The taxes can add up to 15% to the cost of a flight — or about $29 to a $200 round-trip ticket." But what was left out was that according to AOPA, the Airport Improvement Program or AIP is also funded by fuel taxes that we GA users pay. And in 2007, AOPA said FAA distributed $3.34 billion in airport improvement program funds to 2,610 airports. Of that amount, 389 airline airports divvied up $2,199,335,046 while 1,121 GA airports shared $831,717,227.
So how does USA Today's reporter get from $3.34 billion in 2007 to "Congress has directed $15 billion to general-aviation airports..."? You get there by omitting the fact that the $15 billion number quoted in the story was cumulative over several years - maybe as many as 28 - a key point carelessly not mentioned. How handy was that?

As soon as this story was published, USA Today completely alienated every reader they had in a sector that includes GA and related businesses, reported by AOPA to be at least 1.3 million workers. If they did have any advertisers that were GA related, by running this regrettable piece, they have assured this revenue to be gone forever. Poof. And, of the 600,000+ licensed aviators in the USA, it's guaranteed that I'm not the only one who will never pick up a copy of this rag ever again.

Finally, what is troubling to me as a big fan of the newspaper industry is this blatant disregard for editorial accuracy. Today, USA Today lost the aviation people, as if we were trash being kicked to the curb. Tomorrow, what sector of their readership will they lose because of yet another biased piece?

This all begs the big question: If this kind of fabrication orgy is the new standard in journalistic excellence at USA Today, how long will it take before they have alienated enough readers and advertisers to send their bean counters over the edge? Like the aviation industry they have now lost forever, when enough business sectors have had enough, a once mighty national news experiment will be reduced to...

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