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Mainstream Media FAIL with Overhyped Coverage of Control Tower Kids

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The week of February 15 was a vacation week for many New York City school children. So on Tuesday and Wednesday, two city elementary school students went to work with their Dad. They saw how their father makes his living and, under Dad's watchful eye, even got to talk to some of his customers.

That would be a great story of parent-child togetherness, hardly worth a second glance at a busy national news desk unless the editor wanted to close with a short human-interest piece.

But there was one hitch: Dad was an air-traffic controller at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. And his customers were pilots in the cockpits of outbound commercial jets. That changed everything.

Air traffic controller Glenn Duffy, 48, had taken his nine-year-old twins to work on two separate days that week, and on each day let the child transmit a few routine instructions to departing flights. The incident came to the media's attention thanks to a person listening to control tower conversations on

And what exactly did these kids say? Here's a recap of one child's calls on February 17th:

Around 5:50 PM "AirMex 403 cleared for takeoff."
A few minutes later "AirMex 403 contact departure " adios!"

Around 6:57 PM "JetBlue 195 contact departure " adios amigo!"

Around 7:31 PM "JetBlue 171 cleared for takeoff."
A few minutes later "JetBlue 171 contact departure."

That's it: five routine calls, under supervision, in an hour an forty-five minutes. The pilots certainly seemed to enjoy talking to their young interlocutors: "Awesome job!" one told a youngster. "Adios, amigo," said another. One pilot told the dad, "I wish I could bring my kids to work!"

It was all innocuous enough until the mainstream media got hold of the story and fashioned it into an event worthy of international news headlines 1,792 headlines, to be exact. That took some doing and the media did it.

"JFK Tower Allowed Kids to Direct Air Traffic" and "Double Trouble: Two Children Took to JFK Controls" blared MSNBC on March 3rd, two weeks after the fact. "Child In Air Traffic Control Tower "Not Acceptable'" CNN bawled the same day.

CNN mashed the transmissions into a 90-second report, commingled them, and even sprinkled in a few conversations in which no child was involved, to make it sound like the kids were juggling multiple flights on several runways almost simultaneously.

"Countdown" stand-in Lawrence O'Donnell filed a breathless 2-minute report on the incident, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling the incident "outrageous." LaHood bloviated that it showed a "total disregard for the safety of the people on the airplane."

One commentator asked gravely, "What if the pilot did not understand because it was a child's voice?" She must think commercial airline pilots are automatons or dolts. Well, Madame, what would you do if you did not understand, "Cleared for takeoff"? You would not take off!

From the distorted, misleading, and hyperbolic coverage in the mainstream media, one might have thought Kennedy Airport had been overrun by a passel of pint-sized jihadists bent on taking down the US transportation system.

(I could only imagine what might come next: "Reached at their new secure locations at Guantanamo, the kids said they originally intended to take down the US financial system, but a passel of pin-striped jihadists on Wall Street beat them to it!")

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Rick Wise is an industrial psychologist and retired management consultant. For 15 years, he was managing director of ValueNet International, Inc. Before starting ValueNet, Rick was director, corporate training and, later, director, corporate (more...)
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Like it or not - it was unprofessional conduct on ... by Doc "Old Codger" McCoy on Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 at 9:45:42 AM
Thanks for this, Codger. We agree that it was inad... by Richard Wise on Sunday, Mar 7, 2010 at 6:22:27 AM
Every Air Traffic Control Facility regardless of t... by James Hadstate on Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 at 12:42:10 PM
A kid riding in a jump seat is no problem. A kid s... by Doc "Old Codger" McCoy on Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 at 10:25:56 PM
... but child-rearing was not the subject of the a... by Richard Wise on Sunday, Mar 7, 2010 at 8:00:37 AM
Instead of reporting on real news, they bark over ... by Starla Immak on Saturday, Mar 6, 2010 at 11:37:59 PM
Yes, the Chinese spoil their kids. No doubt about ... by Doc "Old Codger" McCoy on Sunday, Mar 7, 2010 at 7:47:14 AM