ABC airing angers airline pilots
News magazine plays traffic-control tape of hijacked plane
By Dan Trigoboff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/25/2001 7:00:00 PM
ABC was criticized by a pilots group last week for airing a tape of pilots' final moments on United Flight 93, which was hijacked and crashed in Pennsylvania Sept. 11.
The head of the Air Line Pilots Association said the group's members were "appalled and outraged" by ABC's airing of "pilots' voices and the sounds of their death struggles" from the cockpit of United Flight 93.
ABC aired the tape on Primetime Thursday, the network said, after determining that the tape was part of the historical record of an act of war against the U.S. The plan from the outset was to restrict the tape's use in the future, the network said.
Capt. Duane Woerth, president of ALPA, acknowledged that his group has no legal claims but called the broadcast "repugnant sensationalism masquerading as news. ... Once again, the news media have demonstrated their fascination with sensationalizing the final words and sounds from doomed cockpit crews moments before they die."
ABC said several pilots' complaints were addressed individually and directly by network executives. ABC News Vice President Jeffrey Schneider said the tapes were newsworthy and "shed new light on the heroism of the pilots, who valiantly fought against the hijackers, and illustrates how air-traffic controllers used their expertise to track the hijacked plane and keep other aircraft out of harm's way."
In January 2000, the ALPA criticized NBC when Dateline aired final words from an American Airlines flight. Pilots have been objecting to what they perceive as a privacy invasion since the tape of a final conversation in Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 on Sept. 25, 1978, revealed an unidentified voice in the cockpit telling his mother he loved her.
"I can understand why pilots are upset," said critic Carl Gottlieb, of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "But, obviously, this is a legitimate news story, and it's a story that needs to be told." He noted, as did the pilots, that print media had already run transcripts of the tape.
Gottlieb did find fault in the way Primetime teased the story along with stories about Mick Jagger and a car crash involving supermodel Nikki Taylor. "That's an insensitive transition," said the former news director, "and it's poor production."
Schneider said such juxtaposition was merely part of the TV magazine format and noted that print magazines sometimes "have stories from different ends of the spectrum on different sides of the same page."
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