Yesterday, Time Magazine online published an article regarding the airport shooting on Flight 924 by federal air marshals which contradicted what had been characterized by television news reports, as the incident unfolded, of a man with a bomb who threatened to blow up the plane. TIME reported in part that a passenger by the name of John McAlhany disputed earlier reports that Alpizar, the man shot dead by federal air marshals, claimed to have had a bomb:
“I never heard the word ‘bomb’ on the plane,” McAlhany told TIME in a telephone interview. “I never heard the word bomb until the FBI asked me did you hear the word bomb. That is ridiculous.” Even the authorities didn’t come out and say bomb, McAlhany says. “They asked, ‘Did you hear anything about the b-word?'” he says. “That’s what they called it.”
This morning, KGTV10 San Diego claims “passengers” confirm that Alpizar said “bomb”:
But passengers of American Airlines flight 924 saw a much different behavior. They say Alpizar claimed to have a bomb in carry-on luggage and ran towad the cockpit. His wife ran after him.
“She was crying, ‘my husband my husband’ when he ran up there. I know there was a scuttlebutt, some kind of intensity happening in the front and those poor people in first class saw everything. There were children there and I know that was horrifying for them,” said witness Mary Gardner.
KGTV’s article has no reporter or author attribution that I can find right now. Further, the paragraph that claims passengers said Alpizar had a bomb doesn’t include witness names or their direct quotes. KGTV then follows the first paragraph quoted above with another one that might imply or suggest that witness Mary Gardner said it. But did she?
According to Curt Anderson, Associated Press writer:
Added another passenger, Mary Gardner: “I did not hear him say that he had a bomb.”
Further, AP reporter Anderson writes that police held guns to other passengers on the plane after passenger Alpizar was shot and killed.
I remember having the TV on while the incident unfolded, and it distracted me for a time from some other tasks. Not once did I see any video of Alpizar acting agitated, or saying he was going to blow up the plane, or any video of him in the alleged incident whatsoever, but an audible narrative was fed to the viewer that claimed those facts. All I could see was a plane parked on the tarmac, and over time, a growing presence of emergency vehicles surrounding it. Who fed the alleged facts to the broadcasters on the day of the shooting? Who fed this morning’s story to KGTV that the dead man, Alpizar, claimed to have a bomb?
In the same way there’s been a saying, “buyer beware,” perhaps news viewers should repeat to themselves, “viewer beware.”
With the buyer beware warning, one at least knows that the seller is going to benefit from a transaction and what the seller tells us prior to then is likely biased by the profit motive: what is sometimes in question is how much the purchaser will benefit from what is purchased.
However, with viewer beware, we can only wonder who and in what ways some shadowy, and what appears deliberately-obfuscated, entity benefits. Viewers en-masse likely come away with widely divergent views depending upon which version of the story they heard or read. Perhaps it is precisely this effect the shadowy entity desires—to keep us arguing amongst ourselves—and so wrapped up in current serial crises, that we don’t look up and see the bigger, long-term picture.