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Airlines, Newspapers and the Way We Think

Today’s headline in the LA Times: Airline service experiencing a bumpy ride. The opening line of the article says: “A new government report confirms what many travelers already suspected – 2006 was a tough year to fly.”

This was the top headline this morning, and as I examined the article I discovered that the whole story was much ado about nothing. The article admitted as much when it said: “Despite improvements in some areas – flight cancellations and overall consumer complaints actually fell compared with 2005 – some experts say the numbers bear out the feeling of many travelers that flying has become an ordeal.”

  • Despite improvements…in overall consumer complaints
  • Some experts say…
  • The feeling of many travelers…

Those statements are not exactly compelling. When you examine the actual statistics the difference between this year and prior years, this year being the “worst in years” in some categories, you find that the statistical difference was so small as to be hardly worth mentioning. One of the differences was a rise from 6.4 incidents per 1,000 to 6.7 incidents per 1,000. Uh-oh!!

Here is what this article should demonstrate to you:

  • Newspapers are not about accurately portraying truth.
  • Statistics can be made to say many things.
  • Many people draw conclusions from headlines without investigating the claims made and often not even reading the article.
  • We are easily manipulated.

I was drawn to this article for a number of reasons. It was the headline! Above the fold, front page! It said something about the editors sense of the importance regarding this story. Surely something important and significant was going on in the airline industry. As soon as I began reading I felt the manipulation. Another article designed to talk about how bad things are, when in actuality they aren’t!!! I thought to myself: How many people will now view travel more negatively than they already do, for no significant reason? The great majority of travelers regularly get to their destination with baggage in hand on time at speeds unheard of just 50 years ago.

We as a people cultivate dissatisfaction. As a nation, we encourage complaining. It has become one of the many things that has driven our economy and progress. So in a twisted fashion we engage in grumbling.

Now normally I have very little interest in business stories and I don’t travel all that much so the article was not connected to me directly. But it does demonstrate how opinion is shaped.

Let the reader beware!

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