Angry prize winner crashes and burns: Last Wednesday, a Southwest Airlines plane blew an engine mid-flight.
An experienced, highly skilled pilot skillfully landed the plane. Four days later, the Washington Post treated readers like total fools in its Sunday Outlook section.
The foolishness came from Beverly Weintraub, "who won a Pulitzer Prize as a member of the New York Daily News editorial board, is a member of the Ninety-Nines, International Organization of Women Pilots, and the board of directors of the Air Race Classic."
To our ear, that doesn't quite make sense either. But that's what the Post reported in its author identity line.
Weintraub seems to think we're all six years old. In the high-profile Outlook section, she started her essay like this, sillybill headline included:
WEINTRAUB (4/22/18): Why call the Southwest captain a 'female pilot'?Please note:
A feeling of pride swept through the small community of female pilots Wednesday as word spread that the captain who had safely landed Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 after an engine blew out in midair the day before was a woman. But disappointment tempered that sentiment: Virtually all news coverage of the incident put the word "female" before "pilot." As a private pilot, aircraft owner and airplane racer, I shared both the pride and the disappointment.
Why not call the hero captain simply a pilot? Was Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger—to whom captain Tammie Jo Shults was immediately and aptly compared—referred to as a "male pilot" after landing US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River? And why the surprise that a former Navy fighter pilot and seasoned airline captain, as Shults is, could handle an emergency situation calmly and competently?
Within her opening paragraph, Weintraub uses the term "female pilot" herself, then complains that others have done so. Weintraub, who belongs to the International Organization of Women Pilots, was wondering why a news org might refer to Shults in a similar way.
As we'll see below, Weintraub's claim about "virtually all news coverage" simply isn't true. But why might some news orgs have described Shults as a "female pilot?"
Duh. As Weintraub continued, it became clear that—Duh!—she already knew:
WEINTRAUB (continuing directly): Part of it could be the numbers: In 1960, there were 25 female air transport pilots—those licensed to fly for the airlines—in the United States; in 2016, there were 6,888, a huge increase but still only 4 percent of the U.S. airline pilot population. Overall, of nearly 600,000 pilots licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, approximately 39,000 are women. That's about 6 percent, a proportion that has held steady for decades.Duh. Based upon that murky prose, it sounds like only four percent of "pilots licensed to fly for the airlines" are women—and that's way more than in the past.
Many people may not know that there are any such pilots at all, let alone a pilot who performed a brilliant feat of air rescue.
Meanwhile, why did news orgs call attention to Shults' gender? They did so to praise her for her feat, as the latest report along the lines of "women can do these jobs too."
Such reporting may tend to be overdone, but in appropriate situations, it's also highly instructive. People are interested in this sort of thing! See Hidden Figures, the best-selling book which became an Oscar-nominated movie.
As a former Pulitzer winner, Weintraub may have felt obliged to make a factual overstatement. In fact, the term "female pilot" appeared in reports about this incident less often than Weintraub alleged. For example, it had never appeared in the Washington Post until Weintraub's utterly silly complaint hit the streets.
That said, the term was used on one occasion in the New York Times. It appeared in a second-day "tick tock" report on the way the terror in the skies unfolded.
Below, you see the passage in question. It's very, very hard to see what's supposed to be wrong about this:
HEALY AND HAUSER (4/19/18): In the cockpit, Tammie Jo Shults, a veteran Navy pilot, flew on with one engine, displaying what one passenger would later call ''nerves of steel.''According to Nexis, that's the only time the term "female pilot" appeared in either the Post or the Times concerning this incident. Who could possibly think that something was wrong with that brief, informative passage in the Times?
Ms. Shults was well trained to handle stress in the cockpit. She had flown supersonic F/A-18 Hornets as one of the Navy's first female pilots at a time when women were still barred from combat duty, before leaving active service in 1993. Ms. Shults calmly radioed air traffic controllers in Philadelphia to discuss her approach. She told them the flight was carrying injured passengers and needed emergency medics on the ground.
(We're glad we got to read that account. We're also glad that little boys may have had a chance to hear that this is the sort of the thing the little girls around them will grow up to do.)
Weintraub's essay was silly, childish, stupid. As such, it typifies the work which is becoming more prevalent as pseudo-liberal culture bends toward the ethos of Always Finding A Way To Be Offended on the basis of "identity" issues.
(Why did, and do, so many reports say that Jackie Robinson was black? Could anyone be silly enough to ask?)
Our culture is awash in "identity breakthrough" reports. This is often overdone, but it's also completely appropriate. In this silly piece in the Post, Weinstraub reports that she and her fellow "female pilots" swelled with pride about Shults' brilliance. Then she says that she was offended by the use of the term "female pilot."
(We know—that isn't a flat contradiction. But it comes pretty darn close.)
Sad! As the culture of Taking Offense At All Times gathers steam in the pseudolib world, the Weinstraub types are increasingly enabled. Even as "a feeling of pride swept through the community of female pilots," one such pilot took offense at the (largely non-existent) use of the troubling term.
Do we live in an idiocracy? Work this silly appears in Outlook pretty much all the time. The Sunday Review is even worse. Once again, an award-winning question:
What kinds of creatures are we?