This morning I received one of the biggest responses ever to any story I’ve written in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, the story had little to do with transportation and nothing to do with commuting.
A half-dozen vitriolic e-mails from readers from Virginia to Washington State, one electronic query from a staffer of one member of Congress and a phone call from another representative’s representative.
Still, journalists like to know that their “content,” as I now like to call it (because most people get it for free. Some day, I will be standing at an intersection with a cardboard sign saying, “will provide content for food.”), is being read by the widest audience possible.
The story, in cased you missed it, was about a planeload of troops fresh from Iraq on their way to Hawaii. They stopped in Oakland on Thursday and had to wait two hours on a remote part of the tarmac when some of them had friends and/or family waiting inside to see them.
One of them was reported to have sent an e-mail to Michael Ledeen, a contributing editor to National Review, whose blog item about the incident prompted a “My Word” commentary by John Gibson on Fox News.
The gist: We on the “Left Coast” don’t support the troops.
A reader who had heard the piece called yesterday and left me a voice mail saying he had heard the Fox News piece.
With me so far?
Thus began the hemming and hawing that often takes place when a possible news story surfaces. What to do with it?
At that point, had the synapses been firing properly, I should have jumped on that sucker and did my eight seconds and waited for the rodeo judges to hold up their cards (or is that just in gymnastics?).
Instead, I thought, this is interesting in a quirky, blog-sort of way, so I’ll find out what happened and blog about it.
As I was trying to contact the airport, with some minor delay (turns out they were busy), I decided to check the airport’s Website.
They posted something, and suddenly I knew this was not just a blog post. They confirmed the basic details of the incident that had outraged Ledeen, Gibson and a sea of right-leaning political bloggers, saying the airport:
received information that the passengers were not screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at their originating airport and that weapons were on-board the aircraft.”
Together with our security partners, the airport made a decision to park this aircraft at a remote location on the tarmac. It is the responsibility of the charter airline that its operation is compliant with TSA screening requirements.
If that weren’t enough, the TSA spokesman referred me via e-mail to their own statement, posted on their Website, disavowing any involvement in the incident.
By the time I read this around lunchtime, the bonfire was growing, along with my sworn duty to throw another log on. Anything that rises to the level of a national political debate is, according to my handwritten dictionary, news. Usually, such news does not deal with Bay Area transportation, but yesterday, my number came up.
Airport management staged a press conference, issued an apology and I even got a call from a secret source — one I’d never spoken to before — with background on the incident.
By 5:30 p.m., I was done, but the story lived on.
At 5:31 p.m., I received my first e-mail, signed, Jack Doolittle, saying he believed “airport managers knowingly and willingly refused to accommodate these Marines …”
At 6:19 p.m., Anthony R. Conrey wrote,
The story drips with bias: “Neoconservative National Review writer Michael Ledeen.”
“neoconservative?” So would it be OK to say “US hating writer Erik N. Nelson?
“Conservative bloggers and pundits” followed by “Fox News?”
Yes, I’m guilty of putting Michael Ledeen and Fox News into those contexts. I just didn’t think “contributing editor” was helpful for readers who knew nothing about Mr. Ledeen. As for Fox, their guy did, in fact, stir viewers to outrage on this story. It’s not an endorsement or a jab, just part of what happened as a result of this incident.
Others were strictly aimed at the soldiers’ treatment, one called attention to an error that we fixed online: Rush Limbaugh referred to “phony soldiers” who opposed the war in Iraq, not “phony vets.” That one came with a subscription cancellation, accused me of reporting BS and ended with “Take a big left further from the truth and go to hell!”
That one was certainly clever, and I have to thank the person for pointing out my error and actually subscribing to the newspaper.
But it didn’t hold a candle to this one, signed “Frederick”:
I live in the state of Washington. Any Californian I find here I will ask to leave my state. I am going to remove the star that represents California from the flag. As far as I’m concerned you are not part of America, and all U.S. businesses should pull out of your communist country. All the citizens of your country should be contained within your borders, so all of you can live like good little communists.
Oh-oh. I just got a phone call from one of the parties in this dispute. There may be another story yet …
<small>Photo from www.soha.com.</small>