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Ugly, just ugly

Two imams dressed in Muslim garb are headed for a conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, on prejudice against Muslims. They go through security screenings in Memphis and board an Atlantic Southeast Airlines plane. They are forced to leave the plane because the pilot refuses to fly with them on board.

So, two questions:

1. Does that pilot still have a job with Atlantic Southeast Airlines today?

2. If so, why?



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:07 AM | | Comments (24)


I don't know if they still have their jobs, but they should. A passenger can be removed from any flight (assuming the plane is still on the ground) if the pilot is uncomfortable for any reason. In the week that the US Navy kills the world's most visible terrorist, this is not an unreasonable reaction. The pilots quite rightly thought they did not want to take the risk. You can always give the 2 men another flight - gratis - but it is impossible to undue any damage once it has been done. I suspect many of the passengers on that plane were relieved.

they might have been able to fly had they worn western dress...chaps, stetson and six-shooter. But looking different in the States of Paranoia is probably asking to get kicked off the bus.

"A passenger can be removed from any flight (assuming the plane is still on the ground) if the pilot is uncomfortable for any reason."

So if the pilot is a bigot, it's just tough luck for the passenger?

And yes, if one cannot differentiate between a Muslim extremist and all Muslims, one is a bigot. Treating someone as undesirable simply because he or she belongs to a certain ethnic or religious group is prejudice, pure and simple. It's appalling that this still needs to be explained nearly half a century after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, but apparently it does.

Would the pilot have returned to the gate if a Catholic priest wearing a turned color and a black suit was on the plane? How about a Hasidic Jew with a beard, a fedora, a prayer shawl and a black suit? What about a Sikh with his hair enclosed in a turban? What about a Rastafarian wearing dreadlocks? How about a U.S. Army private in a green dress uniform? What about a Texan with a Stetson and a string tie? What about....?

On an entirely unrelated note...

Seventeenth paragraph down. Juan Williams was fired by NPR, not PBS. (Radio...not broadcasting...) You know what this means? We should fire more copy editors. Who the hell needs them anyway?

If he's still working, then airlines are going to have to put standby pilots at every airport. Or run clothing stores so people can pretend to be non-threatening.

If he's still working, what next? Trains and buses refusing to go because the driver doesn't like the clothing of a double-security-screened passenger? Schoolteachers refusing to work because the kid in the third row is wearing an Arabic-looking shirt?

Sure, the pilot doesn't have to fly if he's uncomfortable. But - once security checks have been done - the only acceptable solution to that is to put another pilot on.

Tim, I think you're on to something.

The other example that comes to mind is the pharmacist who declines to fill contraceptive prescriptions, for private reasons. He or she can work, but should never be permitted to be the only pharmacist on duty.

Patricia, it's a completely unreasonable reaction! Jeffery Goldberg explained this well after being asked if seeing a Muslim on his flight made him uncomfortable:
The answer is no, because I do the math. There are roughly 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. Of these 1.3 billion Muslims, it is my belief that only several thousand, or at most, several tens of thousands, are directly involved in Islamist terrorism. Therefore, the chance that a Muslim in any given airport is a terrorist is very small.

Besides the 9/11 terrorists weren't wearing "Muslim garb". They were wearing Western clothes. If you were a terrorist, why would you draw attention to yourself and jeopardize your mission by wearing clothes that attract attention?

Any pilot so ill able to evaluate a "threat" is not a pilot I would wish to fly with. S/he would be just as likely to fly into the middle of a tornado, the fool. And anyone who thinks the pilot was correct I also count to be a fool. There are always fools, but we don't have to put them in positions of importance, profit, or respect.

When rabbis wearing western boots, dred-locks, carrying six-shooters and a string tie threated to take over an airplane, we can worry about them too. And the extremists wearing western dress did call attention to themselves in a dress rehearsal in July before 9/11. A fellow passenger, watching their odd behavior in the first class cabin, thought they were weird and reported his observations to the FBI. It turned out that they were 4 of the highjackers, just observing the habits of the attendants and crew. Was he a fool as well? I'm on the side of the 'fools' in this one. (If I were thin of skin, I'd be offended by Cheap- as in shot? - Jim's remarks.) By the way,there is no such pronoun as h/she, unless you are pandering to the tortured form in scholarly journals, who go after language with an egg-beater, so as not to offend other scholars.

I have to assume that anyone defending the pilot must not have read the accounts. The Muslim clerics were made to go through security checks twice. And they, the people humiliated and inconvenienced, are moderate and restrained in their comments, as opposed to the people whose comments on the Memphis and Charlotte newspapers were so offensive that comments had to be deleted or cut off. (I suppose they could have been vicious remarks about the pilot, but do you really think so?)

Bigotry per se is reprehensible; making excuses for bigotry is insupportable.

In America we do not discriminate on the basis of creed, among other categories. It is not reasonable to assume that a person presents a danger simply because he is a Muslim. Would you agree with that, Patricia?

Roman Catholics have been known to murder doctors who perform abortions; Evangelical Christians have been known to beat up homosexuals and transexuals, too often to the point of death. But should all Catholics be banned from coming within 100 yards of a clinic or hospital that performs abortions? Should Evangelical Christians be banned from coming within 100 yards of a business that caters to homosexuals or transexuals?

Certainly the vast majority of Muslims have no intention of blowing up a plane, just as the vast majority of Catholics are not plotting the murder of abortion providers and the vast majority of Evangelicals are not planning to kill a queer for Christ.

There was no reasonable security risk with the Muslim clerics, no more than with any other passenger. The pilot involved needs reeducation at the least.

Already I can hear someone saying, "But those Muslims would have upset the other passengers!" Well, too bad, they need to get over it, just as some fifty years ago Caucasian Americans had to get over whatever qualms they may have had about sharing swimming pools, restaurants, classrooms, and board rooms with people of African descent.

This is America, after all.

I suspect (though I do not know) that if pilots weren't permitted to exhibit their prejudices in this fashion, they'd go on strike or quit. And the airlines don't have lots of pilots waiting in the wings for their chance.

This has nothing to do with the Civil RIghts movement - absolutely nothing. Huey Newton was a murderer, but I don't assume that every black man I see is a killer.That the pilots were unhappy with two Imams doesn't mean they want to torch the nearest mosque. This happened during the week that America removed a truly dangerous, if pathetic, creature from his lair. More than a few people are a bit nervous about retaliatory strikes somewhere. I 'm still with the pilots, without using crude language. And one's opinions on this don't have to come from 'bigotry,' which is too facile an explanation. They very often come from experience and paying attenion to how 'ugly' the world can be. I stand by my story. Next,please.

What this has to do with is people making assumptions about whole classes of other people on the basis of the actions of a very small portion of people. Patricia, you may not imagine that every black man you see is a villain of some sort, but plenty of white people do, at least in certain circumstances. Some white people, walking in Mt. Vernon in Baltimore (people who, say, live in the suburbs and are unused to walking anywhere), still get nervous when then see a black man walking in their direction; they may even cross the street. It does not matter to them that the man is nicely dressed, well-groomed, a perfectly decent fellow, a doctor or a university professor. All they see is a black male and they know that black males are dangerous. Such people are prejudiced, in the strictest sense of the word: they are prejudging people on the basis of incidental criteria. They see only the blackness and the maleness, and none of the other signs that might tell them they have nothing to fear from this person.

The pilots in this case acted similarly. They saw only the Muslimness of the clerics and ignored the fact that the men had gone through security screenings. Their feelings were irrational and prejudiced. The fact that this happened when people are justifiably concerned about retaliatory strikes is no excuse for someone to ignore facts or to treat others unfairly. It may make the pilots' reactions more understandable, but it does not make them excusable.

"This happened during the week that America removed a truly dangerous, if pathetic, creature from his lair."

So the WEEK was the bigot. That excuse must have expired by now. Or will it be parlayed into "it was the month bin Laden was killed, so we had a blank check ..."?

"I stand by my story. Next, please."

That would be a handy phrase if one ever wanted to say "I'm right and you're wrong, so stop talking before you change my mind."

Since, even with additional provocation, the imams didn't blow up their eventual flight, it seems clear that the pilots were wrong in this case. But those who support them can take solace in having defended the PRINCIPLE of hunch-based bias.

Thank you, P the T, for pointing out that trying to attain non-offensiveness or inclusivity by using a pronoun construction such as s/he (or h/she, as you put it) is a bit tortured. I think it would be best if these constructions fell into desuetude*.

Bryan Garner agrees with me. I was once in one of his plain writing seminars when he spoke of the problems with these pronouns and wrote the following progression on the board:

He or she

When Bryan finished writing the last one he advised us never ever to use that construction because, as he explained**, "I'm from Texas, and that's how we pronounce it."

Tim (who is just a he)

*I am so glad I got to use the word of the week in a sentence.

** Yes, I wrote "explained" instead of "said". Do I need to explain my reasoning or is enough said?

Perhaps I was overly hasty in imputing bigotry to the Atlantic Southeast Airlines pilot. Perhaps I should have used a milder word for people unablt to distinguish between genuine and imagined threats. Naivete? Foolishness? Stupidity? Your thoughts?

I love the word desuetude.So immutably Romanus, -a or -um. Actually I think the noun is third declension feminine.

P the T,

I respectfully beg to differ.

I believe the noun"desuetude" is The 5th Dimension masculine.

"Aquarius/ Let the Sunshine In", "Wedding Bell Blues", and "Up, Up and Away"....... in my beautiful balloon, and all that cool, groovy, uplifting '60s-'70s stuff. HA!

I know what you're saying......."Lame!"

Ducky "Too Hip to Trip" Isaksson


I think it's safe to call the pilot stupid. but without more information, I am loathe to call him a bigot.
it is fair for patricia to point out the timing of this incident. we can't say with certainty it would have happened, say, a week before bin laden was killed. and without talking to the pilot himself, we can't (and so shouldn't) declare him bigoted or prejudiced. it's one thing to debate the facts of an event; it's another to assume someone is prejudiced (or bigoted or racist) because he did something stupid, or because we disagree with him. who knows? the pilot may regret his behaviour.
I'm not being an apologist for the pilot. I believe the imams were treated unjustly. but speaking as a journalist, I just don't believe we should make assumptions about an individual.
so am I splitting hairs? probably. but this is a forum for journalists (among others), so I would argue there is an important distinction to be made here: we're not supposed to assume anything. we're supposed to present the facts in a fair manner (and if you can't prove it in court, it ain't a fact!), then let the reader reach his or her own conclusion. I sometimes wonder if we've forgotten that. worse, I dare say there are journalists who believe that, politically speaking, they're on the side of the angels, and therefore can let their politics seep into their work. am I alone in believing that?

paul 'lowercase' hageman,

First off, thanks for that very persuasive, and well thought-out argument in your last post. I couldn't really find much to quibble w/ in your main premise re/ the case-in-question w/ this 'balky' airline pilot, and the notion of prejudice playing a major role in his actions......... or inaction.

Sadly, these days, a large contingent of today's quasi-journalist set, i.e., high-profile TV and talk-radio political pontificators, and pundits on either side of the ideological divide (and you know who YOU are), seem to be more on the side of the 'fallen angels'------Beelzebub, and his ilk, although these 'opinionators'-of-the-extreme are under the delusion that they're allied w/ the legion of the blessed, righteous cherubim. (I swear that that cherubic, chubby, Rush Limbaugh, has a pair of concealed stubby wings, and a twisty tail, yet somewhere in his meteoric rise to talk-radio supremacy, he sadly lost his halo.)

The fallen 'angelics' on-air currency is largely self-generated, mostly unsubstantiated, fact-deficient rumor, misleading innuendo, and flights of wild conjecture. Clearly they wear their warped ideology and political bias on their sleeve, where they conceal their 'jokers' (rather than aces), and like any deceptive illusionist, flim-flam man, or charlatan will reveal their hidden 'cards' (or "canards" HA!) when challenged. Yet predictably, their deck-of-dreck has already been heavily stacked in their favor. (Fallen angels preaching to the choir, and such.)

Paul, I basically agree w/ most of your 'argument' in your last post, and concur that it is dangerous for a so-called credible journalist to immediately label an individual a bigot, where exhibiting the classic empirical signs of prejudice from mere observation of their pertinent actions, or words, doesn't, ipso facto, prove they are actually a bona fide bigot.

(I appreciate your legalistic criteria for nailing down what constitutes a valid "fact', i.e., will it hold up in a court of law. Also, perhaps, can the relevant data survive the rigor of scientific testing, and comply w/ the basic immutable, universally accepted laws of nature.)

I also agree that it is important for any journalist worth his, or her salt, to present the facts as faithfully observed, and in proper context, and then allow the reader to arrive at their own conclusion(s).

In this particular case of the pilot refusing to fly his scheduled flight w/ the two imams on board, on the face of it, it would appear, from the media reports, that there could be an element of fear involved, which, as many have argued could be related to the freshness of the recent Bin Laden killing. Or, playing devil's advocate, perhaps the pilot DOES have a deep-seated prejudice against Muslims, and wishes to paint w/ one broad brush the entire population of those followers of Allah and the Koran as alien, suspicious sorts, and potentially dangerous. But, how can the journalist, in just relating the facts of the case, jump to that character incriminating conclusion?

IMO, (and obviously yours, paul), the ethical-minded, and true journalist's duty is above all to report the "facts".......... the who, what, where, when,,,,,,,,,but perhaps not so much, the "why". There we can run the danger of getting nto that fuzzy realm of mere speculation, and in its extreme, shoot-from-the-hip (or lip HA!) advocacy journalism-------- the domain of those chattering, manic, political dogmatists at FOXNews and MSNBC. Sean Hanitty and Chris Mathews, are you listening? Likely not. Too busy interrupting, and obfuscating the truth.

I rest my case.


you may be interested to know, coming from canada, that a fox news-like network recently began airing here. sun news (operated by the owners of the toronto sun newspaper) is a cheesy, laughable fox knock-off, and so far is going over like a lead balloon. huzzah!
being a snooty print journalist, I find unseemly the thought that the hanittys and limbaughs of the world are even considered journalists. (when did "media" and "journalism" become synonymous?) then again, on the other side of the political spectrum, I find equally unseemly the suggestion that michael moore is a true documentarian. like fox news, moore manipulates facts to sway opinion. a documentary is objective. moore's work is, surely, propaganda -- agreeable and well-intentioned, perhaps, but it's no more "documentary" than fox news is "news."
obviously, that's just my humble opinion, but with such quasi-journalism gone mainstream, I abhor seeing, in newspapers, the line between news and opinion being smudged out.
alex, you say of the quasi-journalist set: you know who YOU are. I hope they do. and I hope newspapers are sufficiently wary (and copyeditors vigilant) to keep to them at bay.


Although I've been living, and of course working, in L.A. for going on the past thirty-two years as a Canuck expat, as an admitted inveterate news junkie since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I grew up w/ three distinctive regular dailies----The Toronto Telegram (long defunct, and for much of its run printed on a washed-out pink-tinted newsprint-----go figure), The Toronto Star (actually had a couple of my political cartoons published here in May of '75), and Canada's universally recognized breaking-business-news authority (along w/ the whole gamut of other good newsworthy stuff), The Toronto Globe & Mail.

The National Post, the original brainchild of now-disgraced, former big-time Canadian corporate media mogul, and convicted white-collar felon, Conrad Black, has since joined the Canadian print media fray in more recent decades.

But sadly, I do have (not so fond) memories of The Toronto Sun, which at first blush, when it initially hit our newsstands w/ their now-familiar bold red public display racks, appeared to be a knock-off clone of those infamous smaller format tawdry British tabloid newspapers (sorry Picky, old boy HA!), even down to the de rigueur scantily-clad Sunshine Girl, or Sunshine Guy pictorial 'spread'------ the paper's daily dose of either soft-core T&A, or P&A, respectively. P&A would be Pecs and Abs, for short.

So I'm hardly surprised that the Toronto Sun Corp is trying to flex its media muscle in broader, global markets w/ their typical tabloid 'gaucheries', in tow. I'm actually heartened to hear that Sun News' early audience numbers are basically in the tank. What can i say?

Paul, I think we are essentially on the same page when it comes to your point re/ the questionable credentials of many of today's high-profile, strident TV and radio political blowhards, who might claim they are bona fide, fact-checking, journalists, but truth-be-told, are merely bombastic, bullying obfuscators, spewing their distorted views, and entrenched, skewed rhetoric, while marching lock-step w/ whatever political party fits into their narrow, myopic agenda.

Case in point, FOXNews' Glen Beck, a practicing Mormon, no less, recovering from lost years of personal dysfunction, and an admitted penchant for 'the bottle', who somehow, praise the Lord, saw-the-light, the error of his former profligate ways, and was in a sense, reborn as an infotainment political flim-flam man of the right.

Beck apparently woke up one morning some years back, clearly convinced that he somehow had the makings of a politically-attuned media sage---an airwaves guru to, as he would claim, millions of dazed-and-confused grassroots conservative, salt-of-the-earth, God-fearing Americans. This eventual growing legion of Beck believers became hooked on his message that America, as we know it, had been subversively hood-winked by the forces of liberalism, socialism, and progressivism (read the Dems) that have, moreover, plainly usurped most citizens' fundamental constitutional rights--------America's immutable keystone.

On-air, the over-the-top, (faux) emotionally vulnerable Beck, cloaks himself in America's Founding Fathers' historical tradition, and legal precedent (and presidents HA!), yet cleverly tends to distort, and, in essence, reframe the factual historical record to jibe w/ the thrust of any given argument.

IMHO, in almost a not-too-subtle effort to mock Pres. Obama, he has over recent months plastered his FOXNews lair w/ giant images of heads of notable, mostly Republican, past-presidents; clearly mimicking the stark, bold graphic red-white-and-blue style of those once ubiquitous Obama "Hope" pre-2008 election posters, that got their creator, former street-artist, Shepard Fairey, into so much media and legal do-do, but likely put Obama over-the-top in the final reckoning. But i digress.

Hmm.........I think i'm starting to preach to my own choir here, and I can sense my my blood pressure is starting to elevate. So I'll end this mini-rant, toute suite.

Paul, thanks for providing one of the many clear voices of reason, and balance on this fine blog.

Enjoy the remains of your week.


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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