David Cogswell | May 25, 2016 12:00 PM ET
EgyptAir 804: What Happened and How Much Should It Affect My Behavior?
The jester can say things no one else can get away with even whispering. Back in 2000, before the hell zone known as 9/11 descended on the earth, George Carlin said, “What no one wants to tell you is that it is impossible to secure an airplane. Too many people have access.”
It’s a simple premise, easy to understand, hard to refute, but more or less forbidden speech in recent years as the airline security apparatus has grown into quite an industry all to itself.
Now 16 years later an unsigned Associated Press article in the New York Times has made essentially the same admission. “The chilling reality is that security is ultimately fallible.”
The Times quoted Sylvain Prevost, who trains airport personnel to qualify for the red badge that gives them access to restricted areas, saying, “The infinitely perfect does not exist.”
“That is especially true,” continues the article, “when 85,000 people at Charles de Gaulle airport hold red badges, which are good for three years, and many of them work for a host of private companies. Airport authorities in France and elsewhere are painfully aware of the risks, but hesitant to speculate as to whether an airport security lapse could have contributed to Thursday's crash of EgyptAir Flight 804.”
As I write this it is five days since the airplane went down, and it is still not known what happened, what actually brought it down. We hear conflicting opinions. It may have been a mechanical or computer malfunction. We don’t know. And yet there are major consequences connected to whatever theories are believed.
As the investigation continues, those involved in the airline industry must contemplate the possible outcome with some trepidation. Where will the blame be assigned? Where was the lapse? Was it airport security at Charles de Gaulle airport? Was it a malfunction within the plane? Was it intentional sabotage? Or was it an accident?
Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
In spite of a lack of reliable information during the first reports when literally almost nothing was known about what had happened to the flight, CNN had already lined up its terrorism experts to endlessly reflect upon the subject.
There were no facts yet to discuss, but that has never stopped the 24-hour news channels from blabbing interminably about something they know nothing about. It was all speculation to run out the clock and hold viewers until the next commercial – the moment when the cash register rings for TV news.
That’s the essential imperative of talk TV. Talk is primary, facts are secondary. And it is well known by now that entertainment and excitement sell a lot better than news ever did.
There can be no doubt that fear of terrorism racks up a lot of profit for the news entertainment networks. So who can blame them for pushing it to the max in their coverage? Everyone has to make a living. Every corporation has to maximize shareholder value. But though I may not judge the news entertainment channels for pursuing a buck, I also do not look to them as my authority about the world.
If you believe that watching TV news is the way to stay informed, you may wish to discount what I say right now because I do not believe it. Not by a long shot. In fact there is evidence that the more TV news you watch, the less informed you actually are.
For the last 15 years or so when you’ve been going through the TSA lines and its rituals, partly undressing among strangers, taking off your shoes, making sure your keys aren’t in your pockets and you don’t have a nail clipper in your carry-on, you may have believed it was keeping you secure. But as we learned last year, the TSA missed 95 percent of the weapons smuggled on board by the Department of Homeland Security as an experiment to test the system.
That is not very comforting to those concerned with terrorism or security.
If we have managed to stay relatively safe and peaceful during the last 15 years it cannot be attributed to the efforts of TSA. With a 95 percent fail record, it is unavoidably true that if someone wanted to get some kind of explosive device or weapon on board badly enough, they could.
Lifting the Veil
Maybe not so many people really are trying to do that after all. If no one was stopping the threats all this time, why have we not seen more terrorism?
We almost have to come to that conclusion because although the politicians like to tell us, “We kept you safe,” it is clearly true that they did not.
Now when there are few indisputable facts to work with, the conclusions our talking heads are jumping to reflect their own biases, their own world views. In the history of the airlines, there have been many crashes. There are relatively far fewer in today’s world than in earlier times because the industry has studied the accidents carefully and used what they have learned to improve the safety of airplanes.
But still, there are between 100 and 200 airline crashes every year. In earlier times it was accepted that most of them were a result of some mechanical failure, human error or random accident. Now when there are crashes terrorism is the first possibility raised and it remains the accepted theory of what happened until disproven. Meanwhile all that time there has been a feast of discussion about the horrors of terrorism, giving the impression that the world is a fearsome place indeed. And it may turn out to be completely irrelevant when the facts disprove the theory.
When an airline crash has any connection with the Middle East, the pre-supposition of terrorism is even more eagerly snatched out of the air. And by the time it is disproven, if it is, most TV viewers will have lost interest. What they will remember are not the facts that finally came out, but the feelings of fear that were aroused in the initial reports and the frightening theories that were advanced by the terrorism experts on TV.
The consequences of this for a country like Egypt, which needs tourism to help build the economic well being of its people and which has been suffering for years now because of an unfounded fear in the West to visit, it is deeply tragic. And for the world it is dangerous, because if Egypt fails to hold together its new government, we will have lost one of the few strongholds of stability and moderation in the region.
Life Goes On
So for me, I am not letting the fear engendered by these kinds of incidents have much bearing on my life. I know that there is risk in traveling, and in staying home as a matter of fact. I know I will have to live with the possibility that I may meet my end the next time I board a plane, or try to cross the street.
I was never a believer that the security rituals at the airport were really effective in keeping me safe, though I would have expected a better than 95 percent failure rate. For me, nothing has essentially changed in that regard. I will continue to live my life and make my decisions based on positive motivations, such as what I want to do and see, where I want to go, not on negative influences such as fear of terrorism or airplane crashes, which are among the remotest of possibilities.
The odds are one in millions that I will encounter any such troubles. And when my number is up, however it happens, I will not regret all the traveling and living I have done during this period instead of staying home afraid, watching TV.
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