Our Foundation’s focus is the future of the air traffic control profession, and although this discussion may seem to veer off-topic at first, I believe we’ll end up back on target.
Government agencies are political. There are multiple stakeholders, which is to say, there are people who want the business and revenue, and there are people who have conflicting desires.
Every so often, a Government agency needs to be re-authorized and budgeted. These are moments of opportunity for those who want to change the status quo, and government vendors (LockMart, Boeing, Raytheon, WCG, etc) take out their long knives in anticipation of new meat.
Blakey and AIA would like Uncle to buy NextGen equipment for the airlines. LockMart would like to replace Fed controllers with B-scalers in large phone centers. RVA would like to see more contract towers. Volpe would like to see virtual towers.
The week before Re-Authorization comes to the Senate floor, an old news story from February about KidGate hits the Boston and New York scandalsheets. The story spreads like wildfire and dominates the news.
Anytime a story spreads widely and dominates, there’s an opportunity to ask: Why? Who profits from this story?
The news can be manipulated. There are businesses who are professionals at it, and they earn handsome fees. They are called PR agencies.
An advertising agency develops advertisements and buys air time to carry their work. A PR agency develops purposeful stories and gets them into the news stream, often generating better coverage at lower costs than the ad agency.
Although we rarely equate advertising with ethical behavior, Ad shops are a lot more ethical than PR shops – they’re explicit about what they’re doing, and they pay for airtime. PR types work in the shadows and manipulate news coverage.
Why do reporters carry the PR flack’s story? Sometimes it’s a payoff, but usually it is human nature. The reporter needs to generate a certain amount of news each week. An old buddy who’s been good for a tip in the past drops off a week’s worth of ready-made news. The reporter goes with the story, his work for the week is accomplished, and he’s off to the track.
The timing is remarkable and suspicious. Why is a February event getting press in March? The week before the Senate works Re-Authorization, what has the media coverage been? Somebody has been very effective in shaping and framing the public discussion about ATC in the runup to Re-Auth.
In the week before Congress debates our path for the next five years, the public focus has gone from (subcontractor commuters crashing in the snow, splitting and removing approach controls, and contracting out more towers) and moved to (those crazy cowboy New York tower controllers). Let’s not forget that industry wants to replace Fed towers.
Think it’s a coincidence?
We’ve been played, pwned, had. While the NATCA PR shop was playing checkers, industry was playing chess.
The Kennedy tower controller, his two kids, and his career are pawns in industry’s game. The reporters in the driveway? For the PR professional, they’re priceless signs of success.