A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 16, 2010
“The media report planes that crash, not planes that land safely”

One criticism of the media is that news covers the abnormal and not the normal. It’s often said that one plane crash makes news, but a thousand planes that land safely do not make news. The saying appears to date to at least 1960 and became frequently used by the 1980s.

Patrick J. Buchanan wrote in 1975: “Eric Sevareid argues that this must necessarily be so, since the one plane that crashes is more newsworthy than the thousand that land safely.” CBS news journalist Eric Sevareid (1912-1992) survived a plane crash in 1943, but there is no evidence to support that he coined the popular news axiom.


Google News Archive
14 March 1960, Beaver County (PA) Times, Dorothy Dix column, pg. 8, col. 6:
I would like others to know that there are so many good marriages but, as with airplane travel, you only hear about the planes that crash.

Google Books
American Media:
Adequate or not?

By Philip L Geyelin and Douglass Cater
Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
1970
Pg. 12:
Airplanes that crash are more interesting than those that don’t; young people on heroin are more interesting than those who aren’t; those who go to jail rather than be drafted are more interesting than those who don’t.

Google Books
Conservative Votes, Liberal Victories:
Why the right has failed

By Patrick Joseph Buchanan
New York, NY: Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co.
1975
Pg. 85:
Eric Sevareid argues that this must necessarily be so, since the one plane that crashes is more newsworthy than the thousand that land safely.

Google Books
As I was saying
By Lynn Ashby
Austin, TX: Texas Monthly Press
1984
Pg. 144: 
It is like the front page of this or any newspaper: planes that land safely never make the headlines.

Google News Archive
20 August 1985, Spencer (IA) Daily Reporter, ‘The power of positive thinking” by Donald Kaul, pg. 4, col. 2:
We journalists sometimes overdo our negativism. For example, the papers lately have been filled with stories of air crashes, but not one word about the many planes that land safely every day all over the world or, for that matter, the numerous near misses that add excitement to otherwise dull flights.

Google News Archive
26 August 1987, Wilmington (NC) Morning Star “Guns, cars kill thousands more than planes” by George Will, pg. 10A, col. 2:
To the accusation that they report only bad news, journalists reply: We can’t be expected to report planes that land safely. But when a crash crystallizes anxiety about air safety, journalism should stress the news—yes, news—that flying is astonishingly safe.

Google Books
The New Season:
A Spectator’s Guide to the 1988 Election

By George F. Will
New York, NY: Simon & Schuster
1988
Pg. 203:
Journalists say: “Irritants are our business.” They say: “We do not report the planes that land safely.” Fine. Let them say that. But this, too, must be said: Good news is news.

Google Books
Suddenly:
The American idea abroad and at home, 1986-1990

By George F. Will
New York, NY: Free Press
1991
Pg. XIV:
An axiom of the journalist’s trade is: “We do not report planes that land safely.” There is a tendency, and it is understandable, to think that what matters, journalistically, is what goes wrong.

Google News Archive
11 May 1992, Southeast Missourian (Cape Girardeau, MO). “The ‘politically correct’ help fuel senseless destruction in Los Angeles” by Michael A. Session, pg. 9A, col. 3:
On the issue of social justice for American Blacks, this has all the makings of the media reporting the air planes that crash and ignoring the air planes that land safely (with variation as it pertains to this specific case).

Google News Archive
3 June 1992, Southeast Missourian (Cape Girardeau, MO), “Bad-news bearers got wake-up call, too” by Clarence Page, pg. 10A, col. 4:
We do not cover the thousands of planes that take off and land safely each day. We cover the few that crash.

Google News Archive
26 July 1993, Wilimington (NC) Morning Star, “The Unreported Story: Airline deregulation works well” by George Will, pg. 7A, col. 3:
A familiar axiom of journalists is, “We don’t report the planes that land safely.”

Google Books
The Leveling Wind:
Politics, the culture, and other news, 1990-1994

By George F. Will
New York, NY: Viking
1994
Pg. XIX:
Journalism, as the saying goes, does not report the planes that land safely. However, most planes do.

Google Books
Military Life:
The psychology of serving in peace and combat

Volume 4
By Thomas W. Britt, Amy B. Adler and Carl Andrew Castro
Westport, CT : Praeger Security International
2006
Pg. 190:
Bush’s beef about news from Iraq is a variation on the famous complaint that the media never report about all the planes that land safely. And it’s true.

Google Books
Health Care Errors and Patient Safety
By Brian Hurwitz and Aziz Sheikh
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell/BMJ Books
2009
Pg. 265:
One of the principal criteria by which events are deemed to be worth reporting is the extent to which they are exceptional: the minority of aircraft that crash, not the overwhelming majority that land safely.

New York (NY) Times
Talk to The Times: Nicholas D. Kristof
Published: July 4, 2009
(...)
Look, we in the news media cover planes that crash, not those that take off and land safely.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMedia/Newspapers/Magazines/Internet • (0) Comments • Saturday, October 16, 2010 • Permalink