Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

The Bombastic Fog Engulfs Fort Hood

Expecting journalists not to speculate is like expecting chimps not to scratch themselves. It's our nature.

And in these days where almost anyone can find some kind of audience, a story like the mass killings on the U.S. Army post at Fort Hood, Texas encourages people to analyze and speculate in advance of a lot of actual facts.

I've begun to call this slurry of certitudes that fall over an unfolding story The Bombastic Fog.

So many voices already have the story figured out, according to whatever point they want to make: about President Obama or President Bush, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, prolonged deployments, religion, terror, or post-traumatic stress.

At these times, people of all political stripes can remind me of early humans who blamed plagues, storms and volcanoes on whatever demons they feared. They make whatever happens fit their vision of the universe.

It might be good to remember a few prior times when analysis ran ahead of the actual event. You don't have to cast back very far.

Almost three weeks ago, two Northwest Airlines pilots overshot their scheduled landing in Minneapolis by about 150 miles. News coverage of all kinds found informed, knowledgeable people — retired pilots and other professionals — who announced that flying past a destination by so many miles, and not responding to repeated radio calls, had all the signs of a couple of pilots who had fallen asleep on the job.

There was a slurry of features and interviews about the problem of pilot fatigue, which was mostly blamed on personnel cutbacks. There were other pointed stories about how the increasing automation of flight technology induces inattention and boredom.

These stories weren't bad or wrong. They were simply irrelevant.

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board revoked the licenses of the two pilots, Timothy Cheney and Richard Cole. The safety board found that while the two pilots put their aircraft on auto pilot, they pecked away on their laptop computers, trying to fathom and perhaps bicker about a new pilot scheduling system.

This doesn't mean that pilot fatigue, or automation-abetted inattention, aren't real concerns. But they weren't what caused the pilots to miss Minneapolis. All of that wise analysis went for naught.

That might be a miss to keep in mind over these next few days and weeks as more details about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan are reported, and more analysis is spun. Right now, no one can say for sure why the killings at Fort Hood happened.

Sometimes, the best analysis is saying, "We don't know."

Correction Nov. 10, 2009

We incorrectly said that the two Northwest Airline pilots who overshot their destination by 150 miles had their licenses revoked by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB investigates and recommends the revocation of licenses. The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for revoking licenses.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small