COMMENTS: Bush Returns to Pulpit

See! That was not so difficult, was it? Teddy Roosevelt's saw about the White House being the Bully Pulpit was in danger of being discredited. George Bush, the current occupant, had not used his platform to make headlines for more than a month. The last time the President's actions were treated as Story of the Day on the nightly newscasts was back on October 3rd, when Bush vetoed the S-CHIP plan to extend healthcare coverage for children. Finally, he unveiled a package of proposals to relieve fears about congested airline travel over the Thanksgiving holiday--a modest initiative, to be sure, but enough to attract more coverage than any other story. So Bush may have attracted most time yet Barry Bonds grabbed headlines. All three newscasts decided to lead with sports, as the baseball slugger was indicted for perjury in an attempt to conceal his cheating.

The airlines announcement was a follow-up to Monday's warning reported by NBC's Tom Costello and ABC's David Kerley (subscription required) that holiday delays might happen. "Bush used the power of the Presidency to try to ensure that those Americans who go by air will make it to the Thanksgiving table," was how ABC's Lisa Stark put it, surely offering the White House just the positive spin it was angling for. CBS' Byron Pitts explained that the New York area accounts for an estimated 75% "of all chronic delays around the country" so the key measure was a five-day suspension of reserved military airspace from Florida to Maine in order to open up a "Thanksgiving express lane up and down the east coast." The same military stand-down will apply at Christmas. NBC's Costello called it "an immediate short term fix" with other parts of the plan--penalties for bumping passengers, fines for chronic delays, auctioning slots to reduce overcrowding--"months away." Will it work? "The weather is the biggest variable."

If the President's plan was meant to reassure passengers, both ABC and NBC followed up with an anecdote to restore their jitters. A pair of commuter jets, with a combined 55 people on board, were on a collision course at 25,000 feet above Fort Wayne on Tuesday night. United Express 7324 was flying into Chicago's O'Hare from Greensboro NC. Midwest Airlines 2453 was heading for Dayton from Milwaukee. It was only when a cockpit collision avoidance alert sounded that the Midwest pilot executed "an emergency climb with just seconds to spare," as NBC's Kevin Tibbles reported it. Federal Aviation Administration rules require planes to be separated by five miles horizontally and 1,000 feet vertically; these two were 1.3 miles and 600 feet apart. ABC's Chris Bury quoted from the air traffic controler in Aurora Ill: "Yes sir. It was my mistake. It was an error on my part."


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