Okay, I've been waiting to exhale for some time now…and I finally have!!! Last night was my one week anniversary…and the good news is, I'm still employed! (I think) I've had no problem sleeping in until 7 every morning…and I'm really really enjoying my new gig. There's a lot of excitement here about trying new things, and the people with whom I'm working are terrific-smart and funny and very dedicated to putting on the best product we can. I'm still getting used to the half hour format, but it's gratifying to see how much we can get in…I so often experience information overload, being able to get a recap of the news summarized and synthesized is something I really like...hopefully some viewers feel the same!
Well, it's been a whirlwind. I wish I could say that last Tuesday was just another day at the office -- or just another first day on the job – but it was so much more than that. I woke up more than a few times in the wee hours of that Tuesday morning…and to nobody's surprise, the first day was jam-packed with the excitement and tension that comes with any new job. There were interviews and rehearsals and meetings throughout the day. I felt the usual butterflies in my stomach before the broadcast – actually, the butterflies felt more like gigantic peacocks (but that may have something to do with my last job). For the first time in a long time I actually had the sensation that my heart was going to actually penetrate my chest and end up on the scripts in front of me…it was beating THAT HARD.
There was some celebrating after the broadcast…some of my close friends got together to watch the show and had a martini waiting for me when I arrived at 7:30. I'm not a big drinker, but I have to say, that really hit the spot. But nothing was nicer than seeing my two daughters, probably more relieved than I was, that their mother had not completely embarrassed them on national television. They are so great. There was a little dancing and merriment (whatever that means) before I had to head to Washington to interview the president the next morning. (Good thing they cut me off after one martini!) Another crazy, surreal kind of day.
Needless to say, it was what we call in the business, a crash. (That means there was very little time to put the interview together!) We ran some on the Evening News and a big portion on a special that aired that night. That was done so close to air that the producer, my friend Susan Zirinsky, said her running bra was somewhere between the edit room and the control room.
Add to that my first piece on 60 Minutes on the illnesses that thousands of first responders are experiencing five years after September 11th. To be a part of that broadcast was needless to say, an enormous thrill. My father called me afterwards and said, "Well, you're doing what you've always wanted to do…reporting for 60 Minutes." I used to watch the show when I was in high school sitting on the floor in my parents bedroom. I think it's really what made me want to get into this crazy and wonderful business in the first place. Of course while I was preparing this piece I was in meetings with our producers, going over copy, doing promos, putting my spackle on (it takes a village to make me presentable on television) and helping shape the Evening News. It's really exciting and really fun. I still can't believe I'm privileged enough to have this job. One of the first things I said to the crew when we were rehearsing was…"can I ask you guys a question? How did this happen?" The sign off thing has been fun too. The suggestions are great to read, and as I said last night, even Letterman got into the act. Always happy to provide Dave with material! Bob Barker wants me to implore viewers at the end of every broadcast to "have your pets spayed or neutered." Mmmmmmmmmmmm…interesting.
One of my favorite parts of the day has been recording the First Look segments that run here on the blog, and at CBSNews.com. It's a great chance to show you how we put together the Evening News – and meet some of the amazing people who make it happen. It's such a collaborative effort –and First Look lets you in on part of the collaboration. I think it also gets to show you that gathering the news isn't always grim. We love what we do, and have a great time doing it. (Bill Owens: call your hair stylist!) And that is invaluable. No matter what you do for a living, if you love it and really enjoy the people you're working with, it makes everything worthwhile.
We're trying to make the news more accessible, more compelling, more interesting, and we're trying to give people a little hope, optimism and even a chuckle when we can. Hopefully we're making progress…I also think people who watch the show are less focused on some of the superficialities that media and gossip writers seem to obsess over…and the people who are watching are the reason I'm doing this. I'll be posting more in the days ahead, but I just wanted to touch base and give you a few quick impressions of my first week in the chair, and under the spotlight.
As the late Karen Carpenter sang, "Close to you", I mean, "We've only just begun." Wow, how hip am I?
I've covered more than a dozen major air disasters in the past decade or so and each one has been awful – emotionally distressing and physically exhausting – and a personal tragedy for the families involved.
We usually find some comfort in the fact that safety lessons are learned: The US Air accident in Pittsburgh revealed a design flaw in the Boeing 737, the explosion of TWA 800 underscored the dangers of sparks and fuel vapors, and the crash of an American Airlines jet in Queens reminded us that even big planes can break if pushed beyond their limits.
But, that's what makes the Comair crash so sad. We aren't learning much except that the accident never should have happened and the parties involved seem to be working overtime to dodge the blame.
Now let's be clear about one thing: The pilots caused this accident. While the National Transportation Safety Board won't officially determine a "probable cause" for months, the evidence is unequivocal. The wreckage of flight 5191 came to rest at the end of the WRONG runway. It is the sole responsibility of the flight crew to properly select the correct runway for take off. The pilots failed to do that. Case closed.
So, what's with all the noise about control tower staffing and runway construction? Two agendas seem to be at play here and they both involve money.
This accident will be incredibly expensive for Comair, a struggling bankrupt airline that is a commuter feeder for Delta, a larger struggling bankrupt airline. Aviation lawyers began circling the crash debris shortly after the smoke cleared and there is no doubt that lawsuits and settlements will run into the tens of millions of dollars.
It would help Comair's case and its pocketbook if others share the blame. To that end the airline contends the pilots of the flight 5191 were likely confused by recent changes to the taxiway leading to both the right and wrong runways. Newly issued government charts, Comair argues, failed to show the changes, making it difficult for pilots to find their way in the dark.
The airline and others also point a finger of blame at the control tower, and controllers, in turn, are pointing at the FAA. There was only one controller on duty the morning of the crash and he was working on two hours of sleep with his back to the airfield as flight 5191 roared down the wrong runway to its demise. That sounds bad but, in fact, the controller did nothing we know of to contribute to the accident. Investigators who have listened to the air traffic tapes say his radio instructions were professional and clear.
There is one semi-legitimate issue here. The FAA admits it violated its own policy by having only one controller on duty. There should have been two – one to handle ground operations and the other radar. Now the controller's union, NATCA, is jumping up and down saying the FAA is to blame for compromising safety.
Well, not exactly. Aviation experts say despite the FAA's policy, two controllers really weren't needed at 6:10 am when the crash occurred. In the 45 minutes leading up to the accident, the lone controller handled a total of THREE airplanes. And even if TWO people had been in the control tower, it's not at all certain that either would have been able to see the pilots' mistake in time to radio any kind of alert. In any case, it is not the controller's primary job to watch the take-off.
NATCA, of course, would like more controllers in all towers. The union and the FAA have been involved in a bitter long term feud over jobs and benefits. The FAA recently imposed a new contract that pays new controllers much less than their experienced colleagues. And the union warns that a rash of retirements could leave the air traffic system strapped and undermanned. NATCA may be right to raise the issue, but it played no role in what went wrong at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport.
And that really is the problem.
The post-crash debate has focused too much on blame-shifting and union posturing and not enough on HOW and WHY such a foolish mistake was made by experienced men in the cockpit. Getting answers to those questions might be our only chance to learn anything of value from this accident.
I just like to say it.
perspicacity(pur-spi-kas'-i-tee) n. Keenness of mental perception and understanding; discernment; penetration.Used in a sentence: It takes an amazing amount of perspicacity, and a net, to catch flying fish.
First Look: Snapshot
Katie was otherwise engaged. (Perhaps looking for flying fish?) Just click on the monitor to watch.
Flying Foreign Fish
Meantime, if you're looking for other diversions, may we recommend Blogophile, the weekly column composed by our very own Melissa McNamara? Melissa reads the blogs so you don't have to. Isn't that nice of her?
Couric's Notebook: Kennedys
Just click the monitor to watch.
By attending a luncheon today sponsored by the Republican National Committee for big-money donors, President Bush brings to 47 the number of fundraisers he's done this year for the GOP and its candidates.
And of those 47, fully 23 have been closed to press coverage.
Nearly all of those events are held at private residences. The White House has said it doesn't want to subject those homes to the abuse a visit from reporters, TV crews, and photographers would inflict.
The Clinton White House made the same argument – but eventually relented and allowed a single print reporter to cover the event and provide a "pool report" on it to the rest of the press corps. In addition, the White House Communications Agency was authorized to provide reporters with an audio feed of the president's remarks.
The Bush White House is holding firm against that practice, choosing not to allow any coverage – or to provide an audio feed.
As recently as today, I asked the White House to provide the press with a transcript of the remarks the president makes at these closed events. Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino says she relayed my request but "there's been no change in the policy."
That means what the president says at these closed events cannot be covered or reported.
Today's RNC luncheon is being held at the Evermay mansion in the Georgetown section of Washington. It's a privately-owned Federal-period house built in 1801 and now rented out to various groups looking for an elegant place to host an upscale gathering.
The website of The Evermay Societybills the house as "a sanctuary located at the heart of America's hometown and the Nation's Capital."
Well, it certainly serves the GOP as a "sanctuary" from the press.
A Republican party spokeswoman says today's luncheon there will bring in $850,000 for the party.
In this midterm election year, President Bush has helped to raise over $104-million dollars for the GOP and its candidates.
It's actually a bit more than that. Mr. Bush attended a fund-raiser last month for the re-election campaign of Sen. George Allen, R-Va. But his campaign refuses to disclose how much the event generated.
In the decade that I've been tracking presidential fund-raising, it's one of the few times a campaign has declined to say how much money was raised.
Nearly all of the bureau folks emerged from their respective work cubbies to see Kimberly, who said she had stopped by to simply drop off a computer, but was then inundated by well-wishers who were overjoyed to see how well she is doing.
"My doctors say I continue to make phenomenal progress," she explained, "but my physiotherapy is at a crucial stage; I have to train several hours a day to regain full use of my right leg."
She recalled a comical vignette from her training, which involved working out on the elliptical machine. Even when she was already moving, the computer on the machine indicated it was in pause mode or told her, "start your workout."
"One of my greatest victories was to get the elliptical machine to admit I was on it," she joked.
She'll continue her therapy overseas for a couple of months, she says, while waiting for her "next and final surgery."
Already, she's "chomping at the bit to get back to journalism" and plans to work on mapping out stories before she gets back to her usual gig.
In particular, Kimberly said she wants to contact the doctors that took care of her and find out exactly "how I got to where I am today."