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Fifteen Minutes Of Media Frenzy

If you are an avid news consumer (and you probably are if you're reading this) you know that there's always a healthy dose of bizarre news out there. There are entire Web sites devoted to it. But even if you don't visit Newsoftheweird.com on a regular basis, you probably heard this piece of bizarre news last week: "Passenger Bites Man, Jumps From Moving Plane," read the headline at CNN.com, where the story was the fifth most popular on that site Tuesday. Maybe you didn't even read the whole story because, like much of the weird news you encounter, you thought, "Damn, that's weird," and went about your business. Or maybe you didn't. Maybe you clicked on it right away, or immediately stopped changing channels to watch it. In that case, you likely know who Paul Sigler is. Well, maybe you don't remember his name -- he's the guy who was bitten by the other passenger, Troy Rigby. But the bite is a part of the story that Sigler says was hyped by the media far more than it should have been.

For full disclosure, Sigler happens to be an acquaintance of my father, which is how I got the opportunity to speak with him about what it was like to suddenly be the subject of an onslaught of media attention. "It was very bizarre," Sigler, a public relations manager from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., said. "I deal with media on the other side, in p.r., so I've worked with reporters. But I've never been on the other side before."

His view of the press following the incident is mostly negative. As soon as he encountered reporters, he felt their focus was on the biting incident rather than a full explanation of what happened on the plane. According to Sigler, shortly before the plane was going to take off, Rigby rushed to the front and slammed his body against the cockpit door. Sigler and three others, including a flight attendant, attempted to subdue him and at some point in the scuffle – which included Rigby banging his head against the wall several times and attacking a flight attendant -- Rigby bit Sigler. Rigby was eventually able to open the main cabin door, and he jumped out of the moving plane and onto the tarmac, where he was detained by police. Sigler said he didn't even realize that he had been bitten until the paramedics told him.

Sigler says he initially tried to avoid the pack of reporters that was waiting outside as he exited the plane, "I had decided that I was going home, I had had enough flying for the day … I tried to get around the crowd, so they wouldn't see me. Well, someone must have followed me and the next thing I knew I was surrounded. They started saying, 'we heard you got bit, we heard you got bit.' They wanted a bloody stump … and that wasn't the case. I got bit, you know, by a person. It's not like getting bitten by a dog. There were teeth marks and broken skin … and they said 'well let's see that, let's see that.'"

"They kept asking me, 'Were drugs involved?' … 'Did he look like he was on drugs?' … 'Did he seem like he was on drugs?'" said Sigler. "They had specific angles that they wanted to report. They wanted this guy on drugs, when they found out he bit me, they wanted me to have a bloody stump. That's how it just kept going."

By the time Sigler got home three hours later, "the phone just didn't stop ringing," he said. "First it was CNN. They were asking, you know, 'how did it feel to be in the middle of a national incident?'" The producer asked if he had spoken with any other news programs. When he said no, they asked for the exclusive for the following day's edition of "American Morning" and Sigler agreed.

Shortly after that, the CBS "Early Show" called. Sigler told the producer he had already made arrangements with CNN, but the producer explained that since CNN is on cable, and not in competition with the "Early Show," they wanted the interview anyway. "So they were gonna pick me up at 6am," said Sigler, "and take me to the studio where it would be taped, then CNN would go, then they would take me to the airport" for the flight to Newark that he was supposed to have taken the day before.

A short time later, ABC's "Good Morning America" called, but Sigler told them he had already made arrangements with CNN and CBS.

At around midnight, a producer from "Anderson Cooper 360" called, asking if Sigler was available to appear on the program the following night, and he agreed.

"So I get up at 5 o'clock," the following morning, said Sigler, "and CBS called at about 10 to six and said they decided not to go with [the segment] because … there was too much supreme court stuff going on." Sigler, who was irritated that CBS had called only 10 minutes before he was scheduled to be picked up, said that he figured they cancelled the segment because he didn't have a "bloody stump."

As for the other news reports that he read throughout the day, Sigler was unimpressed, "The whole story got warped – 'passenger bites other passenger' was what it was. I'm thinking, 'that's not the story here, that's not what happened. There was a crazed guy on there who charged the cockpit and tried to open the door.'"

He also said he wasn't comfortable with the "hero passenger" label that he felt had developed in the press. "I was one of four people" who helped subdue Rigby, he said. "I was the only one who got off the plane and didn't continue, the other passengers went to Newark and I guess they landed too late to get on the news that night. So all the papers [in Florida], that's what they focused on – 'Sigler got bit.'"

As for his appearance on "American Morning," Sigler had some criticisms of how the segment was promoted throughout the show. "The lead up to [the segment] is, 'here's this bizarre story: passenger bites passenger.' It wasn't like 'passenger storms cockpit,' 'passenger beats up flight attendant,' 'passenger tries to get off moving plane.' It was 'passenger bites passenger.'" You can watch the segment here.

"The first question was 'can you show us the bite?' that was the first question. Not, well can you tell us in your words what exactly happened? No, can you tell us about the bite, that was the first question. It feels like a Jerry Springer mentality." Reviewing the transcript, Miles O'Brien did start the interview by asking Sigler how he was feeling, and then asked about the bite. You can read the transcript here.

Later that day, Sigler got a call from a producer at "Anderson Cooper 360" saying that the segment was cancelled because there was too much other news going on. "After the CNN thing in the morning, I guess it just wasn't what they expected," said Sigler.

In general, Sigler was unimpressed with how the media handled his story. "There's no responsibility," he said. "It's what will make the best clip, what will make the best b-roll."

He mentioned one situation that was particularly surprising to him about the types of quotes and sound bites that news organizations used. "There was one question that was asked and I responded by saying, 'I'm 6'2" about 220 pounds, this guy was 5'8" about 150 pounds, he could have kicked my ass.' I said that, and I'm thinking, 'no one is going to run that.'" When he arrived in New York, he noticed that the Daily News and ABC's local affiliate had used the quote.

"It was such a typical Andy Warhol thing, like everyone has their 15 minutes of fame," said Sigler. "I had my 15 minutes of fame and by [Wednesday], there was another story on the news. I thought, good, they're not calling me anymore."