Monday, October 26, 2009

High Crime

In "Crime and Justice in the News Media", Surette claims that "Criminals tend to be of two types in the news media: violent predators, or professional businessmen or bureaucrats." Adding to Surette's description of criminals portrayed in the news, I argue that going along with the author's latter definition, certain corporations and institutions have become more commonly depicted by news outlets as criminals, most likely as a result of the current economic climate.

The airline industry is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Recently, it has become an enemy of the common public as rising prices and diminishing flights have become common conditions among various airlines. The ideology that big corporations are cheating hardworking Americans out of their money has shaped many news stories concerning the airline business.

Below is a snippet of a news story published by concerning two Northwest Airlines pilots who missed their final destination by 150 miles because they weren't paying attention:

Wayward Pilots Were on Laptops


WASHINGTON (Oct. 26) - Not sleeping, the pilots say. They were engrossed in a complicated new crew-scheduling program on their laptop computers as their plane flew past its Minneapolis landing by 150 miles — a cockpit violation of airline policy that could cost them their licenses.

They were so focused on the scheduling — quite a complicated matter for the pilots after Delta Air Lines acquired Northwest Airlines a year ago — that they were out of communication with air traffic controllers and their airline for more than an hour. They didn't realize their mistake until contacted by a flight attendant about five minutes before the flight's scheduled landing last Wednesday night, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.

The pilots acknowledged that while they were engaged in working on their laptops they weren't paying attention to radio traffic, messages from their airline or their cockpit instruments, the board said. That's contrary to one of the fundamentals of commercial piloting, which is to keep attention focused on monitoring messages from controllers and watching flight displays in the cockpit.

"It is unsettling when you see experienced pilots who were not professional in flying this flight," said Kitty Higgins, a former NTSB board member. "This is clearly a wakeup call for everybody."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., called the incident "the ultimate case of distracted driving, only this time it was distracted flying."

The deliberate choice to include this event in the news hints at a current societal focus on corporate "crimes" such as these. Also, Surette argues that "the news...conveys the impression that criminals threaten the social system and its institutions." This is true regarding the basic logic that companies are supposed to provide goods or services in exchange for a fee. The news story threatens to disrupt this equilibrium by hinting that businesses are no longer holding up their end of the bargain. Overall, while this story wasn't a crime in terms of legality, in terms of ethics, it fits in perfectly with Surette's theories.

Here's the full story. I apologize for not getting the link to work.|main|dl1|link3|


  1. Yes. I watched Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story." I too was shocked that pilots are severely underpaid and have really bad benefits and work conditions! I guess as the economy is bad, more and more criminal stories will be based on crimes committed by "professional businessmen or bureaucrats."

  2. I was thinking this same thing while reviewing the Surette; there is a lot of focus on 'corporate crime' given the economic climate. I wonder if this will change once the economy improves.