Freelance writer Patrick Smith has written a piece for Salon about my experience onboard Alaska flight 536, in which he attempts to take me to task for my account of the experience:
I found Hermanns’ account of the incident, which he describes as “horrific,” and “the unthinkable,” to be luridly overblown. He confuses the smell of activated oxygen canisters as that of commercial jet fuel, which he wrongly identifies as “AV-gas” or “JP4” (it is neither). Hermanns said repeatedly that he believed the fuselage hole was located at the back of the aircraft. Some news stations actually showed an MD-80 with graphics inexplicably pointing to the jet’s rear pressurization outflow valve as the purported hole — well aft, and on the opposite side, of the damage.
So essentially my mistake, in Patrick Smith’s eye, is honestly describing a situation where, regardless of my pilot’s experience, I was helpless to do anything, and unclear as to what was happening, as “horrific” or “unthinkable”. Oh, and he’s also pissy with me because I referenced an erroneous news report on the location of the hole in the plane.
And you know what–if I were a journalist reporting on the story, I would have been sure to go out and get all the details. I would have called to get official statements from the airline and the people at the airport in Seattle. But that’s where I get confused–I’m missing where in any way I gave the impression that’s what I was doing.
I provided a first-hand account of MY experience onboard the flight. An account which many people found captivating, and thus, I got a TON of traffic last week.
That’s where Patrick Smith comes in. Patrick has a site of his own, and a book where he shares with the world his air travel expertise as a licensed pilot (I’m told it’s a real page-turner). Patrick came to my site, offered some critical assessments of my choice of two words (those very same two he was SO aggravated by in the Salon piece) and then proceeded to fill my site with spamtastic links to his books and site. Not only was Patrick beating a dead horse (I’d been chided left-and-right throughout the comments for the very same things he was saying), he was filling my message board with spam-filled messages trying to boost his own site’s traffic and pagerank. But in Patrick’s world, any refusal to help him promote his products is obviously an attempt to manipulate the publicity for my own gain (which, in case you’re wondering, is still at a whopping $0).
I understand Patrick’s bitterness–after all, last week more people read my story than read his writing ALL of last year. But now to help his own cause, he’s decided to try and make himself part of the story. In order to do so, he’s had to distort our encounters (can you show me the “belligerent” email, Patrick?) and completely quote me out of context; while he says “Here, consolidated for clarity, is his reply:”, he’s really saying “consolidated to manipulate his statements in order to make ME part of the story”. (I’ve posted the full body of my email in the comments of this post)
But as much as having your words blatantly distorted by a “major” publication like Salon sucks, I understand that this is the fate of anyone who publicly shares their experiences, be it online or thru any other form of media. The unique thing I’ve learned about sharing your experiences in a blog (with comments) is that the conversation can develop really fast–and plenty of opportunists, like Patrick Smith, will gladly try to co-opt it, whether or not they have anything to actually contribute to the discussion.