Kevin Drum: Flight 924 and crisis PR

From Drum’s Political Animal blog @ Washington Monthly:

FLIGHT 924 UPDATE….Mark Schlueb of the Orlando Sentinel follows up today on the question I asked yesterday: what did Rigoberto Alpizar really say as he was running off Flight 924 on Wednesday?

A Miami-Dade police spokeswoman said Thursday that multiple witnesses reported that the 44-year-old was yelling that he had a bomb as he made his way down the aisle with a backpack slung across his chest. Later, the agency’s chief of investigations insisted that Alpizar was yelling about a bomb but declined to say whether he was on the plane at the time.

Seven passengers interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel ? seated in both the front and rear of the main passenger cabin ? said Alpizar was silent as he ran past them on his way to the exit. One thought he had taken the wrong flight. Another thought he was going to throw up.

“I can tell you, he never said a thing in that airplane. He never called out he had a bomb,” said Orlando architect Jorge A. Borrelli, who helped comfort Alpizar’s wife after the gunfire. “He never said a word from the point he passed me at Row 9….He did not say a word to anybody.”

Two teens seated in Row 26 agreed. So did Jorge Figueroa, a power-plant operator from Lakeland seated a few rows behind first class.

“He wasn’t saying anything; he was just running,” Figueroa said. “I said to myself, ‘It is probably a person who took the wrong plane.’ “

And Drum concludes:

To be clear: the air marshals who shot Alpizar may have reacted properly. Maybe he started yelling about a bomb after he got onto the jetway. But they don’t do their own case any good when they seemingly decline to tell us the straight truth about exactly what happened and why Alpizar was being pursued in the first place.

The first law of crisis PR is: talk to the press and tell the truth. If you don’t, people will concoct stories far worse than anything you can imagine. I think the Federal Air Marshal Service needs some lessons in this.

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