Why You Need to Check Your Quotes Before Hitting the Send Button
I caught up to a nice story on the USA Today "Today in the Sky" blog about the retirement of Delta's senior pilot who, among his many accomplishments, never missed a day of work in 45 years at the airline. The blog post was actually an AP dispatch, which was rewritten from a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But this human-interest slice of life about how Cal Flanigan got to live his dream is muddied by a quote that is questionable at best. Questionable in that it's hard to believe that the speaker actually meant to say what he said if he said it that way at all. Questionable in that the reporter did not challenge him about what he said. And questionable that the AP and, by extension, USA Today, repurposed it verbatim.
Flanigan is “very humble — he epitomizes the principles of servant leadership,” the AJC quotes Delta senior VP of flight operations Steve Dickson as saying.
Servant? The implications of that word are especially troubling, given that Flanigan happens to be black and worked for an airline based in a city with a troubled civil-rights history. Yet, it was an airline that also gave him a shot in the cockpit in 1976, after he came through the ranks as a mechanic.
A guy like Flanigan, who's logged more than 12.5 million miles and flown to six continents would never be mistaken for a servant. Delta CEO Richard Anderson called Flanigan a "hero of mine." In other words, not a servant.
Because of that, I find it hard to believe Dickson said what he is quoted as saying. Let's swap out servant for "service," and you have a quote that's not only better, but probably more accurate. Either way, dicey words should prompt red flags, which at least one reporter and several editors somehow ignored.