Scott Hollifield: The strong smell of correction in the air

It’s a correction no media outlet wants to make. As the Dallas Morning News put it so delicately on July 17, an American Airlines spokesperson said a multitude of news stories “claiming a flight was evacuated because of fart-related odors are false.”

The initial story, which apparently originated from a TV news report about a flight from Charlotte to Raleigh with a gassy passenger aboard, got plenty of traction as evidence by these actual online headlines:

WRAL: “Flight crew evacuated off plane at RDU over ‘passed gas.’”

WBTV: ‘Passed gas’ forces passengers from plane at Raleigh-Durham Airport, spokesperson says.”

Travelweek: “What’s that smell? Fart reported to be cause of plane evacuation.”

I could go on, but you get the idea.

After international attention, American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein denied the “passed gas” claim so many outlets had reported, according to

“We did have an aircraft from Charlotte to RDU this afternoon, that landed at 2:19 p.m. ET, and arrived the gate at 2:21 p.m. ET, that is currently out of service for an actual mechanical issue – and odor in the cabin. But it is not due to ‘passed gas’ as mentioned,” Feinstein said in a statement.

That led to awkward corrections and clarifications like this one from WTSP, part of the USA Today Network:

“An earlier version of this story, based on other media reports, misstated American Airlines’ response to the odor. Passengers were routinely deplaned. American Airlines officials say reports that a flight was evacuated Sunday after flatulence caused passengers to become ill are false.”

Is that enough to right this foul-smelling wrong? I’m not so sure. As a service to my colleagues in the media and to help win back the public’s trust, I’ve written the following correction for any outlet caught up in Flatulencegate to use free of charge.

CORRECTION: An earlier story claiming a flight was evacuated because of a passenger’s horrific flatulence was false. We regret the error. Boy, do we regret it. But, in our defense, who can pass up a good flatulence story?

It almost writes itself. We in the media get to use what we believe are witty quips like “there was an ill wind blowing in Raleigh” or “the problem was right under their noses.”

Granted, it’s juvenile but it breaks up the stupefying monotony of Russian meddlers, health care debacles and the seemingly never-ending parade of man’s inhumanity to man. Sometimes, a dose of flatulence is what we need to keep our sanity.

Should we have checked a little harder to verify the story before putting it out there to a public that enjoys its flatulence news as much as we do? Sure, but after so many staff cuts, no raises and, frankly, a bleak future in this business, we are tired and we sometimes cut corners. Hey, that’s better than cutting the cheese, right? Sorry.

Back to the correction. We have taken steps to make sure nothing as terrible as this ever happens again. First, all news employees will undergo intense, week-long flatulence training, with an emphasis on investigation, verification and something else that ends in “tion.” It’s a work in progress.

Second, a three-person panel will review all flatulence-related stories before publication or airing. (Airing, get it? Again, sorry).

Finally, we will make sure our stories about flatulence are of public importance and not just presented for their comedic effects. We want you to know you can trust us in the future when we say, for instance, cow flatulence is contributing to global warming or Elon Musk is secretly working on a flatulence-powered spacecraft. When we report these stories, they will, to the best of our knowledge, be true.

There shouldn’t be a whiff of doubt.

Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, NC and a humor columnist. Contact him at rhollifield@mcdowellnews,com.

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