Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Parting (Cheap) Shot

Virginia Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, 1950-2007.

A memorial service was held today in Gloucester, Virginia for Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis. Ms. Davis, who represented Virginia's First Congressional District for three terms, passed away last Saturday at the age of 57, after a two-year battle with breast cancer.

Congresswoman Davis will be rightfully remembered as a highly effective legislator who worked tirelessly for military, ship building and veteran's programs. Her district covers much of Virginia's Tidewater Peninsula, home to a number of key military installation, including Langley AFB, the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, and Fort Eustis. Ms. Davis was also a champion of the Navy's ship-building program, securing contracts for the massive Northrup-Grumman shipyard in Newport News, which provided jobs for many of her constituents.

Jo Ann Davis's climb to Capitol Hill was nothing short of remarkable. She grew up poor in Hampton, Virginia, the daughter of a city bus driver. After graduating from high school, she attended a local business college and worked as a secretary before becoming a stay-at-home mom for her two sons. Later, as her children grew older and her husband pursued his career as a firefighter, Ms. Davis returned to the business world, becoming a very successful real estate agent and broker. She entered politics as a GOP outsider in 1996, winning a seat in Virginia's House of Delegates, before moving on to Congress four years later, after the death of long-time incumbent Herb Batemen.

So how did the largest daily newspaper on the Virginia peninsula--the Newport News Daily Press--remember Jo Ann Davis in today's coverage? Along with an article on last night's visitation service, held at a Denbigh church, the paper saw fit to include this little side-bar item:

The paper goes on to report that "The airport has had a heavy volume of private jets this morning -- reportedly more than two dozen -- because of a CEO conference in Williamsburg and the memorial service in Gloucester for U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis."

Give me a break. Admittedly, the Newport News-Williamsburg Airport doesn't have the traffic volume of Chicago's O'Hare Airport--or even Norfolk International, for that matter--but in today's travel environment, a 30-45 minute flight delay is so commonplace, it's hardly newsworthy.

In fact, I took a quick look at the FAA's Northeast Region (which includes airports from Viriginia to Maine) which revealed that some of the usual suspects--JFK and La Guardia Airports in New York; Newark Airport in New Jersey and Philadelphia International were experiencing delays of 30 minutes to one hour. But you won't see any sidebar stories about the delays in on-line editions of the Boston Globe, the New York Post or the Philly newspapers. (For the record, the reported delays were current as of 3:29 pm, EDT).

Besides, all those private jets that arrived in Virginia today filed flight plans for the trip, and they were in the FAA system. So, the traffic wasn't unexpected, and since they parked at the airport's general aviation ramp, the private jets weren't much of an impediment for the airlines that operate from Newport News. And, as the paper reports, they didn't create any delays. So where's the story?

On the other hand, reporting on the "influx" of private aircraft does allow the Daily Press to perpetuate that stereotype of "rich Republicans" who jetted in for the memorial service, creating possible delays for "ordinary" travelers. Readers will also note that the paper's reporter, Mike Holtzclaw, didn't bother to call the general aviation terminal and ask how many of the jets were connected to the CEO conference in Williamsburg, and the number associated with the Davis memorial service. No need to provide amplifying data that might interfere with a convenient stereotype.

The Daily Press may claim that their story was a testament to Davis's popularity--a woman with friends and supporters from all walks of life. But, by posting the "private jet" story, the paper also took a final, cheap (and grossly unfair) shot at a woman who was an exceptional public servant, and anything but the archetypal "rich" Republican that's implied by the aviation angle.

Next time an important Democratic politician passes away in Tidewater, we'll be waiting to see if the Daily Press provides a private jet count for their memorial service.

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