Talking Points

Is there a problem between reporters and DIA's media staff? Depends on whom you ask.

Cannon and Bourgeron say the release wasn't meant to imply that press inquiries would be ignored during this span, but many reporters took it that way, because the DIA office had attempted to restrict late-night phone calls a couple of months before. "We were getting paged during all hours of the night about things that would have been on the media line if there were problems," Cannon maintains. "Like if it started to snow, we'd get calls asking, 'Are there going to be delays?' Well, we had no way of knowing that. And we'd get calls every time the media line said there was an 'amber alert,' which is a precautionary rule; every time a pilot calls the tower to report a problem, there's an amber alert, and the communication center scrambles the fire trucks to the runway. But 99.99 percent of the time, they're not serious problems, and yet we were getting calls about them anyway. So we stopped the pager from even paging between ten at night and six in the morning."

Nonetheless, the guidelines sparked outrage from reporters who didn't think DIA media types had the right to unilaterally decide what was news and what wasn't. A series of meetings at local TV stations followed, and eventually, Cannon says, the press officers agreed to leave the pagers on, "but we asked reporters to page us after hours only in an emergency situation, and we made an effort to put more information on the media line for them. And for the most part, the media has been very cooperative with this new policy. I think it's been beneficial for all of us."

Perhaps -- but Channel 7's Ferrugia feels that bad blood remains. He's been extremely critical of security at DIA and other U.S. airports, and, in a series of investigations, he showed how easy it would be for someone in a wheelchair to sneak weapons onto planes. Ferrugia says Cannon shrugged off the initial reports with the remark, "Could have, would have. This is not a story." The casualness of this dismissal returned to Ferrugia's mind after the terrorist strikes, which he says made him physically ill: "I threw up after watching it." He says he called Bourgeron "to ask if this still wasn't a story, and she was very short with me. She gave the standard boilerplate response -- 'Security is our highest priority' -- and then basically cut me off." According to Ferrugia, this reaction is typical of DIA: After he's exposed problems at other city agencies, he's gotten thanks from officials for bringing faults in need of correction to their attention, "but that's not the way it works at the airport. The attitude you get from them is, 'This is none of your business, and we're not going to talk to you about it.'"

Fred Harper

DIA reps seem not to know where such reactions are coming from. Cannon argues that his staff did a great job under difficult circumstances; not only were the attacks unprecedented, but Cannon was on vacation when they started (he wasn't supposed to return until September 13), and airport manager Bruce Baumgartner was in Montreal at an industry conference and didn't even make it back to Denver until the following Sunday. Bourgeron echoes these sentiments: "Every single man and woman that's part of the department of aviation did an incredible job in dealing with this incident, and the media-relations staff showed that they understand their role as the front line to reach people with information, and how it's in support of our overall mission, which is to ensure the safety of those who work at and use DIA."

Bourgeron also has praise for the press, which was feted in a September 15 airport press release: "The entire DIA family would like to thank all members of the media for the tremendous communications effort that has been sustained to reach the public with information. We believe that the overwhelming calm and immeasurable patience of the people who had to endure hours of waiting at DIA is a direct result of your efforts."

Even so, friction remains, and mayoral spokesman Hudson believes the air needs to be cleared. "I think there should perhaps be a debriefing among local press and city and DIA officials, so that we can have a dialogue about the situation that occurred out there," he says.

That would suit USA Today's O'Driscoll just fine. "This was not ground zero for these horrible attacks, but they were acting as if it were," he says. "I'm fearful of what kind of roadblocks are going to be thrown up if something truly horrible actually happens out there at DIA."

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help