Were We Wrong About the JetBlue Attendant?

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Have the American people been fed a lie? This week there's been an outpouring of support for JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater who quit his job in rare form after getting harassed by a female passenger. Or so we thought. Today, the Wall Street Journal interviews a passenger on Slater's plane who says he started the confrontation—not the woman.

Slater's story, you'll remember, is that he broke up a fight between two women arguing over an "oversized piece of luggage" in the overhead compartment. Later, one of those women began verbally-abusing him and that's when he snapped. He grabbed the intercom, cussed out the whole plane, grabbed the beers, opened the emergency exit and the rest is history.

Today, the Journal speaks with three passengers who say Slater was cranky and bent out of shape from the beginning:

Lauren Dominijanni, 25, who was flying to New York on business, said Mr. Slater was rude to her the moment she got on the plane.

She said someone had spilled coffee on her seat and when she asked for a sanitary wipe to clean it up, Mr. Slater "rolled his eyes at me and said, 'What?' in a real rude manner."

As for the confrontation when Slater snapped, Marjorie Briskin, a 53-year-old schoolteacher on board, said Slater started it:

Ms. Briskin said the seemingly normal conversation turned unexpectedly nasty when Mr. Slater blurted out an expletive to the passenger.

"I didn't think she was rude in the least," said Ms. Briskin, who was visiting the city for the first time. "It really blew my mind. It was so inappropriate."

So is Slater's status as a cult hero misplaced? Gawker's Max Read, for one, isn't ready to close the book on Slater. He takes a close look at the Journal story and finds a potential contradiction. Later on in the article, the Journal writes that none of the interviewed passengers "witness[ed] the outburst that has been attributed to Mr. Slater in press reports." This is quite odd because the beginning of the article is deliberately written to suggest that Briskin witnessed the moment that Slater snapped. Furthermore, the headline of the article is "Passenger: Attendant Started Fray." So if the passenger never witnessed the all-important outburst, how could she accuse Slater of starting the fight? Read raises further skepticism:

That's not the only odd thing about the Journal article. Why only interview these three passengers, none of whom seem to have witnessed the confrontation or the infamous exit? Were there no other passengers available to talk to—passengers who might have watched Slater's fight, heard his intercom speech, or seen him deplane via inflatable vinyl? Passengers like Phil Catilenet, say? Furthermore, why are these three passengers coming forward now, so long after the initial event? And how did the Journal, which—unlike other New York media outlets—hasn't put many resources towards this story, find these three passengers, each with this entirely new angle?

Perhaps the truth will come out in court. Or maybe the Columbia Journalism Review will weigh in. We'll keep you posted.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.