The Media Is Biased Towards Fairness But There Aren’t Two Sides to This Story

In the old Aaron Sorkin HBO series The Newsroom the cast makes an important point about journalism. The media is biased towards fairness and simply doesn’t call a lie a lie.

Delta, American and United keep arguing that Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad accept government subsidies and that this violates the Open Skies treaties that the U.S. has signed with the UAE and Qatar. Only it doesn’t violate those treaties. At all. Anyone that reads the treaties knows that.

  • Journalists don’t read the treaties, and it doesn’t matter if they did

  • Because journalists keep repeating the ‘two sides to every story’ mantra. They repeat “US airlines claim..” and “The Gulf carriers respond…” as though there wasn’t an absolutely right side to the argument.

Delta claims Gulf carriers violate Article 11 of the treaty. However Article 11 requires that, along with other similar provisions,

neither Party shall unilaterally limit the volume of traffic, frequency or regularity of service, or the aircraft type or types operated by the designated airlines of the other Party, except as may be required for customs, technical, operational, or environmental reasons under uniform conditions consistent with Article 15 of the Convention.

Article 11 is called “fair competition” but what that means is that government will not stand in the way of airlines choosing where to fly, how often, or with what aircraft. Delta’s argument amounts to ‘the world fair is there and we say they’re being unfair.’

The treaty only mentions the word subsidies once (not in Article 11, which is what Delta claims is at issue), does not prohibit subsidies, and even contemplates traffic rights for airlines owned entirely by governments.

Benjamin Zhang, who’s a good aviation report, writes for Business Insider about remarks by Emirates CEO Tim Clark about Open Skies. He falls into this trap.

The US3 claim Emirates along with Etihad and Qatar Airways (the ME3) have received more than $50 billion in subsidies over the past decade.

According to the US3, this is a violation of the Open Skies agreement that governs air travel between the US and the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

It is something Clark has categorically denied.

Here the ‘he said she said’ just isn’t good journalism.

Nonetheless he reports on important points that Clark makes. They’re 100% adhering to the terms of the international treaty the US negotiated, which explicitly does not allow for Emirates to operate commercial flights between two US cities. That market is protected for US airlines, who have invested in carriers around the world that are owned and subsidized by their governments.

Open Skies has been good for US jobs, with Boeing aircraft sales (something Delta spurns) booming as a result. And revisiting the right to operate flights between two countries besides a carrier’s home country calls into question Fedex’s hub in Dubai.

When the US and Qatar came to an understanding on these issues Qatar said they aren’t currently considering flights between Europe and the U.S. They haven’t sought to operate such flights, and indeed their transatlantic flying will come via Air Italy (they own a 49% stake) as well as British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus (since they’re the largest shareholder). Yet the media reported that as a win for Delta, American and United… because Delta, American and United said so.

There aren’t always two sides to a story. Delta, American, and United want to claim it’s unfair to compete against government-backed businesses, though I don’t know what good they are if they can’t compete against enterprises they’d content are akin to the DMV or the Post Office. They want the US government to take money from consumers and give it to airline shareholders at a time when those businesses are among the most profitable in the world. Simply calling out ‘he said she said’ instead of informing the public of that is a dereliction of duty.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Keep beating this drum because in this era of protectionism Delta’s nonsense is garnering a good bit of sympathy from the uninformed public. It is quite sad what passes for journalism.

  2. Don’t forget that the “Chapter 11 Three” are hugely subsidized. That is the whole point of Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code — have creditors (e.g. bond-owning pensioners) subsidize a bankrupt carrier.

  3. In addition to the bankruptcy laws subsidizing U.S. airlines there is also the Railway Labor Act preventing airline employees from strikes and job actions.

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