Fox News is once again facing claims of bias and accusations of spreading misinformation after a chyron on The Ingraham Angle blamed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for the ongoing meltdown of Southwest Airlines.
The holiday season was disrupted for tens of thousands of Americans around the country but particularly in the northeast and midwest thanks to devastating winter weather that caused many flights to be cancelled and many more to be delayed. But as most airlines recovered in the wake of the storms, Southwest Airlines saw the near-total collapse of its ability to crew and launch flights — resulting in a cancellation crisis approaching seven in ten flights that has continued for several days.
On Wednesday evening, the producers of Laura Ingraham’s show in Fox’s nightly opinion lineup sought to blame the issue directly on the secretary of Transportation — ignoring the promises of Mr Buttigieg to hold the airline accountable as well as the simple reality that his department does not have direct control over airlines.
The segment featured a guest appearance from Raymond Arroyo, a right-wing commentator for Catholic broadcaster Eternal Word Television Network.
“This guy’s actually bragging about making Southwest put customer service commitments in writing,” Mr Arroyo mockingly said of the secretary.
Meanwhile, the secretary of Transportation has been active across news networks fielding questions from reporters about the unfolding problems at Southwest and insisting that his agency will enforce laws requiring the company to offer refunds and other services to stranded customers. He has not offered a time frame for when the cancellations and resulting strandings will stop, though Mr Buttigieg says he remains in close contact with Southwest.
He has, however, been unsparing in his rhetoric about the situation and blamed the company harshly for the ongoing issues. In recent interviews, the secretary has made clear that the agency does not consider weather to be a factor in the cancellation crisis currently affecting Southwest flights.
The Fox chyron was roundly mocked by Democrats on social media, including by a former executive director of the West Virginia Democratic Party.
“The blame is so laughable. Fox News has blamed Pete Buttigieg â who is not the CEO of Southwest Airlines â for the airline company’s holiday travel meltdown,” wrote Steve McElroy.
“If Fox News is going to blame Pete Buttigieg for the collapse of Southwest Airlines during this storm, then they might as well also lay the blame at his feet for Buffalo's failure to clear their streets in a timely fashion. Hell, let's just blame Mayor Pete for the whole storm,” wrote another commenter.
But Mayor Pete’s critics aren’t only made up of right-wing Fox News hosts and their associated guests.
A coalition of dozens of state attorneys general wrote to the agency earlier this year, blaming Mr Buttigieg’s team for not doing more to punish airline companies for a series of frustrating and unexplained delays and cancellations that ticked up over the summer.
“Americans are justifiably frustrated that federal government agencies charged with overseeing airline consumer protection are unable or unwilling to hold the airline industry accountable,” they wrote at the time. Their frustrations have been echoed by a number of progressive senators, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Corporate accountability advocates say those concerns are justified — and that Mr Buttigieg’s helming of the Transportation Department shoulders some of the blame.
“What’s happening this week is just the latest and perhaps the worst manifestation of problems that have been going on since Buttigieg took office,” William McGee of the American Economic Liberties Project told The Hill. “We had high hopes for him, and I think, quite frankly, he has been a tremendous disappointment. He could be doing much more, and for whatever reason he has chosen not to use the authority that he clearly has.”