Southwest Airlines did not have a good weekend. A combination of some weather disruptions and air-traffic-control issues in Florida cascaded into hundreds of delayed and canceled flights.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't be especially notable. By Tuesday, the mess was largely resolved; stranded passengers were rebooked; Southwest's CEO issued an apology; and the travel world was ready to move on.
But as it turns out, there was an unexpected political dimension to all of this. The Associated Press reported this morning:
When Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights over the weekend, citing bad weather and air traffic control issues, unsupported claims blaming vaccine mandates began taking off. Conservative politicians and pundits, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, alleged the flight disruptions resulted from pilots and air traffic controllers walking off their jobs or calling in sick to protest federal vaccination requirements.
I can appreciate the simplicity of the logic: President Joe Biden unveiled a new policy related to vaccines; major U.S. airlines required employees to get vaccinated; and Southwest Airlines had a rough weekend. Ergo, the White House is to blame for the flights Southwest had to delay and cancel.
The problem, of course, is the whole correlation/causation problem. Yes, Biden is trying to end the pandemic by getting people vaccinated, and yes, Southwest experienced some troubles, but according to the airline, its pilots' union, and the Federal Aviation Administration, the former is unrelated to the latter.
Evidently, however, this isn't what Ted Cruz wanted to hear.
The Texas Republican, who recently ran into a little trouble for carelessly pushing misinformation online, published a tweet on Sunday — which he still hasn't taken down — that told the public, "Joe Biden's illegal vaccine mandate at work! Suddenly, we're short on pilots & air traffic controllers." The senator added a hashtag: "#ThanksJoe."
Cruz linked to a CNBC report that did not connect the White House's policy to Southwest's troubles, though it did point to "speculation on social media" blaming vaccine mandates for the flight delays and cancelations.
The Washington Post noted what happened next:
The [Houston] Chronicle's Jay Jordan outlined what was known about the cancellations, contrasting it with Cruz's claims. Cruz then accused Jordan on Twitter of being a "Dem propagandist" for outlining that evidence and offered a circumstantial defense of his initial claim. Jordan responded in kind. That "Dem propagandist" dig is telling, though. For Cruz, an effort to contextualize his unsubstantiated claims is definitionally an effort to aid his political opponents. It's not only that Cruz is glomming onto this conservative-guerillas-fighting-the-leftist-autocracy framing for airplanes not flying, it's that he is framing an effort to evaluate his claims against reality with another volley in the partisan cold war.
In Cruz's mind, those providing factual details to the public must be "propagandists" aligned with Democrats — as if Stephen Colbert's Comedy Central character were right about reality having a liberal bias.
Unfortunately, given the standards of our current discourse, it will soon be an accepted "fact" that Biden is to blame for Southwest's recent difficulties. It won't be true, but the truth won't matter.