It was nice to see United Airlines Chief Executive Oscar Munoz issuing a public apology for the company’s actions last week.
Too often these days, companies and government agencies fail to accept responsibility for what they do (or don’t do).
Munoz’ apology came in the wake of an incident in which a paying passenger was dragged off a United flight by police after he refused to leave to give up his seat to accommodate company employees.
Video of the incident was plastered all over news outlets and the internet last week, causing a public uproar.
This is what we might politely call a public relations nightmare.
As much as I applaud Munoz’ contrite apology Wednesday, I must note that it was delivered three days after the incident, during which time the company saw its stock drop and heard public calls for a boycott of United from as far away as China.
It should also be noted that the tone of Wednesday’s apology was different from his initial comments after the incident, in which he described the passenger as “belligerent.” (He apologized for those comments Wednesday, as well).
In addition to issuing an apology, Munoz also announced that the company will be issuing refunds to the passenger who was removed, and all the other passengers on that flight.
He indicated there will be an investigation into the company’s policies, and changes will be made.
Members of Congress, including Minnesota’s senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, have pressed the company for answers about its policies related to over-booking flights and how this incident was handled.
I’m glad the company accepted responsibility for the incident, but, as a cynical observer, I can’t help wondering if it would have been so quick to do so if the video hadn’t been prominently featured on the national news for days after the event.
Exposing things like this is at the core of what journalists and news organizations do.
The reason is simple. People, as well as businesses and government institutions, make better decisions in the spotlight of public inspection.
This doesn’t mean they wouldn’t eventually get around to doing the right thing on their own, but I’m convinced they do it a lot more quickly when they know people are watching.
In the case of businesses, negative publicity can cost them money. As a result, the media bringing unfavorable information to the attention of the public can motivate business leaders to make changes.
Negative publicity seems less effective than it once was when it comes to keeping government officials on the straight and narrow, but it still has some influence, especially when it might affect the next election.
It is troubling that some elected officials are so arrogant that they don’t care if their misdeeds are made public.
Nonetheless, there is no question that things would be much worse if the news media was not keeping an eye on them and reporting their actions.
Transparency and public scrutiny help those in power make better decisions, and that is why it is important to have independent sources watching what they do.