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Distrust so huge that even proof is disbelieved

What I can describe only as irresponsible reporting by a national cable news network spiraled so far out of control last week that even after two of my most experienced reporters spent days chasing and eventually debunking a Mahoning Valley connection, many readers remain unconvinced.

It all started Monday when Fox News aggregated a story initiated by The New York Post about migrants being flown on charter flights from Texas to Florida to New York. The Post staked out and photographed airplanes overnight at a suburban New York airport.

“The charter flights originate in Texas, where the ongoing border crisis has overwhelmed local immigration officials,” Monday’s Post article stated. “Last week, The Post saw two planes land at the Westchester County (NY) Airport.”

Post sources allege the flights are a Biden administration effort to secretly resettle migrants.

Indeed, the allegations triggered outrage, but it wasn’t until Fox News picked up the story that my office telephone began to ring.

Fox News aired a map showing routes where one of the charter aircraft had landed in the past month. The map highlighted Abilene, Kansas; Springfield, Mo.; Lexington, Ky.; and — you guessed it — Youngstown, Ohio.

Regarding those charter flights, Fox News anchor Eric Shawn said simply, “We don’t know those missions.”

In my business, we call that a “leap.”

Here’s why.

Charter aircraft may be chartered by anyone with a purpose and a credit card. And just because a certain aircraft was spotted carrying migrants on one occasion does not mean that particular aircraft carries only migrants.

Charter flights frequently land at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport for things like business or gambling junkets. Or, as in this instance, they might be transporting an athletic team.

Logic, you say? Phooey!

The wild rumors were gaining momentum. Without evidence, people began making their own leaps, somehow linking alleged clandestine migrant drop-offs to a local Democratic congressman, the Youngstown mayor and even to Gov. Mike DeWine.

One email to us blamed U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, for “allowing illegal migrant underage kids to be flown into Youngstown airport in the middle of the night.”

Some emails pinpointed the exact time of the alleged drop-off. Another reader said she’d heard the Youngstown mayor was housing young migrants at a local jail.

Even former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, now challenging DeWine for the governor’s seat, sent a press release demanding to know why the governor wasn’t coming clean about this to Ohioans.

Sadly, callers also accused our newsroom and all the local media of conspiring to intentionally cover up this story.

Really?

We did not. And here’s the rest of the story to prove it.

A New York Post photo showed the registration number of one of the planes. Using that number, we tracked the aircraft’s flight history, determining it had, indeed, landed at our airport in Vienna at 4:55 p.m. Oct. 9, coming from Lexington, Ky. It departed at 7:51 p.m. to Springfield, Mo., where it landed at 9:32 p.m.

Our veteran journalist Ron Selak Jr. tracked down a man who was part of the airport ground crew working that charter plane. He was “100 percent sure” the plane arrived carrying only the flight crew. It departed about three hours later carrying the Missouri State Bears football team after its loss to the Youngstown State Penguins earlier in the day.

(And just in case there are doubts about that, I can vouch for the Bears appearance. My husband and I attended the Penguins game that day.)

Distrust in media today is truly disheartening.

I was even more disheartened with results of Thursday’s Vindicator online poll. One day after our story debunking the rumor ran, 49 percent said they still believed migrants had landed at our airport.

I cannot speak for other news outlets, but I do speak for this newspaper when I say we always do our best to report the whole story with accuracy and balance. If we fall short, we admit it.

Without our credibility, after all, what else do we have?

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