News Brief: Trump's FAA Pick, Clergy Abuse Suit, Disney-Fox Deal
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The FAA has been without a permanent chief for more than a year. That soon may change, though.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Because President Trump has nominated Stephen Dickson for that job. He's a former Delta Airlines pilot and executive. If confirmed by the Senate, he will head an agency facing criticism after the crashes of two Boeing planes. One question facing the agency is this. Were regulators too cozy with Boeing as they analyzed the safety of the 737 Max?
MARTIN: Andy Pasztor is a senior special writer for The Wall Street Journal, who has followed Dickson's career, and he joins us now. Andy, thanks for being here.
ANDY PASZTOR: Good to be with you.
MARTIN: Tell us a little about why Stephen Dickson is the guy for this job - or the president thinks he is.
PASZTOR: So on paper, the - his qualifications are really excellent - 27 years at Delta, an Air Force Academy graduate, steeped in the air safety world for many years. The question really is whether he has the attitude and the vision to take the FAA to the next level, to the next stage. He's a compromised candidate, a mainstream candidate. The president really wanted his former corporate pilot, and the transportation...
MARTIN: His - the president's own former personal - private - corporate pilot.
PASZTOR: That's right. That's exactly right. And the transportation secretary and others in the industry convinced him that you needed somebody with management experience. So Mr. Dickson has that. But the issue is the FAA's place - is facing so many challenges, overseas and domestically, and do you really want somebody who's going to be following the old script or someone with a different view? And we'll see what happens.
The administration will portray this as a cleaning of the house after all the controversy swirling around the agency and all the issues related to these two crashes. There will be other personnel shake-ups, I think, for sure, over the next couple of months. And it still is an open question as to whether this is a fundamental change or just a titular new head and, basically, the same agency.
MARTIN: Well, is there anything in his background to suggest that he would hold the industry accountable? After all, as Steve noted, the central tension here is how close the FAA was to Boeing in terms of their safety check process.
PASZTOR: So let's put this in a little bit of context. The safety record in the U.S. has been absolutely phenomenal, better than anybody ever imagined in the safety world - 26 million flights a year, almost a billion passengers and, for almost a decade, not a single passenger fatality. So those are the accomplishments. The challenges, because of these two crashes, are really huge. The FAA has lost its stature overseas, much of it, because countries acted on their own to ground these jets. And now the Europeans and the Canadians are saying, we're going to check the safety of these jets before we let them back in the air, regardless of what the FAA says.
Mr. Dickson has a strong history of basically supporting the industry and keeping to the industry's basic philosophy. And so the issue is, when he comes over to the FAA, will there be changes both systematic and personnel change?
MARTIN: Just briefly, with the time we have remaining - there are some moves happening in the investigation, the broader investigation, about these 737 Max 8 airplanes. The Department of Transportation is asking for an audit of the FAA's approval, and the Justice Department is opening a criminal probe. What can you tell us about those developments?
PASZTOR: So what we have happening are a confluence of events that the industry has not seen in certainly many decades. A criminal investigation is almost unheard of for issues related to regulatory changes and regulatory decisions made by the FAA. They're also - inspector to - the Transportation Department's inspector general is looking at how the plane was certified, and now there's an audit going back and looking at exactly who did what. So...
MARTIN: Yeah. OK. We're going to - and as you note, this is unprecedented in several ways. Wall Street Journal senior special writer Andy Pasztor talking to us on Skype. Thanks so much.
PASZTOR: My pleasure.
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MARTIN: OK, we turn now to West Virginia, where the Catholic Diocese is facing accusations of knowingly employing pedophiles.
INSKEEP: Yeah, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says that when church officials faced evidence of abuse, they did a lot more than just look the other way.
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PATRICK MORRISEY: We allege that the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston persisted in covering up and keeping secret criminal behavior of priests relating to sexual abuse of children.
INSKEEP: The lawsuit filed yesterday concerns the only Roman Catholic diocese in West Virginia. It says the bishop allowed priests to keep working in churches, schools and camps, even after they were accused of criminal behavior.
MARTIN: Glynis Board is the assistant news director for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. She joins us now to talk about this. Glynis, can you give us more specifics about these allegations?
GLYNIS BOARD, BYLINE: Sure. Well, you know, there are two separate investigations - or there have been recently three if you count the attorney general's. And let's see - the dioceses began an internal investigation sometime last year, and then in September, the diocese's bishop, Michael Bransfield - well, he turned 75 years old. And as custom, he resigned. And Rome then accepted his resignation unusually fast and also launched, at the same time, its own investigation into allegations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults. Now, at that point, the attorney general sort of signaled that he wanted to investigate, but it wasn't clear they had really until yesterday's announcement.
Sure. Well, you know, there are two separate investigations - or there have been recently three if you count the attorney general's. And let's see - the dioceses began an internal investigation sometime last year, and then in September, the diocese's bishop, Michael Bransfield - well, he turned 75 years old. And as custom, he resigned. And Rome then accepted his resignation unusually fast and also launched, at the same time, its own investigation into allegations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults. Now, at that point, the attorney general sort of signaled that he wanted to investigate, but it wasn't clear they had really until yesterday's announcement.
Now, in November, the diocese released what they found during their internal probe. In what they called an effort to build back trust, they released this list of all the credibly accused names that they've been made aware of in the last 70 years, and that was 18 former clergy, and it also - that list included their assignments.
MARTIN: And this is a civil suit, though, that - the AG suit is not criminal.
BOARD: Yeah, that's sort of what separates this from a lot of the other suits that have been recently, you know, set against different priests throughout the country and in different states. It seems that the attorney general hopes that this might be a more successful prosecution than those criminal complaints, and of course, criminal complaints can often get hung up because of the statute of limitations.
MARTIN: So this is a string of abuse over a lot of years, allegedly. How's the diocese responding?
BOARD: They are challenging the allegations. A statement released yesterday indicates that there's questions about timelines and whether actual - whether accused priests were in fact knowingly placed in schools, as the lawsuit contends. And they say that there's a zero tolerance policy that's been in place for more than a decade. And they say that a lot of the details in the lawsuit came from their released documents, and that some of those allegations were not accurately described, and that some of them are more than 50 years old.
MARTIN: Glynis Board of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, talking to us on Skype. Glynis, thanks for sharing your reporting on this.
BOARD: Thanks very much.
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MARTIN: Early this morning, the mouse swallowed the fox.
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INSKEEP: As of midnight, the familiar theme of 21st Century Fox is owned by the makers of this other familiar theme.
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INSKEEP: Don't know about you, but I'm just barely keeping from singing along.
INSKEEP: Anyway, Disney - the home of Mickey Mouse and ESPN and a lot more - acquired 21st Century Fox today.
MARTIN: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans is here to sort us - sort through the implications of this megamerger. Hey, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: We're so lucky that Steve didn't sing (laughter).
MARTIN: Right? I'm glad you said it. I didn't have to.
INSKEEP: Eric, be careful. I could break into song at any time, Eric.
DEGGANS: Oh, no. Let's go.
INSKEEP: Oh, yes. There's a story. Please proceed.
MARTIN: What does Disney get out of this deal, Eric?
DEGGANS: Well, it's a $71.3 billion deal. It involves two of the biggest studios in Hollywood. So, you know, it involves a lot of names in TV and film you already know. So Disney gets outlets like 20th Century Fox Television, which produces shows like "Empire" and "Modern Family," along with Fox Animation and National Geographic Partners. Fox, meanwhile, has created this stand-alone company called Fox Corporation that includes the Fox broadcast network, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, Fox Sports. In fact, former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was named to that new Fox Corporation's board.
MARTIN: Right, I saw that.
INSKEEP: So wait a minute. So Fox News stays with Rupert Murdoch and his family and not with Disney, right?
MARTIN: So this deal was announced a while ago - December 2017. Why'd it take so long to close?
DEGGANS: Well, it's one of the biggest media deals in recent history. You got these regulatory agencies across the world that had to sign off on this deal, including the U.S. Department of Justice, which made Disney sell off several regional sports networks that were owned by Fox, just to keep them from dominating too much of the sports TV industry here.
MARTIN: So this has got to be something that's going to bring a lot of change to TV and film, the industries, right? What's going to happen?
DEGGANS: Well, you know, behind the scenes, we've already heard about big executive changes, right? You know, top TV executives from Fox are moving over to lead television at Disney. A top executive at AMC was named to head entertainment at this streamlined Fox. But lower down the ladder, there's lots of anxiety in Hollywood that thousands of people will likely lose their jobs when Disney starts to consolidate its film and TV properties.
MARTIN: Right. I mean, like, that sort of happens when two huge companies merge.
DEGGANS: With a lot of redundancies, yeah.
MARTIN: With a lot of redundancies, right. So what about us? This is really what it's about.
DEGGANS: Of course.
MARTIN: I mean, sympathy to those who may lose their jobs, obviously, but how is it going to affect what we watch?
DEGGANS: Well, you know, Disney is going to bulk up, right? I mean, it's going to become the home of everything from "The Simpsons" to "Star Wars." And that's going to provide a lot of content for this new streaming service that they're putting together called Disney+. Disney also gets a bigger stake in Hulu. So Hulu can be a home to more adult fare like the "Deadpool" movies, while Disney+ is going to have more family-friendly fare. Comic fans are going to love seeing superheroes from the Marvel Universe in the same corporate home with 20th Century Fox's "Deadpool" and "X-Men" characters at Disney.
Whatever happens, I'm expecting to see a lot of real change at Disney-owned ABC network and the Fox broadcast network next year after they've had about 12 months - or more than 12 months to really figure out what the program is going to look like on those broadcast networks - even more new programming in lots of different places.
MARTIN: OK, that part sounds good. NPR's Eric Deggans. We should mention, 21st Century Fox and Walt Disney Pictures are corporate sponsors to NPR. Thanks, Eric.
DEGGANS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.