JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater became an instant hero following his emergency slide-assisted resignation, prompted by abuse from a passenger aboard the flight. But now three other people tell the Wall Street Journal that Slater "instigated the confrontation." What gives?

Have you heard about JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater and his adventures on a Monday flight from Pittsburgh to New York? (No? See here, here, here or here.)

According to Slater's version of the story, as told by his lawyer, Howard Turman, Slater intervened between two women fighting over baggage space while in Pittsburgh, and in the process sustained a gash to the forehead. When the plane landed at JFK, one of the women from the earlier confrontation became enraged and verbally abusive when her gate-checked bag wasn't available to her, responding with more cursing when Slater asked for an apology. At some point, Slater picked up the intercom, let rip an impromptu goodbye speech, grabbed two beers, popped the door and slid to the waiting tarmac.

The Wall Street Journal's article "Passenger: Flight Attendant Started Fray" appears to tell a somewhat different story. We think. In the Journal's account of Steven Slater's last flight, "Mr. Slater... was the one who instigated the confrontation that led to his now-famous exit."

The story relies on the testimony of three passengers: Marjorie Briskin, 53; Lauren Dominijanni, 24; and Marissa Liebhaber, 20. Briskin says she was "deplaning" when the woman standing in front of her, a female passenger in her 20s, asked Slater "where her bag was stowed":

Ms. Briskin said the seemingly normal conversation turned unexpectedly nasty when Mr. Slater blurted out an expletive to the passenger.

"I didn't think she was rude in the least," said Ms. Briskin, who was visiting the city for the first time. "It really blew my mind. It was so inappropriate."

Ms. Briskin said Mr. Slater sported a "nice gash" on his head for most of the flight, during which there were no problems until the end, when she said Mr. Slater began methodically opening the overhead bins and then slamming them shut.

Briskin—whose account contradicts the initial version of events, which held that Slater was angry with a passenger who got out of her seat when she was not supposed to, but seems to jibe with Slater's story as told by his attorney—says that Slater "looked disturbed at that point."

Her experience of Slater's "inappropriate" behavior is echoed by Dominijanni, who told the Journal that Slater "was rude to her the moment she got on the plane," rolling his eyes and refusing to help with coffee that had been spilled on her seat (because, you know, he had a gash on his forehead):

Ms. Dominijanni, of Pittsburgh, said that when she pointed to the spilled coffee, Mr. Slater barked, "No! Maybe when we get in the air! I need to take care of myself first, honey!" She said he was pointing to the gash on his head.

Ms. Dominijanni said Mr. Slater never returned with wipes to clean up the spilled coffee. She said he spent much of the 90-minute flight slamming overhead bins and refrigerator doors.

(Dominijanni, by the way, says she doesn't understand why Slater is being lauded as a working-class hero: "There are people out there who are dying for a job. I'm glad he's gone because someone can step in and do a much better job.")

The third passenger that the Journal talked to, a 20-year-old named Marissa Liebhaber, didn't have a specific anecdote demonstrating Slater's apparently odd mental state. But she does agree that Slater was acting "a little strange," and bumped into her during the flight but didn't apologize. (About the incident, she says: "It wasn't anything totally strange, just a little off.")

So, according to the Journal and its three witnesses, these are the crimes of Steven Slater:

  • "Blurted out an expletive" in conversation with a passenger
  • Slammed overhead bins and refrigerator doors
  • Rolled his eyes at a passenger and didn't bring her napkins
  • Bumped into a passenger and didn't apologize
  • Looked "disturbed" and acted "strange"

Uh, okay. And the final argument that led to Slater's infamous departure?

Like the other two passengers, Ms. Liebhaber said she didn't witness the outburst that has been attributed to Mr. Slater in press reports: getting into an argument with a passenger; taking over the PA system and spewing obscenities at the passengers before declaring that he quit; and then making the dramatic escape down the emergency chute.

"I didn't even know anything happened until I got home and my mom saw it on the news," said Ms. Liebhaber, who lives on Long Island, in East Meadow.

This is the part of the article where I steal two beers and unfurl the slide. None of them saw Slater "getting into an argument with a passenger"? What? Didn't Marjorie Briskin claim to see Slater "blurt an expletive" at a woman while deplaning?

That's not the only odd thing about the Journal article. Why only interview these three passengers, none of whom seem to have witnessed the confrontation or the infamous exit? Were there no other passengers available to talk to—passengers who might have watched Slater's fight, heard his intercom speech, or seen him deplane via inflatable vinyl? Passengers like Phil Catilenet, say? Furthermore, why are these three passengers coming forward now, so long after the initial event? And how did the Journal, which—unlike other New York media outlets—hasn't put many resources towards this story, find these three passengers, each with this entirely new angle?

The Journal isn't the only paper whose coverage of the Slater aftermath feels like it has big gaps. Newsday, relying on an anonymous source in an article about JetBlue interviewing passengers, writes that "a woman in her 70s" seated in the front of the plane where Slater's argument occurred "recalled nothing like the confrontation Slater described." So, uh, what exactly did she recall? Newsday's source is silent on that point.

Obviously, the Journal would never take an anti-labor, business-protecting stance. But come on: Is Steven Slater really a "disturbed," "rude" liar who "instigate[d] the confrontation"? Or is JetBlue taking some reporters on a ride?


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[Photo, top, via AP]

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