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Reporter’s flight gains attitude as pilot uses ‘coded crudity’

A sign with a euphemism for a crude insult of President Joe Biden is displayed at a college football game between Boston College and Syracuse in Syracuse, N.Y., Oct. 30, 2021. (AP Photo / Joshua Bessex)

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Washington-based reporter Colleen Long was taking some much-deserved time off for a trip with her mom. But a good reporter and good timing came together for a very good story.

The ultimate news hook fell out of the sky, almost literally, as she flew from Houston to Albuquerque. The Southwest Airlines captain signed off his greeting to passengers with the “Let’s Go Brandon” phrase that is a right-wing euphemism for an expletive against President Joe Biden.

Coincidentally, Long — with contributions from AP Washington reporters Aamer Madhani, Mary Clare Jalonick, Brian Slodysko and Will Weissert, and Jenna Fryer in Charlotte, North Carolina — had been working on an explainer about the origin of the phrase, which she coined a “coded crudity.” The pilot’s announcement was the perfect peg. She immediately sent an update to her story back to the Washington bureau and emailed the airline for comment. Then, as she departed the plane, she asked permission to knock on the cockpit door and speak with the pilot. She was firmly instructed by flight attendants to exit the plane.

Long’s story, laying out how the phrase began at a NASCAR race and had become part of insult culture, was the most-read on apnews.com with more than a million page views, and the Southwest angle featured prominently on Twitter, amplifying the story. The piece also generated follow-up stories by major news outlets, many citing Long’s eye-witness account. Southwest initiated an investigation of the incident and denounced the pilot’s conduct.

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