Overcoverage unfortunately means underreporting


I don’t know what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. And unless something miraculous happened on Wednesday, neither do you.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have my theories, and as a pilot, I’ve been asked almost daily what I think could have possibly made the Boeing 777 aircraft reverse course and likely end up in the Indian Ocean. I wish I did, because that would mean closure for the victims’ families as well as an end to the incessant wall-to-wall coverage the cable news networks have devoted to the story since the flight disappeared two weeks ago.

On CNN’s Reliable Sources program last Sunday, host Brian Stelter and Washington Post media columnist Erik Wemple debated — and endorsed — the merits of that network’s “over coverage” of the tragedy. Wemple even advocated a shake-up at the once cable news leader if it didn’t devote the bulk of its resources to the hearsay and speculation that has been the hallmark of MH370 reportage.

That’s right. They actually talked about talking about the story.


It wasn’t much better over at FOX News, where Greta Van Susteren pointed out that the fact that the flight’s captain was the one speaking to air traffic controllers upon departure, whereas the first officer made the last transmission before the flight’s disappearance, raised “the very real possibility” that something untoward happened on the flight deck. But pilots frequently share the duties of radio communication, especially when one member of the flight crew is indisposed in the lavatory.

The truth is that, even with the Malaysian government’s statement on Monday that all hands were lost — the news networks were debating the virtues of such a position Monday night — the possible explanations for the disappearance run the gamut of scenarios, from terrorism to dangerous cargo to malicious intent. And until the plane is found, no one will know what actually happened.

Much has been made of the fact that a team of nations has committed whole armies of resources to solving what has become the most intractable mystery of recent memory. And the effort is indeed impressive and necessary. The relative safety and efficiency of modern air travel is built upon the investigations of past tragedies and the resolve to make sure they never happen again.

But when looking at the behavior of the news networks, wouldn’t it be refreshing if the collective resources of CNN, FOX and MSNBC that had been dedicated to pondering the fate of 239 souls who, most likely, are already dead, would have been turned to the millions of others across the world whose futures are dependent on events unfolding in the here and now? Whether in East Asia, Central Africa, Eastern Europe or the Middle East, wars, famines and the combination of both demand our attention.

According to one reading of events, Russia was able to grab Crimea at a time when the world either wasn’t watching, or worse, didn’t care.

Syria has been engulfed in a civil war for more than three years and most people regard the carnage as the new reality. When looking a bit further south, you can’t help but wonder what the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be in a world suffering from the inattentiveness of political leaders and the publics that vote them into office.

Ours is a world of complexity that demands explanations. The demise of Flight 370 does need to be explained, but it is just one among a myriad of issues that reporters the world over should be following. Modern Jewish life is replete with tales of what happens to a community when apathy takes hold, and the same can be said for the future of modern society.

The cure for apathy is education, and the educators of the world — a group which should ideally include members of the media — owe it to their viewers, listeners and readers to inform more often than speculate.

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