Opinion: Plane coverage overblown, especially considering other world events

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Unless you spent your spring break under a rock, you’re probably very familiar with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

It’s been called “the greatest aviation mystery of all time,” and with good reason. It’s certainly not everyday that a Boeing 777 vanishes into thin air. Hundreds of people have been missing since the jet appeared to drop off the face of the earth on March 8, leaving the rest of us to wonder what the heck happened.

On Monday, the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that satellite data showed the plane “ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” seemingly bringing a tragic, but anticlimactic, end to weeks of speculation. The major driving force behind the rampant “what ifs,” of course, was the international media. Despite a considerable lack of facts and new information, the talking heads of cable news went on for hours about the case.

On the one hand, you can’t really blame them. After all, it was an incredibly intriguing story. It seemed like something out of a Tom Clancy novel: a massive jet liner, gone without a trace; pilots with questionable backgrounds; and evidence of tampering with tracking devices. People were fascinated by this, and wanted to know more about it, the little there was to be known. To a certain extent, networks have to give viewers what they want. I get that.

However, the coverage went too far in a couple of ways. With so much desire for information and so few concrete facts, speculation was a given and got out of hand. The networks that millions of Americans trust for news entertained some pretty outlandish theories. Many argued that the plane could have been landed in locations like the Andaman Islands, Kazakhstan, or Pakistan, where it would be stored and later used as a weapon in a terrorist attack. Others claimed the plane could have flown to an altitude high enough to kill the passengers on board by decompression. Some said a fire could have brought the plane down. One blogger even wrote that the plane could have closely tailed a Singapore Airlines flight that was in the vicinity to avoid radar detection.

We still don’t know exactly what happened to the plane, and we’ll likely never know the full story, but the statement from Malaysia’s prime minister pretty clearly debunked a lot of those theories. Hopefully, media outlets learned their lesson and will stick to the facts on the story from this point forward, but I’m not holding my breath.

The biggest issue I have with the relentless coverage of the flight disappearance is that it took precedence over other unfolding stories that are just as, if not more, important. Just last week, Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine after holding a referendum that the rest of the free world, including Ukraine, refuses to recognize. Although networks covered the escalating tensions in Ukraine for months, they were distracted when the situation reached a crescendo.

The story of MH370 is full of tragedy. Hundreds of passengers died, and their family members had to deal with the emotional torture of not knowing where their loved ones were or if they were still alive. Major news outlets should have been much more professional with their handling of the story. Had they simply reported the facts and moved on to a different story, not only would they have saved themselves a great deal of embarrassment, they’d have done a more thorough and complete job covering global news.

Mike Stanton is a sophomore in journalism and mass communications. Please send comments to [email protected]

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