CNN’s MH370 Coverage a Sad Statement on News Coverage in America

As anyone who follows me on Twitter has probably figured out over the past month, I have a real problem with CNN’s coverage of the missing Fight MH370. And my argument isn’t that the story doesn’t constitute news. It certainly does. In fact it probably has deserved to lead every national newscast for the past month, except for a few days after the horrific mudslides in Washington. Instead my problem is that CNN shills out hour after hour of MH370 coverage, at the expense of other very important news, for ratings. Which leads me to my second problem, that America is more fascinated with this than it is with other news items, such as Russia annexing a sovereign country or the America’s new medical insurance program, which in some way directly impacts just about every American.

And this coverage has undoubtedly paid off for CNN in terms of ratings and profit. Recently released ratings for the month of March show that CNN is ahead of competitor MSNBC for the first time since last summer. MSNBC, for their part, has tried to stay away from excessive plane coverage. This shows a general correlation that more plane coverage = higher ratings, less plane coverage = lower ratings. CNN’s weekday primetime coverage for March 2014 is up 35% in total viewers compared to March 2013. Between March 12 and March 14 Anderson Cooper’s “360” beat Bill O’Reilly’s “Factor” on Fox News three consecutive nights.

And, so, it absolutely baffles me that so many people have watched CNN repeat the same news hour after hour every day. In fact, it seems much of the news is the same each day that passes. CNN’s coverage was fantastic in the first few days after the plane’s disappearance. However, CNN’s coverage quickly turned to filling time with conspiracy theories and other inane filler that doesn’t actually result in the reporting of any news, you know, what news reporters are supposed to do. The inane on CNN has ranged from countless “aviation experts”, some of whom have very questionable credentials, to a full-time reporter at a flight simulator in Mississauga (the only time Canada is ever mentioned on CNN, I might add), to model planes and the use of “breaking news” for the smallest of items.

I’ll start with the aviation experts. Some of these experts are in fact ex-pilots or flight engineers, or at least I’d hope they are. However, CNN’s go-to man on aviation expertise is Richard Quest. A CNN regular, Quest is only moonlighting as an expert on MH370, he has a day job as a CNN business analyst. One could question why Quest even still has a job at CNN, after he was found in Central Park with crystal meth in 2008. But I’ll simply stick to questioning why he is a plane analyst (er aviation expert), and the answer is I haven’t a clue.

Another aspect of CNN’s time-filling is their use of planes, big and small, real and fake. CNN has used the simulator in Mississauga quite often to show what it is like for a plane to ascend, descend or turn left at a rapid rate. Only problem is none of us viewers can actually tell what these movements feel like, so we have to rely on the CNN reporter inside the cockpit to describe them for us. Fascinating stuff. If a life-size simulator wasn’t enough, Don Lemon appealed to the inner-child in all of us when he showed the plane’s movements using a model plane a few weeks ago. This 80 second video is great because it pretty much sums up CNN’s speculation as well. And, unbelievably, it wasn’t Don Lemon’s worst on-air moment of the past month, but more on that later.

The craziest part of CNN’s coverage are the theories of what happened to the plane. Of course we really don’t know what happened and won’t until the black box is recovered, if it ever is. But that simple, newsworthy explanation would only take a minute to report. CNN needed something juicy that would last for days. And so, the conspiracy theories came in. The first of these was the immediate linking two Iranians with stolen passports (apparently a rather disturbingly often occurrence) to a supposed hijacking. When officials revealed the plane could be in any number of former Soviet Union countries, speculation began that the Iranians were going to use the plane for a later terrorist attack on Israel. Then investigators realized the Iranians were just normal passengers, so attention turned to the pilots, despite a complete lack of evidence that either had any motive. But no, CNN’s theories didn’t stop there at these surprisingly plausible explanations. CNN had to go a step further, quickly turning the “Zombie Plane Theory” (why not latch on to America’s most watched show, The Walking Dead?), while Lemon outdid himself questioning if the plane’s disappearance was supernatural or caused by a mini black hole.

But I think CNN’s coverage, and America’s consumption of it, shows a larger problem with society. In a reality show era of television, live 24/7 news has almost become just another form of reality TV. There are many examples before MH370. One of the defining examples was nightly primetime coverage of the Iraq War. CNN, along with Fox News and MSNBC, showed coverage of American bombings in Iraq. And the people loved it as all three cable news networks set ratings records. Fascinated viewers watched villages being bombed. Regardless of the fact that these bombings killed many innocent people, viewers didn’t care because they never actually saw this. It also deflected coverage away from talk about whether the war itself was just, ethical or any number of other things. Another example was the coverage of the search for the Boston Marathon bombers a year ago. Of course the difference was that search lasted 24 hours, not a month. And for the record, I thought it did make for fascinating television.

I think CNN could cover the plane story better by covering it less, and by focusing on other ignored aspects. For example cooperation, or a lack of, between the various Asian countries involved in the search could be investigated more. As could the poorly handled investigation by Malaysia or whether any Asian countries are considering better radar coverage. Or they could look into how outrageously easy it seems to board a plane with fake passports.

Actually I think CNN had one of the great, moving moments in news this year when it aired an interview with the previously mentioned Iranian passenger’s mother. Turns out she is living in Germany, receiving cancer treatments and awaiting refugee status. Her son wanted to visit her quickly in case her cancer became worse.  He figured a stolen passport was his best chance to get from Iran to Germany. Due to his love for his mother, he was on the plane. And now she has to live with that. The interview is absolutely heartbreaking.

The other thing that is fascinating about CNN’s coverage is the flow of events. When it came to light the plane had taken a left turn after leaving Malaysia, which I consider the turning point in this whole event, CNN has constantly clung on to one small piece of news per day, before discarding it for something else when it is proven irrelevant. They started off with the “northern and southern arcs”, and how the plane could have been flown to some remote former Soviet airstrip unnoticed. Despite that logic tells us the plane probably flew south crashing into the Indian Ocean, CNN focused on the remote possibility that it was refueling somewhere in one of the “stans” for a potential future terror attack.

When officials revealed it had in fact headed south, CNN turned their focus to the pilot’s flight simulator. They made it sound odd that a pilot who loved flying would own a simulator. They came up with theories that maybe he had practiced flying a plane into the Indian Ocean, or maybe an airstrip on a small island in the Indian Ocean, and that this was (or had once been) recorded on his simulator. When these theories had finally run their course, and investigators announced there was a new “search area” off the coast of Australia, CNN moved their coverage to an entirely new continent.

And with this new search area came over a week of day-after-day coverage with breaking news, officials had found “their best lead yet.” Of course that isn’t saying much considering every lead in this story has turned out completely wrong. And so CNN took to showing grainy satellite images of objects in the ocean, and day after day these turned out to be ocean trash. And now with the news that Chinese and Australian officials have found the much-talked about, famous “pings” of the black box maybe they will finally find the wreckage and CNN can move on to reporting actual news about the crash, which I think we are all anxious to hear, and put behind them this embarrassing reality-show style coverage.

18 thoughts on “CNN’s MH370 Coverage a Sad Statement on News Coverage in America

  1. I won’t get into details about the lies of the USA. But I know they know where this plane is. There hiding the truth, they know where it is. There’s something behind it. They will make up all these stories. But really it’s interesting life with all the lies.

    • Hahahahaha! You KNOW they know where the plane is? Tell us, then. But take off the tinfoil hat first.

      • Well kinda meant Malaysia knew were plane is sorry and hiding it.
        But do know USA lies so much. Hide the truth. The USA set up 9/11 etc. open your eyes, don’t believe what your told. That’s there point with all the news and media. It’s not right.

        • So you’re saying Malaysia knows where the plane is? Again I haven’t seen anything that would lead me to believe that. And as far as the U.S. “setting up” 9/11, again that’s absolute BS. There’s a difference between not believing everything you’re told and touting conspiracy theories that have very (very) thin evidence.

          Let’s not turn this into crazy conspiracy theory debate though. This is about CNN’s coverage of the missing plane.

  2. Excellent analysis. This is why I do not watch CNN. However this sort of news / magazine / drama / appeals to the average American. Much more interesting than dry old boring actual facts.( Particularly if you have no critical thinking skills. )
    It is worrisome that even the CBC is starting to reflect more this style.
    If I want the news I’ll watch Al Jazeera and / or the BBC, but never, never CNN.

    • Yeah I’ve noticed CBC News Network going downhill lately too. But, at least they still have Power & Politics which has continued to discuss political stories every night as opposed to all of CNN’s shows going into plane coverage. I also prefer BBC and wish I could get Al Jazeera.

  3. I understand your frustration, but I think you undermine your own points with your examples of what stories should be covered instead (end par.1), Obamacare and the Crimean matter.

    On Obamacare, are you suggesting that the news media hasn’t covered this to death since 2010? The passage, its effects on 2010 and 2012 elections, the Supreme Court Cases (there will be more of those), Sarah Palin’s Death Panels (or whatever she’s going on about presently), extensions, waivers, websites that don’t work… ad nauseum. You can’t be suggesting a lack of coverage, can you?

    On the Crimea: while I don’t happen to agree with you when you say that Russia “annexed a foreign country” (and we can debate that if you like), unless the Eastern Ukraine tries to separate and join Russia, that story is pretty much over. Obama said there would be “consequences” if the Crimea voted to join Russia. Well here they are:
    1) Russia got bigger
    2) The West looked impotent.
    But that’s it. Unless the East moves to leave the Ukraine, not only is there no further developments to report (like MH 370), but the story is all over but the shouting.

    I’m not much for the wall-to-wall MH 370 coverage either, but it does beat
    –the Missing White Girl stories (you know… “pretty white girl gets loaded on vacation, disappears”)
    –Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman, OJ Simpson (obligatory old-school reference to show I’m older than dirt) trials
    –Tim Tebow
    –Sochi terrorism and faulty toilet speculation
    –Jay Leno vs. Conan O’Brien
    –Gay marriage (surely these people have the right to be as miserable as the rest of us?), gays in the military, gays in pro sports etc.
    …and most of what the media has fixated on in the last 25 years.

    • The fact is Russia did invade a foreign country now the west seems to let it slide because its Crimea but now there are some hints Russia could go into other parts of the Ukraine and even Finland and other areas this would trigger a world war.

      • I highly doubt Russia will invade Finland or any other EU countries, regardless of what Putin’s ex-adviser says. The whole point of their exercise in Ukraine is an attempt to keep Kyiv under Moscow’s control. Nor do I think anything Russia does would result in a world war. I think its pretty clear Europe has been done with war for 60 years. In this world today economic sanctions are used for power instead of guns.

    • I’m not suggesting a lack of coverage overall, but in the month when it became implemented there was a general lack of coverage. I didn’t see anything on CNN about how many Americans signed up, how many young Americans signed up, how sustainable it would be based on these numbers etc.

      As for Crimea, when the plane story broke they were in the midst of the run up to the independence vote. There was very little coverage on CNN. Just a few weeks ago Russia lined their soldiers up at the Ukraine border, and again CNN offered little. I’m not saying they should have focused on that 24/7 either, but just followed it a little closer. But, as you say, the EU decided to do almost nothing, so that story is fading fast too. But there are still the protests in the east.

      I could come up with other examples of what they should have covered. The mudslides for a while, certainly. And then there was Ft. Hood, which while it was nice that they covered it, it seemed like watching any other senseless gun crime story on CNN.

      And I’m sure there’s been other news worth covering this past month, but the plane and Crimea have taken up so much of the news cycle I’ve probably just not heard about it.

  4. Totally agree. what passes for “news” in the States is celebrity gossip and “analysis”, very little substantive reporting. BBC World is my primary news outlet. I still like watching the National as well.

  5. At least CNN is not like Fox News, making up lies, rather CNN just dilly-dallies on theories in an attempt to generate ratings, which I agree. This reminds me of Anchorman 2, where news is all about ratings. I guess this is what you get in a capitalistic society where corporations seek for the $ thorough high viewer ship, despite losing focus on major issues that are more relevant to the viewer.

  6. I don’t watch mainstream news media outlets anymore since I had came across the Twitter account of Gerald Celente about two years ago completely by chance. He mixes humour and the truth great.

    • A couple years ago one of the sport stations said one of the Nhl teams in Ontario is having there books looked at so they said they must be looking at Ottawa’s books they were all excited they talked about it for a good couple hours now it did turn out it was Bell/Rogers looking at the Leafs and Mlse.

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