Exactly one month and one day after Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 crashed off the coast of Thailand, or Australia, or wherever, I found myself sitting in my favorite Vietnamese restaurant with a few friends. Glancing up occasionally at the television tuned to CNN, I noticed that during the hour or so that I was there, the station discussed nothing but the newest theory about the plane’s final resting place. They did not mention the ongoing crises in Crimea, nor the mass stabbing that occurred at Franklin Regional High school outside Pittsburgh that morning.
When the plane went missing on March 8, it was undeniably an incredible story. An uber-modern 777 aircraft does not just crash or malfunction. According to my dad, who is a mechanic for Delta Airlines, one has to either be completely incompetent or intentionally trying to crash in order to keep the plane from just flying itself.
But from the start, the major news outlets in the United States have handled the 370 disappearance in a completely irresponsible fashion. Rather than simply reporting on known facts — which are few and far between — and keeping the public up-to-date when actual information periodically appears, organizations like CNN and Fox News have gone to great lengths to sensationalize the story. The role of a news organization is to report news, not to create a myriad of theories — like flammable cargo or mechanical malfunction — with no factual backing.
Even more distasteful is the complete lack of consideration shown to the hundreds of people who will be scarred by both the loss of 239 passengers and the numerous times that their hopes were falsely risen, and subsequently dashed, by media inaccuracies.
Now, well over a month later, this plane crash has continued to dominate the headlines on a daily basis. Meanwhile, we are currently witnessing one of the most fascinating and monumental political upheavals in over two decades emerge in the former Eastern Bloc nation of Ukraine. Between a rash of shootings and stabbings and the circus that is our Congress, there is more than enough news at the national level to keep the media busy. Yet, these outlets find the time to broadcast each and every grainy satellite image or unsubstantiated piece of “insider” information about the plane that they can get their hands on.
Unfortunately, major news organizations can continue to shove Flight 370 down our throats because that is what most of the public wants. Nothing fascinates people and gets their adrenaline pumping like a primordial sense of fear, and flying holds a special place as one most common phobias that many of us deal with on a regular basis.
Pretty soon, we will lose interest in the Flight 370 story. The search for the wreckage of the aircraft will go on quietly. And Boeing, Malaysian Airlines and a host of other groups will have to explain themselves.
But the next Flight 370 is always around the corner. A story just captivating enough that it can hang around for too long and become a distraction from news that is actually important. It is up to us to stay engaged in world events and to understand that we are the force that dictates the content of the news cycle.
If Flight 370 has proven anything though, it is that the public has a long way to go in order to do itself some justice in regard to the news.
Alex Nieves is a junior Diplomacy and World Affairs major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @WklyANieves.