The Day the News Died

It’s been 4 years since my faith in news media was lost with Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

It was ridiculous, irresponsible, and disrespectful for CNN to allow some of the claims they aired right after Flight MH 370 went missing, but they did it anyway, because that’s how news broadcasts work now.

“…I don’t want analysis; I don’t want opinion; I don’t want conjecture; I don’t want agenda; and I don’t want bias.”

Today marks the heartbreaking end to the ill-fated search for the Malaysian Airlines flight that went missing over the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014. The participating authorities have determined that the cost of continuing the search far outweighs the chances those pour souls and their failed transport will ever be found.

The searchlights have been dimmed. The mobile search platforms are headed home. The salvage and recovery teams have been put on permanent “stand-down” status, at least as far as this effort is concerned. The families of the lost passengers will fall asleep knowing for the first time in over four years that there will be no long-awaited phone call tonight.

Some will probably still hope anyway.

I hadn’t forgotten about the incident — I’d paid close attention to the news coverage when it happened — but I didn’t realize the search was still ongoing until today. My partner didn’t realize it either, and I’m guessing neither did most of you.

We didn’t hear too much about it after the passengers and crew were officially declared dead. That makes sense, I suppose. After all, it couldn’t dominate the news with four plus years of inactivity. I’d like to think that the major news outlets had to, at a certain point, come to terms with the idea that there just wasn’t going to be much to report until the wreckage was found.

The manner with which they handled the reporting makes me think their decision was much less considerate than that, though.

Fake news didn’t start suddenly with the most recent Presidential campaign; it’s been building for a long time now. Somewhere along the line, we abandoned the actual reporting of facts for the spewing of opinion and conjecture, and that’s when the borders of the truth started to blur.

At some point in the early 1990s, I was first granted access to classified information, and I became aware of many things of which I was never aware before. One of those things was how little I or any of us could possibly really know, no matter how well informed we tried to become from our homes. You could watch every minute of the local and world news and read every major newspaper, and still never really have an accurate idea what was really going on nationally or internationally. Regardless of one’s pride or diligence, all of the information just isn’t available to anyone.

Even if the news media knew everything they reported and reported everything they knew, there would still be so much missing, so much that no one would ever consider. It was humbling. It was terrifying. It made watching news broadcasts or reading newspapers seem nearly purposeless. And then things got worse.

I happened to catch during a news broadcast one night that an American news reporter was reporting from a foreign country that was engaged in a very public period of heightened tensions with another nation. The reporter gestured excitedly at the darkened city in the background, claiming that the city had gone black that night as a means of preparing for possible airstrikes from the nation with whom it was in a dispute.

If one didn’t know any better, that might seem like a perfectly valid explanation. I happened to be familiar with the darkened city and happened to know the real cause. That city was actually darkened every night after a certain hour, even in times of the utmost peace, in order to conserve power.

Was the reporter lying in order to make the scene appear more dramatic, or did he honestly just not know? Both seemed unforgivable.

If he and the network did know, then they were at least fear-mongering and possibly even indirectly war-mongering. I find both repugnant. What sort of monster scares innocent people under false pretenses just to manipulate ratings? How can one sleep at night knowing they’ve potentially increased the likelihood of war? Worse yet, where was the journalistic integrity in suggesting something one already knew to be untrue?

If they didn’t know, then they didn’t knowingly lie; they just made a mistake. However, they also didn’t do nearly enough research. The blackout program was not difficult to find out about, and would have required the bare minimum of effort to discover, All they essentially had to do was to care enough about the truth behind the blackouts to bother to look. It couldn’t have been easier, but if they didn’t know, then no one even tried to find out.

It was at this point that I stopped watching and reading the news completely. If they had no interest in reporting the facts and/or didn’t have access to all of the necessary information even if they wanted to, then what was the point? Even more alarming, they seemed willing to pass off erroneous conjecture as fact, which struck me as even more damaging than reporting nothing at all.

For years, I refused to watch, listen to, or read the news. I would still catch tidbits here and there, and what I did manage to stumble upon always left me either cynical or dismayed.

Then we lost Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean.

My wife (at that time) was the first to alert me to it. She didn’t have the same outlook on the news that I did, and she followed it casually but regularly. There was something different about this story, she noted, and she thought that my experience with flight activity, patterns, tracking, systems, etc. may give me some better than average insights.

We started watching CNN coverage of the event from within minutes of its inception until the passengers and crew were officially declared dead. For days that I cannot number, our television (normally occupied by sitcoms, game shows, talk shows, and movies) never left CNN. We stayed up late at night and woke early in the morning, following along with the first and last images we processed every day. I worked from home, and she didn’t work at the time, so we sat a nearly non-stop vigil.

It was horrifying.

I’m not talking about the loss of life, the pain of the families, or the terrible hopelessness and uncertainty of the search and rescue missions, although those are obviously harrowing. I’m talking right now about the way that CNN chose to approach their coverage.

Over the days and weeks that followed, CNN paraded suit after suit in front of the camera, nearly all offering ridiculous and unrealistic speculation about what may have happened to the flight. The Occam’s Razor explanation that there had simply been a catastrophic mechanical or electronic failure that had caused the plane to plummet into the vast ocean was ignored by all but the smallest number of commentators.

The only person who appeared rational about the fate of the plane (that I can recall) was CNN anchor and reporter Richard Quest. It was probably less than two full days into the coverage, though, when I noticed that Richard was appearing less and less often on the screen and that his airtime had, for the most part, been filled by other supposed “experts” pitching laughably fantastic scenarios.

There were theories about the pilot’s mental health (not entirely out of the question, but also not well supported by evidence), theories about the aircraft being shot down, theories about government cover-ups, and theories about hijackings. There was virtually no evidence to support any of these sensational theories, but they were more dramatic, so they got more air time.

At one point, for an extended period of time, CNN, a news agency mind you, entertained the completely haphazard and uninformed theory that the plane may have been hijacked by terrorists, flown completely undetected over entire southeast Asian nations, then flown “nap-of-the-earth” over the Himalayas, where it may have then landed undetected at some huge airfield that had (unbeknownst to the rest of the world) been occupied and fully staffed by terrorists, unloaded its plane full of passengers undetected, and had been retrofitted to carry a nuclear payload for an attack against the U.S.

I could write a full-length book on all of the unbelievably moronic ways in which this scenario is impossible, but we don’t have the time or the space for that here. Suffice it to say that even setting aside the thousands of ways in which all detection, surveillance, and tracking methods would have had to have each failed in concert in every single aspect of this scenario, some of the most accomplished and experienced test and simulation pilots in the world attempted to replicate this feat of aviation impossibility, and they failed. Every single time. Even when they cheated by unfairly adjusting the conditions of the simulations to favor success.

And CNN passed this scenario off for a time as one of many possible explanations for what actually happened to MH370.

That, my friends, is fake news. It doesn’t have to be politically charged. It doesn’t have to support any other social or economic agenda other than the news agency’s desire to attract an audience, regardless of the cost.

For those of you who may be concerned that I’ve unfairly isolated and targeted CNN because I have political leanings which do not align with theirs, I’ll clarify a couple of points. First, I elected to watch the coverage on CNN that day because I favored CNN, and I figured that if any news outlet could or would supply me with factual reporting, it would be them. Second, I don’t currently watch or support any major news outlet because I find them all unreliable and unnecessarily biased in one direction or the other.

The type of news reporting I want doesn’t seem to exist anymore. I want facts, and that’s all I want. I don’t want analysis; I don’t want opinion; I don’t want conjecture; I don’t want agenda; and I don’t want bias. I want to be able to walk away from a news broadcast having no idea who or what the news agency might support or oppose and having it not even occur to me to wonder.

If Senator Smith knocked over a display in a grocery store on camera during a public appearance, just tell me that and show me the footage. Don’t openly assert that he maliciously pushed over the display because he has some sort of secret anti-grocery store owner ideology.

If the stream that runs through a tribal African village has run dry, just tell me that. Don’t invent a mystical potential scenario in which the mountain gorillas upstream of the village may have developed human-level awareness and possibly dammed up the stream in protest against human encroachment.

I don’t care what a news anchor, reporter, agency, or commentator thinks, because there is a fair-to-Midland chance they are completely wrong and at least partially uninformed. Just give me the actual facts that you know to be unquestionably true; I’ll sort out the rest on my own. I’m fine with making my own judgments and drawing my own conclusions without anyone coloring it a certain way for me. I’m capable of thinking just fine on my own, thank you very much.

Freelance Writer/Blogger/Editor, veteran, Top Rated on Upwork, former Medium Top Writer in Humor, Feminism, Culture, Sports, NFL, etc.

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