From terrorism to catastrophic structural failure to alien tractor beams, theories on the vanishing jetliner have come fast and furious. And one after another, they have themselves disappeared into nothingness. Bob reflects on how a story that lacks not only the “why,” but also the “what,” gets covered in the news.
. What became of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?
CORRESPONDENT: Something happened to this triple 7’s ability to report to the ground. Was that because of a massive electrical failure? Was the crew incapacitated because of a lack of oxygen? Or did the crew actually turn off equipment?
CORRESPONDENT: Every lead that comes up seems to evaporate.
CORRESPONDENT: So many…
BOB GARFIELD: From terrorism to catastrophic structural failure, to alien tractor beams, the theories on a vanishing jetliner have come fast and furious, and one after another they have themselves disappeared into nothingness. The Iranians with the stolen passports weren’t terrorists but young man seeking political asylum in Europe. The loss of radar contact did not pinpoint a disaster scene; the plane might have been aloft for hours more. The plane leaving Kuala Lampur carrying baggage of no-show passengers? Simply false. And those phantom phone calls, loved ones dialing passengers and hearing rings followed cruelly by sudden hang-ups? On CNN, tech analyst Jeff Kagan said, please harbor no false hopes.
JEFF KAGAN: This is one of the sad parts about the technology. When you place the call you press Send. What happens is you start hearing ringing, but the other phone isn’t ringing yet. The network has to find the phone and then they have to send the call there. If it doesn’t find the phone after a few minutes, after a few rings, then typically it disconnects. And that’s what’s happening.
BOB GARFIELD: Unlike other breaking news stories wherein a traumatic “what, when and where” trigger a mad and often slapdash scavenger hunt for the “who and why,” this story lacks even the “what.” It is a mysterious, compelling, terrifying exploration of negative space. Here was Chris Cuomo on CNN.
CHRIS CUOMO: Often in a situation like the mystery of Flight 370, the job is to have more questions than there are answers, because simply not enough is known, so if it seems like we’re nibbling around the edges, it’s because we are.
BOB GARFIELD: Yet, the search for Flight 370 has not been characterized by the breathless, irresponsible reporting of rumor and speculation that has so infected coverage of Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon bombings and other recent tragedies. On the contrary, in the process of reporting what authorities don't know, all that journalistic nibbling around the edges has given the audience an education, in technology, geopolitics, conspiracy mentality and, not least, airport security, how not to be thunderstruck, for instance, at the revelation, that fewer than 20 of Interpol’s 190 member countries crosscheck travel documents against the database of stolen passports. NBC's Brian Williams -
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Though it appears that two men with those stolen passports onboard had nothing to do with this aircraft’s disappearance, the fact that they could board the aircraft has now called new attention to a huge lapse in global airline security, even this many years after 9/11.
BOB GARFIELD: Equally shocking was the news that modern airliners flying over the ocean, despite GPS and other satellite technology, do not have continuous communications with land. This was CNN’s Brian Todd with aviation expert Brian McCabe.
BRIAN TODD: How do you lose an airplane? Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 also had GPS and a transponder sending signals from the cockpit to air traffic control. The jet was tracked by radar. But now that we know the transponder signal was not operational when the plane disappeared…
BOB GARFIELD: Yet another nerve-racking line of inquiry, Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, specifically the disputed border off the coast of the Malaysian island of Borneo. Saber rattling over Borneo? – who knew? Naturally, of course, conspiracy theories also abounded. They always abound because, as this episode once again demonstrates, there is no mystery or tragedy too mysterious or tragic to fit snugly in someone's preconceived notions of world events.
A hammer thinks everything is a nail, and Reddit user Dark_Spectre deduced mass murder, by US intelligence operatives, of course, determined to prevent a brain trust of technology executives aboard the flight from deplaning into the hands of the Chinese.
Here’s the thing: That post was unearthed by one reporter for one Boston news site who made it an object of ridicule. The Ludlum-esque scenario otherwise never passed the lips of a single cable news anchor.
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How that newfound restraint came to pass may be the biggest mystery of all.
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