I don't care about Flight MH370

DAMIR SAGOLJ / REUTERS Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's acting transport minister, addresses reporters about the missing Flight MH370.
DAMIR SAGOLJ / REUTERS Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's acting transport minister, addresses reporters about the missing Flight MH370.
Posted: March 21, 2014

I DON'T CARE about Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

At least, I don't care as much as people who have been glued to their flat-screen TVs (or hand-held electronics) for the latest, because the "latest" has too often been groundless speculation (a stowaway did it) and sometimes insanity (alien abduction).

I do care about the lives of the hundreds of innocent passengers and crew. The spiderweb of tragedy radiates out to their families, friends and associates. But my caring doesn't change facts on the ground (or in the air). Interviews with families of the victims add nothing, other than emotion, to the story. There is poignant human interest in them, but they are frustrated and heartbroken. Sometimes pathos turns to bathos, as when families called off a hunger strike after seven hours.

Talking about the facts, or so-called facts, provides a case study of the weakness of breaking-news journalism, often called the first draft of history. It's the first draft, not the final draft.

MH370 reminds me of the multiple mysteries on "Lost," which I stopped watching when what had been a taut narrative line turned into a series of inexplicable twists that writers seemed to be pulling out of their butts. It went from amusingly credible to positively incredible. I felt the same with what was coming out of Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government.

I did not see everything - who could? - but one thing I heard over and over again was the transponder was deliberately turned off by one of the pilots, or possibly someone else in the cockpit. The shows didn't ask the question that formed in my mind.

Is there a legitimate reason to ever turn off a transponder? I asked J.F. Joseph, who heads Joseph Aviation Consulting, which does aviation accident reconstruction and analysis.

"No reason whatsoever," he said, other than to avoid detection, as the military does.

The loss of a transponder signal itself is enough to alarm ground controllers.

With our intelligence abilities, Joseph suspects the U.S. may have answers but won't openly come forward. The passengers are dead and all it might do is reveal sophisticated techniques to our enemies. (Interestingly, a search area suggested by the National Transportation Safety Board resulted in possible wreckage being seen by satellites early yesterday morning.)

Joseph is irritated with some "talking heads" bloviating on TV because "having an opinion doesn't make you an expert."

Even singer Courtney Love got into the act, using Twitter and Facebook to point to where she found evidence of the jetliner's remains. Is she back on smack?

Why single out that goofball? There were a succession of false leads and erroneous reports larded with "expert" opinion ranging from incisive to clueless.

This is a problem we didn't have before the rise of television, followed by the horror of 24/7 cable channels. In the "old days," newspaper reporters would do what they always do - go to the authorities who have information and ask them questions.

Then, because they had hours before presstime, they would test those answers by checking with others. Now, as soon as the authorities say something, it is out there. Whatever checking is done gets done after the fact.

It's two weeks into the mystery and maybe one new fact emerges each day. Half are later proven wrong. There's so much jabber about so few facts that CNN's durable Wolf Blitzer seems to be speaking in tongues. If this goes another week, he'll be handling snakes.

I check in once or twice a day, but otherwise devote my attention to how Russia made Crimea disappear from Ukraine, a story where the facts are known and could be a trip wire that sets off World War III.

Maybe viewers don't want that much reality.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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