Weekly Column: Just when it looked as though the Missing Malaysian Airliner story was running out of gas, officials announced this morning that French satellites have grabbed images of more than 100 “potential objects” from Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean about 1,500 miles off the coast from Perth, Australia, giving CNN fresh material with which to hang on to the story for dear life. The maybe-debris, which was scattered over 154 square miles — roughly the size of Denver — ranges in length from 3 to 72 feet which, some CNN pundits noted, is about the length of a wing on the Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8 as it was heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 on board. Reporters Who Cover Television, and Columnists Who Want In On The Web Traffic, who in the preceding three weeks had exhausted their repertoire of derisive comments about CNN’s flood-the-zone coverage of the missing plane, spent the day looking haggard and care-worn, like a Borgia who’d just realized he’d run out of cyanide with another banquet about to be served.
Here, in a two-week ratings nutshell, is why Reporters Who Cover Television and Columnists Who Want In On The Web Traffic can harrumph all they want about CNN’s coverage of the missing airplane, but CNN is not going to let go of this story:
CNN-bashing is a favorite sport among journalists — the festivities generally break out whenever the network dives on one of those disaster-with-international-angle stories that are in CNN’s wheelhouse. So far, their bashing of MSNBC whenever it latches onto one of those GOP’s-in-hot-water that are in its wheelhouse (Gov. Christie’s Bridge-gate, for instance), and of Fox News when it gloms onto one of those can-you-believe-what-Obama’s-done-now stories (Benghazi, Obamacare, Between Two Ferns) that are its sweet spot, can’t begin to compete with CNN Bashing. But, hopefully, interest will grow over time until they join the big leagues — like snowboarding at the Winter Olympics.
Wrapping up another week of Malaysian Airliner Mystery, CNN won the weekend in the news demo despite a lack of big breaking news — though there were considerable fireworks between CNN’s aviation analyst Miles O’Brien and former TSA undersecretary John Magaw as to whether it was appropriate for Magaw to have said that one of the pilots probably seized control of the plane. “The butler is the pilot,” an exasperated Miles said, by way of telling viewers that it’s always tempting to assume the pilot did it when a plane goes missing/down, but that minus concrete evidence implicating either of this plane’s pilots he did not think it was fair to suggest so, and that talking heads on TV should be careful not only to be sensitive to the families of passengers but also to the families of the pilots. Magaw, returning after a commercial break, looked down his lorgnette at Miles: “One of the things I would like to say here is that I have great empathy for the family,” Magaw began. “I have great empathy for anyone on that plane. And for someone to indicate in the last session that I didn’t have that — I would want to correct that quickly. Because I have said, time and time again, that you have to be concerned about the family. And I’m looking at the facts and I’m looking at the things that I see. And I was very structured in the beginning of saying who touched that airplane. I believed that the pilots, one or the other, not both, but one or the other, took control of the plane.”
If it did not do much to advance the story, it made for great live TV-news viewing on a weekend, which is usually oxymoronic. On Saturday, CNN outperformed Fox News Channel by 20% in the news demo for the total day and MSNBC by 80%. In primetime, CNN’s lead over Fox News hit 42% and over MSNBC 18%. Sunday, CNN’s total day performance outclocked Fox News by 11% and MSNBC by 76% ,and in prime beat Fox News by 89% and MSNBC by 97%. That said, Fox News took the week overall in total day and prime, in total viewers and the news demo.
The action continues this week with Fpx News taking Monday and Tuesday in the ratings. At 8 PM Tuesday, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly logged nearly 2 million more viewers than CNN’s Anderson Cooper — but Cooper again edged out O’Reilly in the news demo with 452,000 viewers and 448,000 viewers, respectively.