Cable News Networks Close Out 2014 With Another Missing Airplane-Palooza – Updated

Updated with more details about coverage: Cable news networks, slogging through the traditional slow end-of-year weekend, jumped on news Saturday evening that AirAsia’s Flight QZ8501 had lost contact with air traffic control and gone missing.

CNN slapped Richard Quest on the air faster than you can say, “Where is Miles O’Brien?” MSNBC even interrupted Lockup in favor of missing-plane coverage. Fox News Channel mostly hung on to Huckabee until that program closed, before its on-air news talent dove in deeper on the missing plane.

No word yet whether CNN’s Don Lemon will participate in the coverage of this latest plane-gone-missing report. Lemon became a household name during CNN’s Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 coverage back in March, when he asked whether the plane might have been swallowed by a black hole. He asked aviation experts, “I know it’s preposterous, but is it preposterous?”

There was more where that came from during CNN’s endless coverage of that missing-plane story. Lemon’s head-scratching coverage, coupled with other memorable interviews he’s conducted during the year, earned him a special place in the Columbia Journalism Review’s list of worst journalism of 2014.

Lemon will have his work cut out for him. The bar’s already been set pretty high on this story.

Already, Fox News Channel’s Anna Kooiman, interviewing a former FAA spokesman this morning on Fox & Friends about the search for the missing flight, wondered if non-American pilots worked at a disadvantage because they use the metric system.

“Even when we think about temperature, it’s Fahrenheit or Celsius… it’s kilometers or miles — everything about their training could be similar, but different,” she noted.

And, over at CNN, aviation analyst Mary Schiavo said of this most recent missing plane, ” the chances of this being some sort of a terrorist activity are very small…because most terrorist activity takes place in good weather.”

Saturday night, TV news talk mostly was of the 162 on board, including at least 16 children and one infant, the flight that vanished about a third of the way along its flight from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore. More talk, about President Obama having been briefed, followed by ominous news that the airline had turned its logo from trademark red to grey on Facebook.

Schiavo mulled the futility of the Airbus pilot’s request for a deviation from his original flight path to veer left and climb to 34,000 feet moments before the plane vanished from radar, given that the storm into which he’d been flying climbed to heights of 52,000 feet. The network trained a camera on the Singapore airport’s flight board, directing those seeking an ETA on the flight to “go to info counter.”

2014 has been, for cable news networks, The Year Of Scary Asian Aviation News. AirAsia has been described in media reports as a budget airline based in Malaysia that had never lost a plane, until now.  Malaysia Airlines, on the other hand, suffered two losses this year that became big news – and ratings magnets – for the cable news nets. Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine last July, killing all on board. And then there’s flight MH370, which vanished while traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March. No wreckage has been found.

This morning, with no more information about the latest missing plane, and the search suspended overnight in that region, cable news talk turned even darker and more blue-sky-ish.

Fox News Channel’s Lea Gabrielle, a former fighter pilot with the US Navy, told Fox & Friends, “I’ve never flown in weather like that; I would never fly in weather like that, if I had the ability to make the decision not to…That weather looked horrible,” talking about radar images in the region showing huge red blotches indicating violent storms. After that, the network turned its attention to whether foul play could have been a factor.

Meanwhile, over at CNN, pundits exchanged concerns about pilots’ ability these days to fully understand what their highly automated planes are doing in critical moments under high stress. Also some talk about – you know it’s coming – social media’s reaction to the news.

Martin Savidge noted it’s been less than 10 months since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared – and that flight had originated just a few thousand miles from this new missing plane – apropos of what, he did not say, but maybe setting the scene for possible conspiracy theories to be dissected in the hours ahead.


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