3-13 Media Storms and Tragedy

At this point, no one seems to have a clue about what has happened to Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

We genuinely don’t know. This is uncomfortable. In our current era of instant communication, we’ve gotten used to being able to know anything. Even if we don’t have facts memorized we know how to find those facts and how to double check the facts to make sure we have them right. (Granted, this could be done a wee bit more often, but still, we know how it works.) We might not know how to lay a row of bricks or juggle four balls but we can YouTube it and find a helpful video with all the basics. We can look up weather forecasts, stock predictions, and election results around the globe.

So the idea of not knowing what happened to an entire plane? That’s bizarre. Our phones have GPS, our cars come with GPS units, and we use mapping software to get the grocery store. We have made a hobby of using satellites to guide ourselves from our front door to a specific oak tree. We can get directions from Minneapolis to London (it involves swimming). But somehow, all of our radar, satellites and GPS are failing us. We don’t know where the plane is, or even where it was last spotted.

It is our human nature to tell stories. We’ve told ourselves stories about how the world was made, why that man cheated on his wife, where our clothes come from and what motivates the chicken to cross the road. We are good at creating stories. We just aren’t good at creating true stories. As the information available from MH370 becomes less interesting, we’ve started creating stories.

The facts are unclear, and the situations is shaky. Instead of saying simply, “We don’t know,” we are choosing to speculate. The speculations don’t help. They give false hope to the families and further muddy the already muddy waters about what happened. They make a chaotic, difficult situation into something that looks like intentional misdirection.

Much of the news coming out to the public seems to be meant to hit a deadline, not relay reliable, factual information. Often, when the facts aren’t interesting enough, they get jazzed up with crying family members, ringing cell phones and stories about unstable co-pilots or other nefarious plots. This constant news stream has created the need for a team of professionals to monitor the currents of politics instead of the currents in the ocean. There are people devoted to quelling the fires started by public speculation. Imagine if they could spend their hours working on finding the lost plane instead.

This is a tragedy for families who are now missing a mother, a brother, an aunt, a son. The people left behind are grieving, angry and hopeful. They are in emotional turmoil of not knowing what happened and hoping against all odds that their loved ones survived. This is not a circus show, this is not entertainment. This is not to be sensationalized for the nightly news. This is a tragedy.

Let’s stop making hourly updates and instead say honestly, “We don’t know.” Let’s use this as a learning experience in how to improve international cooperation efforts. Let’s reflect on our expectations on the unknown. Let’s take time to grieve with the families.

One thought on “3-13 Media Storms and Tragedy

  1. Very good analysis. It reminds me of when the Challenger space shuttle blew up. I was in my office at the U of Co. and someone came by the door to tell me it happened and to let me know that people were gathering in the conference room to watch TV coverage about it. Now there is something meaningful and human about “bearing witness” when there are big events, good as well as tragic. But as far

Leave a Reply to Russ Ritenour Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *