HARRISON: Flight 370 and the media

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Photo by annelisa leinbach.

The tragedy that befell Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has shed light on a different kind of tragedy that hits much closer to home for American citizens. Over a painstaking search period, as nebulous details surrounding the plane’s disappearance were processed into a no less flimsy narrative by our mainstream media, Americans were inundated with conspiracy theories about what could-have-but-probably-didn’t happen to Flight 370.

Two and a half weeks after the airplane’s disappearance, when CNN, Fox News and their counterparts began to squeeze every last drop of newsworthiness out of the lost plane saga, the story began to slip from immediacy into the realm of the forgotten. (This process, always a gradual one, is still in the works as I write this.) We collectively began to sober up to the painful yet undeniable fact that the mystery remained as shrouded on day sixteen as it had been on day one. While acknowledgement is a crucial first step in dealing with this fallacy, acceptance of it must not be the next step.

Our society’s increasing penchant for Hollywood-style news has severely compromised the standards for what we accept as substantive, thought-provoking content.  Goaded on by our unanimous consent, the mainstream media diverts every last second of our free time to their websites and TV talk shows. As we pad their ratings with millions of views and keep the change flowing into their coffers, they patronize us by disseminating stories entirely bereft of substance. We as Americans are entirely and solely culpable for allowing this to continue.

We are blessed to live in a country in which news is privatized and wrested from government oversight, but with this blessing comes immense responsibility. We have to demand pertinent, meaningful content from our news pundits and stop condoning their obfuscating tendencies. To scapegoat the media in this fallacy would require us to suppress our collective conscience and reject what we know to be morally right — such as a drug addict who blames a dealer for his own ruination.

The families of Flight 370 passengers weren’t the only victims in this dog and pony show masquerading as “news.” With each passing day, Americans fell further out of touch with crucial ongoing geopolitical events that directly implicate our global economic and security interests. We all fixated on the pundits quipping about whether intergalactic aliens had abducted the Boeing jet, or whether the Indian Ocean had miraculously developed its own gravitational Bermuda Triangle. Yet as the media churned out fantastical theories to satiate our demands, life went on elsewhere. Barrel bombs continued to rain down on the Syrian suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo with impunity. Israeli authorities seized a missile shipment heading for the Gaza Strip. The Iranian nuclear talks ground to a sputtering halt, and our allies looked on with increasing anxiety. If we continue to cover our eyes with our hands, and pretend that other nations’ security threats aren’t worth our consideration, we risk being completely vulnerable when these crises escalate into far more dangerous conflicts.

Nevertheless, one might ask why Americans need be wary of goings on halfway around the world in places like Syria and Israel.  After all, isn’t the whole point of national leadership to protect us from the bad guys without diverting our attention away from daily life? This logic assumes that government is an inherently infallible institution — always to be trusted, never to be questioned. It should be obvious that our governing body, like every manmade institution, is prone to error. Naiveté is not an excuse for allowing Uncle Sam to make decisions for you.

Our media corporations should act as intermediaries between civilian life and the world around us. It should exist so that we don’t need to browse through UN reports and government agency documents to understand what’s actually going on in the world and why it matters. To rectify the current system and strive towards this ideal, we all have to stop condoning the fantastical stories passed off as legitimate news and demand sincerity.

To be fair to the media, they did proffer a few other headlines during the Flight 370 saga. The broken record of North Korean diatribe raged on this past week, and we the people swallowed it whole, predictably. The impoverished Stalinist state took to the presses again to denounce our country’s military occupation on the Korean peninsula, as their leadership has done with dutiful persistence year in and year out. What’s more, they even launched a handful of Soviet-era missiles into the sea to protest our routine military exercise drills. The elephant in the room is that Pyongyang’s saber rattling is absolutely inane, and it only continues because we continue to care.

What’s tragic is cui bono, or who benefits, from this sickening arrangement; I assure you that it’s definitely not us. When we tune into these stories online or on TV, we provide the terrorist North Korean regime with the international attention they so desperately crave. It should be obvious that any government that builds concentration camps for its own citizens and is implicated in the gravest crimes against humanity is not deserving of diplomatic legitimacy. Their leadership’s relevance on the global stage is inextricably tied to our own lust for fantastical news stories, and I wager they know this to be true.

In the promulgation of insultingly meaningless yet exhilarating news coverage, and in our inability to avoid such temptations, I can hear the death knells of substantive journalism in our country. We insist on being perpetually inundated with flashy headlines that, with scant exception, belie any tidbit of inherent value. It’s time that we hold our media giants accountable for legitimate reporting, boycott the diversionary half-truths and confront reality.

Tom Harrison is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at thomas.harrison@yale.edu .

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