[The missing Malaysia Airlines jet] is just about the best situation that exists for journalism: “missing” stories trump all others for their intensity and stickiness, fueling the imagination of journalists and audiences alike. … Journalism exists to provide information. But what’s really compelling is a lack of information — or what is more particularly being called “an absence of empirical data”. …
[E]veryone is entitled to his or her [or] their own theory — it’s more democratization of journalism — including, but not limited to: … a) Terrorism; b) mechanical failure; c) hijacking; d) mad or rogue pilot; e) meteor; d) aliens; e) reality show promotion (in this, the 239 passengers and crew would have been in on it — each paid for their performance).
The Tweetdeck column flutters like a deranged stock ticker, as furious as it did for the Woody Allen imbroglio, that other recent spike of obsessive interest in the unknowable. … In a way, it’s anti-journalism.
It’s the same element that makes HBO’s “True Detective” — or Edgar Allan Poe, or Agatha Christie, or any detective story — compelling. Unfolding clues, and a few red herrings, that encourage you to come up with theories that likely have little to no basis in reality.
This is absolutely perfect for CNN, which has seen a big spike in the ratings over the past week. MH 370 is the story Wolf Blitzer was born to anchor, “stand by” being a phrase he is prone to overusing anyway. The entire story is one big “stand by.” We just don’t know how many episodes/chapters there are until the end — if there is an end. Along the way, every detail qualifies as “breaking news,” which is constantly happening on CNN — even when it’s not.
News, of course, is supposed to be rooted in fact. But that’s not really CNN’s selling point anymore — at least not on television (digital is a different story). The only way to keep audiences on the edge of their seats is to broadcast the anticipation and promise of an as-yet-unknown concusion. That’s why election nights, court trials, manhunts and missing jets are CNN’s bread and butter (even if the network tends to screw those up.)
And this can even be applied to stories like the Russian invasion of Ukraine — “a precise piece of geopolitical logistics and confrontation,” as Wolff calls it — so long as you play up forward-looking theories: Is Russia going to move west? Is this the beginning of a new Cold War? Will Putin grow Hitler’s mustache?