The vanishing of Malaysia flight MH370 is a tragic and mind-numbing loss of an aircraft and those on board. As an aviation safety insider, and air safety investigator with 25+ years under my belt, it’s a sobering reminder of how quickly the flow of misinformation, conjecture, and conspiracy theories grow in the absence of fact.
The loss of so many souls on board MH370 has brought unimaginable pain and suffering to their families, their loved ones, and their friends. But it’s a pain that’s made unspeakably worse by the actions of a frenzied and irresponsible news media, which continues to demonstrate a propensity for speculation and misinformation. It can’t be said that reporters and journalists have let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Each day, groundless claims about the fate of the aircraft, the way it was operated, and the evolving investigation are bandied about by reporters and journalists,many of who are neither aviation professionals nor accurately informed. Any amusement over the absurdity or complete inaccuracy of these claims is tempered by three cold hard facts — (1) they seduce the vulnerable into false hope, (2) they distort facts, and (3) they misinform.
As week 3 of MH370’s disappearance begins there’s still no sign of the aircraft or those aboard. With nothing “new” to report, the news media continues to rely upon a small army of pundits that speculate and fantisize over competing theories about what’s gone awry. With titles such as ‘pilot,’ ‘aviation expert,’ ‘aviation analyst,’ and impressive-sounding credentials including ‘retired captain,’ ‘senior editor,’ former Inspector General,’ the talking heads talk — about aircraft fires, failure modes, crash dynamics,survivability, human factors, search and rescue, radar coverage, the investigation, flight paths, pilot actions, ATC communications, “black box” recovery, and blah blah-blah. But none of them know what happened to the aircraft nor are they parties to the investigation, and armed with a few sketchy facts, the talking heads “fill in the blanks.” And even though their theories may sound plausible at first, history demonstrates that they’re consistently wrong.
The most overlooked fact relating to the media circus surrounding the disappearance of MH370 is that the “actual experts”– the Air Safety Investigators involved — have yet to speak. They are members of a small group of specialized professionals, with backgrounds including: pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, aeronautical and airworthiness engineers, air traffic controllers, materials failure, human factors and survivability, and other technical specialists. Guided by a set of international standards and recommended practices, they are acutely aware of the dangers of speculating on incomplete data, preferring instead to release information that’s considered to be fact.
With the morning comes news that Malaysia flight MH370 has crashed into the southern Indian Ocean, with all lives lost. For the families, the loved ones, and the friends of those aboard it’s the worst nightmare come true. In its zeal to feed a voracious 24-hour news cycle, the news media has done a disservice to the families of the victims, and ultimately to the investigation process and the public, too. It’s time for them to turn the cameras, the microphones, and notebooks reflectively inward, reign in its reliance on ‘talking heads’ and “anonymous sources,’ define a clear line between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction,’ and stop milking a story for all that it’s worth.