I once had a lecturer at university who ordered us not to write down anything he said during his classes. “Whoever writes in class,” he used to say, “will only remember one thing from that class: the color of the pencil.”
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I remembered that this week, when Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stood in front of the cameras for his daily briefing on the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
In recent days he talked so much that in the end, all we will remember of this affair is Abbott himself – his tan, his authoritative face, his impressive ears, his accent that could cause even Goethe to sound stupid. After every one of his announcements, the content of the words evaporated and disappeared like the plane itself, but who cares – what is important is that we know Tony Abbott is the prime minister of Australia, and you're not.
On Wednesday, the foreign television networks continued to cover the strange case of Flight MH370. But in the wake of reports on the finding of 122 objects in the southern Indian Ocean, the tone changed.
This story, which caused so many people to believe in conspiracy theories and fairy tales, is losing its freak appeal. Instead, it’s beginning to look like just another horrible event in which 200 people lost their miserable lives inside a metal tube while surrounded by complete strangers and bad food.
Paradoxically, it was actually the quiet days when there was nothing to report (since nothing happened and no one knew anything) that were the glory days for the television networks. The reporters and commentators allowed themselves to let go and spout strange theories and idiotic ideas, and the enigmatic case allowed them to spill over into the type of speculation usually reserved for American tabloids.
Bar Shem-Ur, a reporter for Israel's Channel 10, noted last Sunday that “even serious networks such as CNN” started to behave foolishly. His comment was only partially correct. True, CNN reached levels of extreme bullshit this week, but on the other hand, it is hard to call CNN a “serious network.”
The way CNN handled the Malaysian air tragedy served to sharpen the picture of its shocking state in recent years. Competing against pornographic news networks like Fox News has caused CNN to lose its audience – and its direction.
But this week, it truly reached its nadir: Commentators were forced to answer questions posted by viewers on Twitter (among others, on the Bermuda Triangle; the relationship between Flight 370 and the television series “Lost;” and the possibility that the plane was sucked into a black hole). At another point, one of the reporters played with a toy airplane to demonstrate what may have happened to the Boeing 777.
On Wednesday, when the agenda and fantasies turned into something more concrete, comprising floating pieces of metal and bodies at the bottom of the ocean, CNN returned to much more modest and restrained coverage. The party was over, the fantasies died down and the crazy theories were hidden away – together with the prime minister of Australia.