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Why missing plane media defenders are missing the point

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No Joe in the White House 

Why missing plane media defenders are missing the point 

I’m now bleary-eyed from watching the nonstop television about Flight 370 — tough job, someone’s gotta do it — and my view of the coverage continues to sink.

Since I’ve spoken out and written about reckless speculation and conspiracy theories surrounding the plane’s disappearance, other critics are defending the media’s performance.

This is not, at bottom, an argument about the volume of coverage. While CNN’s virtually wall-to-wall approach is a bit much for my taste — there are a few other things happening in the world, including in Ukraine — there’s no question this is an important story. If news organizations want to engage in saturation coverage, be my guest. And CNN has reaped a ratings bonanza for its efforts.

My problem is the endless hours of cable coverage — with Fox and MSNBC heavily invested as well — creates a void that must be filled. And since confirmed facts are in short supply, that vacuum is too often filled with unconfirmed chatter.

Reuters columnist Jack Shafer has a different view of the coverage: Bring it on!

“When a big story breaks, my news digestion knows no satiety. Earthquake, assassination, invasion, bank run, political campaign, celebrity court case, sport scandal or a drunk stubs his toe on the Lower East Side — I can handle anything the press swarm sends at me.

“So unlike Fox News press reporter Howard Kurtz (‘It’s too much with too few facts,’ he said last week of the saturation reporting by his former network, CNN, about Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370),  I can handle any ‘over’-coverage the news machine chooses to throw my way. By handle, I usually mean avoid, but on a story like MH370, I desire the sort of coverage that could fill the Indian Ocean, which I did not know until last week had an average depth of 2.5 miles.”

Sure, people are hooked on the story, and why not? It’s an international mystery with endless possibilities, not to mention a tragedy for those on board. Maybe Shafer is willing to overlook the excesses in the service of feeding his habit, and that’s fine. Most of the audience can probably discern real reporting from gasbaggery. But that doesn’t let the networks off the hook for indulging their worst excesses. (It’s the lithium batteries! Maybe a pilot suicide! The plane is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean! No, it’s in Pakistan! It took a sharp left turn! No, it was a gradual turn!)

Shafer puts it this way: “Reduced to two dimensions, journalism is a game of chase, with reporters dashing like bloodhounds through the undergrowth of evidence until cornering the story. The longer it takes for reporters to corner the quarry, the more suspenseful the story becomes — is there any more suspenseful story than ‘Alive or Dead’?”

Unfortunately, the chances of “alive” seem increasingly remote. Although CNN just interviewed the host of “Naked and Alive,” who says we shouldn’t give up hope.

My Fox colleague Greta Van Susteren, meanwhile, makes an important point:

“To all those hand wringers now going on TV or writing columns to pronounce their criticism of or their upset about the extensive coverage of Flight 370, ‘get over it!’ 

“Have they forgotten that 239 people are missing or perhaps murdered? The possible murder of 239 is not a drive-by report. Two hundred and thirty-nine people missing or murdered is not inconsequential.”

She adds: “Do you really think that if all the media pulls back and stops covering this vanished plane with 239 people intensely that the Malaysian government is going to suddenly feel compelled to release all pertinent information? And to vigorously investigate?”

The Malaysian effort has been a mess. And I’ve been saddened by how little focus there has been on the people on board, at least until the footage of grieving relatives being ushered out of a Malaysian press conference. Had this been a New York flight packed with Americans, not faraway Chinese, the human toll would consume at least half the coverage.

What’s clear is that only one thing can stop the nonstop coverage, short of finding the plane itself. And that is when the ratings start to fade.

No Joe in the White House

There has been chatter that Joe Scarborough, who’s been lecturing Republicans about how to win elections, might emerge as a dark horse 2016 contender.

But the GOP congressman turned MSNBC host tells the New York Times: “I’m not running, and I’m not considering running. I’m not making any Shermanesque statements, but I do not expect that to change.”

It's only 2014; why spoil the fun now? Perhaps his network wanted him to shut the door. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.