You wonder how long the cable news channels can sustain their endless coverage of the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370.
It’s a tragedy for those with family members or loved ones on board, and I don’t want to minimize that. But we really don’t know any more now than we did when the flight went missing on March 8. Still, that hasn’t stopped the parade of aviation experts, government officials from around the world, and other pundits from offering theories, whether plausible or unsubstantiated, about what happened. And at the same time they offer these theories, they admit that they have no idea what’s true or not.
Stolen passports! It was the pilots! It was the flight engineer! It was the passengers themselves!
No doubt many stations jumped the shark on this long ago. But consider: CNN’s Don Lemon asked a guest a few days ago if something “supernatural” might have happened to the flight. “Especially today, on a day when we deal with the supernatural,” Lemon said. “We go to church, the supernatural power of God … people are saying to me, why aren’t you talking about the possibility — and I’m just putting it out there — that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?”
Really, Don? Why stop there? Why not aliens? ET? Maybe the plane, its crew, and its passengers were all assimilated by the Borg. Maybe the plane was diverted to Nepal (hey, it’s in the neighborhood) and was taken over by Yeti. Maybe the plane landed on the Indian Ocean’s version of the island on Lost. Or Gilligan’s Island.
In The Guardian, Michael Wolff wrote that although we are all fascinated by the missing or the unknown, this story is really “anti-journalism.”
“Everyone is entitled to his or her own 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),” he wrote. “It is, of course, an ideal story for the current journalism era because it costs nothing. Nobody has to go anywhere. Nobody has to cover the wreckage and the recovery. Not only is the story pretty much all just theories – but theories are cheap.”
And while we are oversaturated with coverage of a missing airliner, we are not learning all we should about more important stories elsewhere in the world. Crimea. Syria. Iran. The effects of the Affordable Care Act, both good and bad. Congress’ lack of any legislative accomplishments.
Probably the best comments about the 24/7 coverage of the missing flight came from political satirist Andy Borowitz in his always-sharp posts on the Borowitz Report. The blame is spread across the board. (And in case anyone thinks these quotes are real, remember: THIS IS SATIRE.)
“As a news network, we regard a lack of news as a worthy challenge,” CNN chief Jeff Zucker said. “Our people are doing a heroic job of filling the void with rumor and hearsay.”
A spokesperson for MSNBC, however, scoffed at Mr. Zucker’s assessment that there was no information about the missing plane. “We are receiving tons of erroneous and conflicting reports from authorities every hour, and the instant we get them we pass them on to our viewers,” he said.
Over at Fox, host Sean Hannity expressed confidence in his network’s coverage. “When it comes to broadcasting twenty-four hours a day with no verifiable facts, I wouldn’t trade our experience and expertise for anybody’s,” he said.
A report released March 13 by three environmental groups makes the case that the social cost of carbon is far higher than the $37 per ton estimated by the U.S. government.
The costs of carbon — the including harm to human health, decreased farm productivity, and a growing rise in sea levels — should be estimated at a much higher figure, says a report from the Cost of Carbon Project, a joint initiative by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Institute for Policy Integrity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The latest government estimate by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget leaves out many specifics, such as growing acidity in oceans, spikes in food prices, increases in respiratory diseases, and damage to ecosystems.
Although the U.S. estimate was raised in November 2013 from $24 to $37, the new report says the estimate is still way too low. The report says there is a “downward bias” in how OMB measures the social cost of carbon because of other omissions, including forced migration, social and political conflict, extreme weather events, and catastrophic damages.
“What we know is bad,” said Gernot Wagner, a senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “What we don’t know makes it worse.”
The bigger question, of course, is: Where is the coverage of this? Where is the coverage of environmental issues, period? Thirty-one Democratic senators pulled an all-nighter on March 10 to talk about environmental issues, but they did so admitting that no environmental legislation would get passed this year. Republicans dismissed the talk-a-thon as a “political stunt.” Maybe if something concrete happened, people — and the media — would pay attention.
The full report, “Omitted Damages: What’s Missing From the Social Cost of Carbon,” is at costofcarbon.org.