Unexplored angles of the missing plane
Today on CNN’s Reliable Sources hosted by Brian Stelter, media reporter at the Washington Post, Erik Wemple, spoke to Stelter about the wall-to-wall coverage on cable this week about Malaysia Flight 370. Jahabar Sidiq, CEO and editor of The Malaysian Insider, discussed the current challenges faced by Malaysian journalists.
Additionally, Miles O’Brien, “PBS NewsHour” science correspondent and Jon Ostrower, aerospace and Boeing beat reporter at the Wall Street Journal, also spoke to Stelter about the role of the press regarding the missing plane.
A transcript and videos of the discussions from the show are available after the jump.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Good morning and welcome to Washington. I’m Brian Stelter.
Today on RELIABLE SOURCES, I’ve invited some of the best media experts I know to examine the continuing coverage of Malaysia Air Flight 370. I’m eager to hear what you think too, because this has been a story unlike any other — frightening, riveting, heart-wrenching and baffling and there’s still no ending in sight.
But up, first, CNN has been covering the missing Malaysian airplane around the clock, that’s no news to most of you watching at home. And the coverage has brought this network lots of praise, lots of viewers, but also thumb’s down from some media watchers.
One of the harshest critics has been the king of cable news, Bill O’Reilly, who seems to hate the wall-to-wall coverage. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O’REILLY, FOX NEWS: I — when I’m watching this I’m like throwing — I’m upset about it. I know I’m old school, but I know it’s ratings. Obviously, it’s ratings, people want to watch the mystery. But it’s now corrupting the news business, I think.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: On the bright side for Mr. O’Reilly, though, this has given him opportunities to mock CNN for its role in leading the coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O’REILLY: Enter the lunacy. Singer Courtney Love has tweeted to her 300,000 followers that she’s discovered the jet, somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
There is no truth to the rumor that CNN immediately hired Ms. Love to anchor one of its broadcasts. To say this whole media situation is out of control is the understatement of the century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Of the century.
I hope O’Reilly didn’t bump into his colleagues Megyn Kelly or Sean Hannity in the halls of FOX last week because every night after O’Reilly complained about crazy theories and over-coverage, Kelly and Hannity did exactly what he criticized. Hannity repeatedly brought on Retired General Tom McInerney who offered some sort of evidence — I use that word loosely — the plane was hijacked by terrorists and landed in Pakistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM MCINERNEY, RETIRED GENERAL: I suspect we may in the next 24 to 48 hours, start hearing from either the Malaysian or Pakistani government. If the Pakistani government doesn’t talk soon, they’re going to be complicit in this.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: So, for this plane if it would have landed in Pakistan, Pakistanis would have had to know that?
HANNITY: At this point, you said that the Pakistanis if they don’t speak up soon, they’d be complicit. I’d argue they’re complicit now not sharing their information and intelligence about this with the world. Is that a fair observation?
MCINERNEY: I think that’s a fair observation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: Before you ask yourself, could that possibly be true? One night later, McInerney threw Iran in the mix, too.
It seemed a little like a war within FOX, with Greta Van Susteren kind of sounding like she was rooting for CNN. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: All right. Let’s go off the record for just a minute and this off the record does not apply to you viewers. Now, that’s important, because this message is only to those hand wringers going on TV or writing columns to criticize or announce some personal upset about the extensive coverage of Flight 370.
They need to get over it. Have they forgotten that 239 people are missing or maybe even murdered, 239?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: What’s interesting about all these clips is that they show the split that does exist in the media about how and how much the missing plane should be covered.
So, let’s bring in a media critic probably watched more of this coverage than anybody, Erik Wemple of “The Washington Post.”
Erik, thanks for being here.
ERIK WEMPLE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thanks for having me on.
STELTER: In one of your blog post you said you watched 50 hours of this plane coverage. How many are you up to now?
WEMPLE: I’m up to between 60 and 70 hours. Yes, I’m checking out pretty regularly. Full disclosure, I have been a regular CNN watcher here.
STELTER: And we were playing all those clips from FOX and I find them interesting because in these clips, you can see a sort of editorial debate going back and forth at FOX in a way you haven’t seen on any other channels. What do you make of Bill O’Reilly speaking the way he did? Do you think he’s criticizing CNN as a proxy to criticize his own colleagues? Or is he just looking for an excuse to —
WEMPLE: I think he’s nervous because he lost in the demo the younger viewership three nights in a row last week and he started getting nervous.
STELTER: Right. He wins in the ratings every night pretty much always.
STELTER: To lose even one night was a big deal.
STELTER: And then he lost three nights in a row and so, it must be a terrible thing to over cover something like this because if you’re beating Bill O’Reilly, something is wrong. These other nets have seen how CNN has used this to boost its ratings, which I don’t — which I don’t fault them for at all, and they’ve tried to get in to do a little more.
But CNN by virtue of being criticized for, you know, oh, wall-to-wall ridiculous coverage by virtue of all that criticism media critics and so forth, that’s helped them, because whenever people want to get an update, they know to go to CNN because it’s always going to be there for them.
So, I think the criticism has done a tremendous service to CNN.
STELTER: We heard Bill O’Reilly this week saying that over-coverage of a story like this corrupts the news business.
WEMPLE: That’s nonsense.
WEMPLE: Over-coverage I think gets a bad wrap. On some of the sites and some of critics, over-coverage as if simply going heavy on a story is a sin in itself.
Now, think about newspaper columnists or, you know, any print reporter. When they stay on a story, they get awards and the awards always say, stick to it. You know, it’s on the story, non-stopping, never let go of the story. But the moment a TV network does the nonstop coverage, they’re a source of derision. So, how is that?
I think that we have to stop criticizing over-coverage or nonstop coverage, I like it. I think when news organizations make strong decisions to go heavy on something and put resources behind it, often times, very good things happen. They break news.
Maybe that won’t be the case here because this is such a hard thing to solve, but I like over coverage. I like it when news organizations obsess over something.
STELTER: I think we’ve seen very clearly in the last couple of weeks big differences between cable news channels. When we’ve seen CNN go heavy on the plane, we saw FOX belatedly pick up on the story but avoid it for a while. MSNBC has been also on this story, at least in the ratings. Maybe we are seeing more clearly than ever how different these cable news channels are.
STELTER: And that’s a good thing perhaps.
WEMPLE: That is a good thing.
And you know something? My point here is that Jeff Zucker doesn’t go all-out —
STELTER: The president of CNN, for those who don’t know.
WEMPLE: Right, yes, CNN worldwide. If he doesn’t go all-out on this story, he should be fired, because CNN is perfectly positioned to do this story. It brands itself as a way up the middle of this ideological cable divide. There’s nothing more un-ideological on this story, at least the way it looks now, than a missing airline. I mean, there is nothing more non-ideological. So, that’s one CNN.
Two, it’s an international story. CNN is way more suited to carry out this story than its other — invests overseas. It has bureaus everywhere. I was talking about that reportorial muscle.
WEMPLE: It has to do this. If it doesn’t do this, it, you know, your leadership should be fired and marched out of their offices. It has to do this for survival, for its future. There is no other option.
STELTER: CNN, of course, has had some off moments in the coverage. I want to play a clip from Don Lemon from last weekend and react to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I’ve been getting questions from viewers on social media, through e-mail and even on the streets, especially today, on a day when we deal with the super natural, when we go to church, the supernatural power of God, you deal with all of that. People are saying to me, why aren’t you talking about the possibility — I’m just putting it out there — that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: This clip then got picked up and spread widely online.
You know, one of the unique qualities of RELIABLE SOURCES, we get to actually review CNN’s coverage. So, how did you react to that clip and the things like that, that you’ve seen?
WEMPLE: I mean, that’s pure idiocy. I think that needs to be and deserves to be condemned. I mean because —
STELTER: You don’t think there’s a way to bring up god on a Sunday evening like that?
WEMPLE: I would be against it.
I would — CNN after all, you know, talks about its reporting, has, you know, bureaus and reporters and producers and it’s got all this muscle to report and then you’re talking about God while this still is very much an ongoing thing.
I don’t think so. And I think that the derision over that particular issue, it gives the critics a foothold when, in fact, I do believe having watched mountains of CNN coverage, that there’s been a lot of very good, solid, explanatory stuff.
I like Martin Savidge up there in Mississauga, Ontario, in that flight simulator, talking about like what would happen here and it gives you sort of a sense of what might have gone on. It’s as close to like sort of like responsible speculation as I think that you can get.
And on the speculation thing too, I also believe that if you watch — read the coverage too like “The Wall Street Journal’s” Andy Pastor had his story about a week and a half ago, talking about how the plane could have gone on, he has people talked about how investigators are going over various scenarios and it became very clear that investigators speculate as well. So when you have officials speculating, it’s — I think it’s less condemnable when a news organization engages in it.
STELTER: Erik, thanks for joining me.
WEMPLE: Pleasure to be here.
STELTER: I need to fit in a break. You want to here my next segment. Two of the best aviation beat reporters in the world are here to share the unexplored angles you haven’t heard about.
STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I’m Brian Stelter.
And I want to open up this question for us — has the blanket news media coverage of the missing plane helped or has it hindered the official investigation into the disappearance?
You know, one role of the press as the word press implies is to press for answers. This week, we saw new leaks from government officials, we saw hopeful leads in the search, and we saw painful scenes of family members demanding answers from the Malaysian government.
Some of those members were asking the press to keep pressing. But the reality is that we in the media operate on a very different timeline than forensic investigators. Sometimes we scoop them, oftentimes we pressure them. There’s no denying sometimes it affects the investigation.
Let me bring in two people who know that better than just about anybody.
Miles O’Brien who covered the aviation industry for CNN for years and is back this month as CNN’s aviation analyst. He’s also a science correspondent for the “PBS NewsHour”
And John Ostrower, aerospace and Boeing beat reporter for “The Wall Street Journal.”
And both of you brought up the idea for the segment independently, the idea that these timelines are very different — the media timeline and the investigator timeline.
Miles, is this something true in any investigation like this?
MILES O’BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, the investigations take years and the news appetite is immediate. And I often say that the amount of facts available are inversely proportional to the demand for them.
So what happens is, as time goes on, the facts come in but our attention moves elsewhere.
STELTER: We’ve moved on.
STELTER: There’s been a lot of criticism of media speculation but you’ve actually been breaking news on this story. So, what is the single angle you’ve been honing or focusing on as you try to figure out what happened?
JOHN OSTROWER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: As far as the actual press coverage of it, certainly, what we’ve tried to hone in on was getting past the myriad of things that it could possibly have been and really get to what we could actually verify and know what actually happened happen.
STELTER: Do you have a couple key questions you’re trying to answer? There is the overarching question about where this plane is. There are a couple specific ones you want answers to which will lead us there?
OSTROWER: There are a few things that we’ve been wondering about throughout the course of the week. Where were the pings before those last corridors happened? No one has said definitively where the aircraft was believed to have been before it got to these two massive, massive corridors in the north and south.
STELTER: Your sources won’t tell you, it sounds like.
OSTROWER: It’s not clear at this point what that map looks like.
STELTER: Miles, do you have a couple questions like that as well? Things you want to own in on and know the answers to?
O’BRIEN: Yes. I would like to listen to those air traffic control tapes. We have not heard them. I want to hear it from the point of departure through good night and supposedly another aircraft trying to relay to them. And by one account, there was a mumble in reply. So, that could be very telling right there.
We haven’t really seen much about the maintenance records of the aircraft. Was there any problem with the pressurization system? It’s an important question potentially. We’ve seen that happen with the Helios crash and Payne Stewart crash.
And also, the people who flew with these two guys in the cockpit and the 10 flights prior. What were they like? Were they trying to land the airplane with the short field procedure, for example? Was there anything unusual about how they flew the airplane? That could help shed a little light at what we’re talking about right now.
STELTER: Making me realize how much we still don’t know, more than two weeks after the disappearance at this point?
O’BRIEN: You know, in the U.S. we’re used to an NTSB style template of releasing information. And, frankly, they have it honed down pretty well. They know how to run these investigations in a very systemic way and a very — there are protocols for how they release this information. What you have in Malaysia is chaotic and incomplete frankly, and as a result, it just has fed a lot of speculation.
So, they’re getting better. They’ve brought in some outside help and hopefully this will improve over time.
STELTER: Are there times, getting back to the question in my intro about when reporters may get in the way of these processes that were going on?
O’BRIEN: Oh, yes. We’re nothing but trouble for them really. Because a lot of trouble. Our job and their job, frankly, are diametrically opposed. We have entirely different deadlines and requirements and we, frankly, have stories that we must write and air time to fill and unfortunately what happens is, nature abhors a vacuum, the vacuum gets filled and sometimes it gets filled with some wacky things.
STELTER: Do you keep that in mind, John, when you are making calls, when you are digging for information on this story?
OSTROWER: We certainly do, when looking at a story where there is no information up front, where you start with a blank sheet of paper, all you know was that something has happened.
OSTROWER: And you start with that and you kind of work from there, you can go what do you know? What do you know about the type of aircraft involved, what do you know about the airline, what do you know about the region, what you know about the potential politics involved in all of this.
So, you start with what you know and what you can verify with your own two eyes.
STELTER: And yet, we’ve heard so many different theory, everybody has a theory. Do these random-seeming theories people bring up lead to actual reporting that’s useful?
OSTROWER: I had folks this last week who are experts in satellite design get in touch with me, who are experts in search and rescue, to begin to establish the type of questions you wanted to ask, maybe not the complete picture of a question, but certainly a bug in my ear about things to look for.
STELTER: Miles, you must be getting asked everywhere you go what you think has happened.
O’BRIEN: Yes. You know, pilots call it hangar talk. We call it speculation when it’s in the media.
But the fact of the matter is, the speculation is what leads to the questions we all ask. And the problem is, in the 24/7 news operation, you’re seeing that whole process, warts and all. Sometimes you don’t want to see the sausage being made to mix my metaphors.
But the fact is, the speculation is part of framing the discussion of what the possibilities are. You throw out an idea and then you start trying to knock it down and pilots do this in hangars and we do this on TV sometimes. The pilots get mad at us but they’re doing the same thing.
STELTER: John, you were telling me earlier, even your mother was asking you, OK, now tell me, what do you think happened? What do you said to her?
OSTROWER: Going to my head I don’t know. You know, you look at the slate of facts you’ve got and you can look at all the different theories that have been created.
STELTER: Is it true that sometimes people think you’re holding back information? Do you think more that you haven’t shared in public?
OSTROWER: Well, I think there’s a natural tendency for that. I mean, from our perspective, Miles and I were just discussing this before we went on, that the idea is that you would be holding something back and you wouldn’t be giving the full picture. But, you know, certainly, that is totally hypothetical to what our role is and jobs are.
OSTROWER: So, to be able to provide that picture is most clearly as we can, it’s also important on top of all this to say what you don’t know. And ask the questions that you’re still curious about out in the open because it has a way of generating more information and really framing how you’re thinking about something.
STELTER: Absolutely. And I think online journalism has helped teach people to share what they don’t know, to say what they don’t know and express that. You had an interesting career path as a blogger before joining “The Wall Street Journal”. Tell me what got you interested in aviation.
OSTROWER: Well, I (AUDIO GAP) I was born. I think that’s sort of where —
OSTROWER: You know, not to bring up my mother again, but she likes to tell the story that when I was 3, I asked for a second Fisher-Price airport play set. She asked me why, and I said mostly because the airplane needs somewhere to land.
STELTER: Somewhere to land.
OSTROWER: So, it’s always been in my blood. And I’ve always loved it. I had some really wonderful teachers in high school growing up, one physics teacher in particular, who really helped guide my interest and helped me answer not just the question — the practical questions about, you know, what does it do but how does it apply? I mean, how do you take the science and physics and really make it real?
STELTER: Did it start at birth for you, too, Miles?
O’BRIEN: I’m — you know, I’m a third generation aviation pilot. And, actually, both of my maternal and paternal grandfathers were pilots. So, I guess it was just in my blood. I was the same when I had the airports, the whole thing, toys, the models, on and on. I guess it’s completely in my blood, and it was a privilege to cover it for as long as I did at CNN to have that, to be given the license to become an expert on something. And really cover a beat. That’s actually rare — becoming rarer and rarer in our business.
STELTER: It is. Miles and John, thank you so much for joining me.
STELTER: Time for a quick break. But in just a moment, the latest news from the search for Malaysia Air Flight 370. Don’t go away.
SCIUTTO: Hello. I’m Jim Sciutto in New York. “RELIABLE SOURCES” will continue in a moment.
But, first, the very latest on the search for Flight 370. A third satellite image shows possible debris floating in the southern Indian Ocean after two other satellites also spotted objects there. The latest satellite data comes from France according to Malaysian authorities.
Today, eight search planes searched the ocean near where earlier images were released by China and Australia, but they did not turn up anything. Searchers did find one thing yesterday, a wooden pallet with strapping belts floating in the water. Pallets are used in the airline industry but they’re also used in shipping, so it’s not clear where this came from.
Malaysian authorities also said today the last transmission from the plane at 1:07 a.m., the night it disappeared showed nothing unusual and the plane was still heading for Beijing. That appears to undermine the theory that the plane’s computer was reprogrammed to take a different route before it lost communication with the ground.
I’m joined now by Jim Clancy, live in Kuala Lumpur, the latest from the capital of Malaysia.
Jim, as we hear that word from Malaysian investigators about this last communication, that there was no — at least no evidence of preprogramming of that flight plan, that westward turn, how important of a development is that, potential development, in terms of the investigation as to what caused the disappearance?
JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the bottom line in all of this is that the U.S., sources within the U.S., have been pointing to the pilots for a long time and there was this — they never said that it was downloaded by the ACARS system, that they had preprogrammed that turn of their flight to the west that took them out of the South China Sea.
At the same time that was suspected as the only source of the information. As we understand it tonight, they also judged it as a matter of how smoothly that turn was made, how straight on course, if you will, it was. That was also a factor in all of this.
Look, I was able to sit down with one of the people that was involved in this investigation; they believe that the Americans, for whatever reason, think it just a coincidence too far that this plane should reach the end of Kuala Lumpur airspace and before it gets into Vietnam and checks in with the Ho Chi Minh City Tower that suddenly it has a catastrophe or something goes wrong. That seems to be the basis here. But Malaysia, by saying this, is saying we’ve cleared the pilots. Jim?
SCIUTTO: That’s an important development but, as you say, not a final answer on that because they still haven’t found the plane. Just quickly you have now three bits of satellite data pointing to this area in the southern Indian Ocean. A sign of hope for the searchers?
CLANCY: Certainly there are clues; they have got to be verified, though. We’ve been here before. We need solid evidence, something that will link it directly to Flight 370 — Jim.
SCIUTTO: No question. Right, as you know, Jim, whether the planes that have gone to those areas, they have found nothing when they’ve taken a closer look.
After the break there will be more RELIABLE SOURCES with CNN’s Brian Stelter.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
The information coming from Malaysian authorities about the missing plane has been a mess. Sometimes the information has been incomplete, other times it’s turned out to be totally wrong. Transparency has been lacking, to say the least. It’s kind of like watching a case study on how not to handle a crisis.
Imagine what it’s felt like for the families of the people who were on the plane. They’ve been pleading for more information.
So why has it been so bad? Well, maybe one major reason is because Malaysia does not have a free press the way we’re using to having here in the United States. The media there is mostly government controlled, so officials are not in the habit of answering questions they don’t want to answer.
Yet there are some Malaysian reporters attempting to do what we take for granted here, which is to cover the government’s actions without fear or favor. One of them, covering this story from the inside, is Jahabar Sadiq. He’s the editor-in-chief of “The Malaysian Insider” and he joins me now from Kuala Lumpur.
Thank you for joining me.
Thanks, Brian. Glad to be here.
STELTER: It’s clear that Malaysia is dealing with a national tragedy, one that’s still unfolding. But here in this country we’ve been surprised by some of the lack of information we’ve heard from the country you’re in.
Is that typical there?
Is a lack of information a constant problem for someone like you who is reporting on the government all the time?
JAHABAR SADIQ, CEO, THEMALAYSIANINSIDER.COM: They’re not used to live, 24-hour live coverage where everything is exposed. They’re used to edits that come out at 8 o’clock news bulletins. The TV stations are controlled, radio stations are controlled, print media is controlled so the only free media available is online media.
STELTER: And on your website, for example, if you report something that government officials don’t like, what are the consequences?
SADIQ: What they do is they divest you from covering some of the events. We have a tag from the information department that says, we are journalists, but they bar access from some of the events. They bar us from briefings. We only have exclusive editorial briefings for print media and electronic media, which are controlled by them.
STELTER: I’m interested to hear about what it’s like to operate in a country where there is so many different kinds of government restrictions on the press.
Are there specific examples, for example, where you’ve been barred from covering a certain story or had interference in some way?
SADIQ: Yes. I mean, the fact that we are impartial, we are neutral and we ask questions, that really makes people uncomfortable. They’re not used to being questioned this way. They’re used to people just accepting the answers and printing out duty free the next day or in the late night news bulletins.
Are you apprehensive at all to talk about these sorts of experiences?
Does it make you fearful of consequences down the line?
SADIQ: I think there was a time a few years ago we were fearful something would happen to us. But from the previous prime minister, they decided they would take a hands-off from the Internet media. They have not actually hassled us in any way or called us in for questioning or taken down our statements for any of our coverage.
But I haven’t personally had any of my service confiscated or anyone hassled. Once in a while you might get your servers under DDOS (ph) attacks. You don’t know who does it. You might suspect that someone who is linked to the powers that be, but you’re never sure.
STELTER: Has that happened with your site in particular or you mean just in general?
SADIQ: It has happened to us a couple times. Before the general elections, you know, we experienced heavy denial of service attacks. And we had to use software like CloudFlare, Google (INAUDIBLE), just to get our servers up. It was quite massive, one of these attacks, that it nearly knocked out my Internet provider, you know, that he had to black hole us for a few days because they couldn’t take the traffic.
STELTER: Wow. Well, it’s a brave thing to be doing, to be reporting on the Web, going around the government restrictions there. Thank you so much for joining me.
SADIQ: Thank you, Brian.
STELTER: Time for a quick break. But when I come back, I’ve got a story you will only hear right here on RELIABLE SOURCES, a mess behind the scenes at Putin’s propaganda channel RT. You’ve got to hear what’s going on there, that’s next.
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