CNN has found itself once again on the defensive about its round-the-clock coverage of a news story with seemingly little news in it. But this time, it's not a doomed cruise ship that's giving the network's critics some pause. It's Flight 370, the Malaysia Airlines plane whose mysterious disappearance has baffled the world.
Flight 370, the missing Malaysian plane that disappeared somewhere in the South China Sea, has been a major story around the world for days. But nobody has pursued the story with the devotion of CNN—even though there's hardly any new information to be had.
On Thursday, BuzzFeed's Dorsey Shaw tallied up CNN's coverage of the plane on Wednesday (a day when there were plenty of other cable-friendly topics, such as the explosion in East Harlem, to compete with the story). He found that, "Between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Wednesday, March 12, CNN devoted 256 out of 271 broadcast minutes covering Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 which disappeared six days ago."
CNN's coverage has prompted some grumblings from media critics such as the Washington Post's Erik Wemple. The network appeared sensitive enough to the complaints to get anchor Chris Cuomo to mount a defense of the decision on Wednesday. He said, in part:
"Often in a situation like the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the job is to have more questions than there are answers, because simply not enough is known. So if it seems like we’re nibbling around the edges, it’s because we are. If it seems like you’re trying to avoid the suggestion of speculation, it’s because you have to."
It's all reminiscent of CNN's coverage of the infamous "poop cruise" in 2013 (though the Malaysian story is certainly a more newsworthy one). Back then, CNN was repeatedly criticized for its seemingly endless attention to the travails of the Carnival cruise passengers, and, just as it has now, the network defended itself.
And, just like the cruise, CNN's flight coverage is paying off where it matters most to any network: in the ratings.
Note: this post originally said that the flight story had captivated the media for "weeks." In fact, it has been missing for six days.