Search AOL Mail
AOL Mail
AOL Favorites

Why are Americans obsessed with missing plane?

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- From the disappearances of aviator Amelia Earhart to labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa, there's just something about a good mystery that Americans find too tantalizing to resist. Perhaps that's why the saga of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has continued to rivet the country long after people elsewhere have moved on.

From the beginning, the story has bubbled with enough drama to rival a good Hollywood whodunit. And even though it unfolded on the other side of the world with only three Americans on board, many were sucked in anyway.

"This story has many ingredients of compelling drama, particularly early on: lives at stake, mystery unsolved, a race against time, human emotion," Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, said in an email.

But why did interest remain so high in the U.S. when the story lost steam elsewhere? It dropped from most Australian front pages and websites weeks ago, despite the search being coordinated off its western coast. CNN International, CNN's overseas network, tapered its coverage when other big news broke, such as the crisis in Ukraine and the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa. But CNN in the U.S. continued its heavy focus on the plane.

Even in China, where two-thirds of the passengers were from, reports never ran nonstop on TV and the clamor on social media also died down.

But Americans yearned for more.

Many found it impossible to believe that a modern Boeing 777 carrying 239 people could just vanish without a trace in an age where an iPhone can be tracked just about anywhere.

Part of the obsession may also revolve around the country's gotta-know-now mentality and its social media addiction that gets fed 24/7 by the latest breaking news, raw footage or photos going viral on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Since the plane disappeared, it has consistently been one of the top five most-read stories on The Associated Press' mobile app.

And so Americans tuned in to watch the latest developments. And when there were no new developments, they stayed glued to their smartphones because the suspense of not knowing - or possibly missing something new - somehow spiked when nothing was going on. From oil slicks to pings from dying black boxes, each new lead provided a salacious morsel that drove viewers to wonder: Will this be it?

"I find myself drawn into watching or reading about it because it has taken on seemingly mythic worldwide importance," Paul Mones, an attorney from Portland, Oregon, wrote in an email. "In this modern world we simply refuse to accept that something so concrete can get so out of our physical reach and understanding. ... People just refuse to concede that the cause of the disaster will likely forever remain unknown."

After six weeks of breathless reporting, not one shred of hard evidence has been found from the jetliner. An unmanned underwater submarine is now using sonar to comb the ocean floor at a depth exceeding 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) off the west coast of Australia. It is desperately trying to spot something - anything - that resembles wreckage in an area where signals believed to be coming from the plane's dying black boxes were heard.

According to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center conducted April 3-6, the missing plane remained the top news story in the U.S., with 33 percent of people saying they followed it over a deadly shooting at Fort Hood Army base, developments related to Ukraine and President Obama's health care overhaul. That's down from 39 percent in the previous March questionnaire, when nearly half of those asked said they thought the hunt for Flight 370 was being given the right amount of coverage.

CNN covered the drama heavily for weeks, once breaking into one of its programs to report that objects recovered from the sea could be trash - which is exactly what they proved to be. They featured tons of go-to footage from a flight simulator and a nonstop spool of speculation from talking heads. Everyone had a theory, with some sounding more like a Twilight Zone rerun than a newscast: Could a black hole or even something supernatural be behind the aircraft's March 8 disappearance?

CNN declined to comment for this story despite repeated requests from the AP.

Last week, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., begged CNN to scale it back.

"Enough, already," he wrote. "Give us a break from the missing plane. ... Put your hands up and step away from the story."

Even though its coverage was mocked by "The Daily Show" and spoofed by "Saturday Night Live," Americans kept watching, and the 24-hour news network's ratings kept soaring.

CNN reported itself that its all-important 25- to 54-year-old viewer demographic more than doubled after its plane reporting began.

A month and a half into the massive search that has involved scores of countries scouring thousands upon thousands of ocean miles, the plane was still among the top three stories Sunday on Google news. The only new development was that the robotic submarine was expected to finish its sweep of the seabed in a week.

A combination of popular TV shows and a history peppered with real-life detective dramas, from who shot President John F. Kennedy to the identity of Watergate source "Deep Throat," may have been factors that tempted Americans to latch onto it.

"It's almost like all the seasons of `Lost' was the promotional period for this story," said Robert Thompson, a pop culture expert at Syracuse University.

"We have always kind of put a lot of our popular national narrative into these mysteries and conspiracies and all of the rest of it," he added. "And this is a pretty powerful one."

Join the discussion

1000|Characters 1000  Characters
lujusa April 21 2014 at 8:59 PM

Americans like mysterie and this a powerful one. yes

Flag Reply +3 rate up
Iris April 21 2014 at 3:31 PM

As the rest of the world says enough already.
I doubt they will ever find the plane soon.

Now on to matters of State and saving countries, like ours.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
verde33333 April 22 2014 at 6:05 AM

I heard there is a US Military Base close by in the Indian Ocean that is large enough to land a plane but yet I have not heard anything on the "TV" about it in all their reporting about looking in the water for it.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
thirdsqurl April 21 2014 at 3:33 PM

CNN likes to run stories into the ground because they have little that's interesting to say about most subjects. But they are still better than MSNBC and Fox News, who warp stories to fit the expectations of their warped viewers.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
verde33333 April 22 2014 at 6:02 AM

That plane landed somewhere and ithe whole thing is not being treated fairly. Those people and families could be us next. Thats why Americans care and all others should care also. ............

Flag Reply +2 rate up
ajt1025 April 21 2014 at 3:35 PM

America is obcessed with wasteing money on other countries with our tax dollars. It's over let it go.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
illiniwek55 April 21 2014 at 5:03 PM

I'm not obsessed.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
dal April 22 2014 at 5:04 AM

I believe the correct question is not why "America" is obsessed about it but why the American media, I knew there was nothing more to be learned other than the airlines failed again and all other media coverage was mere subterfuge weeks ago.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
shamynk April 21 2014 at 11:01 PM

What worries me, is the state of our spy satellite system. The cameras in space are supposed to be able to read a license plate in DC. How could they NOT TRACK a single BIG airliner?

Flag Reply +6 rate up
dickn2000b April 21 2014 at 4:56 PM

It's not so much that the average U.S. citizen is obsessed with this story. It's simply the fact that the media continues to milk this story continuously. I, personally, lost interest weeks ago.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
trappersnapp dickn2000b April 21 2014 at 5:46 PM

And yet, here you are...commenting on something you lost interest in weeks ago...smh...

Flag Reply 0 rate up
aol~~ 1209600


More From Our Partners