A year ago this month, before he was fired and before a plane went missing in the Indian Ocean with no trace, Piers Morgan hosted a panel at the Paley Center in Los Angeles. The whole thing was supposed to be about The Newsroom, the TV show on HBO about an idyllic cable news channel that does everything right, but Morgan took a moment to laud the man that would eventually fire him.
A month beforehand, CNN went to ‘round-the-clock coverage about a cruise that was stranded just off shore in Mobile, Alabama. It had no power, thus no plumbing, so the ship’s deck was now blanketed with buckets of human shit, and everyone on board was forced to eat onion sandwiches for days until they could get them off of it. It was a news story, if a minor one, but CNN went completely nuts, sending its whole staff there and covering it non-stop until the boat docked and cruisegoers went on camera to report that, yeah, it was bad, they suppose.
“When Jeff Zucker became president, everyone was curious what he would bring to CNN,” Morgan said. “The cruise ship that was stranded at sea. I had zero interest in it. But a fascinating thing happened: I got completely engrossed in this bloody cruise ship! Around two in the morning, I told Jeff, ‘I don’t know how you did this, but I really care about this now.’ It was an event. The ratings the next day were double the normal ratings.”
They’re doing this now with an airplane that is almost definitely in the ocean somewhere, hundreds of people in it now likely dead while Don Lemon listens to whispers from a producer to stretch, stretch, stretch, to talk about the plane’s run-ins with supernovas and Jesus Christ until he hands it off to Anderson Cooper, who will do the same.
Hate Piers Morgan all you want, but he was dead right about that first instinct before he gave in. The news is headed to hell on a cruise ship filled with buckets of shit and there are no lifeboats.
Looks like every expert believes the plane either malfunctioned or Malaysians shot it down in error and the government is intentionally dragging its feet, hoping the thing will sink before it’s found on a satellite picture. Almost none of those experts believe it’s possible that these people are on a remote island sharing a coconut and making an S.O.S. sign out of rocks and sticks.
But that sentence is not hopey enough for cable news. It’s too easy to talk about how Jesus took the plane to Heaven with him, or that there’s a plane-sized black hole that ate it up, or that this is the true ending to Lost.
CNN can’t get off of it, because why would they? It is ratings gold. Everyone gets to have an opinion and nobody gets to have an answer.
Such is the problem here, with what we’ve created today, where every story has to be a middling mystery with no blood but lots and lots of hope. It has successfully ruined the Internet, and it’s proving lucrative enough to ruin cable news.
It’s going to be doubly sad when wreckage is found at the bottom of the ocean in a few months or years and the story will have petered out of our consciousness, because we’ll have used a few dozen widows and widowers as TV characters, then left them thumb-up at the side of the road.
Why didn’t we help? Because we were sick of them. Because nobody gave us a season finale.
Now CNN is going to have to prep one, or wait for North Korea to talk crazy again, or find a particularly televisual revolution so we can finally get a decent ending to an episode in the primetime drama that has become the news, no spoilers.