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Case Study: Sensationalism And The CNN Malaysian Flight Story


Here is the video for those who missed it. Warning it might make you LMAO 🙂

People surveyed on, were asked if sensationalism in the media is always a bad thing? 67% answered yes, and 33% said no. Some of the complaints from the surveyed public said that the “news should stick to [telling] what really happened, stretching the facts or outright lying is not the way to go. How can we trust a single thing the media says when this practice is so widespread?” said Rafe (1).

A good example of the media reporting the news to extremes of sensationalism was CNN’s coverage of Malaysian flight 370. Days after the flight went missing, the Boston Globe newspaper conducted research on how much time and space was allocated to the Malaysian flight 370 news story on CNN’s website. A compilation of an entire day of CNN’s reporting on April 14th, 2014, amounted “to 320 single-spaced pages of type. Of the 189,400 words used to report an entire day’s worth of news, CNN dedicated 75,929 of them, or more than 40 percent, to the Malaysian plane.” (Ross, 2014). The effects of this of course is that CNN deprived its viewers and readers of other major breaking news stories that day: the takeover by Ukrainian separatist of government buildings, and the Passover eve shooting rampage by a white supremacist in Kansas that left three dead people outside of a Jewish facility. Boston Globe research revealed that Flight 370 took 38% of total Television coverage.

The decision by CNN to bypass journalistic standards and devote the bulk of their reporting to a single event meant that many other important stories were underreported or ignored altogether.  Boston Globe explains that the motivation to take such a decision was nothing, but ratings! In doing so, they turned a tragedy into entertainment, and disenfranchised the public of important news. During the first three weeks of coverage following the Malaysian flight 370 disappearance, CNN’s ratings soared and total household viewership increased 94 percent (2). Other news services increases were flat with Fox showing a one percent increase and MSNBC dropping by five percent.

One unintended consequence of sensationalized media coverage is that it causes people to become fearful at levels that are far disproportionate to the actual risk. study shows that sometimes fear can turn into panic, resulting in negative beliefs and even dangerous psychological behaviors, and that there is more risk of mass hysteria and anxiety than the exaggerated news itself.  The study polled adults 18 years-old and older from 2,500 participants; it assess the occurrence of stress in their personal lives. One quarter of participants who reported experiencing a great deal of stress mentioned watching, reading, or listening to the news as one of their biggest daily stressors. This type of research suggests that news media has a significant influence on people’s mental and emotional health (3).


(1) Espiritu, Ariana. “Media News Increases Stress And Anxiety.” 13 July 2014.

(2). Ross, Mike. “CNN Malaysian Flight 370.” 2014 May 2014. The Boston Globe.

(3) Espiritu, Ariana. “Media News Increases Stress And Anxiety.” 13 July 2014.

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6 thoughts on “Case Study: Sensationalism And The CNN Malaysian Flight Story

  1. Good post. I do remember the sensationalized coverage of Malaysia flight. At the end of the day, you are right, this is a disenfranchisement of the public.

  2. It has become difficult to differentiating real news from entreatment news, that is a fact. We have to resource to independent news to get what is happening.

  3. It was cool you added a webminars to this post. CNN now has a new marathon, the presidential candidates marathon lol. Sensationalism at its best!

  4. Yes, the black hole and the TV show lost were part of the conspiracy theories that CNN put to the test hahah

  5. I remember John stewart talking about the sensationalism of CNN about he Malaysian story. hahaha. Talking about black holes, and putting wings to the CNN reporter, lol. All the mimics, on CNN were epic.

  6. This was a funny post. I’m glad you explained the reason behind the media’s objectives, and I can’t believe they use trending (from dumb kids), to decide what to cover. That is correct, it is a complete disfranchisement of the public. The news are not news anymore, it is entertainment (and a cheap one).

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