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 o…