Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
New suggestive evidence has emerged that the disappeared Malaysian airliner likely went down as a result of oxygen loss. This rebuts the wild charges that the pilots carried out a religiously inspired suicide mission.
“Nearly four months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished into the night, Australian transportation officials said in a report on Thursday that the plane kept flying until it ran out of fuel, most likely because the cockpit crew had become unresponsive because of oxygen deprivation,” the New York Times reports.
“A clinical psychologist advising the investigation has been very skeptical of the suicide theory, saying it would be highly unusual for a suicidal person to proceed with such a deadly plan over many hours, investigators said,” adds the paper.
But you can listen long and hard and not hear a mea culpa.
The day after the plane disappeared, Rupert Murdoch sent out a tweet: “777 crash confirms jihadists turning to make trouble for China. Chance for US to make common cause, befriend China while Russia bullies.” He followed up five days later with: “World seems transfixed by 777 disappearance. Maybe no crash but stolen, effectively hidden, perhaps in Northern Pakistan, like Bin Laden.”
Murdoch set the tone for many of his media outlets, especially Fox News.
“Does your first thought go towards terrorism?” Sean Hannity asked his guests on his show a few days after the tragedy. “I have—I am unapologetic in saying that’s where my thoughts go to.” One of Hannity’s guests was Brigitte Gabriel, the founder of a Muslim-bashing group called Act! for America. She, of course, agreed with Hannity.
Other leading lights in the hate-Islam crowd wheeled out their own pet theories. Robert Spencer, the founder of JihadWatch.org and the author of several best-selling books, hypothesized the day after the downing that Uighur passengers were possibly to blame. (This line of speculation has been refuted by the Chinese authorities, who keep close tabs on their Uighur minority population.)
More prevalent Islamophobic memes have held the pilots responsible.
The blog BareNakedIslam, which has had a reported 51 million hits since 2008, headlined a piece: “MISSING Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?s ‘devout’ Muslim pilot was also a political fanatic.”
Pamela Geller, who led the campaign against the Islamic interfaith center in downtown Manhattan, has actually suggested that there be a ban on Muslim pilots. “How is the TSA going to screen for this?” she said on her enormously popular blog, Atlas Shrugs. “No Muslim pilots? That’s never going to happen. So we are all sitting ducks until the next time.”
The findings by the Australian investigative team reinforce the need for caution—not demagoguery—when evaluating news events.