Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's transport minister, and Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation, give a news conference Wednesday. (Wong Maye-E/AP)
Hishammuddin Hussein, left, Malaysia’s transport minister, and Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation, at a news conference Wednesday. (Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)

Amid all the talk about missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, another detour into journalistic ethics broke out on CNN today.

During the network’s 11 a.m. hour, hosts John Berman and Michaela Pereira engaged fabulous CNN aviation guru Richard Quest in a talk about what conclusions can be reached based on current facts. Reuters has reported that the flight was sent deliberately westward, off its original course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing — and instead toward “flight corridors normally employed for routes to the Middle East and Europe,” said the Reuters story. A Malaysian police official told Reuters: “What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards.”

The give-and-take on CNN bounced off the Reuters reporting. To provide expert analysis on a possible terrorism angle, the network turned to Erick Stakelbeck, a terrorism analyst for CBN News (Christian Broadcasting Network). Sure, this is all speculation, said Stakelbeck, but the plane’s disappearance looks “like a man-caused event. Why would you divert the flight?”

Then he held forth with yet another level of speculation:

And, guys, when we talk about the terrorism possibilities, again, we don’t know that that was the cause, but there are a few possibilities. No. 1, in Malaysia, a majority-Muslim country, historically more moderate, but look: The 9/11 hijackers passed through Malaysia, there was an al-Qaeda presence in that country. And No. 2, guys, a very interesting wrinkle is the China angle. This flight was bound for Beijing — well, in Western China there is a group called the Uighurs. Funny name, very dangerous guys. Linked to al-Qaeda and what they want to do is form their own Islamic state, they want to break away from China, form their own Islamic state. Just a week before before the plane disappeared, they killed 27 people in China. They’ve carried out a number of attacks in that country, so that is another possibility here if it was the terror hijacking angle.

Quest didn’t appear to enjoy the analysis. “My problem with that is the moment we start raising this flag to such an extent,” said Quest, “you start to cut off other possible avenues.” He offered the example of the passengers who were reported to have boarded with stolen passports, a focus of early reporting. Though news organizations were right to fixate on the passport story, said Quest, “those two passengers now seem to be innocent victims of this flight.” Appearing to scold Stakelbeck, Quest said, “We have to be very careful.”

Absolutely, responded the guest. “We are being careful, but you bring me on to talk about a possible terrorism angle — I’m just laying out possibilities,” responded Stakelbeck. Very detailed possibilities, too!

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.