Andy Pasztor of the Wall Street Journal had quite an experience Thursday. His report that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 flew for hours after slipping off radar, according to signals sent from the Boeing 777’s Rolls-Royce engines, met with a firm denial from Malaysian officials at a news conference. Later, it turned out to be about three-quarters correct: The flight had indeed continued, but the engines had stopped sending operational data; the signals came from elsewhere.
In an interview with the public radio program “Here & Now,” Pasztor was asked whether Malaysia was prepared to handle the crisis. He gave a thoughtful response, saying that “very few countries” have had any experience with something as bizarre as this story. On a more judgmental note, Pasztor continued, “I will say that the Malaysians have had a pattern of saying one thing one day and then saying something else the next, and giving conflicting reports in terms of what’s inside their own government they believe is the most likely theory or should be the next step. … But it’s a hard task, and many countries would falter.”
Many countries, yes, like the United States of America, whenever a fast-moving story emerges. Boston Marathon bombings? Conflicting reports. Newtown shootings? Conflicting reports. Washington Navy Yard shootings? Conflicting reports. In those cases, the contradictions usually stemmed from law-enforcement authorities speaking on condition of anonymity. Have Malaysian authorities mastered anonymous un-accountability? Perhaps a wide-ranging study on Malaysian source terms is in order.