O'Reilly: MH370 coverage driven by ratings

Bill O'Reilly poses on the set of his television show, the O'Reilly Factor. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bill O'Reilly calls nonstop coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet "headache inducing"

Fox's Bill O'Reilly thinks the media are going overboard in their coverage of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370.

Monday night on the O'Reilly Factor, he said: "Watching all this wild speculation has me on edge. It's headache-inducing and driven by ratings, not journalism."

"There is no question that many Americans want to hear all kinds of theories about what might have happened to the plane," he said. "It is very frustrating to cover a story like the Malaysian jet disappearance in a responsible way."

On Friday, O'Reilly's criticism seemed pointed directly at CNN, which has devoted considerable resources to the story - including, at times, entertaining outlandish theories.

He said:

As you guys may know, we don't do much speculation here on the Factor. But other news agencies do. Guessing about - guessing about! - what may have happened. Wasting your time. Last night, an hour - one hour! - on another network of nothing. It was amazing. So tonight, we're going to stick with the facts.

Erik Wemple of the Washington Post wryly observes that this comes from "the perennial conjurer of the 'War on Christmas'".

It should be noted as well that for three days last week, CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 show beat O'Reilly's show in key demographic ratings - something that only happened twice in 2013 (once while O'Reilly's show had a guest host).

O'Reilly isn't the only one who has come forward to criticise the wall-to-wall media coverage of the disappearance, however.

"Even a great story and a great mystery can become exploited," the American Press Institute's Tom Rosenstiel told the New York Times.

"There were periods where the coverage entered into fantastical territory."

The plane story has come to "thoroughly dominate" recent news cycles, writes Jack Mirkinson of the Huffington Post, "even at the expense of stories with more serious international implications".

It's not exactly keen insight at this point to say that the line between entertainment and much of the news has become blurred to the point of nonexistence.

Is the Malaysia Airlines disappearance a legitimate story worthy of coverage equal to or more than the situation in Ukraine? Almost certainly not. But there are legitimate reasons why it is compelling - and news outlets, including the BBC, have given it significant play.

In today's interconnected, satellite-monitored world, jumbo jets just aren't supposed to disappear for more than a week. Now that anyone with a computer and Google World can pore over details of the entire planet, the days of "terra incognita" and Bermuda Triangle mysteries are supposed to be in the past.

Modern technology isn't supposed to let us down so spectacularly.

Mix in some post-9/11 fears of terrorism and the natural tendency to entertain cinematic-style conspiracy theories, and the huge audience is understandable.

The story certainly has more relevance than the latest Justin Bieber escapades. So at least there's that.