Part of this is explainable by the fact that “crash,” as a word, simply flows more easily in speech than, say, “water landing”—and that it’s much more common than the NYT’s relatively obscure “ditch.” Cable’s “crash”-ophilia, in this instance, isn’t likely a case of conscious sensationalism so much as it’s a case of the unconscious: TV, in breaking-news coverage, traffics in spur-of-the-moment commentary from its narrators, and therefore is more susceptible than print to the vagaries of human emotion. (Were I talking to my friends about this afternoon’s event, I’d call it a crash; were I writing about it for public consumption, I would not.)
That’s an explanation, though—not an excuse. Any event that combines the terms “plane” and “New York City” and “crash” is bound to create panic, even if, in the next moment, the real situation—apparently-casualty-free water landing—is revealed. Those relating the story of that event, therefore, have an even greater responsibility than they usually do to be both accurate and sensitive in their narratives. Here’s yet another area where TV news can take a cue from its fellows in print: before you share information with the public…choose your words carefully.