It was disgusting to me that NBC's Today show, while 80 percent of a major U.S. city large enough to support an NFL football team was under water, was doing recipes for peanut butter ice cream. I'm not usually awake for the Today show, but the woman who was filling in for Katie Courik looked like a Raw Diva Contestant, only with more surgery, less food intake, and worse make-up. Who made the judgment call at NBC to go with business as usual on Today? Why should only people with cable television get 24/7 coverage of one of the biggest, most tragic stories of our lifetime?
The CBS, ABC, and Fox affiliates were playing normal daytime programming. I flipped the channel and there was the Price is Right, a pretaped gameshow with a bunch of people celebrating the chance to bid on merchandise. It felt so wrong that the broadcast networks, which are on airwaves owned by the public, were making money off of ads for the usual shows rather than covering the fact that an entire region of the country was increasingly underwater.
On Fox News, Shepherd Smith was on the phone, talking about how he was trapped in a hotel with thousands of New Orleans citizens. He was practically begging to be helicoptered out as his voice cracked. He said it would be unfair for him to remain there any longer because he and his crew would be taking needed food and water from others in the hotel. Why do I think that wouldn't exactly have been the response of the top reporters of the previous generation? If Smith and his crew stayed, but offered transportation that would have been given to him and his crew to the most elderly or needy citizens at the hotel, then he could stay and do his job and a few lives could be saved. Instead, he wanted out. He came there for a photo op, not to be stuck in a hotel without food and water and flushing toilets. Dan Rather, as cooky as he could be, wouldn't have been worried about clean underwear and a five-star meal. He wouldn't have been admitting on national TV he wanted a proverbial lifeboat before the women and children.
Thousands of people were being air rescued from their homes in the Gulf Coast area. It's one of the most dramatic stories of our lifetime. There are entire cities that for 24 hours after the hurricane nobody had been in contact with, such as Bay St. Louis. There was a hospital in New Orleans 24 hours after the hurricane rapidly filling up with water, and a hospital worker talking via phone on CNN about how they may run out of emergency power and may need to evacuate the patients on respirators.
There was a man being interviewed on CNN who lost his grip with his wife during the flood and lost her. He was walking around lost, in shock, with two young sons under age 12 looking dazed and confused, hugging his leg. That was on CNN. On the networks, trashy daytime talk shows about cheating husbands.
Wade is right on the money. If his story about Smith's New Orleans antics is accurate (I didn't see it), they need to throw him off the roof of that hotel he's "stranded" in. For a reporter, any reporter, to put his own interests ahead of hundreds or thousands of people who are probably left homeless by this natural disaster, is utterly reprehensible. And it's the perfect example of the "Where's the camera?" mentality that has befallen many of today's news "reporters".
Did Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings have egos? Absolutely. You don't get anywhere in this business without ego. But none of the three lasted as long as they did (and earned the respect they did) by putting themselves ahead of the story, or by making themselves part of the story. Wade is absolutely right. Shepard Smith went to New Orleans to get his face on the camera and to be part of the big story. Anchoring from the studio wasn't good enough, because you don't get recognition that way. Smith went to New Orleans for a spot on his resume tape. He should be ashamed of himself, but he'll probably get back to New York and think he did a great and wonderful job of covering the story. The reality is that he embarrassed himself and his network. And he works for Fox News Channel. It's not easy to embarrass that outfit (right, Mr. Folafel Lover?).
Even more ridiculous is the attempt by the broadcast networks to return to a "normal" pattern of news reporting once the hurricane moved away and fizzled out. By no means is this comparable to 9/11, and it's hard to compare it to the tsunami disaster at this point. But it may end up being the costliest natural disaster in our nation's history. Surely, that deserves a bit more coverage and a bit more respect than what has been offered to this point by most of our "reporters".
Oh, and someone tell Campbell Brown to take her damn hat off the next time she reports from the middle of a hurricane. What an idiot.