Monday, January 03, 2005

Tsunami Bad Enough Without Media Having To Create Sympathy

It's heartening to see NBC has fully grasped the scope of the tsunami disaster and sent not only a cadre of correspondents, but no less than Nightly News anchor newbie Brian Williams to Aceh to develop some street cred and shake off the rep that he's great behind a desk but still finds ill-fitting those ubiquitous vests that journalists on foreign assignments wear to indicate they're reporting from some far-flung locale.
Williams was on the phone when he filed this morning for "Today." We'll see tonight whether he shakes off the jet lag from 30 hours of flying, and eminently confident he'll be well coiffed to go live, unlike his colleague Kevin Sites, who over the weekend not only didn't bother brushing his rock-star hair, but failed to brush his face as well. This was apparently a way to show empathy with the locals struggling to survive.
That should be easy enough to do given the bottomless supply of tragic stories in the tsunami zone. So why did "Today" producers feel a need to put music behind Ann Curry's package about a Sri Lankan man who lost his wife and daughter? Nobody needed help getting a lump in their throat as he described holding his daughter's hand in the final seconds of her life. Sure, it's early in the morning, but give us a little credit.
One of the great foreign correspondents in front of the tsunami story is CBS's Barry Petersen (full disclosure: I once worked at CBS News Radio, where I was on the receiving end of many a Petersen dispatch). During his long tenure roaming the world, Petersen has seen his share of strife, death and destruction.
It was refreshing for him to remind us that journalists are human too. Sure, you're supposed to remain apart from a story so you can give a clear, lucid account of what's unfolding. But Petersen's dispatch on "Sunday Morning" showed how hard it is in Thailand, revealing that he couldn't help but cry hearing tale after woeful tale about decimated families and viewing photos of smiling, beautiful children forever frozen in time.
Of course, you don't need pictures to have your heart rendered. On yesterday's "All Things Considered" Jennifer Ludden interviewed a blogger in Singapore, who spoke of a brother-in-law who lost at least 50 relatives in Aceh.
Ludden kept her composure, but you could tell it wasn't easy. As these and other stories continue to unfold, you'll grow suspicious when correspondents don't shed a tear.

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