Some Journalists Shine in Disaster

Sep 12, 2005  •  Post A Comment

As the story of Hurricane Katrina got bigger and bleaker, TV journalists’ work got better. For TV news aficionados, that meant some silver linings amid a dark cloud of tragic circumstances and devastation. Legions of correspondents and anchors who have risen to such occasions as 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq and the tsunami rose to the occasion again, as America faced possibly its worst natural disaster.

This is one news junkie’s highly subjective and impossibly incomplete and loosely organized list of some standouts whose work shall not be soon forgotten.

Career boosters: CBS News’ Tracy Smith, who reports for “The Early Show” on weekdays and co-anchors its Saturday edition, showed unexpected heart, rage and fortitude. NBC News’ Carl Quintanilla, whose intrepid reporting more than paid off on the investment in this former Wall Street Journal reporter. Ditto, “Weekend Today” anchor Campbell Brown, whose family’s home has now been hit by hurricanes in two successive seasons.

Heartbreakers: We wept on both trips “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts took in her devastated hometown in Mississippi. And with CNN’s lithe master of disaster, Anderson Cooper, as he bore tearful witness to the anguish of survivors and even journalists. And with his colleague Jeanne Meserve. Lee Cowan, the CBS News correspondent whose writing is often lyrical, made his report on lost pets stand out by simply explaining how important the animals are to people who have lost everything else in their lives.

Couldn’t watch. Couldn’t not watch:“The Oprah Winfrey Show’s” Dr. Mehmet Oz, who handled babies and corpses with equal compassion. Harry Connick Jr., a favorite son of New Orleans, who starred in a number of NBC News reports, none more memorable than one in which he helped rescue a frail, elderly and essentially undressed man off a front porch in a still-flooded neighborhood. Mr. Connick whipped off his T-shirt and gently put it on the old man, whom he carried to his flat-bottomed boat. As Mr. Connick, now shirtless in his suspendered waders, walked the boat down the flooded street, he looked like the hero right out of a modern Gothic romance novel.

Please don’t go: We worried that Ted Koppel, who will leave his post of 25 years as “Nightline” anchor at year’s end, had on only standard rain boots, not waders, as he sloshed along flooded streets, on one of which he helped rescue a colorful lady named Rosie and her family. We were relieved that it was “Nightline” mainstay John Donvan who found the handgun and bullets one resident left on her dining table for relatives who found their way to her abandoned home. And that Mr. Donvan is not leaving “Nightline.”

Who knew? Fox News’ normally brisk and verb-phobic Shepard Smith asked again and again where the government was. His impassioned reports earned him an invitation to “Late Show With David Letterman.” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough dropped the partisan rhetoric and took up a collection of more than $100,000 for the survivors of Katrina. Jack Cafferty, CNN’s answer to Andy Rooney, took the government to task and received many times his usual allotment of e-mails, an estimated 70 percent of which agreed with the curmudgeon.

Look! Up in the sky: In the only news helicopter licensed

to fly over New Orleans, co-pilot and pool cameraman JT Alpaugh of Helinet Aviation Services in Van Nuys, Calif., literally went above and beyond and fed back stunning video of rescues that often played at the same time on every news channel.

General excellence: CNN’s veteran Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr was with Lt. Gen. Russel Honore as he quickly moved to instill order and law in New Orleans and ordered his men-and police personnel who did not report to him-to point their guns down, to make clear they were there to help, not hurt.

It was a powerful moment in days overflowing with such instances.