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A Tidal Wave of Sleaze

Reported by Nancy - December 28, 2004 -

This morning (12/28), in the midst of some responsible & informative reporting about the disastrous earthquake & tsunami that has devastated countries & killed 44,000+ people across SE Asia, FNL just couldn't resist throwing in a few of their usual sleazy shlock-'n'-awe segments (traffic snarls! building explodes! Victoria's Secret supermodel!). In addition, there was a nasty tone of racism in the "survivor stories" they chose to highlight.

When I tuned in at 10:56am (all times ET), Kiran Chetry was ending an interview with the parents of 12-year-old Christina Tedder, who has been missing since Christmas Eve [comment: classic missing white girl story; if you only watch FNL, you'd think only white children go missing in this country].

At 11:00am, Chetry read the top stories: 8 Americans killed in killer wave, trying to track down more; supermodel had to cling to tree for 8 hrs; survivors - no clean water, no way home, airlines swamped; San Clemente fault line just 50 mi off San Diego. After Chetry noted that 44,000+ have been killed in this tsunami, Mike Emanuel reported from Crawford ("Western White House"): US will be a "leading partner" in help; clip of Colin Powell from an earlier appearance on "Fox & Friends"; $15M to help now, prepared to add another $20M; US immediately gave $100,000 to 4 countries hardest hit; USAID experts are heading to region; Bush has written to leaders of 7 countries.

At 11:03am, there was an ALERT for pix of road in North Hollywood, CA, washed away, cars stranded.

At 11:04am, Chetry read a series of short blurbs about upcoming segments: the "miraculous story" of Victoria's Secret supermodel" survivor in Thailand; her boyfriend is still missing; chaos at airports, tourists trying to leave the areas hit by the tsunami; and the "earth will literally never be the same", because the quake actually moved small islands & "shook the foundation" of the planet. This was followed at 11:06an by Rick Leventhal, who reported on the science of tsunamis: USGS says this was 23000x greater than Hiroshima, it "shook the planet", axis wobbled, some islands moved >20m. He showed some decent graphics about tectonic plates moving against each other, noted that the tsunami started as a "speed bump" moving at hundreds of mph, grew higher as it neared land. Clip of USGS scientist saying it was nearly impossible to predict this one, they're tough to forecast. Leventhal said the tsunami may have trimmed 3 microseconds off the length of the day.

At 11:09am, Chetry said there was a tsunami in 1964 in Anchorage (more on that later). Then Jennifer Griffin reported from Thailand that the US will send forensic teams & "they're gonna need all the help they can get". There are "decomposing bodies lining the streets". An Austrian resident gave them a "tour" (video of smashed houses, dead bodies). Griffin commented that you "can't describe the disgusting smell" & wondered "I don't understand why they haven't picked them [dead bodies] up yet", "it's been 2 days", to which her tour guide replied it's because there's "such huge damage", "too much happening," they "can't be at same time everywhere". Griffin asked "When did you first come across this woman?" [ref to a body still in a tree] & her "guide" said it was about "6 hrs after the wave hit", then FNL lost the transmission [comment: thank goodness, because Griffin's report was the epitome of spoiled brat sneering 'eewww'; she's better when she reports from Jerusalem].

At 11:11am, there was more video from N Hollywood flooded underpass, followed by Janice Dean's weather report.

At 11:16am, noting that the death toll was still growing & wondering "how at risk is America's shoreline?", Chetry interviewed Philip Liu (coastal engingeer, Cornell U). Chetry asked what kind of damage might we expect from a quake on the San Clemente fault, whether it would be hard to predict, & whether it might happen too quickly for any kind of warning system we have. Liu said "we have a pretty reasonable warning system in place, especially for CA" & "if we have 20-30 mins, that could be sufficient". Chetry asked how buoys attached to ocean floor work, Liu explained that they are deep ocean pressure sensors, as tsunami propagates, they pick up signals, send to satellite, to warning center, issue alert warning message. Chetry said it's "hard to comprehend a 30-ft" tsunami & mentioned a 5-6 ft tsunami in San Luis Obispo in 1937, asking what kind of damage or destruction could be expected from that size. Liu said it "depends on the type of infrastructure in the affected area" noting that in Asia, there were "very simple structures", in US "more robust", we have proper planning & zoning - so damage would not be "significant" [comment: Chetry's questions were tabloid hype, but Liu provided some real info & calmed the whole tone down].

At 11:22am, there was an ALERT to announce that a 20-month-old Swedish boy, Hans Bergstrom, survived the tsunami; he was vacationing with his family, "miraculous story", now reunited with grandmother & uncle from Sweden [comment: complete with much video of adorable & scared blond baby being cuddled by Asian nurse].

At 11:33am, Chetry noted that 18.000+ are dead in Sri Lanka & the govt dispatching 500 doctors via copters. Greg Jarrett said there is a new bulletin saying as many could die from disease as from the tsunami itself. He noted that people are desperate to find out about loved ones on vacation & did a short blurb about how one survivor, Amy Harding, sent a text message to let her family know she was okay.

At 11:34am, , Lisa Bernhard reported on supermodel Petra Nemcova (who survived) & her boyfriend, Simon Atlee (who is still missing), complete with video of Nemcova modelling skimpy clothes.

At 11:37am, Jarrett interview Ashish Joshi via phone from Sri Lanka. Joshi gave a pretty dramatic first-person account of the tidal wave, mentioned that it happened on a Buddhist holiday & that one train, carrying 1500 people who had gone to a special temple to celebrate, was "demolished" & all on board are presumed dead. Jarrett prompted Joshi to "tell us some of the things you've seen there" & Joshi described "absolute carnage across the island", with "coastal areas worst hit", & "bodies everywhere". He said that "decomposition" had already set it, making it difficult to identify bodies, & "morgues & hospitals are overflowing" because people can't even get to them to identify loved ones. He said everyone is aware of the threat of cholera & other waterborne diseases, & survivors are in a panic.

At 11:39am, Jarrett interviewed (by phone from Bangkok) Dipak Jain (dean of Northwestern U Business School); Jain had been vacationing in Thailand with wife & 3 kids. He told his story of survival & Jarrett again wanted to know "what did you see?" Jain said he didn't see any people, the Sheraton where he was staying had "no serious damage" but it might have been another story altogether if they had been more in the path.

At 11:46am there was an ALERT for the first pix from Phi Phi Island, Thailand.

At 11:47am, Dagen McDowell reported on the "biggest aid effort in history", involving "billions of dollars". The US initially committed $15M, USAID says it's working on adding more money, maybe another $20M. McDowell went into some detail about what the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, CARE, UNICEF & others are doing (3 priorities: shelter, clean water, emergency medicines) & said all the NGOs are "working closely together" to make sure relief "goes where it's needed most", & there's "no duplication" of effort.

At 11:52am, William LaJeunesse gave the history of a 9.2 quake off Anchorage in March 1964, including two clips of a scientist saying "the next one is inevitable, just a matter of time" & "warning system can only respond in 5-10 min range & first thing to go will be all electricity". LaJeunesse noted that the US has installed a sophisticated underwater alert system in HI & AK to cope with the 2 faults in those locations. Jarrett added the "San Clemente Fault too".

At 11:55am, Chetry interviewed Michael Wyession (seismologist, St Louis U) about "the earth may have wobbled on axis". Noting that this quake "released more energy than" contained in the "US & Russian nuclear arsenals", she asked about the "long term effects" of that [comment: her questions were less tabloid hype this time]. Wyession said a "slight displacement of rock outward may change the rate of rotation of earth in milliseconds" so that's not a "large factor"; more significantly, it "may change the level of stress for all faults in the region & increase likelihood of quakes" in the area. Chetry asked him to explain how some islands rose as a result of the quake. Wyession said there was "only few meters of uplift in seashore locations", & repeated that it was "more significant" that the "entire level of tension underground changes." He also emphasized that the quake "didn't occur at one location" but was "1200 km long, >100 km deep."

At 11:58am there was an ALERT to note that the State Dept says 11 Americans are confirmed dead

At 12:02pm, Jennifer Griffin essentially repeated her earlier report from Phuket (bodies in trees, etc) but without the guided tour [comment: & with less grimacing]. At 12:03pm, Lisa Berhard essentially repeated her earlier report about supermodel Petra Nemcova (with stills of her modeling scanty clothes).

At 12:06pm, Jarrett interrupted the tsunami coverage with an ALERT that a 2-story bldg exploded near St Paul, MN.

At 12:07pm, saying that no major port or factory facilities were hit by the tsunami, & economists say the overall economic impact will be small, Jarrett introduced Dagen McDowell, who essentially repeated her earlier report about aid for victims from a variety of nations & NGOs.

At 12:10pm, noting that a new bulletin from the health ministry in Indonesia says that 27,000+ are dead, the death toll is climbing throughout the area, & risk of disease is also climbing, Kelly Wright reported on how relief groups in the US are gearing up to help. He showed the clip of Colin Powell (from his earlier appearance on "Fox & Friends") & gave some very specific info about the best way to help (go to State Dept website to make donations or call Red Cross at 800-HELP-NOW).

At 12:12pm, there was video from Long Beach CA -- toppled tree, flooded intersections. Then Janice Dean gave an updated weather report.

At 12:13pm, there was an ALERT to repeat the story about the exploding building near St Paul, MN. This was repeated, yet again, at 12:22pm.

At 12:23pm, William LaJeunesse essentially repeated his earlier report about the 1964 quake in AK, complete with the same clips but also with a computer simulation of a wave hitting a city. Continuing the same story, at 12:26pm Jarrett interviewed Rep Don Young (R-AK) who was in Alaska in 1964. Young gave a personal account of what happened, then Jarrett asked about how prepared we are. Young said Alaska is "well prepared, well aware" of the issue. Jarrett then asked about the Atlantic seaboard, saying there have been 9 tsunamis there in past 200 years & wondering if there shouldn't be a warning system on the East Coast too. Young agreed that there should be a warning system.

At 12:34pm, Jarrett noted that relief efforts are underway in Sri Lanka & elsewhere across the region, then Ashish Joshi & Mike Emanuel essentially repeated their earlier reports.

At 12:39 there was yet another ALERT about the exploding building near St Paul, & Jarrett talked by phone with a local police dispatcher (nothing to report, still in recovery mode). In addition to asking obvious questions about survivors or deaths (nothing final to report), & despite the dispatcher's repeated insistence that the investigation had only just begun, Jarrett asked if "any chemicals" might have been involved in the explosion.

At 12:43pm, Rick Leventhal essentially repeated his earlier report about the science of tsunamis.

At 12:49pm, Jarret interviewed Herman Humbles (Deputy Police Chief, Marion County, IN) about leads in the case of Christina Tedder, 12-yr-old white girl missing since Christmas Eve.

At 12:55pm, Jarrett repeated that there's bad weather in Southern CA.

At 12:56pm, Jarrett interviewed Jared Shapiro ("Star" magazine) about supermodel Petra Nemcova & her boyfriend.

General comments: The earthquake & subsequent tsunami smashed through SE Asia, yet FNL covered (ad nauseam) the story of Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova (white), her British boyfriend (white), a Swedish baby (white), an American professor (no photo of him, but he had an Indian accent on the phone & an Indian name), the plight of tourists (presumably non-Asian) trying to get home, & an American survivor of the 1964 Alaska quake/tidal wave (white). Since the only thing mentioned about Amy Harding was the text message she sent, I won't guess about her race or nationality. Griffin had an Austrian (white) "tour guide" (her term, not mine) showing her some of the devastation in Thailand. They did use a segment from one Sri Lankan reporter (twice). And the interviews with scientists (both white & American) were good journalism, by & large, although the "could it happen here" hype was tabloid level. Any readers care to speculate WHY the coverage was so slanted?