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Bill Hemmer & Shepard Smith Deliver the News

Reported by Nancy - September 1, 2005 -

Today (9/1) FNL finally -- FINALLY -- lived up to its tagline as a "hard news" program. Bill Hemmer anchored the noon hour, coolly, calmly & professionally imparting news & information you could actually use. And there were two segments by Shepard Smith that were simply outstanding.

12:16pm (EDT) - Hemmer showed an animation: ANATOMY OF A LEVEE, that showed 3 different ways a levee could fail. This was followed by maps showing canals & levees, with information about what was broken, what was still holding, etc. Finally, Hemmer showed satellite before & after pix of Biloxi, MS. Before, you could see various structures. After: nothing but concrete foundation slabs. Amazing pix.

Comment: The graphics were the best I've seen in more than a year of monitoring FNL. Clear, concise, simple -- not at all like the usual FNL "graphics". Hemmer explained them calmly & rationally, using language that was neither an attempt to talk down to viewers nor an attempt to rile viewers up by playing to emotions. What a pleasure, compared to the mess David Asman would have made of the same material.

Next, the segment by Shepard Smith:

12:04pm - Smith, outside the Superdome, reported on the "refugees". He was clearly distraught by what he has seen, & angry. He stated that "no supplies are getting to the people & authorities are aware of this" & asked "why authorities don't tell them where to go or have a place for them to go." He described the 10 miles of Interstate-10 where people had tried to flee, & showed a report he had taped earlier, showing the body of a man who had died & simply been left by the side of the road. Smith noted that someone had covered the body with a blanket, but that "authorities" have been passing the site for a long time & the body is still there. Smith said "this city ... is chaotic" & noted that fires had broken out in the Superdome, that the people "got only one meal yesterday", & that "this is creating a tinderbox in this city -- that's not opinion, that's fact." Hemmer asked if anyone had heard from the mayor, & Smith said there were "occasional communications on the radio but not everyone has a radio." He returned to describing the survivors: "they came from the sewer ... they're alone for days on the freeway."

At the end of the hour FNL went back to Smith for an update:

12:55pm - Smith reported on a fire that has broken out in a house & spread to neighboring houses, then he & Hemmer discussed problems with broken & leaking gas lines & the problems faced by firefighters. Smith pointed out again that "the authorities can get to those freeways" & wondered "why they haven't" & why the survivors have "been given none of that information" that could help them.

Comment: These reports by Smith were not dispassionate, objective reporting -- but they were excellent examples of a reporter fully engaged in his story, not merely reading lines or regurgitating talking points. He conveyed more to viewers in those few minutes than an hour of talking-head analysis would have. I was reminded of the reporter covering the Hindenburg disaster.

General comment: It's a crime that it took a tragedy on the scale of Katrina to bring this program to a level where it should be on a regular basis.

NOTE TO READERS: Please stay on topic (FNL's coverage of the aftermath of Katrina). O/T comments will be deleted. Thanks.