Race on for television networks to get into Haiti to report on earthquake

By David Bauder, AP
Thursday, January 14, 2010

Networks rush personnel into devastated Haiti

PASADENA, Calif. — Television news divisions raced to get into Haiti to report on the devastation wrought by a powerful earthquake, a journey made more difficult by the story they were trying to cover.

Those first to arrive described scenes of horror frightening in scope. Even some of the journalists arriving a day after the earthquake indicated Wednesday that they had not yet seen any full-scale rescue and relief effort.

“It’s an eerie scene,” said CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who left in the midst of a newscast Tuesday for an overnight flight to the Caribbean. “Many people (are) just sort of standing around on the street, not sure of what to do or where to go. And for many, there is nowhere to go.”

The broadcast networks’ three top anchors — Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer and Brian Williams — were all dispatched to the country. Sawyer flew 18 hours to New York from Afghanistan, where she had anchored ABC’s “World News” for two days, and didn’t even leave the airport before getting on another plane headed south.

CBS’ Couric tweeted while en route from the Dominican Republic to Haiti: “Getting to Port au Prince will be very tricky. Sounds very bad, sixty percent of structures shabby in good circumstances.” CBS’ Kelly Cobiella arrived in Haiti Tuesday night.

The broadcast networks expanded their evening newscasts to an hour for the story.

A runway at the Haitian capital’s airport remained unscarred, but the control tower was severely damaged. That prevented Fox News Channel’s Steve Harrigan from landing. Cooper said he made sure his helicopter was brought down after narrowly missing a small plane in mid air.

CNN’s Sanjay Gupta nabbed Haitian President Rene Preval for an impromptu interview at the airport, where Preval was looking for a place to work. He said both his presidential palace and home were so damaged that he did not know where he was going to spend the night.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, CNN’s Cooper said that he saw corpses on the sidewalk on virtually every block he walked. The body of one little girl had only her face covered by a piece of cardboard.

There are frequent aftershocks, each one prompting screams from people, he said. Many of the victims believe another large earthquake is on the way.

“To people that are here, this feels like it’s still going on,” a weary Cooper said.

ABC News was looking to get “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts, Dan Harris, Kate Snow, Richard Besser and others into Haiti by plane, automobile and even boat, said David Reiter, vice president of newsgathering.

“Food, lodging, security, how we (transmit) our video, all of these in other stories you can take for granted,” Reiter said. “In this case, you can’t.”

Besides Williams, NBC was sending half of the “Today” team — Ann Curry and Al Roker — along with Michelle Kosinski, Kerry Sanders and Ron Allen to Haiti.

Williams reported by phone on MSNBC shortly before 3 p.m. EST, saying that from the air that “it was very plain that they are still dealing with an unraveling emergency.

“For this disaster to hit one of the poorest nations of the world is almost perverse,” he said.

MSNBC received some criticism on Tuesday night for running two hours of Keith Olbermann’s show where the unfolding disaster was not addressed. It’s a recurrent issue for MSNBC, which stuck with taped programming on Christmas as the story of the attempted terrorist attack unfolded. MSNBC said there was little hard information and few pictures of the earthquake to illustrate the story so soon after it happened. Olbermann and colleague Rachel Maddow were far more aggressive Wednesday, devoting significant portions of their shows to the story.

While Fox covered the earthquake extensively Wednesday, the network took time away to showcase its new employee: Glenn Beck talked with Sarah Palin about how each of them were popular Halloween masks last year.

NBC and MSNBC are units of General Electric Co.; ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.; CNN is owned by Time Warner Inc.; Fox is a subsidiary of News Corp.

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