Some of the US TV coverage of the Japan disaster was pedestrian, verging on the foolish. Hundreds of thousands homeless, tens of thousands missing, nuclear reactors melting — and at least two outlets used their precious time to produce little human interest stories — which smacked of being manufactured — about two Americans who they had found to be safe, as if that had really been in question.
— NHK TV live and on the internet — is a comprehensive way of learning about the breadth of the tsunami-earthquake-nuclear story.
The premise of two pieces on CNN and NBC segments involved two cases where young family members had been unable to contact their parents back home, who
were worried. That’s fine, but it was less a case of being missing than the case of not having a telephone. Both involved young Americans who had been too busy checking on the safety of people around them than to wait in line for a hard-to-get phone call. OK, it was American and it pulled at the heartstrings; at the same time there was almost a smug look on the faces of the reporters who had hauled in the human interest.
But come on. The journalistic story at a disaster is to analyze systems, identify problems, represent the public — the American public included. How does this really affect us? What can we draw from the collapse of public systems? And what can we do to help? Human interest yes, but with a little dignity rather than old parochial formulas.
CNN continues to be the best game on U.S. mainstream TV, and they did some good work. They finally brought in an eminent nuclear specialist without an agenda, a step-up from their weekend choice, Prof. Glenn Sjoden, a nuclear advocate who is also a consultant for industry. At their best, U.S. networks also questioned the openness of Japanese officials on the nuclear story. One of the good analysts on the airways was James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Acton was concise, well spoken and authoritative. Let’s hear more of that.