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Are CNN reporters covering the story or becoming the story?

by Hemal Jhaveri, posted Jan 19th 2010 1:00PM
Anderson Cooper in HaitiI don't know who else is mesmerized by the news coverage of Haiti, but I imagine that many people are still watching the devastating footage blanketing the news networks. As much as I want to turn it off, I can't. I'm compelled to look. A part of me thinks that it's my responsibility to bear witness to the horror.

Anyway, with all my CNN viewing, it's becoming clear that CNN reporters are slowly becoming part of the story, rather than just covering it. Yesterday, on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, 3 reporters put aside their journalistic hats and pitched in to help the quake victims.

Possibly the most dramatic of the assists was Anderson Cooper's rescue of a young boy bloodied during a riot. In the graphic footage, Anderson grabs a kid with a gushing head wound and partially drags/carries him to safety. It's a deeply moving clip that shows Anderson trying to make sure the boy, who's wiping blood off his face so he can see, is OK. He keeps reassuring the boy, "It's OK, it's OK," while looking frantically around for help. Finally, Cooper drops his hand-held camera and just scoops the boy up in his arms and hauls him to safety. He's visibly shaken up by the incident and left with bloody hand prints on his shirt.

I'm a deeply jaded viewer but I don't think anyone watching this could not be moved.

In another instance, Sunjay Gupta pitched in and performed brain surgery on a young 12-year-old. And that's after he treated a 15-day-old infant in dire need of medical aid. Yet another CNN reporter, Chris Lawrence, also helped transport a 23-year-old Haitian woman who needed medical help but didn't have access to it.

Not only do these actions seem heroic, but from a viewer's standpoint, they make for great television. It seems only morally permissible that any reporter out there help when the need in front of them is so great. It certainly gives a human face to the suffering that's been missing from many of the other networks. Shedding their composure, the journalists have been humans first, reporters second. It's given CNN's coverage a raw, unvarnished immediacy that's hit home.

To play devil's advocate, does it bother anyone that Cooper and the rest trumpet their heroic acts for ratings? After watching the film of Cooper dragging that poor kid to safety, I don't think he's thinking 'This will look good on TV.' And it would have been heartless for Gupta to say no to people pleading for help when the need for doctors is so great.

If anything, I think CNN's Haiti coverage has been excellent, but it's reached a strange level of meta-ness. Not only are they covering the news, but they are becoming the news. The reporters, however noble, have actively inserted themselves into the story line. But, don't get me wrong. It's gratifying to see them help, since there are so many of us at home who wish we could do more.

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Eric

I found your site searching for a specific reporter's name from cnn to contact him about a report he filed last friday 1/22/10 on Haitian men shot by police. Short version is that the reporter and crew simply filmed a man bleed to death in the street- a long period of time passed between the shot of him moaning and the money shot of his motionless body. The lack of human impulse to help other humans in this story has affected me deeply. Inaction by the camera crew and the reporter is something I just can't get my head around. All I can picture is one of the cnn hummers parked at the scene equipped with gps to find a nearby medical facility. Do I think cnn is becoming part of the story? Yes.

January 24 2010 at 11:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hu Humes

To CNN:
I applaud CNN for their coverage of the Haiti crisis. Their reporters, especially Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. They left that night right after the earthquake and were on the ground in Haiti at daylight the next day. They were there before even anyone from the US Govt. Actually the US Govt waited at least 24 hours to act to find out what was needed. This was a stupid decision by waiting. Didn't they learn anything from the Catrina diaster? Anderson and Dr. Gupta on arrival gave the world a "picture" of the situation and horror. They went beyond "the call of duty" and put themselves in harms way in saving lives. Dr. Gupta repeatedly asked where were the medical supplies. After several days, his efforts resulted in medical supplies getting to the clinics, hospitals and ophanages. When he took it upon himself and walked into the airport and found that the medical supplies were there, he took medications to various facilities in need. This was a positive action taken by one person to get things moving. It pointed out the disorganization which was apparent from the beginning. True, there were many organizations helping and do good work. No one took the leadership, there was no one who was in charge - there was no command structure established right from the beginning. Many people died because of the lack of medical supplies. As one doctor said "we are doing "Civil War Medicine". Your reporters brought this out very clearly. There can be no excuses for not getting medical supplies out.

What our government doesn't understand is civilian agencies are not organized to deal with disasters. The best organization to handle disasters is our military - they have an effective command structure and the professional leadership to handle such situations. This was brought out by the retired general you interviewed.

Anderson Cooper and Dr. Gupta should be honored and recognized for the work they are doing in Haiti. The deserve it. Keep up the good work!

January 23 2010 at 5:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
izikavazo

I think the CNN personalities all have their own special thing, and sometimes that thing is the lack of objectivity. In a perfect world we would have totally neutral reporters with no feelings, but we wouldn't watch that.
Personally I respect Christiane Amanpour the most out of all of the CNN correspondents. She seems to always be in the worst situations and she rarely seems to take sides. At times it's obvious that she feels sympathy for a a certain side, but she doesn't allow it to effect her.

January 20 2010 at 7:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gina

As far as Dr. Sunjay Gupta his responsibility as a doctor comes first before his responsibility as a reporter. No doctor can refuse to treat a patient that is in need when in front of the doctor. If you are a doctor and see someone lying in the street in obvious need of medical care you are obligated to provide it by your Hippocratic oath.

As for the rest of the reporters I agree it can be dangerous to become part of the story as it were, but to not do anything seems to be too difficult as a human being. Either you have incredible willpower to remain objective or are just a cold hearted bast$$$. I think the fact that they are helping those people is wonderful. It shows that they still have compassion. If CNN gets its "pound of flesh" so be it. With out it would we have the pics and video that show us the devastation and suffering that makes us want to donate time, money or supplies to those in need?

January 19 2010 at 4:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pjcrazysmart

This is such a tagic and huge disaster and there is so much death and devastation that any time I see coverage of someone being rescued, or treated or given water or food it shows me that there is still hope in this world, and that people do care.

These journalists are working down in Haiti from their hearts. I hope that our politicians don't start flocking down there for photo ops, because our military are trying to keep the airport running efficienly for the aid to come in, and our citizens to get out at this time.

It's right, we can send money, and that money will help a lot; but we can't help physically. One thing we can do with no limit is to pray!

January 19 2010 at 3:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jffm

I'm cynical enough to note that if the situation is really dire enough for the reporters on site to take action, the camera operator should stop filming too and pitch in rather than making sure CNN gets its pound of ratings flesh out of the situation.

It's tricky terrain to navigate. The temptation of grandstanding, the tainting of an objective (as possible) point of view, the creation of an atmosphere where other crew may feel obliged to endanger themselves (Realistically, these people signed on to be reporters/videographers/whatever, not rescue workers), reporters inserting themselves into situations they may or may not fully understand or be prepared for or competent to handle; there are many issues. Just as an example, what if some of the crowd had objected to Cooper dragging the boy away from his assailants and turned on not just him, but his crew also? Or just became enraged at the interference and became even more belligerent? Not to say that Cooper's actions were right or wrong, but that such actions can take one into entirely new waters that are not always easily or safely navigable and may not just affect the journalist taking action.

I'll note here that I'm speaking of 'participatory journalist' in general, not just the Haiti situation in particular. An Anderson Cooper may (or may not) be able to handle the role deftly and responsibly, but what of a Geraldo Rivera if this were to become the norm? That is not a prospect I would relish.

Sunjay Gupta is a bit of a special case though. He's a doctor. His obligations as a doctor should be a considerable part of his deliberations on when to act and when to observe/report.

January 19 2010 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
N.C.

I've found myself sucked into CNN as well. Anderson seemed to be the first one who was there out of all the news station and were able to quickly give out the most informative information. I have also seen how they have shown both he and Dr. Gupta as these heroic figures. I say kudos to them. I wish I could be there to help. It looks as though people are still not getting the help they need there and I don't think either of them are doing anything for the cameras. If anything, seeing it played back makes me breathe a little easier to know someone is taking action. I can only offer some money and watch the images of all the food and supplies still sitting at the airports and hoping it can really get to these people soon. CNN is at least showing us some positive action

January 19 2010 at 1:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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