OnMedia: Shepard Smith and Katrina
If Shepard Smith could have done something differently during his memorable live coverage of Hurricane Katrina for Fox News Channel, he would have shown the horror unfolding around him a little earlier.
"Showing dead people on television is a very difficult thing to do. You have to think long and hard about it. You don't want to unnecessarily upset people," Smith told me.
"But after a few days of living around a lot of dead people, and no help coming, it felt like it was time to say, 'All right, no help is coming, here is the reality.
"In hindsight, I wish we had shown more of the reality earlier." he said. "Old people without insulin were dying and babies without formula were dying. This should have been clear in the very early going.
"Maybe if we had turned up the volume earlier, something would have happened. Maybe if we hadn't trusted those who said help was there when we could see that it wasn't. But we were in an other-worldly place, and we would have been accused of being too graphic and too gruesome too early, I think, had we done that."
I spoke with Smith on Tuesday, after he finished his "Studio B," which airs at 2 p.m. weekdays. I wanted to talk to him about this week's fifth anniversary of Katrina since he's one of a handful of standout TV reporters during the 2005 disaster.
Smith and CNN's Anderson Cooper were our front-line eyes on a failure by every level of government. Angered by what they saw, they let that anger come through on camera. But they remained reporters, holding back on reporting what they merely heard.
"There were some things that were being said by local officials, and it's common for us to quote mayors and police chiefs and stuff like that, which later turned out not to be true," Smith said.
"We have to report what those officials say, it would be derelict not to. But if you do so with attribution, and it later turns out not be true, then you need to hold somebody accountable.
"That we repeated what they said I don't think is out of the ordinary, reporters have been doing this forever. I don't think this is something we should second-guess," he said.
Smith's reporting of a lack of government help led to some disagreements from Fox News' prime-time hosts.
"They clearly didn't understand," he said. "They weren't there, and they couldn't know. And I've been at that disadvantage by being at that desk in New York.
"I was guessing at the time that it was just very difficult for people who were high and dry in New York to imagine how Third Worldly it was.
"When people who weren't there -- with the best of intentions, I'm confident -- tried to say, 'Ah, Shep, it's not quite as bad as you're saying, because we're seeing and hearing this;' I could, with great confidence say, 'No, this is exactly how it is. There are people who can have food and water and it's right on the other side of the bridge. I know because I can go there, and these people could go there to, but they won't let them. That you don't realize that back in New York is not your fault. And I'm here to tell you you're misinformed.'"
Smith won't be joining a parade of reporters heading down to New Orleans this week. He'll lead a panel on Katrina coverage at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Then it's back to the anchor desk.
"For me to do an anniversary story, I need to be down there for a couple weeks. I need to live among people and find out really how things are," he said.
"And rather than parachute in, this time we decided to send reporters who've now been down there a long time and they're gonna come back with something a little meatier."
Here's a sample of Smith's reporting from New Orleans:
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Goin' to the candidates debate: Channel 12 isn't calling it a debate, but rather the "UpFront Town Hall Challenge," which sounds a little like a game show. It's actually a commercial-free meeting of Republican gubernatorial candidates Mark Neumann and Scott Walker airing at 7 p.m. Wednesday on both Channel 12 and Channel 10, and stations around the state.
The one-hour live debate will be moderated by Mike Gousha (whose Channel 12 Sunday show is called "UpFront"), and with the participation of Channel 10, it will air in high-definition.
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