A hurricane had devastated his hometown, other powerful storms were brewing in the Atlantic, and Bill Bishop was fed up with hot air.
“I’ve had [it] with the insults,” the managing editor of KHOU-TV news tweeted last week from Houston. “Let’s see him stand in E. coli water reporting for hours like the media does.”
“Him,” in this case, was President Donald Trump, who kept up his gale-force vilification of journalists by saying the Coast Guard had flown into “winds that the media would not go into … unless it’s a really good story.”
The storm was a good story, and a vital one to tell, so it’s hard to see the president’s point, beyond taking a swipe. But Bishop wasn’t focusing on illogic. He was sick of seeing his profession bashed, even at one of its finer moments.
His sentiment reverberated around the United States, and in Arkansas, where KTHV, Channel 11, is KHOU’s sister station. Both are owned by Tegna Inc.
“Every journalist wants to serve the public,” said Austin Kellerman, news director at KARK in Little Rock. “Often we cover car wrecks, fires, meetings and other events where you don’t feel like you have that direct opportunity.” But in disasters like Harvey, he said, “you’re providing a critical public service and truly making a difference.”
Journalists kept people safe by trumpeting flood warnings and giving details on downed power lines, inundated roadways and plans to release water from dams. The list goes on and on and on.
Broadcasters also marshaled a tidal wave of charity, letting people know where and how to give, and often donating money and even blood of their own. Anchor Denise Middleton of KTHV, who is from Houston, gave a pint for the Arkansas Blood Institute. Nexstar, which owns KARK as well as KARZ-TV and KLRT-TV in Little Rock and KNWA and KFTA in northwest Arkansas, coordinated hurricane relief across 170 stations. KTHV set a “Truckload of Hope” fundraiser for hurricane victims Friday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and the CMT network all aired a Red Cross relief telethon on Sept. 6.
Beyond all that, media workers played a direct hand in saving lives. Nick Genty, news director at KATV, Little Rock’s ABC affiliate, pointed to Bill Bishop’s co-worker, Brandi Smith. “Journalists have been under attack so much,” Genty said. “But seeing things like Brandi Smith from KHOU flagging down a rescue team … was absolutely remarkable.”
While doing a live report from a highway overpass, Smith saw a trucker struggling as his cab filled with water. She ran to flag down deputies, who reached the driver just in time. Though Smith was unaware and kept filming, her own feed had gone dark moments earlier when KHOU’s offices flooded.
In a Philly.com piece headlined “The Day the Enemies of the American People Helped Save America,” columnist Will Bunch reported that Ed Lavandera of CNN, a network the president loves to hate, “put down his microphone and hoisted a shell-shocked elderly man into their boat. When told that his wife struggled with Alzheimer’s disease, the crew even stopped filming — though it was riveting TV — to focus on the rescue.”
Genty said media “heroes” deserve praise, not scorn, for risking their lives to save others while telling an intense story. “It’s what TV news is best at, bringing compelling, relevant information to help protect, alert and empower our viewers.”
Genty said his station used social media to spread the word on how to help, while using “all our resources” to broadcast the news from Texas. “We have a powerful megaphone,” he said. “This is not fake news; it’s real news.”
Kellerman, who covered Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath a dozen years ago as a young producer in Shreveport, also recalled covering the 2014 tornadoes in Mayflower and Vilonia. “I printed out a picture one of our folks had taken and handed it out to everyone in the newsroom.” The station had alerted Arkansans in the storm’s path, and comforted those suffering in its wake.
The picture shows an American flag draped from the remains of a destroyed building. He added these words: “This is why.”