I must be getting old. Either that or I’m getting soft. Or maybe I’m growing what every newsie fears <gasp> a conscience. </gasp> Whatever the case, I just can’t let slide what I saw last week as I covered the return of the Carnival Cruise ship the Triumph. What disappoints me most, is that I was a part of it.
Don’t get me wrong, the crew I was attached to cranked out an unbelievable amount of work in the 24 hours it was there. In the three hours of newscasts we were a part of, we hit more than 20 live reports for 10 stations all across the country. The coverage was personal, accurate, and clean, and I am proud of the part I played in most of it.
In case you’ve been living a rock, a fire in the engine room of the Triumph crippled the ship on it’s final leg of a 4-day cruise. That left Carnival scrambling to two the boat back to port. A return trip that took an additional 5 days. It left the 4000+ on board without power. No power meant no cooking, and more importantly, no water for drinking, cleaning, or flushing. When the sewage system backed up and flooded several floors on the ship, folks resorted to doing their business in garbage bags. When the ran out, the walked, slept, and lived in their own sewage for a week.
What turned my stomach even more that the odor wafting from the open windows of their cars as they left the garage, was the behavior of my people as these weary travelers left the ship. It was worse than any paparazzi scrum I’ve ever been a part of.
Photogs and reporters throwing elbows, pushing, and shoving, as each person dragged their suitcase through the parking lot, like buzzards attacking fresh road-kill. My camera and I waded into the fray as I got my first glimpse of my prey, an elderly woman in a white bathrobe. I pushed and squeezed my way front and center as my reporter circled around back to get our mic flag into the shot — proof that we were there.
Reporters from around the country peppered this grandmother with questions as the scrum jostled left and right with each new crew that entered. When we had picked her bones clean, it was on to the next. It wasn’t until I pulled my eye from the viewfinder and caught a glimpse of another wake of vultures that I realized what we were doing. My reporter, to her credit, saw it too.
For five days, reporters across the country had ginned this story from a hellish vacation to certain death on the high seas. We spoke of the misery and squalid conditions these people had endured, analyzed their diet of onion sandwiches, and theorized what it might do to their mental health.
And at first sight, we pounced. These people were not celebrities with movies to pitch, or notorious murderers who had terrorized a nation. They were not politicians who owed us explanations, nor heroes returning from war. They were people who, 8 days earlier, had gone on vacation. They had endured 5 days without power and only wanted a shower and a hot meal. In each one’s eyes we could read the fear and frustration, yet we ignored what we saw, for this was news, and the folks at home must learn about this first-hand, right now!
I choked back the bile building from my own behavior and pushed my way into another scrum. My producer needs a package when the clock strikes 5, and I’m the buzzard that’s gotta serve it.