Hurricane Harvey Victim Shames And Slams CNN Journalist Live On TV

Hurricane Harvey Victim Shames And Slams CNN Journalist Live On TV


Screenshot via Youtube

Viewers around the world have found themselves questioning the role journalists play during national disasters after a woman who was rescued from Hurricane Harvey's destruction became visibly upset while sharing her story with a CNN reporter shortly she arrived at a shelter in Houston with her two children.

The interview happened shortly before 1 p.m. Central Standard Time. CNN correspondent Rosa Flores appeared to approach the woman at random; later, a CNN spokeswoman, Barbara Levin, responded to the incident which followwed with a statement reading, “The people of Houston are going through a very difficult time. Our hearts go out to this woman and her family. Our reporter handled the situation graciously.”

“Y’all trying to interview people during their worst times. Like, that’s not the smartest thing to do,” the woman, identified only as Danielle, said. “People are really breaking down and y’all sitting here with cameras and microphones trying to ask us what the f–k is wrong with us."

She then turned her anger to Flores: “And you really trying to understand with the microphone still in my face! With me shivering cold, with my kids wet! And you’re still putting a microphone in my face!”

Flores backed away following Danielle's outburst. "Sorry," she said, as tears stained the stricken parent's face.

It was then when CNN anchor Jim Acosta interjected. “Rosa Flores, it sounds like you’ve got a very upset family there,” he said. “We’re going to take a break from that.”

Danielle, who recounted waiting for rescue teams for close to 36 hours, quickly became the voice of suffering in the battered metropolis as the clip went viral.

Many viewers, like Jemele Hill, the co-host of ESPN's The Six, expressed their sympathies.

Others shared more pointed criticisms.

Still many others acknowledged that while situations like the one captured here are a "double-edged sword," journalists play a critical role in surveying the needs of their communities––and the images they capture directly influence disaster response from government officials, relief agencies, policymakers, and regular Americans who might otherwise be left in the dark.

While sustained news coverage can often invigorate communities, bringing their inhabitants together whether through details of relief operations, weather reports, and warnings about ongoing hazards, it's true that disaster coverage requires a certain restraint and forethought, traits which grow increasingly valuable as emotions run high and tensions flare amid catastrophe. Reporters must remember to be especially sensitive to this reality.

CNN's response indicates Danielle agreed to be interviewed, and the live footage shows her waiting patiently while Flores introduces her segment. She does not move away from Flores or the cameraperson. But who can predict how another human being might respond after suffering great trauma?

According to Danielle, she fled her home, walked to a nearby gas station, and remained there until she and her children were rescued. "We had been there for five days with no food, no lights,” she recalled. “We got through 4 feet of water to get them food on the first day … Yeah, that’s a lot of s–t.”

Many traumatized people are not ready to give interviews, and journalists, for all the perilous situations they may find themselves exposed to, are not grief counselors, though token assistance, like offering water to new arrivals at these shelters, can go a long way to mitigating the perception that reporters are self-interested even when visiting a disaster zone. 

Amid the powerlessness and chaos, reporters can also experience secondary traumatic stress (STS), sometimes referred to as "compassion fatigue," simply by exposing themselves indirectly to trauma through firsthand accounts. These symptoms mimic those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those in fields of traumatic stress which expose them to secondary trauma can prevent or remedy the condition by speaking to colleagues, practicing relaxation techniques, and proper crisis management training.

Many traumatized people are not ready to give interviews, and journalists, for all the perilous situations they may find themselves exposed to, are not grief counselors. Danielle fell apart in front of the nation––naturally, understandably.

Flores herself acknowledged Danielle appeared to be at her “breaking point.”

“We’ve seen a lot of pain, a lot of drama, a lot of shock here — and that’s exactly what that woman is going through,” she told Jim Acosta afterward. “It’ s a very painful time… There’s a lot of trauma… And as she mentioned, she went through all of that with her children. So just imagine. Any parent can relate to that.”

According to a Gallup Poll conducted last year, most Americans do not trust the traditional media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly." The poll reported a 32% media favorability rating, the lowest level in Gallup polling history, and an eight percentage point drop from 2015. President Donald Trump himself has often denigrated the media with raging, often explosive tweet storms about "24/7 #Fake News." 

As Tropical Storm Harvey continues to batter the Texas Gulf, it's worth revisiting another account of a journalist who found themselves accused of exploiting victims in the wake of a natural disaster.

Frank Fournier, a French reporter, arrived in Armero, Colombia, on November 15, 1985, following the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano. At the time, volcanic debris mixed with ice to form massive mudslides and debris flows that rushed into more than a dozen villages––including Armero and Chinchiná––killing nearly 23,000 people.

A local farmer directed Fournier to Omayra Sánchez Garzón, a 13-year-old girl who became pinned beneath the debris of her house, where she remained trapped in water for three days. Sánchez was immobilized from the waist down, but her upper body was free of the concrete and mud which surrounded her. Rescuers were unable to free her, noting they found the task impossible without breaking her legs in the process. Water pooled around the young girl every time rescuers attempted to free her, too, rising so high it seemed she would drown. Aid workers agreed to place a tire around her body to keep her afloat. Divers discovered that the girl's legs were trapped under a door made of bricks, and that her dead aunt's arms clutched tightly around her legs and feet. Doctors lacked the equipment to perform a successful amputation and agreed it would be more humane to allow her to die.

By all accounts, Sánchez remained positive, singing to journalists, and agreeing to interviews. When she died on November 16, roughly 60 hours into her ordeal, her death became an international symbol of the failure of the Colombian government to save those who could have been rescued. News reports at the time decried the shortage of basic supplies, including shovels and stretchers.

Fournier photographed Sánchez in her final days. The picture, titled "The Agony of Omayra Sánchez," captivated the globe.

Frank Fournier via Wikipedia

According to a BBC report, "many were appalled at witnessing so intimately what transpired to be the last few hours of Omayra's life" and referred to Fournier as a "vulture."

"When I took the pictures I felt totally powerless in front of this little girl, who was facing death with courage and dignity. She could sense that her life was going," Fournier said later. "I felt that the only thing I could do was to report properly on the courage and the suffering and the dignity of the little girl and hope that it would mobilise people to help the ones that had been rescued and had been saved... I am very clear about what I do and how I do it, and I try to do my job with as much honesty and integrity as possible. I believe the photo helped raise money from around the world in aid and helped highlight the irresponsibility and lack of courage of the country's leaders."

Fournier's photograph won the World Press Photo of the Year for 1986. His dedication remains a gold standard for journalists, particularly among correspondents who risk life and limb in disaster zones.

As for Rosa Flores, Danielle, Tropical Storm Harvey, and this unfortunate CNN interview: A young mother's plea for compassion is a cry all news outlets should bear witness to while informing those of us not directly impacted by the catastrophe. Journalists owe each story they approach a certain level of integrity, but they must always remember to apply the same integrity to their fellow humans first.

H/T: Twitter, New York Post

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