Thursday, December 30, 2004

New York Times continues to deserve praise for their tsunami disaster coverage

This morning's New York Times' front page features a number of strong stories but the stand out one is Amy Waldman & Warren Hoge's "Bush Speaks Out: Promiss Long-Range Help as Impatience Grows in Region" (

As American planes and ships moved into place to help, Mr. Bush made his first public comments since tsunamis inundated about a dozen countries on Sunday, reflecting pressure on the vacationing president to appear more engaged in what aid groups are calling one of the worst natural disasters in history.
. . .
Three days after the calamity struck, survivors in Aceh and elsewhere were growing increasingly desperate for help to arrive.
"There is no food here whatsoever," Reuters quoted Vaiti Usman, a woman in Aceh, as saying. "We need rice. We need petrol. We need medicine. I haven't eaten in two days."

The well written article highlights the need for aid and what may be forthcoming. But it does something else as well. It highlights the power of the press in this country. For the fourth day in a row, the Times turns in some outstanding reporting on the aftermath of the tsunamis. As with the last three days, the Times has featured this crisis heavily on the front page.

The Times sets a tone that others in the media follow. By using it's power and it's prestige to highlight this issue and with other media doing the same, the press pressed and forced this issue and, as a result, after days of inaction, the vacationing Bush had to address it.

The lust for Kobe-Michael-Janet-has-a-boob-Peterson stories was in high evidence in 20o4. (To it's credit, the Times only heavily pushed one of those stories, Janet Jackson's breast.) And when this junk coverage of endless speculation overshadows real life events, we hear far too often "It's what the public wants" (who ever says, "We cover it because it's cheap and inexpensive to cover?"). The public got a chance at real news that was effecting countless real people and, I'd argue, their following of this story stands as a testament to not only a concern with real news but with international news. (Some will no doubt pin the interest off some
Irwin-Allen-disaster-flick lust.)

The Times flooded the zone repeatedly and they deserve credit for that. They, my opinion, set the tone and said "This is too important not to be covered" which forced others to cover it seriously. (And this site has heard from Nightly News viewers, World News Tonight viewers, and The Evening News viewers who have all said that each outlet's coverage stood as some of the finest reporting they'd seen all year.) That's the power of the press and we rarely see it used for anything of use these days.

His home gone, his family shivering and hungry, everything he owned swept out to sea, Velu Kannan wandered down a lonely road on Wednesday looking for a pen.
Stagnant salt water lay in the fields around him, reflecting a gray sky. In his hands he carried a piece of cardboard he had found among the debris.
"I need somebody to help me write 'Refugee Camp,' " he said. "All the cars drive past us. Nobody knows we are here."
Mr. Kannan and his family fled their fishing village when it was destroyed on Sunday and took refuge with 10 other families on a hillside where they hoped to be safe if giant waves crashed in again from the sea. Now he needed to survive.

The above is from Seth Mydans' front page article "Amid Chaos, Sri Lankans Struggle to Survive" (

Also on the front page is David E. Sanger's "It's About Aid, and an Image" (

But the aid effort that has now begun presents Mr. Bush with an opportunity to battle, with action rather than just words, the perception that took root in his first four years in office that he is all about America first.
"It's a tragedy but it is also an opportunity to demonstrate that terrorism doesn't drive out everything else," said Morton Abramowitz, who served as American ambassador to Thailand a quarter century ago and went on to become one of the founders of the International Crisis Group, which helps prepare governments to respond to unexpected shocks. "It's a chance for him to show what kind of country we are."

. . .
But perceptions set in a first term have a way of becoming the political canvas of the second. And America's response to this tragedy, some administration officials acknowledged, is crucial in places like Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, where the earthquake and tsunami first hit and where Islamic fundamentalism, never a political force during the cold war, is seeking to make inroads.
. . .
And there are already signs that Democrats want to link the response to this disaster to spending in Iraq. "I just about went through the roof when I heard them bragging about $35 million," Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat and a persistent critic of how the American rebuilding operation has gone in Iraq. "We spend $35 million before breakfast in Iraq."

Inside the paper, more stories are to be found.

Lawrence K. Altman and Denise Grady stress the health crisis that exists in "Water Is Key to Averting Epidemics Along Coasts" (

Tens of thousands of tsunami survivors are at risk from diseases spread by dirty water, mosquitoes and crowding, and the best medicine is large quantities of clean water, officials of the World Health Organization said yesterday.
While no epidemics have been confirmed in the vast coastal areas devastated by the tsunamis on Sunday, the officials said they were most worried about diarrheal diseases - cholera, typhoid fever and shigellosis - as well as liver diseases like hepatitis A and E. Those diseases are caused by bacteria or viruses in contaminated drinking water or food, in sewage and among people who lack clean water to wash their hands.
Health organizations like the W.H.O. and Unicef recommend that each person be given about five gallons of clean water a day. Dr. David Nabarro, the director of crisis operations for the W.H.O., said in a telephone interview from its headquarters in Geneva that water shortages had already occurred in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and that tanker trucks would be needed to provide clean water.

Alan Cowell follows the issue from Sweden in "On Other Side of the World, Little to Do but Offer Prayers" (

In normal times, there might be no evident link between a wooden cabin in the snowbound forests of Sweden and the sunstruck beaches of Southeast Asia. But these are not normal times, and now there is a strand of pain that binds the pine-clad home of Solveig Uhlander to a beach in Thailand where her son, grandson and daughter-in-law have simply disappeared.
"I have a little hope. Only a little. But I must have hope," Mrs. Uhlander said on Wednesday, as if hope were all that survived the six days since she heard her 2-year-old grandson wish her Merry Christmas by cellphone, the five days since a photo of him on the beach arrived with a cellphone text message, and the four days since the tsunami waves pounded the resort of Khao Lak and the messages stopped coming.
Her loss is by no means unique here. Of all the European nations counting their dead in the disaster, Sweden may have suffered the most.

In "Aid Arrives in Worst Area of Indonesia" (,
Eric Lichtblau and Wayne Arnold track early rescue efforts:

Rescue teams began arriving here on Wednesday to assist in picking through the rubble and to bring food, water and temporary shelter for the dispossessed. But already some residents in this city of 300,000 people say they have grown frustrated by the slow pace of the relief effort, which was only slipping into gear in this remote northwest corner of Sumatra three days after the catastrophe hit.
Thousands of people remain missing, including most of the staff of a local newspaper that last published on Saturday, the day before the earthquake.

. . .
Food is being carefully rationed, with some local shops charging double or triple the going rate for eggs, rice and other staples. Potable water is in short supply, as is fuel for cooking food or even boiling water for rice. The dire situation has left some residents to fend for themselves, with the aid of friends and relatives outside the region.
While hope is fading that any more survivors will be found in the wreckage, rescuers are now racing to recover and identify bodies and prevent the spread of disease. Concerns are already rising that a shortage of clean drinking water and medicine may bring a new wave of fatalities.

Stephanie Strom focuses on the monetary contributions of citizens here in the United States in
"Tsunami Followed by Another Kind of Flood: U.S. Citizens' Dollars" (

The money could not come at a better time, aid officials say. Many of the organizations that traditionally swing into action to address emergencies are already working in other parts of the world, like Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, that are afflicted by crises, and they are stretched thin.
"Just having those three crises happening simultaneously and having them be equally contentious was unique, and now this has upped the ante," said Susan Laarman, a spokeswoman for Mercy Corps. "We're up to the task, but it is certainly an unusual time in history."
While the challenges of this disaster are typical of any emergency, in this case they are multiplied over several countries and regions, many of which were destitute.

. . .
An eight-member team from Doctors Without Borders landed in Aceh Province in Indonesia on Wednesday and set up a tent to provide primary health care services, supported by two planeloads of supplies, including water and sanitation support and installation systems.
"Things are really drastic there," said Catrine Schulte-Hillen, program director of the organization's United States operations. "There are no buildings standing."

. . .
Save the Children was one of the only organizations to have a staff in Indonesia's Aceh region when the tsunami hit, a situation that has been both a blessing and a curse. The organization's finance assistant, Suka Mardiah, and her baby were killed, two staff members are missing and two others are missing family members.
Jailani, the organization's driver, was swept out to sea and presumed dead until he walked into the office this morning, after swimming back to shore.

We'll focus on some other stories in this morning's paper later today but Frank in Orlando e-mailed that since the Times was doing their finest reporting all year, he'd appreciate it if we wouldn't just note but devote an entire entry into it. He also felt that while we had acknowledged the reporters covering the various issues involved, we hadn't highlighted their actual stories enough. (He's correct on that.)

Besides the reporters receiving credit for their stories, anyone assisting on these stories in the last few days or any editors contributing to the shape of them or anyone working at or for the paper (including delivery persons) has a right to feel proud to be part of the New York Times organization this week. (Reporters also include photographers. It's been my failure not to highlight them. The Times carries a powerful Associated Press photo on the front page, caption: "On the beach in Alappad, in southern India, funeral pyres yesterday consumed the bodies of the dead. India confrimed a death toll nationwide of 7,000, and said it could rise to 10,000." Two Reuters photos are used inside the paper and are credited to an individual photographer -- the AP photo is credited only to the AP -- Darren Whiteside, Adrees Latid. Another AP photo is credited to Dita Alangkara. New York Times photographers Sriyantha Walpola and Rob Schoenbaum are credited for inside photos. And lastly DigitalGlobe is utilized for satellite photos.)

[To see the names of the writers who've contributed to this strong coverage all week, please click on the following, and]