Is there an East Coast bias when it comes to coverage of the lethal California wildfires which have killed around 50 people and displaces hundreds of thousands of Californians so far? At least one news professional thinks so.
BuzzFeed News’ L.A. bureau chief Kate Aurthur wonders why cable news networks aren’t sending their top personalities out to California like they traditionally do when a hurricane strikes the east coast.
Why do CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News not broadcast 24-7 fire coverage in the same way they do hurricanes? Why isn’t Anderson Cooper in a windbreaker walking around the remains of Paradise, CA? I think it’s East Coast bias, but please convince me otherwise. (Don’t be annoying, though!)
— Kate Aurthur (@KateAurthur) November 13, 2018
Broadcast news has sent its stars out to the West Coast. David Muir has anchored ABC World News Tonight out there in recent days, and Jeff Glor has been anchoring CBS Evening News out there as well. Lester Holt, a native Californian, anchored NBC Nightly News in Malibu last Friday, but has not anchored the newscast from the West Coast at all this week.
The three broadcast nets have sent a number of correspondents to to California as well, and they have filed reports for their respective morning shows in recent days.
The cable news networks do have correspondents on the ground across the Golden State, (as we noted in a separate story earlier this week), but it seems as though there’s less of an on-ground presence than for the East Coast hurricanes.
As Aurthur mentioned, CNN, in particular, has sent their star trio of Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon down south to cover hurricanes in the past. That hasn’t been the case with California wildfires. The network presently has five correspondents and their respective crews on the ground.
Over at Fox News – The network is relying on a trio of correspondents: Jonathan Hunt, Claudia Cowan and Jeff Paul.
But no hosts/anchors.
Shepard Smith and Bill Hemmer are two journalists who garnered praise early in their careers for their indefatigable reporting from the field. Hemmer covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and later went to Baghdad to cover the Iraq War. He is one of the few reporters to have been embedded with U.S. Marines in Camp Fallujah. He covered the shooting in Fort Hood, Texas, and went to Haiti in 2010 to cover the tragic earthquake.
Smith has reported from the field as well, notably covering the events and aftermath of Katrina in 2005.
As of late, both men have been anchoring their respective newscasts from climate-controlled studios, and have yet to broadcast from California.
MSNBC has NBC News correspondents reporting on the fires, including Miguel Almaguer and Jay Gray covering Southern California in Oak Park, Calif., and Steve Patterson in Chico, Calif., covering Northern California.
But none of the MSNBC hosts/anchors have anchored their respective programs from the ground.
We reached out to CNN, Fox News and MSNBC this morning to find out if the network will send its star personalities out to California to cover the wildfires. Fox News told us it feels quite comfortable relying on its trio of reporters who are already on the ground. Neither CNN nor MSNBC responded.
MSNBC’s Ali Velshi took a stab at answering Aurthur’s question:
Good question. A few things:
-hurricanes are predictable and can be followed. Fires happen unexpectedly. You can also protect yourself in a hurricane as long as you have shelter. And you can remain IN a hurricane – you can’t get too close to or remain in a fire
— Ali Velshi (@AliVelshi) November 13, 2018
NPR’s Steve Mullis seems to echo that sentiment:
That honestly feels part of it. You can communicate the drama and danger of a hurricane by putting on a windbreaker and leaning into some rain, but you’re still relatively safe. The only way to do that in a raging wildfire is to put yourself in real danger.
— Steve Mullis (@stevemullis) November 13, 2018
From a logistical standpoint, it’s traditionally easier for TV newsrooms to prepare for a hurricane. With wildfires, you can’t always forecast where and when they’ll start and stop, and that can have an impact on how networks are able to get their staffers properly positioned in the desired area for live coverage.
There could be another reason, as a BuzzFeed colleague of Aurthur’s notes; cable news’ obsession of politics and all things Trump right now. The mid-term elections were in full swing just as the wildfires were beginning to become especially lethal.
Basically, cable news doesn’t want its high-priced stars to risk getting caught in a fire.
We’ll track this trend as the wildfires continue to spread and intensify.