David Adams has been the Latin America Correspondent for the St. Petersburg Times since 1994. He has written for the Economist, the Independent and Newsweek, and reported for the BBC. On Monday, the Times published his story about Arubans’ frustration with the U.S. media’s “unbalanced and overblown” coverage of the Natalee Holloway case.
Brian Montopoli: First off, what has the reaction been to your piece?
David Adams: I don’t think I have written a story that has gotten me so much email response — ever. Certainly not a serious political story about Latin America. The last time I got such a big response was in the days before email and the Internet. I wrote a story about Hurricane Andrew for a British newspaper, a first person account of what you do when a hurricane hits your house, and I wrote that I evacuated my house with my wife and we left the cat behind. And I got so many outraged letters about “how I could do such a thing?” As it turned out, by the way, my wife did take the cat at the last minute, after I filed my story.
It’s a good example of how human interest stories are the ones that get peoples’ goats.
BM: What have people been saying when they’ve emailed you?
DA: I’ve had emails from all over the country, and from different parts of the world, and the great majority of them, I would say 80 percent, have been extremely positive. People saying that they’re sick to death with the TV coverage of this story. They sympathize enormously with the Holloway family, and it just makes them even sadder, the way in which it’s been turned into a cable TV soap drama.
I suppose the majority of the people who are reading my story … are print readers, and more likely to be sympathetic to a print treatment of the story. And I guess the story is circulating on various Web sites that are following the Holloway case — there’s a bunch of them. But some people are just trotting out exactly what comes on cable news. I had a neighbor on my street — a very nice lady, who I know very well, and we get on very well — we bumped into each other last night, and she asked what I’d been up to, and I said I’d been down in Aruba working on this story. And I told her I thought it was a disgrace, the way the media had handled it.
And I was amazed. She bit my head off, and started to trot out all of the junk that’s been on cable TV. This is a smart woman, who — fortunately we have a very good relationship, and we were able to laugh about it — but I thought it was very symptomatic of how this story has worked. She has absorbed, like many people, what they have heard on the cable shows. I don’t know whether it was a naivete about the way people watch cable news. I thought that the public was much more skeptical about journalism in general. They certainly seem to be skeptical of what we write in print. I thought they would be equally skeptical about what they watch on these shows.
But perhaps because you actually see the person being interviewed, it’s more credible or more believable, what you see on cable TV, than what you read in the newspaper. Because at least the viewer is seeing it for themselves. I saw that person, he said this, and that’s maybe more believable than me quoting somebody in print and the reader not being able to see into my story. It’s a curious phenomenon.
Everyone — well, not everyone, but the people who criticized my story — believe this idea of a cover up, which is what the cable shows are saying, and that Joran Van Der Sloot is this ne’er-do-well, self-destructive, psychopathic teenager. And there isn’t any evidence to support that. That’s the shocking thing. I’ve made a point of answering all the emails I’ve received — I must have received about 80 — and I’ve made the point to some of them, don’t you think it’s important that we give the benefit of the doubt to these people who haven’t even been charged. That you’re innocent until proven guilty …