MB: A lasting legacy? No, I don’t [think so]. We all do a great job of rising up in times of tragedy but we just so easily lapse back into kind of an easier way out when tragedy or crisis is not facing us. I don’t think it’s going to last necessarily. We can all be proud of those moments. …
LCB: What other lasting affects might Katrina have on the news business? News budgets?
MB: They probably are budget-strapped. But at least in world of TV, ratings are up. People are watching news. This has not been a crisis where ads have been removed. Actually, I’ve got to imagine the news networks are doing a tremendous bit of business now. They’re spending a lot more but they’re probably getting more ad revenue because their gross ratings points were up dramatically over non-crisis times and yet no one is pulling advertising.
That good feeling, that we did a good job —that will hang around for a while — but a legacy? Will things change in a more permanent way? I don’t believe so. When hurricane season is over and until the next tragedy befalls us, we’ll return back to the normal way we do things.
LCB: You also wrote that “the one black eye to Fox News’ [hurricane] reportage was the grotesque, exploitative work done by Geraldo Rivera.” You called Rivera’s reporting “an embarrassment,” particularly when he “grabbed screaming babies from victims’ arms for props and pushed relief workers out of the way when he went off to “rescue” survivors.” Rivera has been publicly feuding with the New York Times and disputing a similar characterization by the Times’ Alessandra Stanley who wrote that Rivera “nudged” a rescue worker out of the way for the cameras. Rivera says he did no such nudging and many journalists — The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times — acknowledge that he was showboating but not “nudging.” Have you heard from Rivera about this? To what were you referring?
MB: Fox News actually contacted me and challenged me on that front, the instance I referred to, the instance that I noticed. … I’ve been over this with Fox and in the blur of the coverage I didn’t write down the exact instant I was talking about. I remember seeing this as I was watching the coverage but I can’t point to the specific instance …
Let me say one thing on the record: I just thought Geraldo cheapened what it seemed everyone else at Fox News was trying to accomplish. Geraldo has a certain style, definitely a more in-your-face and I’m-just-a-regular-guy style. I just thought that it really detracted from what was excellent coverage on Fox News, and surprisingly neutral coverage. Fox News has a history of taking it a little easy on this current administration and, boy, they did not let up on the lack of response [to Katrina], the incoherence of the response. Geraldo did his bit to contribute, but his way completely conflicted with what I was seeing on the channel the rest of the time.
LCB: If you could be any existing bigwig in the media business — preferably on the editorial side, since that’s what we’re interested in at CJR Daily — whose desk would you take over? Why?
MB: A guy I always admired was Ted Turner, a man who stayed true to his vision and carried it out like no one I’ve ever seen before. And as wacky as he’s always been, he was also, in many ways, just a regular guy. To be a visionary and regular guy is something to be.