I was on Twitter and dreading a barrage of Charlie Sheen news (apparently police were raiding his house last night) when the first mention of an earthquake in Japan hit my news feed. It turned out to be so devastating that, at least for now, just about everyone seems to be ignoring Mr. Sheen. I wish it had been something less terrible than this, however, knocking him off the airwaves and Twitter/Facebook pages.
I started switching between CNN and MSNBC, fascinated and horrified. Fascinated because it's not often you see a disaster movie come to life. Horrified because of the destruction, of course, and also because of the quality of television news. Granted, it was the middle of the night in the United States and the anchors pressed into service aren't the most famous names. But I heard some inane commentary.
One woman on MSNBC kept interrupting her interview subject, an NBC producer stationed in Tokyo, to ask if he could see the video that was being shown. At another point, she and a Weather Channel meteorologist were discussing the tsunami warning issued for Hawaii and the two of them couldn't figure out the time difference between Hawaii and the U.S. East Coast. Sample: "If it hits the East Coast at 5 a.m then it's 3 a.m. there..." The two went back and forth until finally someone informed the weather guy that there was a five-hour difference. Of course, it wouldn't be easy for the tsunami in the Pacific to hit the East Coast.
Perhaps the worst came when there was video of the water surging over some farmland. There was a comment -- and I"m not sure which network I saw it on -- to the effect that "it's good that the tsunami hit a sparsely-populated area." There were a number of buildings and vehicles in the area they were showing. Just because it's not a big city doesn't mean it's not populated. Besides, the tsunami didn't just hit one area of the coast. Look at the video below. Those houses came from somewhere.
So often the interviews (of experts and eyewitnesses) make me NOT want to watch the news, even when it's something like this, the interviews are that bad. Just let the cameras show the event. If you have a reporter on the scene, let the reporter talk.