Friday, September 02, 2005

NBC Photog Speaks Out

NBC photojournalist Tony Zambado is receiving praise and derision from industry insiders for his outspoken assessment of the anarchy at the New Orleans convention center:

"There's no support here. There's no foundation. There's no Plan B, Plan A. These people are very desperate. I saw two gentlemen die in front of me because of dehydration. The sanitation was unbelievable. The stench in there, it was unbelievable. Dead people around the walls of the convention center, laying in the middle of the street, in their dying chairs, where they died, right there in their lawn chair.

"They were just covered up. In their wheelchair, covered up. Laying there for dead. Babies, two babies. Dehydrated and died.

I just tell you, I couldn't take it."

Of course journalists aren't supposed to voice opinions - especially those of us with cameras on our shoulders, so its no surprise that Zambado's remarks have sparked a debate at industry watering holes both real and pixelated. A brief sample:

"I don't need someone to tell me how to think or feel in a "news" report. I want the facts. The things he states as facts in the report, such as them not starting riots, no hostility, no plan b or plan a, are just emotional repetition of what he's been told or conjecture. They are things he could not know." - Frank McBride

"I do feel Tony Zambado's first person experience added to the understanding of what was going on during this tragedy. I don't feel "journalism" was compromised because he was no different than any other witness to an event we might interview for a story other than he had video and sound to back up what he was saying." - John "Lensmith" Dumontelle

"Tony Zambado is a hero. His pictures and words conveyed the despairity of the situation at the N.O. convention center. Thanks to him hundreds of lives were saved. If he overstepped his bounds as a journalist... I don't care. He conveyed the gravity of the situation in any way he could. Those people were running out of time. Thanks to his efforts those people finally have food and water today. Thank you Tony." - Fisher

Strong words from those who walk the walk. I myself haven't seen the clip yet (who watches TV anymore?), but I have no real problem with the transcript. As it reads, the piece is what we call a 'Nat Sound Package', an edited collection of soundbites and background noise devoid of narration. These type of reports can be very powerful as undiluted, first-person accounts. Here, Zambado plays the role of interview-ee, he is not the producer of the piece and harbors no responsibility for it's end content. If anyone's journalistic ethics should be called into question, it should be those of Zambado's higher-ups, who sanctioned the airing of an employee's passionate opinion. Personally, I'd like to buy my fellow photog a beer for having the grapes to tell it like it is.

Stroll through a flood shelter full of dying innocents and tell me how YOU feel.


Sue said...

At the risk of doing what I usually speak against (i.e. comparing tragedies), you quoted,

"The sanitation was unbelievable. The stench in there, it was unbelievable..."

I was wondering when someone would talk about the smells and other realities of a city without a bathroom. My doctoral disseration delved into (this was a small sidebar to the whole 300+ pages) Holocaust victims against whom the nazis used "bathrooming" as a weapon. The human spirit can get used to almost anything, I sometimes think, but the "weapon" of disallowing privacy in the bathroom, let alone any sort of recognition of human beings use such a facility at all, brought a bad analogy to my mind. Like I said, I've been waiting for this to appear in the media somehow, this very delicate topic.

Yet this "delicate topic" is not a day-to-day concern; it's a minute-to-minute one for 30,000+ people in *one* facility (let alone for those standing on a highway bridge). It brought a concentration camp comparison to my thoughts -- it's not just about food and water and where to sleep.

It's about not being able to act like, be treated like, a human being. It sickens me that in the U.S. in 2005, we're talking about racial lines of looting when lack of preparedness and lack of federalizing the disaster's immediate needs for human beings in their most human form should be the issue.

The country (red and blue, Fox and the NYT) had to get photographers down there in this video-age to report the fact that when you don't understand that we're all human, when you rip humanity away from civilized people, you get self-presevation behavior instead.

The only difference between this and nazi camps is that NOLA is not by choice and anyone who tries to imply that it is should be locked up. Blame the victim makes me want to regurgitate.

What's worse, it makes me want to compare nazi concentration camps to the results of a sickeningly poor federal response to human tragedy of our citizenry.

I've been wondering what it was going to take to make those in charge understand what "we" have been so upset about these past Bush years; the uncaring federal leaders, the "blame-the-victim" charges that fly no matter what happens to cause tragedy, the morally superior "god-stuff" that turns into "god caused this to wipe out gays," and ... well, enough ranting.

There is no good to come from this. However, I think "our leaders" have learned that "we" have just put our foot down. The media played a huge role this time -- they should have been doing it all along -- in saying, "no, no, no! it's not about god or voting or abortion or the now-humorous pro-life stance (what about AFTER they're born?).

It's about humanity and that -- thank God -- trumps Pat Robertson.

Roch101 said...

If Zambado had been alone, one might question. Buth when similiar outrage is being expressed by a number of other reporters including Anderson Cooper and, of all people, Shephard Smith, it seems that Zambado's report was consistent with reality and not an abbiration.

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