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Keeping Calm in a Crisis: The Host’s Perspective

“Dave Ross’s grace under fire was put to the test and, to this day, I consider it a textbook example of how a host should act in the middle of a crisis.”

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I’ve had a continued frustration with how news outlets cover a crisis. That frustration was amplified by living in Seattle over the course of the past year.

The Emerald City was, on many days, the epicenter of breaking news in 2020. Seattle had some of the earliest domestic cases of COVID19. I lived next to one of the largest hospitals in the city and remember seeing the streets next to my apartment building closed off to accommodate tented outdoor triages. 

Then, George Floyd was killed, and all hell broke loose.

Protestors and police officers clashed, leading to riots.  Curfews were mandated. 

A few blocks away from my apartment, protestors built the infamous “CHOP” (Capitol Hill Organized Protest), later renamed the “CHAZ” (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone). For over a month, my husband and I would hear sirens, explosions, gunshots, helicopters and see clouds of smoke in the distance. One evening, while taking my dogs out to relieve themselves, I walked right next to someone pulling a gun on another man…right in front of my building. 

I was on edge.  The city was on edge.  What I needed was pertinent info and I needed it delivered in a calm way.

What I got from far too many outlets, (both locally and nationally) was “panic porn”.

I would shift to various stations and networks to try and get the latest info. While some acted responsible and even keeled, here were some of the many highlights I was treated to: 

  • Field reporters who would speak with nervous energy, even while nothing was going on.
  • Anchors URGING people to stay tuned because, hell, who knows what might happen next???
  • Pundits being brought on NEWS SHOWS who would vehemently take one side of the other (including whether you should wear a mask).
  • Continued B-roll footage of that one car that was lit on fire from hours earlier or that one person getting tackled by cops…often with no reference as to when or where it happened.

Far too many outlets use fear and hyperbole as a motivator to stay tuned in. As someone who has worked as a reporter, anchor, host, and news director before, I’ve always valued people who can:

  • Exude CALM in a crisis.
  • Be unflappable, even in the face of something tragic.
  • Report what they know as facts without speculation. 

One of the best people I ever worked with is KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. For over four decades he’s been a staple in their lineup. He currently hosts “Seattle’s Morning News” with Colleen O’Brien and does daily commentaries on CBS News Radio. Besides being one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, he’s amazingly calm and measured. 

The conversations I had with him during my time at KIRO were some of my favorite moments at the station. I recall once in the middle of one of the many contentious news days involving the current president, I asked him, “Have you ever experienced anything like THIS?”

Dave leaned back in his chair, his eyes peering over the glasses on the bridge of his nose and he gave me a wry smile.

“Watergate,” he replied.

His professorial demeanor was a great influence on both me and our entire newsroom and it always had a way of putting even the most exhausting and frustrating news days into perspective.

One fateful day, Dave’s grace under fire was put to the test and, to this day, I consider it a textbook example of how a host should act in the middle of a crisis. 

The Nisqually earthquake is heard and felt LIVE on KIRO Radio.

On February 28th, 2001 at 10:54am PT, an earthquake registering 6.8 on the Richter Scale rocked the Puget Sound Region. The earthquake injured nearly 400 people and caused over a $1 billion of damage. The shockwaves were felt at KIRO’s studios on Eastlake Avenue, where Dave Ross was in the middle of his hosting his regular program.

RM- Take us back to that day and set the scene.  

DR- There was no warning– I was in the air studio (which in those days had a window facing Eastlake) talking to a woman when I felt the building rumble. A work crew had been laying some sort of pipe in the street for a few weeks so I was used to the pounding of the road equipment, but this felt like the whole building just drove over a speed bump — or a series of them  — because things kept swaying. I could see the fluorescent lights swinging in the newsroom, and the trolley cables outside the window jumping up and down, and I knew that only an earthquake can do that, so I pulled the mic boom down and got under the desk and kept talking. I went to the window to check on the Space Needle (still there!) and I think I asked that someone check the I-5 viaduct in back of the building…although some listeners probably thought I might have been referring to the (now demolished) Alaskan Way viaduct. I forgot completely about the caller, who was still on the line, and who also mentioned feeling it.

(Damage in Seattle from the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake Photo: AP)

RM- What were the first things going through your mind when you felt the room shake? 

Keep the mic on and keep talking! Describe everything.

RM- After the earthquake and aftershocks subsided what actions did you take? What were the things you wanted to make sure were done for your audience?   

DR- I can only guess because I don’t remember much and haven’t listened to the whole air check. I know I went back to check the viaduct, and we started airing damage reports. But my main role was to be the voice of someone going through this with them.

RM- How did the KIRO Newsroom react?

DR- They went into wall-to-wall mode — once it was clear the building wasn’t going to collapse, calling the seismology lab, getting interviews.

RM- As a host in the middle of a breaking news situation like this, it can be extremely easy for emotions/adrenaline to take over. How were you able to keep your composure?   

DR- The microphone is magical that way — your instinct is just to keep talking about what you see, to resist speculating on what you can’t see, asking for listeners to report in. I suppose that somewhere in the back of my mind I was wondering what would happen if the building failed — but that’s all the more reason to just keep talking.

RM- For anchors or talk show hosts that are on the air when news breaks…what kind of advice would you impart upon them?

DR- Practice “what-ifs.” Ever since then I find myself asking — at random times — what if it happened now? Who would need help? What’s the escape route?  Is that bookshelf secure? Do I have my phone…?

Feliks Banel, who works as a producer, host, and historian for KIRO Radio, put together this video which talks in more detail about Dave’s experience of being on air during the earthquake. It also includes on-air audio from that his show that day.

That’s it for part two in our series. Next week, I’ll present this topic from the perspective of a Program Director.

BNM Writers

It’s Not a Vaccine Mandate, It’s a Test Mandate

“Chuck Todd from Meet The Press, the New York Times, CNN, numerous other media outlets and even the White House spokesman have called Biden’s policy a vaccine mandate. It’s not. So, why do they keep reporting it as such?”

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I feel I must disclose my feelings on Covid-19 before my column this week so everyone knows my bias. 

If you want to take the horse dewormer medicine, Ivermectin, for Covid-19, I DON’T CARE.

If you want to wear a mask in a crowd indoors or out, I DON’T CARE

If you don’t want to get a Covid-19 vaccine, again, I DON’T CARE. 

In terms of full disclosure, I have been vaccinated. As far as I know, I haven’t had Covid-19, and only my dog has had some form of Ivermectin. 

With that out of the way, can we talk about how President Biden’s mandate is being discussed and reported on? This is not a liberal or conservative issue, and it’s not a CNN vs FOX News issue. Most everyone has an opinion on it, yet most don’t care to find out what was actually proposed. Even the White House is misleading folks with its own policy. 

This is not a vaccine mandate, it’s a test mandate. 

President Biden’s policy has made two changes. All federal workers must receive a vaccine. You don’t have to work for the federal government, but if you do, you must be vaccinated. Again, not a mandate. No one is forcing you to work for the federal government. That’s your choice.  

Delta Airlines implemented a policy charging employees $200 if they choose not to be vaccinated. As a result, thousands have received the Covid-19 vaccine to avoid the penalty. That is their choice. 

Schools, public and private universities, hospitals, and companies big and small have made similar rules. If you want to work or attend, you must get a vaccine. Not a vaccine mandate, big difference.

Companies make all sorts of rules, some smart, some dumb. I know a radio station that will not let their on-air hosts talk to the media (dumb). My company policy says, I can’t eat food in the studio (smart). You can agree or disagree with a policy, and if you choose not to follow it, that is your choice. Nobody from the government is going to come to your home, hold you down, and jab a needle in your arm. Yet I’ve heard that said a few hundred times in the last few weeks.

Part two of President Biden’s policy says that if you are a company with over 100 employees, your employees will be required to have a vaccine or get tested weekly to see if they are Covid-19 positive. Again, this is not a vaccine mandate. It’s just a test, once a week. A test mandate, if you will.

Chuck Todd from Meet The Press, the New York Times, CNN, numerous other media outlets and even the White House spokesman have called Biden’s policy a vaccine mandate. It’s not. So, why do they keep reporting it as such?   

I talk to neighbors, callers, and friends, and they’re all arguing over something that isn’t happening. Some have gotten really angry and stood defiant. They will not, under any circumstances, be forced to get a vaccine. 

“How about a test?” 

“Wait, what?”  

These are crazy times. We talk past each other, we debate our own set of facts, we get to choose the news we like, and disregard and disqualify the news we don’t. I’m afraid we have crossed some type of rubicon. Everyone is arguing and debating a policy but nobody knows the actual policy.

If you think taking a test to find out if you have a life threatening virus that could harm you, a family member, or a coworker is government overreach, I DON’T CARE. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted by the screaming. But if you are going to argue about it, you should do yourself a favor and know what the policy is before you decide you are for it or against it. 

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BNM Writers

Few Media Outlets Were Brave Enough to #NeverForget Both Sides

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Getty Images

Saturday marked 20 years since Sept. 11, 2001.

Everyone has a 9/11 story. Where they were. How they reacted. What they remember about that treacherous day in America.

Consuming media coverage and memorials over the weekend, there was one very common theme.

Unity. Unofficially the word was said 42,365,789 times this weekend.

Listening to the radio, I heard one newstalk host romanticize about how the entire country came together as one, and he didn’t feel we did the same fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before the NFL kicked off on Sunday, both Fox and CBS aired extended memorial video montages. The New York Yankees and New York Mets played the Subway Series and on Saturday wore hats representing the Fire and Police Departments of their city.

Netflix, Hulu and Peacock dropped streaming documentaries.

All of this coverage focused on the heroism, the devastation that destroyed 2,996 families, and the unified aftermath. Stats were dropped about the sales of United States flags hitting all-time highs. The patriotic shirt and bumper stickers industry was booming for months.

Let’s be clear – this aforementioned coverage was extremely important.

The following might be controversial, so I unfortunately feel obligated to include the following disclaimer:

I think 9/11 memorial coverage is necessary. #NeverForget is important. I’ve often thought that we don’t talk enough Pearl Harbor where 2,403 Americans also died, maybe that’s a generational coverage thing. So, in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, we should keep these stories prominent and always celebrate the heroes of that harrowing day.

Now that my stance on 9/11 coverage is very very clear…

We should also talk more about the racist hate-crime filled society we created for Muslims, Arabic speaking Americans, Sikhs, and anyone who appeared middle eastern or had dark brown skin. We should also never forget those innocent people whose lives were extremely affected during the aftermath.

Their stories are important. Acknowledging the ugliness can assist in learning from those mistakes.

Although the coverage wasn’t front page, there were news outlets brave enough to hit on those topics over the weekend. I wanted to take time to highlight them, quoting some excerpts that may be tough to read:

Anita Snow and Noreen Nasir of Associated Press for ABC News: “Sikh entrepreneur Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed at his Arizona gas station four days after the Sept. 11 attacks by a man who declared he was “going to go out and shoot some towel-heads” and mistook him for an Arab Muslim.”

Sodhi’s brother spoke with Kimmy Yam of NBC News and reflected on the hate crime.

Kiara Alfonseca for ABC News: “Mosques were burned or destroyed and death threats and harassment followed many Muslims in the weeks following the attacks, according to congressional testimony from the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2011. Some victims were beaten, attacked or held at gunpoint for merely being perceived as Muslim, the organization said.”

Maria Lisignoli of NBC 15 in Madison, WI spoke with a local principal:

“But, you know, as often as you will speak to other Muslim and millennials especially, they feel like we feel like we’ve had to answer for the crimes of other people,” Warsi said.

He says linking the Islamic faith with these attacks was damaging mentally and physically.

“I myself have been discriminated against been a victim to hate crime with physical assault, just because I’m Muslim,” Warsi said.

Dorothy Hastings for PBS: “Since 2001, Muslims have been the second most frequent target for religiously motivated hate crimes, according to the federal hate crime data.”

Newstalk program directors, news directors and journalists should always strive to tell both sides of the story. It’s not the feel-good unified story, but nothing about journalism is easy. The industry isn’t for propaganda.

There are tough truths that need to be told. It’s part of the job.

The stories are important. The coverage is necessary.

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BNM Writers

The Weather Channel Was Go To Outlet for Hurricane Ida Coverage

The three major cable news outlets were surprisingly slow in covering Hurricane Ida, despite most of their offices located in New York City.

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Hurricane Ida continued to wreak havoc on Wednesday, Sep. 1, as the storm that rocked Louisiana the previous weekend unleashed its fury upon the northeast.

The Weather Channel was the primary outlet for Ida coverage. Here was their ratings track as the storm reached New Jersey and New York that evening, according to Nielsen Media Research:

  • 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET: 0.391 million viewers; 158,000 adults 25-54
  • 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET: 0.461 million viewers; 154,000 adults 25-54
  • 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET: 0.348 million viewers; 111,000 adults 25-54
  • 11:00 p.m.-midnight ET: 0.269 million viewers; 100,000 adults 25-54
  • midnight-1:00 a.m. ET: 0.230 million viewers; 72,000 adults 25-54
  • 1:00-2:00 a.m. ET: 0.198 million viewers; 63,000 adults 25-54

3.15 inches of rain fell in Central Park from 8:51-9:51 p.m. ET — the largest amount of rainfall there within a one-hour period on record, a mark previously set just eleven days prior (Aug. 21) by the effects of Hurricane Henri’s storm (1.94 inches). 8.4 inches fell in Newark, New Jersey throughout the entire evening. Over 50 people in the northeast perished due to Ida.

The three major cable news outlets were surprisingly slow in covering Hurricane Ida, despite most of their offices located in New York City. Fox News Channel provided 10-minute special reports in the overnight of late Sep. 1/early Sep. 2:

  • 1:00-1:10 a.m. ET: 0.875 million viewers; 213,000 adults 25-54
  • 2:00-2:11 a.m. ET: 0.692 million viewers; 166,000 adults 25-54
  • 3:00-3:08 a.m. ET: 0.526 million viewers; 129,000 adults 25-54

CNN’s “Newsroom Live” began at 2 a.m. ET, reporting on Hurricane Ida. It averaged 411,000 viewers and 128,000 adults 25-54 for the hour.

On the following morning of Thursday, Sep. 2, the governors of New Jersey (Phil Murphy) and New York (Kathy Hochul) held separate press conferences addressing the aftermath of Ida. Fox News, averaging 1.6 million total viewers and 265,000 in the 25-54 demo from 10-11 a.m. ET, aired most of these conferences until bailing on them when the topic of climate change was mentioned.

CNN (967,000 viewers/228,000 adults 25-54 from 10-11 a.m. ET) and MSNBC (Murphy: 843,000 viewers/90,000 adults 25-54 from 10:19-10:38 a.m. ET; Hochul: 778,000 viewers/86,000 adults 25-54 from 10:38-11:12 a.m. ET) both aired the Murphy and Hochul press conferences in full.

Here are the cable news averages for August 30-September 5, 2021.

Total Day (August 30-September 5 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.548 million viewers; 259,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.744 million viewers; 84,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.653 million viewers; 145,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.247 million viewers; 57,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.201 million viewers; 61,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.145 million viewers; 33,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.140 million viewers; 20,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.096 million viewers; 10,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (August 30-September 4 @ 8-11 p.m.; September 5 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.642 million viewers; 434,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.260 million viewers; 145,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.876 million viewers; 202,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.259 million viewers; 72,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.218 million viewers; 62,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.199 million viewers; 60,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.163 million viewers; 33,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.054 million viewers; 6,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC, CNN and The Weather Channel programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.312 million viewers

2. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.130 million viewers

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 8/31/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.846 million viewers

4. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.841 million viewers

5. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 8/31/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.620 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.519 million viewers

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.506 million viewers

8. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 8/31/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.489 million viewers

9. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.393 million viewers

10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/2/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.317 million viewers

19. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 8/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.763 million viewers

125. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Mon. 8/30/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.199 million viewers

190. America’s Morning Headquarters (TWC, Mon. 8/30/2021 10:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.909 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top  MSNBC, CNN and The Weather Channel programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.778 million adults 25-54

2. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.667 million adults 25-54

3. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.667 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 8/31/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.654 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.634 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.613 million adults 25-54

7. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/2/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.574 million adults 25-54

8. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.569 million adults 25-54

9. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 8/31/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.564 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.552 million adults 25-54

32. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 8/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.367 million adults 25-54

71. Don Lemon Tonight (CNN, Mon. 8/30/2021 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.282 million adults 25-54

87. America’s Morning Headquarters (TWC, Mon. 8/30/2021 10:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.253 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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