The super typhoon we ignored

October 30, 2018
Category: Newsletters

In news storm, even a super typhoon can't break through

It packed 180 mph winds, and only four recorded storms have struck land with greater force. It was the strongest storm to hit the U.S. since 1935. 

It killed one person, injured more than 100 and may leave parts of the northwestern reaches of the United States — home to 55,000 residents — without power for months. President Trump approved a major disaster declaration.

On Thursday, Super Typhoon Yutu hit the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a chain in the western Pacific Ocean past Hawaii, near Guam. By late Friday, the news on the mainland about the typhoon was hard to find. The networks had moved on to the capture of a Trump supporter charged with mailing bombs to, among others, two former presidents, a vice president and CNN. By Saturday, TV stations went live tracking the mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue in which 11 people were killed and six injured, including four police officers.

And what of Yutu coverage then? Crickets, wrote the Huffington Post.

"Not all U.S. cyclones get equal treatment," the HuffPost headline read. It quoted a local lawmaker as saying, "We want people to remember we are Americans and we exist.”

The argument: U.S. territories get fewer resources and attention than the 50 states. That argument frequently was made during the slow and inadequate early federal response to Hurricane Maria last year in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Guam, recently struck by Typhoon Mangkhut, also raised awareness about more intense storms and their threats to U.S. territory.

Allyson Chiu, part of a three-reporter team bylining Washington Post typhoon stories last week, battled more than indifference in reporting. Chiu, who was born and raised in Guam and had worked at the Pacific Daily News there, had contacts there and in the Marianas' Saipan from a stringer. But people lucky enough to have communications were told to stay off cellular phones, to keep channels free for emergency responders. 

“I basically had to rely on WhatsApp to get people,” said Chiu, who works for The Post's overnight Morning Mix unit. In a telephone interview, she told me that, as an islander, "It was hard not to be in the islands (during the storm). You see the pictures. We’ve weathered the storms ourselves.”

Chiu said interest in the region has been particularly high in states where some residents have settled, such as Hawaii, California and Washington.

super typhoon
An overturned car is shown at the airport after Super Typhoon Yutu hit the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Saipan. Electricity may be out for months in some parts of the territory (AP Photo/Dean Sensui)

Chiu advised others reporting on the region to pay attention to the Pacific Daily News and to KUAM, and to regional NOAA and National Weather Service officials. She suggests following the work of journalists Jasmine Stole Weiss, Haidee Eugenio and Masako Watanabe.

In her reporting, even amid turmoil — one Saipan resident said "we’re all grateful to God to be alive" — Chiu encountered a can-do spirit infused by genuine warmth and friendliness. She noted a confidence among islanders that, working together, they could pull through.

"The storms — they won't break us," she said.

Quick hits

TARGETING CNN: A suspicious package was addressed to CNN’s Atlanta headquarters but intercepted by a postal authorities. It was apparently similar to two pipe bombs sent to CNN last week, part of an array of explosive devices sent to people and institutions criticized by Trump.

AFFECTING: Journalists around the world read Jamal Khashoggi’s last column in this video. The readers included CNN’s Jake Tapper, The Washington Post’s Karen Attiah, The NYT’s Nick Kristof, writer Mona Eltahawy, columnist Barkha Dutt and The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan. (Here’s the text.)

IMPUNITY: The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 324 journalists "have been silenced through murder worldwide" in the past decade. In 14 countries, journalists have been slain with impunity, Poynter’s Kristen Hare reports. Here are those nations:

  • Somalia
  • Syria
  • Iraq
  • South Sudan
  • Philippines
  • Afghanistan
  • Mexico
  • Colombia
  • Pakistan
  • Brazil
  • Russia
  • Bangladesh
  • Nigeria
  • India

THE ELEPHANT IN THE BOOTH: It’s one of America’s most important issues. Why is broadcast news ignoring the disenfranchisement of many American voters?, asks media critic Margaret Sullivan. A week before the election, the growing threats to the American ideal of an unfettered vote "should be considered news of the most urgent order," Sullivan writes.

AP FACT CHECK: Trump is spreading false innuendo and untruths when it comes to mail bombs sent to several targets of his derision, the AP’s Hope Yen and Calvin Woodard found.

NOT 'HAPPY': Pharrell Williams's attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to Trump over use of his client's upbeat song at political rallies preaching intolerance, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "On the day of the mass murder of 11 human beings at the hands of a deranged 'nationalist,' you played his song 'Happy' to a crowd at a political event," the letter read. "There was nothing 'happy' about the tragedy inflicted upon our country on Saturday and no permission was granted for your use of this song for this purpose." (h/t Jill Geisler)

EXPANDING SCRIPPS STATIONS: The local TV footprint of the E.W. Scripps Company is expanding to 51 stations with the purchase of 15 stations from Cordillera Communications for $521 million, TV News Check reports.

NEW PULITZER BOARD MEMBER: Nicole Carroll, editor in chief of USA Today, has been elected to the Pulitzer Prize Board, Columbia University announced. Carroll formerly was vice president of news and editor of The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. The USA Today Network and The Republic won this year's Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for a multiplatform examination of difficulties in building Trump's promised wall along the U.S. border. (h/t Caroline Harting)

POSTSCRIPT: The son of former Carolina Panthers player Rae Carruth and the teen’s grandmother were honored before Sunday’s NFL game by the team and its owner. That was a big deal. Carruth, convicted in the killing of the teen’s mom, was freed from prison last week, and the team's honoring of Saundra Adams spotlighted her courage in raising Chancellor Lee Adams, writes The Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler. Fowler anchored a popular seven-part podcast and series on Carruth in which Saundra Adams emerged as a hero. (Fowler tells me that Carruth has ended up in Pennsylvania, where he likely will be for first nine months of his post-release).

POEM WITHOUT AN END: This was shared by reader Guy Ben-Aharon, like many of us trying to make sense of the past few days. It is by the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai:

Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
is me.
Inside me
my heart.
Inside my heart
a museum.
Inside the museum
a synagogue,
inside it
me,
inside me
my heart,
inside my heart
a museum

On Poynter.org

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Have a good Tuesday. See you tomorrow.