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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Dear Critic, Re: TV Fire Coverage . . .

November 03, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Post time. . . .

The bulk of the mail I've received concerns my praise of local TV news coverage of the first round of the Los Angeles-area fires. Mostly these letters -- plus most other mail and calls I got on the topic -- sharply dispute my praise. *

Many of us sincerely believe that 25,000 are homeless and deprived of irreplaceable possessions today because of TV's ill-considered, irresponsible reporting. Nonstop fire reporting has caused copycat fires to be deliberately set by psychotic or neurotic arsonists. There is almost no doubt that if we did not have TV news reporting of fires complete with pictures maximizing the drama of the flames, even glorification of the flames, the copycat fires would not have been set. The Altadena fire may have been accidentally set by a homeless person, but it may have been set after this individual watched TV news at a homeless shelter or elsewhere.

J. GRAM, Altadena

*

Were you and I watching the same coverage? I saw hour after hour of breathless, conjecture-filled reporting: Facts incorrect, rumors taken as the truth, specific information simply unreported. Exactly the same "turn on the live camera and speculate" style as the riot coverage.

You seem to believe the PR fed to you by the local stations' spokespeople that they are performing a public service. Oh, yeah? Well, this is 1993, not the '60s (the time of the disastrous Bel-Air fire), yet coverage is remarkably similar, except that in 1993 it is in color.

They should establish a limit of four "poor sobbing victim" interviews per hour. This "public service" seems to celebrate people's misery.

The Hindenburg disaster was bad enough without the . . . "oh the humanity . . . " narration, but come on, can't we refrain from the modern day . . . "oh the horror, the destruction, the terrible loss . . . " lines of dialogue from the anchors on every station in the town? Just like the riot coverage hysteria, what gives these anchors the right to pontificate ad nauseam? Exactly what "public service" is being performed here?

JON C. MERRITT, Beverlywood

*

I found the coverage equal to any I have ever seen. I refer to the almost complete lack of editorializing and reporter posing, the lack of overtalking and an effective, rightful stepping back of those involved. For the most part, they allowed the pictures to speak for themselves.

TV often passed along vital information, warning people of an evacuation ahead, of the ability of authorities to get door to door in a new area of danger. If many fires came at the speed that some indicated in post interviews, the coverage and warnings may have saved lives.

CHARLES DAVIS SMITH, Monrovia

*

Why couldn't they be more consistent in reporting specifically where they were when they went on the air? Is it so difficult to say what street they're on, even what address? If the house is gone, the number is usually on the curb or on the house across the street. "The fire is burning to the southeast," I'd hear. Southeast from where?

DIANA MARGARET PALMER, Pasadena

*

The very idea that viewers called and complained because their soaps were preempted makes me sick! May those who complained someday have to walk in the shoes of the people whose homes (and lives) were literally "blown away" in the matter of a few hours.

MRS. CHARLES LEWIS, Woodland Hills

*

From our homes we could see smoke in two directions, and ashes from the Chatsworth fire occasionally drifted down onto our roof. Were we in any danger? There was no way to tell by watching television.

I had to leave my invalid mother at home alone with my wife, who is disabled with a broken arm, and drive the freeways to determine if there was any threat to our house or those of our children. The local fire coverage may have been a spellbinding experience, but news it definitely was not.

JAY SULLIVAN, Agoura

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