TV Anchors Face Dangers in Japan Quake Zone

by | March 14, 2011 at 12:03 PM | Cable News, TV News

Diane Sawyer (Photo: ABC News)

Diane Sawyer (Photo: ABC News)

ABC’s Diane Sawyer became the first network news anchor to travel to Japan over the weekend, as the broadcast networks and cable news channels mobilized to cover the catastrophe in Japan.

Anderson Cooper (who you can follow on Twitter here) is also in Japan for CNN, which was to be expected because there’s probably no news correspondent on TV anywhere who travels as quickly as he does to breaking news locations around the world. CNN has a full complement of correspondents in Japan, including Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who gave this report explaining the various health issues likely to crop up in the wake of this disaster, including the dangers of radiation. After a second explosion at a nuclear power plant, a worried Cooper wondered during Sunday night’s broadcast, “Should I get out of here?”

The story is huge –- a multifaceted, all-encompassing news event covering thousands of square miles, including vast territories that are difficult, if not impossible, to reach by would-be rescuers and the news media. What started with a devastating, record-setting earthquake on Friday has expanded into a story about a deadly tsunami, a rising death toll, and now the possibility of a nuclear disaster.

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The footage seen all weekend on the networks and news channels –- video gleaned mainly from Japanese TV networks –- was among the most riveting disaster film seen in years. Even after seeing with your own eyes the videotape of killer waves engulfing towns and sweeping away hundreds of buildings, cars, trucks, boats and shipping containers formerly stacked in these coastal port locations, it was still difficult to comprehend the totality of the destruction there.

One on-screen “crawl” seen repeatedly over the weekend reported that the whole of Japan had shifted eight feet eastward because of the 8.9 quake (upgraded on Monday to 9.0) –- a concept nearly impossible for a layperson to comprehend. Then you’d hear tidbits from the anchors and on-location correspondents that were just as difficult to wrap your mind around, such as the reports that entire coastal commuter trains filled with passengers had disappeared without a trace in the wake of the tsunami. At one point, four such trains were reported to have gone missing this way.

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Despite the difficulties in getting to the epicenter of the disaster, and the dangers presented by aftershocks and fears of radiation leaks from damaged nuclear reactors, American TV news correspondents have been flocking to Japan since Friday. Sawyer will anchor ABC’s “World News” from the stricken country Monday night (see local listings). Also on the ground in Japan for ABC: Christiane Amanpour, David Muir, Bill Weir, Clarissa Ward and Akiko Fujita.

NBC’s Brian Williams is staying put in New York –- for now, says NBC, which has its own correspondents on the story -– Tokyo bureau chiefs Arata Yamamoto (NBC News) and Kaori Enjoji (CNBC), Robert Bazell, Chris Jansing, Lester Holt, Ann Curry and Ian Williams. In fact, Curry did more than just report the story — she became part of the story when she went in search of an American English teacher who was missing in one of the towns affected by the tsunami. Curry found the woman and put her back in touch with her worried family in the U.S., according to this story.

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CBS News anchor Katie Couric is also staying in New York, with Harry Smith leading the coverage for CBS in Japan with correspondents Ben Tracy, Celia Hatton, Lucy Craft and Bill Whitaker.

Many of the correspondents seen over the weekend and on Monday have commented on the risks they and their crews are taking in the disaster areas. Most have expressed a gung-ho eagerness for traveling into the center of the catastrophe, but at the same time, they’re trying to stay far enough away from Japan’s crippled nuclear power plants to avoid radiation poisoning.

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