Anderson Cooper: An honor to report on PH

Ayee Macaraig
The Filipinos' strength 'is just extraordinary,' Anderson Cooper tells David Letterman, but 'it was upsetting [they did] not have any assistance'

'HONORING THEM.' Anderson Cooper says it was an honor to report the stories of the Haiyan victims, honoring the dead and paying tribute to the strength of the survivors. Screengrab from the Late Show with David Letterman

MANILA, Philippines – After seeing one disaster after another and telling the tragic stories calamity brings, has Anderson Cooper ever thought of quitting?

The CNN anchor took a break from news reporting to reflect on his experience covering the world’s most powerful storm: Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Philippines.

In an interview on CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman, Cooper looked back to the story of a Filipina mother in storm-stricken Tacloban City who lost 3 of her children to the storm. The interview came days after he wrapped up his 5-day Haiyan coverage.

Honestly, I feel it’s an honor to be there and to be able to give voice to people who don’t have a voice, who don’t have access to power and to be able to tell that woman’s story,” he said on the show on Tuesday, November 19.

“Bad things happen all around the world, but there’s nothing sadder than a person who lived a good and decent life whose family ends up dying on the side of the road, dissolving into nothing and nobody even notices their passing and nobody, an authority, helps in the search for them and nobody tells their story.”

“I don’t believe it changes much, but I do believe in the power of just honoring those who have passed, learning their names, learning who they are and the life they lived,” Cooper added.

The anchor of Anderson Cooper 360° became controversial in the Philippines after he called out the government’s response to Haiyan and the slow relief effort. In the interview, Cooper acknowledged the difficulty of providing aid but did not pull back on his criticism.

“You hope you learn something new with each [disaster] and relief workers do learn stuff. It’s easy for reporters to come in and be critical because it’s never gonna be fast enough, the relief. That said, if you know the biggest storm ever to hit is going to hit, the Philippine government talked about prepositioning supplies. Clearly, whatever supplies they prepositioned was not enough because nobody had food and nobody had water.”

Letterman then pointed out, “This seems to be typical of every meteorological event these days. ‘Where is the relief? Where is FEMA (US Federal Emergency Management Agency)? How come the New Jersey government [responded that way]?’ But when you’re dealing with something of this proportion, we don’t routinely have hurricane drills.”

Cooper responded: “That’s true. I think part of the problem was, the Philippines is an amazing country. It’s a poor country and a lot of the areas where the storm hit, it’s obviously, the government is not set up to provide relief this kind of a way. It was upsetting to the people there who were searching for their children to not have any assistance.”

The news anchor had defended his coverage of Haiyan amid criticism from ABS-CBN chief correspondent Korina Sanchez and an advice from President Benigno Aquino III for foreign journalists to be accurate in their reporting. Last week, he responded to Sanchez’s comment that he did not know what he was saying about the relief efforts.

He said then: “I’ve seen the work being done and the work that isn’t being done, perhaps as importantly. Ms Sanchez is welcome to go there and I would urge her to go there. I don’t know if she has but her husband’s the Interior minister. I’m sure he can arrange a flight.”

‘Horrific, among worst I’ve seen’

In the Letterman interview, the broadcast journalist compared his experience reporting on Haiyan to his coverage of past disasters, like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005.

“It was among the worst I’ve seen. Just the chaos on the ground, there was no place to, even you know, Haiti after the earthquake, we were lucky finding a place to stay that had a roof. There were no roofs left there in Tacloban, particularly in the area we were at. I ended up sleeping on the side of the runway of the airport for a week in a tent.”

Cooper again recounted how a day after the 2011 Japan tsunami, soldiers went block by block to search for survivors.

“There was none of that for 5, 6 days that I saw and people died of broken legs that got infected.”

“I’ve spent time with a mother searching for her 6 children…. This is a woman who found her 3 children dead. She piled them together. There was no help in searching for her kids from the Philippine military, nobody for days and days and days.”

“She ended up having to sleep near the bodies of her 3 children as she spent each day searching for her 3 other children, and you met one person after another like that and they still don’t know how many people died and it’s horrific.”

The anchor also talked about one of the common observations of journalists and aid workers: that survivors said they were not warned that storm surges were like tsunamis.

Cooper even discussed the conflicting death toll.

“No one knows for sure. A police chief said 10,000. They then fired that police chief. And then the government said, ‘Oh no it’s not that bad. It’s about 2,000 or so.’ It’s much worse than that. It’s probably I think the number now is closer to 4,000. They have no idea. There’s no accurate number.”

All throughout the segment of the interview, Cooper kept coming back to the story of the mother from Tacloban, as he had done in his coverage in the Philippines.

“The strength of people is just extraordinary.”

Limited attention, donations in US

Cooper’s interview comes after the Washington-based Pew Research Center released a survey showing that Haiyan drew less attention from Americans compared to major global disasters like the Japan and Indian Ocean tsunamis, and the Haiti quake.

The center said that from November 14 to 17, Haiyan tied with the US economy as the second most followed story, next to the rollout of the Obama administration’s health care program.

The survey showed 32% of Americans followed news on Haiyan, compared to 55% on the Japan tsunami, 58% on the Indian Ocean tsunami, and 60% on the Haiti earthquake.

“The share of the public that has donated so far is somewhat less than after the disasters in Haiti, Japan or the Indian Ocean. In the past, many have donated to relief causes after the first week,” the Pew report said.

The center though did not give explanations for the figures.

What do you think of Cooper’s reflections and the media coverage of Haiyan’s aftermath? Let us know in the comments section below. –


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