August 28, 2017, by Sara R. Brady
While watching Sunday’s news coverage of the rising flood waters in Houston, I felt my heartbeat rise as well watching CNN reporter Ed Lavandera aboard a boat floating outside the home of a family needing to be rescued. While covering the flood story from a volunteer’s rescue boat, they came upon an elderly couple and their adult daughter trapped inside the house.
It wasn’t such a surprise to see Mr. Lavandera update news anchor Ana Cabrera about the activities and then put his microphone down to help the first elderly person from the house and onto the boat; sometimes by virtue of their circumstances, reporters step up. Mr. Lavandera also helped ease the family dogs onto the tiny vessel.
But the event began to turn awkward as the CNN crew and volunteer rescuer, who was now standing in waist-deep water at the front door, were stalled waiting for the elderly woman to be brought out. The wait continued for a moment longer when Mr. Lavandera explained that the elderly woman had Alzheimers, complicating bringing her through her flooded home to the safety of the boat.
Quietly, Mr. Lavandera signaled to news anchor Ana Cabrera that they needed a moment to allow the rescue to take place, signaling that he would stop live broadcasting this dramatic rescue. Cabrera subtly acknowledged her colleague’s signal and the scene returned to Cabrera at the news desk. Moments later, a return to the rescue showed the family, their pets and the CNN crew safe and together on the boat, with Mr. Lavandera respectfully interviewing a very relieved daughter.
Sometimes less is so much more. Mr. Lavandera never stopped being a journalist; in fact, he demonstrated the art of journalism – telling a compelling story with respect and decency. Mr. Lavandera balanced his reporting with humanity and without leveraging anyone’s heartbreak or fear. He told the story, paused and caught up with it again a few minutes later.
TV journalists have different requirements than those who work in print. They have to have pictures. It’s TV. But for just a few moments, the most powerful image during the rescue was that of Ed Lavandera and Ana Cabrera choosing decency over sensationalism.