Wednesday, December 14, 2016

NPR lets slip poor reporting of the El Faro case started by the AP

In yesterday's news report, NPR carried on a policy that we see in many news broadcasts these days. Namely, one reporter from the agency quoting another reporter from the same agency as their source, which, in itself, is sad enough.

In this case, NPR reporter Rebecca Hersher presented this: 

"As NPR's Greg Allen has reported, Davidson was an experienced captain: When he left port on Tuesday in the El Faro, Joaquin was a tropical storm, not a significant concern. On early Thursday when he made the radio call to the company, Davidson said the ship was listing to one side, had lost its propulsion, was taking on water."

It sounds like she is relaying an evaluation of an NPR reporter, Greg Allen, about the situation, i.e., when they left port, Joaquin was not a concern. Or maybe he is putting words into the mouth of the deceased captain? In any event, this statement is tragically misleading and inappropriate. 

It is true that when they left port there was, in another part of the world, a storm that may not have been a concern—had they been in that part of the world, at that time. However, he was headed in that direction, and the forecast at that time, was that they would meet a hurricane when they got there.  And they did indeed meet the storm more or less right at the spot and right at the time it was forecasted. These forecasts are all archived at the NHC and this can all be checked.  

In short, when this vessel pulled into the ocean, it could be anticipated that they would meet a hurricane, and this is indeed a concern. I posted a short article on this the day the vessel was lost,  which focused on the same misrepresentation of the facts, in this case, by the AP. That analysis remains tragically valid.

NPR (and anyone else parroting this same analysis) is doing a disservice to the NWS and to all mariners by this type of reporting. We teach daily the obvious fact that a storm's condition when you are not there does not matter. What matters is the condition of a storm when you are where it is. We must rely on forecasts.

As I understand, it has not been established why the vessel proceeded on the path it did, but the NPR report flies in the face of all prudent navigation practice. They are presenting, in essence, a navigation and weather routing lesson to their readers that is totally wrong and can be disastrous.

This morning I hear that NPR is proud they do not present fake news—a low bar at best—but the Greg Allen assessment presented is borderline, in that it is a thoughtless statement that distracts from a productive understanding of the tragic event.

I must add, NPR is indeed one of the best news sources in the world. This is a rare transgression, which I mainly point out because I care about them and respect their work.


Alice Kottmyer said...

We are taught the same thing as pilots. It doesn't matter if the sky is clear over Cincinnati now, if it's forecast to be 100 ceiling and 1/2 mile visibility when I get there.


Larry Brandt said...

Yes, Alice. And we care when a certain no-longer existing airport in Chicago is forecast to be VFR, and when we get there we have to shoot a minimums approach into the alternate, Midway. (An unforgettable night.)