Last night (23 January) ABC News aired a story on the tornadoes that hit the South (particularly Alabama) early that morning. In the lead-in, anchor Diane Sawyer described the storms as “[taking] the South by surprise” as the storms hit with “no warning.” This particularly egregious lie has been exposed by several professional weather watchers, including one meteorologist challenging Sawyer to debate the facts, so you can read their objections to Sawyer and ABC News at the links. (As I’m finishing this post up, I just saw a tweet from James Spann that ABC will be interviewing him this afternoon.)
What I want to focus on is the end of the piece. Asking reporter Steve Osunsami about how residents could have been notified (in the middle of the night) of the coming storms, Osunsami suggests people could “go to websites like fema.com” to register their phone numbers so that FEMA could call with alerts. “That’s fema.com,” reiterated Sawyer. [Update: FEMA states that ABC News was wrong to point their viewers there. FEMA states that “FEMA does not send out alerts as this is a local responsibility. When natural disasters strike, it is important to follow the advice of state and local officials.” Good for FEMA. Bad form, ABC.]
As the links above will attest, the warnings that severe weather (including tornadoes) were probable Sunday night/Monday morning were out as early as Saturday and Sunday during the day. In addition, local stations in the Birmingham area have a standing policy that they go to long-form weather coverage if a tornado warning is issued for a county in their viewing area. Also, weather radios are designed to sound an alarm when a warning is issued in the area…they even wake me up, and that’s saying something. There are relatively inexpensive apps for smart phones that will alert their user of weather warnings. On top of all of the advance warning, there is still an antiquated siren system in place to warn people who refuse to pay attention to any other source. Of all of these warning mechanisms, which does ABC News suggest? FEMA. That’s right…FEMA.
I expect partisanship in reporting political/economic news. Reporting such patent falsehoods in a story such as this is bad enough for professional journalists but using the report to plug an agency like FEMA when other, more reliable sources of information are available is beyond the pale and shatters any notion that ABC News is in any way an objective source of news and information. You can send your thoughts to ABC News here (and it only takes a minute or two).