I was poking around my desk, which is essentially an avalanche waiting to happen, when I unearthed an old issue of TV Guide...from back when it was, well, TV Guide size. The cover date was Sept 25-Oct 1, 2005. CSI Returns! Screamed the cover! Inside was a special edition of a page called "News Flashes", where TV Guide spoke to 3 of the news faces of the then recent Hurricane Katrina~Brian Williams of NBC, Elizabeth Vargas of ABC and Shepard Smith of FNC. Each journalist had a single column about their coverage. After reading it again, I decided to write an open letter to Shepard Smith.
Shepard's column on that page told of how FNC forced he and his crew to leave their perch on the I-10 overpass in New Orleans because they were worried about their mental health, but how after a few days, he headed to his native Mississippi.
This is how Shepard's column ended:
"Says Smith, 'I want to tell their individual stories.'"
Over two years have passed. During his initial visit to Waveland, MS, in the first week after Katrina, he had met a man named Brian who had a little dog named Rocky. Brian and Rocky had ridden the deadly 30 foot high wall of water as it washed away the town and had managed to survive. That night, upon his return to the scene, Shepard sat at a makeshift candlelit table with Brian and a few of his friends, all survivors, talking about the disaster, their survival, and their desire to rebuild. Shepard Smith sat there, legs crossed, Waveland cap on his head. He looked at peace. That Christmas, he returned to Waveland and followed up with Brain and his little dog, now living in a FEMA trailer.
Shepard returned to the region again for Holy Week the following spring, giving an update on the clean up efforts, and asking residents after losing everything, what, if anything, could they possibly be giving up for Lent. He also returned for the first anniversary of Katrina, reporting on the clean up and rebuilding that was going on in the region.
I haven't really heard much of anything about Katrina since then from Shepard. A report here and there, FEMA this, Mayor Nagin that, Governor voted out, but beyond that? Nothing.
Where are all of the individual stories that you wanted to tell, Shepard?
I think Shepard Smith missed a monumental opportunity.
Forget for a minute that he is a newsman, and remember that he is a man. A man who grew up in small town Mississippi, who'd father still lives in that same small town. A man who still lives and dies with his beloved Ole Miss Rebels. A man with the ability to tell a story and leave you enthralled.
A man with a forum and an audience...yet he did nothing.
Now, I'm not saying he didn't do anything to help after Katrina, not at all. I know he participated in a fund raiser with Governor Haley Barbour in DC after the hurricane. I am sure that he himself has given money, and quite possibly time, to help rebuild the Mississippi Gulf coast. I know he cares. As he told his viewers during the initial shock of Katrina, that is his home.
But he did not tell us those stories that he told TV Guide he so wanted to tell in the initial wake of the disaster, the tales of survival and of loss. Of rebuilding and of redemption. Of sadness and joy.
Yes, Shepard Smith missed a huge opportunity...and his loss is our loss. We will never get to hear those individual stories. We will never get to know, to cry, to mourn with those whose lives were changed forever that day or to rejoice in those small personal miracles that we all know occur. We don't know if Brian and Rocky are still in their FEMA trailer, or if they were ever able to rebuild their home.
Shepard Smith has what I consider to be an extraordinary gift. He has the ability to tell a story and to compel you with it. He has a way of holding your attention, of making you care. He is able to have his passion reach out thru your television screen and into your heart. He has the ability to make a difference.
I guess I just expected more from someone I respected like Shepard Smith. I thought he really would decide stand up, step to the front and make a difference, especially for his beloved Mississippi.
Come on, Shepard...make a difference...