Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Catastrophe As Photo-Op

by Steve Young

Bush Defensive as Aid Effort Lumbers Into Action

The U.S. increases its original skinflint contribution to tsunami relief. Not to be outdone, Japan, Germany and Australia boost their donations. Sandra Bullock gives a million and Leonardo DiCaprio jumps in, then media conglomerate News Corp. announces its million dollar contribution. (One million must be the magic "give it and you get press" plateau.) Not to be outdone, German Michael Schumacher, the Formula One race car champion plans to donate $10 million. Leno has even put one of his precious Harleys up on eBay for donations. Are celebrities crawling over one another to use the tragedy to improve their image? Only the cynical among us would believe that scenario.

The prestige of the best table at Morton's has been replaced with the most money donated to the disaster relief. Every contribution brings another headline. Bill O'Reilly even placed Bullock on his "Do Not Smear" list. You couldn't buy this type of publicity -- on the other hand, that's exactly what they did.

The tsunami came just as talk radio's Lords of Loud and TV pundits were hitting a New Year's dry spell. Would the bloviates reach out to grasp the truth and pain of the hardships? Not a chance. They chewed up air time keeping the United Nations' "America is stingy" quote alive -- even though the UN representative never mentioned "America." The 150,000+ dead was just another opportunity for the politicos to jump on the Left for not giving Bush a break, and the other side to ask, "What took him so long to get off the north forty and offer our condolences?"

The tsunami was followed by a flood of news anchors rushing to the scene, broadcasting from the midst of the destruction; misery and wreckage became a backdrop for every morning and evening newscast. You know more than one network news executive had to whisper, "We haven't had this kind of good luck since O.J. didn't kill Nicole." And wherever there are cameras, politicians are sure to follow. Senate majority leader Bill Frist turned up in Sri Lanka and before leaving, he asked an aide to take his picture. "Get some devastation in the back," he told the photographer.

The news media and politicians may chase tragedy, but the entertainment industry eats disaster for breakfast. Over the holidays I was contacted by a well-known producer asking if I could play with a screenplay of mine from a couple years back where LA was buried under a horrific 7-day snowstorm, and turn it into a tsunami mini-series where the wave hits Washington, DC. He didn't seem to mind that Washington isn't beach-front property.

CBS's Les Moonves actually told New York media critics of a 9/11-based sitcom possibility less than a month after the Twin Towers fell. You got to know Les and the rest of the network boys were burning up the phone lines over the holidays to take pitches. Can a tsunami situation comedy be far behind?

"Okay. This Thai family...I don't know, we'll call them the Uday's. Anyway, they've got like ten children and then the tsunami hits and the parents get swept away Don't worry, we'll make it funny. We'll have the Dad...anyone know what Bob Saget is doing? say something like, 'Boy, we could sure use some rain' and bam...tsunami. We'll have him walk out the door of their mud shack just as he's saying it. Walking out the door on punchline always makes it funny. Tell me that won't make a great teaser. Maybe we'll keep one of the parents on life-support or holding on to some log in the ocean so we can keep a story-line going on whether they'll make it back. Here's the hook. Now the oldest kid has to raise the children who survived. At least seven. Seven kids are funny And they've got a pet elephant. Pet elephants are even funnier. We'll call it 'Last Thai Standing.'"

When Einstein said, "In every problem there is an opportunity," I don't think he had this in mind. Taking advantage or someone else's disadvantage is just abominable, and there are heaping portions of shame to go around. Meanwhile, I gotta figure out how to get a tsunami to reach Washington.

Steve Young writes the "Lords of Loud" column on talk radio for the Albion Monitor

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor January 7, 2005 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.