Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More on Kent Shocknek


While looking for other views on Kent Shocknek's coverage of the 1987 Whittier earthquake, I found this comment from Peter:

I always thought he got a bad rap about that. There was an aftershock when he was on the air, and as you said, you never knew how bad these things are going to get when they start. I have to imagine in a TV studio, you've got some really large lights dancing about when one of these hits. He also asked the crew make themselves safe as he went under the desk. I'm not sure what in the public interest would have been served had he stayed at his post at a desk and was clocked on the head. He was reading a teleprompter, not guarding Checkpoint Charlie.

But the majority view seems to be that of Gretchen, who said the following in a comment to this post:

Earthquakes, when they are on the small side and not too close, are great fun. There was once a Los Angeles newscaster named Kent Shocknek who was reading the news live on-air when an earthquake struck. He overreacted and dived under the desk, also live on camera, whereupon he was dubbed Kent Aftershocknek and never lived it down.

Gretchen, I wouldn't consider the Whittier quake to be "on the small side." 8 people died, and 200 were injured. People conveniently forget that when they talk about Shocknek's performance.

But Yet Another Small Town Moment links to the comments of Kent Shocknek himself, shared with Ron Fineman:

(11) OTR - When you got under the anchor desk during an earthquake, it seemed like a good example of what people are supposed to do. But I guess you got some flack about it. What do you remember about the incident?

Kent - "You're talking about the Whittier Narrows earthquake that killed 6, in 1987. A while back, a very well-intentioned woman stopped me at some shopping mall, referred to the criticism I got, and said, "I bet you'll never do that again." Well, no, ma'am, I'd do exactly the same thing, and here's why: I'm just a California boy who's had "duck and cover" drilled into my head since grade school. When the ground starts shaking hard, I'm going to react as fast as I can, wherever I am. That day, I was in our studio. It was my responsibility to be there for the audience; not to desert my post at a crucial moment. It'd be a bad reporter who'd leave the area as soon as news happens. Let me trot out a (groan!) real-life war story. I was covering the war in El Salvador earlier in the 80's, when my crew and I stumbled into a roadside fire-fight. Like the locals, we thought the prudent thing to do was to jump into a muddy ditch, rather than duck only when we thought certain bullets might be aimed directly at us.

The Red Cross and a couple of local cities gave me commendations that I thought cops and firefighters deserved more, but I DID get a lot of negative comments, too. It's OK. Most of the criticism came from people who've never been in a TV studio, or knew about 80-pound klieg lights swinging overhead. A couple of our technical folks ran outside, but it turns out that's the worst thing to do, and it got a Cal State L.A. student killed. Over the years, the legend has grown, as people's recollections change. What was in fact three seconds off camera while doing a show-and-tell has evolved into "We remember you from the Great Quake, praying to Jesus to save your soul!," and "We watched you during the 1994 Northridge earthquake burst into tears and scream it was the end of the world!" I've learned to stop trying to set the record straight. As David Brinkley said when viewers used to call him Chet Huntley: correcting them only embarrasses them and slows you down.

Funny thing about earthquakes, you have to act fast. If the ground starts shaking now, by the time you finish reading this sentence it's too late. If you want to criticize, I'll ask you to give me a smarter response. So far I haven't heard one. And I had a tenth of a second to think about it: you've had 14 years.

And just for the record, I'm equally "bemused" by people who claim I was looking to pull off a publicity-grabbing career move. Just a guy talking in a studio, and the station got a 61 rating and an 81 share. Great. But it was like the Challenger explosion the year before: I was just reacting to what I was experiencing. I'm not here to grandstand. I know that at CBS2 News This Morning we're positioned to provide the best coverage of any breaking event, but if nothing similar ever happens again, I'm sure that'd be fine with every person in the newsroom."

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