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Disaster draws biggest names in news media to Twin Cities

Last update: August 06, 2007 – 2:21 PM

Like iron filings to a magnet, tragedy drew TV-news stars to the Twin Cities on Thursday, including CBS anchor Katie Couric, NBC's Brian Williams and Matt Lauer, ABC's Charlie Gibson, CNN's Anderson Cooper and Fox News' Greta Van Susteren.

"To have this massive a piece of infrastructure, seemingly out of the blue, fall apart -- this is a fear that many people have and can relate to it," said Couric, explaining why she flew here to broadcast Thursday's evening news.

WCCO-TV sports reporter Mark Rosen has seen a lot of big names come to town, but in 30 years, "this is the biggest draw I've ever seen," he said.

The elements at play -- including the randomness of the catastrophe; the demographic sweep of its victims and the spectacular images of mangled steel, buckled concrete and cars tossed about like toys -- created an irresistible lure for national and international media, said Jane Kirtley, a media-ethics professor at the University of Minnesota.

"The national coverage rightly picks up on the idea that this is symptomatic of a much bigger problem," she added.

Of course, it's the human drama that plays most strongly on TV. "For me at least, you see these lives changing in an instant, this panic, these incredible efforts by Minnesotans to save strangers, all of that draws you," said CNN correspondent and anchor Randi Kaye, who formerly worked at WCCO-TV in the Twin Cities. "And it affects all of us because it could happen to any one of us."

Still, why should such a disaster require the presence of anchors, when correspondents could cover it? To put "a human face" on coverage, Couric said.

Of course, the news stars will soon shift their focus elsewhere, but "our show will be doing an extraordinary number of pieces and reports on this," promised Rick Kaplan, executive producer of "CBS Evening News."We have tens of thousands of roads and bridges and sewers that are underfunded. There's a trillion and a half dollars needed. I think Americans expect to have their country work, so this story is going to have a long life."

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390 • rpreston@startribune.com