April 5, 2015

A black eye for the Press

BY NOW, most of America will have read how Louis Jordan, 37, was plucked from the upturned hull of his old 35-foot Alberg sloop by the U. S. Coast Guard after drifting helplessly in the Gulf Stream off the Carolinas for 66 days.

Most of America will have read how he stayed alive (all the while nursing a broken collar bone) by catching small fish in his laundry, catching rainwater in a bucket, and reading his way right through the Bible twice.  Most of America will have learned of his suffering from hunger and thirst.

And most of America will have been misled by some of the shoddiest journalism ever to have been foisted on the public.

Anyone who has had the slightest connection with small boats and the sea will have been disgusted by the sloppy and inaccurate reporting of this accident.  Even newspapers within spitting distance of the sea were guilty of deliberate distortion and failing to check the facts.

The Virginia Pilot, for example, stated that “He cut off the mast to prevent his small boat from sinking.”

The facts, the plain unvarnished facts that anyone could have checked, were far different.

Jordan was actually spotted drifting off Cape Hatteras (between 124 miles and 300 miles off, depending on the news source) by a German flagged container ship called the Houston Express. They called the Coast Guard, who sent a helicopter to fetch Jordan from the ship.

He was taken to hospital on shore, checked, and discharged. He did not have a broken collar bone. He was not suffering from sunburn or any kind of exposure. He was not dehydrated. And he had certainly never spent a minute on the overturned hull.

None of the worthy members of the Press thought to ask him how he could have perched on the bottom of a full-keeled Alberg 35 for days on end.   Nobody queried if it is even possible for a relatively narrow boat with a ballast keel to remain inverted for more than a few seconds.

Nobody thought to ask him if he had an engine, and, if so, why he didn’t simply motor back to shore. Nobody asked him why, if he could cook and eat pancakes, he would want to eat raw fish. Nobody asked him why he was so far out to sea.

Obviously Jordan has very little experience of sailing at sea. He seem to have gotten into a storm and been capsized and dismasted. Nobody asked him if it was a 90-degree capsize or complete inversion. It seems he had the gumption to cut away the standing rigging attaching the damaged mast to the boat, but after that he just drifted helplessly. He was a liveaboard based in a marina in Conway, South Carolina, and he had food and water on board sufficient for a month.

When did he start rationing himself, if in fact he did? Nobody asked. His family reported him missing after he said he was going on an offshore fishing trip, and the Coast Guard conducted searches fruitlessly for 10 days.

The biggest question of all, and one that completely escaped the Press, is why his boat was found drifting off Cape Hatteras when the current should have carried it half-way across the Atlantic. The average rate of the Gulf Steam is 4 miles an hour according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), slowing to 1 mile an hour farther north.

There are 1,584 hours in 66 days, so, even at the speed of 1 mile an hour the boat should have traveled 1,500 miles to the north and east. This point obviously did occur to the Coast Guard, however. According to several reports they checked his financial records to see “if he sneaked ashore” somewhere.

I haven’t spoken to Jordan so I can’t know what he told the media. But I do know what the media reported, and it makes me ashamed to admit I was once a journalist. There can be no excuse for this total lack of professionalism. The Press is indeed in a very sorry state in this country, and it makes me wonder how much I can trust in anything I see in print or on the radio or TV. And if this is what the professional newsmongers are offering, God preserve us from the amateurs who run rampant all over Twitter and the Internet these days. Nothing is now more elusive than the truth.

Today’s Thought
The art of reading between the lines is as old as manipulated information.
— Serge Schmemann, NY Times, 10 Nov 85

 “How did poor old Joe survive that mustard gas and pepper spray?”
“Oh, it turns out he’s OK. He’s now a seasoned veteran.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)



Alden Smith said...

This ridiculous scenario made the main news here in New Zealand. I wondered out loud regarding the truth of this report for all the reasons you have given. I also thought that the lead in the keels of a large number of fiberglass yachts are encapsulated inside the boat and glassed in. How could this fall out? If it was indeed bolted on the outside and fell off, the boat would have floated on its side, but only if it had adequate watertight bulkheads in the bow and stern. The whole story is a load of bloody crap.

In the footage I saw the guy walked freely and well and didn't look like someone plucked from the jaws of death and complete exhaustion after clinging to an upturned hull for a long time.

So much reportage by the media is either made up sensationalism or simply untrue - which probably doesn't ultimately matter regarding some issues, but in others democracy itself can be at stake when the media doesn't do due diligence and get the facts correct.

Captain Roger & XO said...

I agree with your analysis. Having just crossed the Gulf Stream twice in the last 3 weeks I can tell you it is a strong current! This once again proves that the reporters have little if no real experience and don't believe in fact checking. Sad.

Pat said...

Louis Jordan maybe should get some slack as an inexperienced sailor who is perhaps not hugely sophisticated with being interviewed by the media. Perhaps he's just not very clear on exactly what "capsize" means or about the stringy-thingies that hold up the mast and such. And given the untrustworthiness of the media reporting, maybe we don't know where Angel was relative to the Gulf Stream and thus what effect the stream and storms might have had on her movement.
The media get less slack, in my book; I'd be tempted to rig up a grate and let the Cat out of the bag.

Jack said...

John, my commiserations on the death of what can't be journalism. Truth be told it's should of had a "DNR" tag on it's toe for years.
Thank goodness we the public can come visit a site like yours.

Unknown said...

Hey Jack, for medical metaphors, when you're at the point of attaching toe tags, the Do Not Resuscitate designation doesn't convey any useful information. More to the point, why is informed commentary like this blog a private matter where the excessively groomed dollies on the news can say any stupid thing they like? They must be prettier than we are.