Five days ago, Diane Sawyer promised viewers they could wake up to ABC’s morning program to find her and her colleagues “taking your case” to insurance companies “and getting answers” about unresolved Hurricane Katrina claims.
Yet on the February 20 show, when the answers weren’t to her liking, Sawyer’s colleague Robin Roberts presented a Democratic congressman attacking the industry as a champion of homeowners, and only mentioned her own compromising emotional connection to the story at the end of her report.
“And full disclosure here, to be fair, you are understanding [sic] that my family was very much affected by Hurricane Katrina,” Roberts admitted at the end of her report. “Our home in Pass Christian, Mississippi, my mother's home was insured and she did receive payment for wind damage and further payment for other damages is still pending,” the Gulf Coast native concluded her report from New Orleans.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics urges journalists to “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.” Roberts’ personal interest in the story was obviously quite real, and her story was just as obviously slanted.
The morning show co-anchor delivered viewers of the February 20 “Good Morning America” a taped, one-sided report that featured excerpts from an interview with Robert Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute (III).
After noting the industry’s “record profits in 2005,” Roberts asked Hartwig if he understood how some “home owners scratch their heads a little bit” about their insurance claim troubles.
Hartwig explained that the profits seen by the insurance industry came from other types of insurance from all over the country. Insurance must be paid out from the pool of money it's paid into – for example, auto insurance payments don’t pay for homeowners’ claims.
“Insurers have earned profits in other states in other types of insurance. None of the profits in 2005, for example, were earned in the state of Mississippi. They were earned on auto insurance in Iowa, or workman compensation in Oregon,” Hartwig explained.
Unsatisfied, Roberts’s turned to Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), who leveled an attack on the industry’s profits.
“Their behavior is just shameful,” Taylor complained. Roberts noted that Congress would hold hearings about Hurricane Katrina payments and returned to attacking Hartwig, practically accusing his industry of being uncaring.
“You know that rings hollow, what you just said to so many people. They don't believe that any more,” Roberts complained after Hartwig argued that “insurance is the best, most efficient means for recovery from natural disasters.”
Yet Roberts failed to mention just how efficient the industry has been at compensating storm victims. According to the Insurance Information Institute, more than 94 percent of homeowners’ claims from Katrina originating from Mississippi have been settled, “totaling $5.2 billion,” noted a press release dated one year after Hurricane Katrina, August 22, 2006. The same release noted that 99 percent of auto damage claims from the hurricane were resolved by the one-year anniversary of the storm’s landfall.
Roberts’s unbalanced attack may be just the first of many.
“We’re going to continue to take on this situation with insurance companies,” Roberts promised as she led out to a commercial break.