Noting the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s formation in the Atlantic Ocean, anchor Brian Williams promised his audience a look at “a sore spot for many homeowners, insurance.”
Yet correspondent Ron Mott gave virtually no time in his story for insurance companies’ point of view, and left out that a woman he featured complaining about State Farm Insurance is a trial lawyer who regularly sues insurance companies.
Mott began his August 24 story reminding viewers that homeowners Paul and Julie Leonard lost a court case trying to get their insurance company to cover flood damage from Hurricane Katrina. “The judge said their homeowners insurance did not cover flood damage,” he reported, before adding that “the ruling wasn’t a total victory for insurers. It found them still responsible for wind damages, even if they occurred at the same time as flooding.”
The NBC correspondent later introduced another angry homeowner, Judy Guice. “State Farm needs to pay,” she insisted to Mott, who described her as a Biloxi attorney who “had flood coverage and got the maximum $250,000, but wants her insurance company to pay for wind damages too.”
But Guice (rhymes with “ice”) is not just another Gulf Coast homeowner with a law degree. According to her Web site, she’s a former president for the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association and specializes in personal injury and insurance cases. What’s more, according to the Federal Election Commission, Guice is a donor to the One America Committee (OAC), the liberal PAC started by trial lawyer and former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards.
Following Guice’s comment, Mott gave insurance companies a few seconds of time as he read briefly from a State Farm press statement. No insurance industry spokesmen were brought on to explain that homeowners insurance policies didn’t include flood damage.
NBC could have found such a point of view in Julie Rochman, who, like Guice, once lost property to hurricane damage. Rochman was featured in a recent Business & Media Institute (BMI) story and is senior vice president for public affairs with the American Insurance Association. Rochman told BMI that recent media coverage has shown a lack of knowledge on how insurance pools work, particularly with recent reports on “record profits” for the industry.
“Last year in Mississippi and Louisiana, the insurance industry paid out the equivalent of about 20 years’ worth of profits for those states,” Rochman said, adding that the media focus on the small percentage of claims in litigation, but never report on the 90 percent of cases from Katrina already processed.
“The villain is called Hurricane Katrina,” Rochman told BMI. “The villain is not the insurance industry.” But “Mother Nature rarely does interviews.”