Wall Street meltdown, Somalia famine, London riots: How the media covered them

Dylan Stableford

These may be the dog days of August--traditionally a slow point in the news cycle--but three very big, very different news stories in three very different parts of the world this week have interrupted some media vacations and put others on hold.

• In the United States, last week's 500-point stock market crash and historic S&P credit downgrade was followed on Monday by a 634-point drop on Wall Street--the biggest slide for the Dow since the 2008 crash. As they did last week, ABC, NBC and CBS broke into their afternoon programming to air special reports on the stock slide after the markets closed. (Earlier in the day, all of the major broadcast and cable news networks carried President Barack Obama's remarks on the downgrade live from the White House.)

The cable and business networks scrambled to cover the story, as most have been for the last several days, live and in-depth.

• In Somalia, deadly famine continued, as American media outlets, which had largely ignored the crisis, began to arrive. Anderson Cooper anchored his first 8:00 p.m. broadcast for CNN from Dadaab, Kenya, near the border of Somalia on Monday. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, traveled with Cooper. (According to TVNewser, Gupta, who was scheduled to compete in the New York City triathlon on Sunday, pulled out of the event in order to travel to Africa.) CBS News' Scott Pelley, a.k.a Katie Couric's replacement, anchored the "CBS Evening News" from Eastern Africa on Monday.

Pelley's arrival was a bit of odd timing, considering the U.S. downgrade and stock market crash. Until now, ABC and the Associated Press had been the only U.S. news outlets reporting on the famine and related violence from Mogadishu. NBC's Richard Engel arrived late last week.

"My assignment in Africa occurred as our own country fixated on the debt debate in Washington," ABC's David Muir wrote on The Daily Beast. "But I came face to face with a debt of a different sort. I found one that is measured in human capital."

Cooper wrote in a blog post that "this famine was preventable":

I was in Somalia nineteen years ago this month reporting on the famine then. Some 300,000 people died and though the U.S./U.N. intervention saved many more lives by insuring food was delivered to those in need, more than 40 US troops were killed during Operation Restore Hope. Nineteen years later, it is depressing to be back. This famine was preventable. Warnings had been issued for a long time. The drought is not a sudden surprise.

Cooper will anchor his primetime program from the Somalian capital on Tuesday. According to CNN, Cooper will be "embedding with African Union troops who are fighting the Islamic insurgents who are denying aid to starving Somalis."

• In London, riots erupted for the third straight day, with the violence and looting--which began in Tottenham on Saturday--spreading to Camden, Ealing and Notting Hill, then Birmingham and Liverpool. London Mayor Boris Johnson, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband were all expected to return the England, cutting short their vacations to deal with the mounting violence there. British media were treating the youthful rioters--who appeared to organize themselves with the help of BlackBerry Messenger and Twitter--as criminals and thugs. (Taking issue with that narrative, an article published on the Guardian website implied that the looting was fueled by "social exclusion," not social media.)

British newspapers covered the riots thoroughly on their Tuesday morning covers. Somewhat implausibly, on the BBC website, the U.S. stock market crash was the top featured story overnight, while "London riots hit sports fixtures" was number two.

Cable news networks in the United States barely made mention of the London riots during their primetime coverage, and provided few updates. As "Piers Morgan Tonight" producer Jonathan Wald noted, the riots hit home for the CNN host, who devoted most of his show to the market collapse. ("Like Masterpiece Theatre with soccer hooligans and gasoline bombs," Wald wrote.)

"Seriously @CNN I appreciate a pre-taped special about Somalia," Gavin Purcell, a producer for "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," wrote on Twitter. "But it's not enough when London is burning."

For Americans looking for news on the London riots, Twitter was the most informative news source. Emma Gilbey Keller, the wife of New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, was a reliable aggregator of London riot news on Twitter, as was Andy Carvin, NPR's senior strategist and noted Twitter guru.