Newspaper: The Evening Sentinel
Date: April 5, 1979
Title: They Stalked Story of Hour
Author: Jim Kershner, The Evening Sentinel
There they were in Middleton Borough Hall: the press.
There was Don Allegerella, a young reporter for the Capital Times.
Not many small newspapers sent reporters from as far as Madison, Wisc., but “The Times has been warning people about nuclear power for years,” he said.
This was the biggest story he’d ever covered. He said he’s never seen so many reporters.
There were a couple hundred reporters and technicians with notebooks, briefcases, typewriters, tape recorders, cameras, lights and deadlines, all suddenly crowded into an old basketball court and meeting room.
THE TELEPHONE company scrambled to spin a web of telephone lines around the long rows of press tables.
Joyce Barnell, a production coordinator for NBC News, had to find not only telephones, but cars, planes, helicopters, and even binoculars at the drop of a story.
“Where do you find binoculars at 10 a.m. Sunday morning?” she asked. (At a Camp Hill department store, it turns out.)
Tony Sargent, ABC radio correspondent from Washington, said he didn’t have any particular problems except the unavoidable pitfalls of a story this size happening in a place the size of Harrisburg.
The location was a little too close for comfort for Ed Perrone. But the Harrisburg Magazine writer felt good about one thing. His magazine was inundated with requests for the article they did shortly before the real accident describing the possibility of an accident at Three Mile Island.
Metropolitan Edison Co., part owner and operator of the nuclear power generating plant, had tried to get the magazine’s CETA funding withdrawn because of the article, he said.
Takemoto Iinuma, from Japan’s nationally-circulated daily, Yomiuri Shimbum, said in some ways this was the biggest story he’d ever covered. But then, he’s covered the fall of Saigon.
“This event itself is not so dramatic as a war,” he said, “but in a philosophical sense, this has a great impact on the people.”
It had a big impact in Japan too. “The Japanese people are very sensitive to radioactives. The people there say the amount of radioactives is not the issue. The issue is the presence of radioactives.”
The Japanese government has ordered safety checks on all 19 of the country’s nuclear power plants.
Iinuma found it quite interesting that there was no panic here.
“IF THIS had happened in Japan it would have been very different,” he said. “The people would have rushed out but there is no place to go on an island.”
Washington bureau chief for his paper, Iinuma noted a difference in Japanese and American reporting of the event. “In the U.S. you pay much more attention to the process-every little step is reported.”
Reporting for the Voice of America was Gill Butler. He said the accident had been the lead story in 37 languages for most of the week.
For Butler, the biggest problem at first was that none of the reporters knew what questions to ask. And then Met-Ed said one thing and the NRC said another.
Max Robinson of ABC World News Tonight said he had the same nagging feeling every reporter there had-that in this story, “I might also be a victim.”
But he thought it was important to be on the scene to bring the story to the ABC viewers.
“That’s one of the things we try to do on World News Tonight,” he said with a television smile.
Another reporter asked if he felt the press had gone overboard.
“We were on the brink of a very serious disaster. In view of that how could we have overreacted?” he replied.
BUT IN THE end it was Jimmy Breslin, the New York Daily News columnist who got the story.
He had arrived on Friday but didn’t stay with the pack of reporters fighting for scraps of news in borough hall. His column Sunday told the real story of Three Mile Island.
“At first yesterday, I wasn’t all that afraid,” it begins.
Breslin had stood at the gate to the plant and watched the steam drift out of the tops of the cooling towers. He talked to one of the workers who wasn’t afraid. And to a man who works for the plant in health physics. Then he summed it all up in one exchange.
“Where’s the wife and kids, out shopping?” I asked.
“No, I sent them away to the mountains,” he said.
“Oh,” I said.
How does he do it?
“I only made it with legs,” he said.