Of Carnival Triumph, Media, and Lawyers

Did you see all those body bags leaving the tortured Carnival Cruise ship Triumph in the news reports? No? How about the long lines of grieving family members lamenting the devastating loss of life? No? Never mind. The facts are plain. The Triumph disaster is one for the ages, as they all too readily say. To be sure, we have learned once again that life is fragile, and not just life -- hope is lost as well. For surely this tragedy highlights the sad truth of an existence so excruciating that even vacations can be lost to the cruel gods of remorseless fate.

Pardon the facetiousness, but this latest media event has so exposed the ridiculous nature of "news coverage" that it naturally leads one to excess. And what excess! I laughed so hard on day one of the coverage when the nitwit reporter dude on CNN said, in a breathless dramatic fashion, that on top of all the carnage and devastation wrought by the power outage on board, the ship could also expect "six foot seas!" He said this as if the nine-hundred foot long, fourteen-story ship would be lurching about, with water breaching the uppermost decks and crew members battening down all the hatches. Six foot seas, to anyone familiar with a cruise ship of that size, means very smooth sailing indeed. The newsjerk was either a moron, or more likely, an alarmist looking to make his assignment the story of the day. But as day one became day two I stopped laughing.

With a fire and a damaged power-plant, the Triumph experienced a near disaster and one of the greatest dangers to all seagoing vessels. Plumbing and electric woes plagued the enormous and crowded ship. The emphasis on fun switched swiftly to safety, then comfort, and eventually to putting up with unpleasantness. Apparently even the unhappy passengers admit the crew's determined efforts to make the best of a bad situation with the limited resources available. In my experience, cruise crewmembers are some of the most attentive and amenable people you can meet and surely the Carnival staff did what they could. But as time passed, the story began to prove irresistible to the media and the minor woes became major catastrophes and disappointed honeymooners took on the trials of Job.

It's all too much. The copious videos of joyous family reunions with hugging and crying on the dock, emotions more befitting five tours of Iraq than an uncomfortable few days at sea; the interviews of tormented vacationers leaving the ship and reporting their agonies aboard; the concerned cable anchors asking leading questions and eliciting angst and tears. To call the spectacle pathetic would be too kind. It is silly.

Of course the strong whiff of sea air so enjoyable to sea-goers that unfortunately became the stench of open latrines has now been sweetened by the anticipated fragrance of freshly litigated greenbacks. For surely the army of lawyers scanning the ship's manifest for every possible passenger to represent must be enormous and growing hourly.

But though the opportunity provided by the ships travail is an attorney's dream, the reality may not prove as delicious as obviously many a "victim" might seem to think. For as anyone lucky enough to have gone on a cruise knows, cruise tickets are long documents so full of legalese that reading them and understanding them is far beyond the average voyager's ability. Carnival Cruise Lines is not run by idiots and will surely reimburse passengers and fight unwarranted claims. But, as usual in incidents like this, one thing is certain, the lawyers always win. And everyone else loses.

Future passengers will miss out on the joy and pleasure of cruising for fear of like disasters. Investors and cruise line employees will lose financially. Carnival's reputation for safety and cleanliness and responsiveness will suffer unwarranted damage due to misrepresentations, exaggerations, and bogus claims. Other cruise lines will fight the perception of industry malfeasance and indifference to safety

The tragedy of Carnival Triumph, for so it will linger in the memory, showcases the worst of contemporary America -- a stupid alarmist media; a soft, weak and entitlement-oriented people; and a litigation-happy community of troublemakers and lawyers. For the discerning, it actually reveals a happy ending to a bad situation. Despite the trouble, expense, unpleasantness, cupidity, greed, and exploitation -- no one died. The ship didn't sink.

And it is a fantastic time to book your next cruise vacation.

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