When Lin-Manuel Miranda decided to bring a U.S. TV news crew along for a look at Hurricane Maria’s toll on his extended family in Puerto Rico, there was little doubt which network the “Hamilton” creator would approach.
CBS News correspondent David Begnaud has extensively covered the painfully slow pace of recovery on the island. He was there for more than two weeks after Maria made landfall on Sept. 20, and he’s been back twice since. His reports on conditions in cities and towns well outside of San Juan impressed Miranda and his parents, who are natives of Puerto Rico.
“We went to the spot where the home that his grandfather built was literally wiped out,” Begnaud said of the report that airs Sunday on “CBS Sunday Morning.” “The only thing left was a porch and a slab.”
Begnaud’s tenacity in Puerto Rico has boosted a star that was already rising at CBS News. The Louisiana native joined the Eye in 2015 as a Miami-based correspondent. He relocated to the Dallas bureau in January, just in time to be in the right place to cover a volatile hurricane season for the Gulf Coast and Caribbean.
“I feel like I’ve been on the disaster beat for nearly three months,” Begnaud said. He was on the ground in Texas for Hurricane Harvey, rode out Hurricane Irma and then headed to Puerto Rico. He’s become a go-to correspondent for CBS News to dispatch for high-drama breaking news stories.
“I tend to be like a firefighter, and I’m OK with that,” Begnaud said. But his extended stays in Puerto Rico have also allowed him to do in-depth reporting on the infrastructure and economic issues bedeviling the island, and to vividly capture the storm’s human toll. He credits CBS News with allowing him the time and resources to report extensively on the recovery effort for various CBS News programs and the CBSN all-news streaming channel.
“I have a deep appreciation for interviews that make you feel inspired or emotional,” he said. “My aim is that in tell the story you walk away either having learned something or felt something from watching it.”
Begnaud said he has been moved by how grateful Puerto Ricans have been for outside media to put the spotlight on the island’s predicament, which hasn’t always been the case in other natural disaster areas. Puerto Ricans were already dealing with hardships caused by the island’s economic crisis when Maria hit.
Begnaud’s season of storms has taught him some lessons about reporting on widespread human misery. For starters, most people don’t need much probing to tell the stories. He spent about two hours in a shelter on Friday with a young married couple, one of whom is in a wheelchair, with two toddler kids who still have no idea when they will move to a new permanent home.
“I’ve found sometimes the best way to get somebody to tell their story in the most raw and vulnerable way is to not say a word and just listen,” he said. “I’ve learned that resilience and patience are two of the most powerful things aside from hope.”