by Mark Scheinbaum
Angel Fire, N.M.
January 8, 2011
TONE OF CIVIL DEBATE HAD A ROLE, SHERIFF SAYS
ANGEL FIRE, N.M., Jan. 10, 2011 -- The shootings in Tucson caught downsized newspapers, superficial cable news networks, and broadcast news networks covering sports, in an even more deficient "weekend" mode. Even the daily Tucson Citizen and the Arizona Republic couldn't update their sites - but neither could the much-respected St. Petersburg Times.
In Sarasota, Fla., the New York Times Co. regional newspaper the Sarasota Herald-Tribune didn't update viewers on the assassination for more than six hours, and its ABC-TV affiliate covered the story with a brief news break; NBC's network programming stayed fixed on the Seattle-Seahawks-New Orleans Saints game - apparently nothing's more important than NFL playoffs.
The CBS-TV Tampa affiliate did break into programming to cover the story, however, anchored from New York. Even the New York Times, Washington Post and the Drudge Report were slow to break the news. Clearly, most of America ended up watching cartoons when they looked for breaking news of an assassination attempt against Rep. Giffords on Saturday morning.
As the government and private interests seek more control over the Internet, we can worry that if there's ever an American coup d'etat, we would wait forever for the news.
In my own days on the news desk at ABC-TV Network News in New York, the death of three astronauts on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, led to a full network news mobilization and 'long form' pre empting of Saturday morning programming. The cancellation of Saturday morning cartoon shows led to a full switchboard of complaints from parents who said Saturday morning was their "sleep-in time." Prophetic or not, it was decades before cautious news execs put any news on the broadcast networks on Saturday mornings.
Along with confusion over YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook messages - real or fake - was the lack of basic news background. For example, it was several hours before any weekend news anchors mentioned the obvious (to those in her district) fact that she represented the U.S.-Mexico border area. It is an area both contentious and controversial, and there have been countless murders on the Mexican side of the border - and tv signals, of course, don't stop at the border moving in either direction.
AR Correspondent Mark Scheinbaum is a former United Press International reporter and veteran broadcaster.