The early minutes and hours prior to the official announcement of the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden were certainly not the finest of times for network and cable television news organizations when it came to their accuracy and integrity. Let me explain this sad situation in further detail.
As a subscriber to copyrighted material that appears in an on-line service titled NEWSBLUES I learned the following.
The Osama Bin Laden story was unveiled with a tweet posted at 10:25PM by Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”
Now take a look at some of what shockingly happened next:
WTTG-TV-5-Fox Washington carried a NEWS ALERT – “President Obama is, in fact, dead…It was a U.S.–led strategic…I’m sorry…Osama Bin Laden…is dead…”
Within minutes anonymous sources at the Pentagon and the White House began telling reporters the same information. ABC, CBS, and NBC interrupted national programming at 10:45PM with the news. “We’re hearing absolute jubilation throughout government,” ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz reported. That was followed with an ABC News Special Report on “Obama Bin Laden’s Death.”
“ABC News Video ran a crawl “ABC News Special Report Reaction to Obama Bin Laden’s Death”
And the “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” graphic reported that “Obama will be buried at sea.”
BBC News presented a graphic saying “Obama Dead”.
There was a BREAKING NEWS report from KTXL-TV-40-Fox in Sacramento that carried a graphic banner “Obama Bin Laden Dead.”
MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell tweeted “Obama shot and killed per@ Jim Miklaszewski” (Miklaszewski is the NBC News Pentagon reporter).
All of these reports aired prior to the much delayed Special Press Briefing by President Barack Obama from the White House, which was first announced for about 10:15PM Eastern time and finally began around 11:30PM.
I was watching the news on WGN-TV from Chicago when they first broadcast there would be a break in the newscast to carry a special announcement “within two minutes” from the President relative to a National Defense issue. WGN then proceeded to run a series of commercial breaks with little news content in between in anticipation of the Presidential announcement but the White House delayed the President's appearance until after that newscast ended at 11PM Eastern time, but in the interest of ad income, they did get all their commercials on the air, however, presented a totally disorganized newscast.
The explosion of inaccurate reporting can be directly attributed to massive staff reductions that have taken place across the entire television platform over the last decade. In addition, well paid and experienced news staffs have been replaced by young, inexperienced, and much lower salaried personnel who are now handling important decision making assignments.
The days of news departments having copy editors are all but gone. It is unlikely veteran news hands would have made the glaring mistakes listed above. Add to this, the event happened on a Sunday evening when it is well known that the least experienced producers, etc. are on duty.
Old timers such as your Commander cringe when we see the deterioration of the news product and also its entertainment counterpart, but that is the result of the influence of corporate profit pressures and broadcast and cable consolidations.
Couple sad examples of rushing to be first with BREAKING NEWS with inaccurate information and we now learn that TVWeek.Com reports that TV households declined for the first time in almost 20 years. Ownership of TV sets dropped from 98.9% to 96.7% in one year. They report the drop is caused by the poor economy and the fact that young viewers favor watching shows over the internet.
While I believe those reasons are valid, it is your Commander’s personal opinion that the over-commercialization of television is driving some percentage of the audience away from the medium. There are many different influences impacting television viewing and competition for eye-balls such as the ever-changing electronic devices coming on the market it seems every month.
Television of the past is not the “television” of today, which of course includes many, many cable outlets in addition to the paid services like HBO and ShowTime. Long gone are the days of only three networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) for television viewing.
In the long run I am certain we are better off with not only the many general viewing choices, but with all of the news viewing options. Now what we as viewers need to make known to all of the news outlets is our need and demand of accuracy in “getting it right” before it goes to air. I don’t know about you, but if news is first but wrong, it’s of no use!