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Why didn't CBS break in to report Ford's death?

by Joel Keller, posted Dec 28th 2006 12:32PM
Gerald FordWhen former President Gerald Ford passed away late Tuesday night, both NBC and ABC broke into regular programming to report the news. CBS, however did not; instead they decided just to put a crawl at the bottom of the screen. If you were watching CBS at the time, when a Letterman rerun was running in the east and an NCIS rerun was running in the west, you might have wondered why they didn't break in to report something that was so important.

Others were wondering, too, and David Bauder of the AP got some reaction to it. CBS really didn't give a reason other than just state that they will fly Katie Couric in from an overseas vacation to anchor funeral coverage, and that they reported the news as soon as they saw it. In the article, Bauder cites a 2004 incident where a CBS News producer was fired for breaking into CSI:NY to report the death of Yassir Arafat rather than do the agreed-to crawl. Whether or not that was a factor in this decision is unclear. But the logical reaction would be that a former President would merit a break-in, don't you think?

[via Mediabistro]

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I think something most of you are forgetting is that not everybody has the same access to news that we have. Not everybody has the internet in their homes and just can't get news instantly like we can.

And yes even in 2006 not everybody has cable and that means no 24/7 news channels either. Some people only get CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox and anybody who has ever watched TV from an antenna knows that one or a couple of channels may not always come in clearly.

Like I said at DU when I noticed this Wednesday night. Their may have been some guy watching CBS that night who may have been a Ford supporter and while we are all finding out about Ford's death he's still watching stupid pet tricks because he doesn't have cable or the internet.

December 29 2006 at 12:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was watching ABC at the time (Rudolph saves new year or something like that). I like the way they handled it - they did break in for breaking news. Even though I was enjoying the animated program at the time, I'm glad they broke in.

This lasted for what felt like 5 minutes (at least, which I felt was a little too long because they brought on some person who was a political somebody and started talking about this and that) and I flipped around the other channels to see if they were reporting it. None of the other channels (CBS, NBC, or Fox 11) were.

And then when they returned to regular programming, they continued the rudolph program where it left off - none of that "now we return to regular programming already in progress" junk. So I got to see the end of that program. They started the next show (the comedy Big Day) late, around 9:10 rather than at 9. When the two episodes of that ended (at about 10:10), they started Boston Legal already in progress. It was a repeat anyway...

If former Pres. Ford's death was not "breaking news", I think the local stations (NBC, CBS affiliates) could have reported it as a promo for the 11 o'clock news. Instead, we just saw promos for weather or whatnot. I was not watching NBC or CBS so I don't know if they had a news crawler at the bottom/top of the screen.

As far as I remember, they reported Princess Diana's death when it occured - I can't remember if it was a "breaking news" or just a headline. Not everyone has cable (I don't) so I wouldn't have seen the news elsewhere. I guess if I had been sitting in front of my computer, I would have seen it on the internet but still...

December 28 2006 at 9:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Scott K

It doesn't make sense to break in for much of anything. Unless people are in possible danger because of a news story, or its absolutely huge news, there is no need to interrupt programming. A scroll gets the message across, and interested people can get the full story later on the scheduled newscast or online.

December 28 2006 at 8:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Two words: Commercial Break. When news happens, unless it's another 9/11, it's simply not that important. I'm not saying CSI is important, but, there's a built in break in the broadcast, give us news then.

I have no opinion on Ford. All through my schooling, including 4 years of college, he was never mentioned. I simply don't know enough about him.

Those saying he deserves respect just because he was POTUS, where's GWB's respect for being POTUS?

December 28 2006 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I fail to see how breaking into programming is "a sign of respect." There is no correlation.

I have pretty extreme opinions on network news, though. I don't think they should be in the business anymore.

December 28 2006 at 6:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you read Bill Carter's excellent book 'Desperate Networks' it tells the story of the CBS News producer getting fired for breaking into CSI:NY to report Arafat's death.

Les Moonves went ballistic and it is quite possible no one wanted to get on his bad-side for doing it again.

December 28 2006 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BC McKinney

Bravo for CBS! Too bad I don't watch much of their programming.

IMO, programming should never be interrupted. Running breaking news as a crawl allow people to judge for themselves whether they need or want to pay attention to it, or ignore it. If it's something terribly interesting, one of the news channels will be covering it better anyway. Of course, I'm sure the networks would prefer to have us watch their personnel, but then they should hire journalists instead of Barbie and Ken teleprompter-lip-readers, or operate their own news channels.

December 28 2006 at 4:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert E Smith

"Respect" is no reason to treat this as breaking news. Presidents are not royalty. They are public servants, plain and simple, and that's exactly how we should treat them.

When Arafat died, it was news that had real potential effects. Not so with Ford.

December 28 2006 at 4:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Chalk up another one in favor of CBS. I was watching Letterman, and I thought, "Oh, that's nice." I didn't expect ANYTHING to happen. Then when I flipped over to FOX for some syndie Seinfeld, I was ANNOYED that not only was it interrupted, but they had some shitty news guy that I've NEVER seen before. Screw break-ins, that's why I've got CNN.

December 28 2006 at 3:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's not like it was the number one show of the year, it was a REPEAT! I think the least we can do for the President that moved the nation ahead was do a 30 second thing saying he died.

December 28 2006 at 2:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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