The News Friday: Oprah Kills Murrow in School Nightly Network News Review


Welcome to host Chuck Mertz‘s review of the nightly network TV news, posted every weeknight.

There’s no news tonight but the mass killing in the Connecticut grade school.

Nobody cares that the US refused a UN telecom treaty, or that there’s been more violence in Egypt, or more arrests in Myanmar, or that Russia charged the country’s leading protester with crimes right before a huge demonstration this weekend, or how Uganda workers are fighting privatization, or a new study on Gulf War Syndrome, or that Israeli soldiers allegedly beat a couple cameramen, or that a leader of Israel’s right has resigned, or that there’s actually been progress in Iran nuclear talks.

No network news outlets discusses anything tonight but the tragedy in Newtown.

There are certain formulaic things that always happen during this kind of coverage. One is finding the heroes. ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer even uses the word ‘heroes’ in the tease.

Of course, every tragedy has its heroes and they deserve to be celebrated. But I always get this feeling that celebrities are bestowing celebrity to the little people whenever I see this kind of coverage.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams calls Newtown, Connecticut, the location of today’s shooting, “Anytown, USA.”

Later, an NBC reporter would describe Newtown with words like “Everybody’s happy,” “family-oriented,” “safe,” “quiet,” and this was “unthinkable” here.

CBS anchor Scott Pelley also says Newtown’s “safe” and that the town “will never be the same.” Pelley says that for Newtown this is “beyond imagination.”

The networks would later all report on the teachers being heroes by following their training for just such an emergency.

Apparently in America today, a mass shooting at an elementary school is, sadly and luckily, not “beyond imagination.”

CBS reporter Bob Orr says the shooter had “high-capacity clips” and “was armed for mass murder.”

Nobody asks why these mass shootings seem to always be in the suburbs — and always committed by young white men.

Nobody is asking why this keeps happening over and over again here in the States.

What they do want you to know is how awful the experience must have been for the parents.

NBC comes back from break with some startling and heart-wrenching pictures of people affected by the tragedy. Anchor Williams calls the images, “still photos that are hard to look at.” He’s right. I could have used the heads-up that they were going to be shown. I wouldn’t have looked.

Thanks for the warning, Brian.

Of late, Williams has worn his heart on his sleeve during the nightly newscasts. He wants everyone to know how bad he feels for his neighbors on the Jersey shore who were struck by Sandy.

Now he wants us to know his girls played soccer in Newtown.

For a guy who’s always telling us he feels our pain, he could have given us a bit more notice that those awful pictures were about to be shown.

The networks are nearly reveling in the horror.

CBS anchor Pelley talks to a parent about the original uncertainty of his kid’s safety.

“Tell me what it was like.”

The parent he’s talking to luckily did not lose his child.

I don’t want to know what it was like. I know. It must have been awful. I am a human being and have that capacity to understand this awful situation.

Why are you torturing me, Scott Pelley?

You’re starting to look a lot like that puppet from “Saw.”

I gotta tell you, I got choked up when NBC showed President Obama losing it while reading his statement on the shooting.

It’s good to see the president hasn’t been hardened by his deadly drone campaign. His tears allow me to think he isn’t the cold-blooded, assassination-trading-card collector he’s made out to be.

When the networks ask how disturbing the tragedy is, random people explain they don’t know what to say, they don’t understand, and they don’t know what’s happening.

The networks are painting a great picture of a society in shock. You expect a bit more sobriety out of journalists, but the networks seem more in tune with channeling emotions than giving information.

Every network news program does special one-hour broadcasts tonight. However, here in Chicago, the local NBC affiliate cuts away to local news.

As I watch the second half hour while writing tonight’s blog for my top-of-the-hour deadline, I hear a CBS reporter give more useful information. Orr tells us the guns were bought legally. Earlier, he told us the shooter used extended clips.

Unfortunately, Orr also suggests that the shooter may have committed this heinous act because of some slight in the past.

It’s the kinda thing that’ll happen in the second half hour of a usually thirty-minute show: your reporters start spitballin’.

Now it’s Pelley’s turn.

He wants to know if this shooting will finally create a policy debate in Washington. The reporter Pelley asks assures him that it will not.

This means the networks can ignore it, too. Because as we have learned, if the two major political parties are not making an issue of it, it’s not an issue that should be covered.

ABC closes their hour with anchor Diane Sawyer quoting Maya Angelou saying, “Each child that was slaughtered belongs to each of us.”

Again, think about this when Obama launches drones, please.

ABC closes with more photos of agony.

Their ad for tonight’s ‘Nightline’ starts with “No place is safe. Fear. Terror …”


It really is what the networks do best.

They can make you afraid and when you really are afraid, they can tell others what it’s like.

Last week, the fear du jour was Syria’s chemical weapons. When the Pentagon backed off from those claims this week, the networks did not report the relative calm.

Earlier this week, it was the North Korean missile that “can reach the United States.” The following day, experts clarified to The Associated Press that North Korea is nowhere near having a intercontinental ballistic missile program.

The networks didn’t report that more sober analysis either.

Now something really frightening has happened.

The networks don’t need to scare you. They don’t need to frighten you.

Now, they’re channeling that fear. They, like us, seem in shock, not knowing what to do.

But they’re not supposed to be.

At times like these we need journalists, not co-counselors.

We need Edward R. Murrow, not Oprah.

But that’s not the nightly network TV news anymore.

Oprah has replaced Murrow.

Pain, fear, agony, tears, strife and shock have replaced who, what, when, where, why and how.

And that’s tonight’s news.




  • Shane Menken

    These damned talking heads are all touchy-feely like it was dr Phil doing the news. Tell me what happened, not how to feel about it. And I am sorry, but doesn’t post-traumatic stress diorder need to be POST, i think what they are going through is current-traumatic stress disorder. I want news reports, not a coffe clatch.

    How about a new slogan for TiH: We Report-You Emote

    stay pretty

  • John

    A question that needs to be asked. Why is our society creating young male monsters. The discussions seems to only focus on gun control. Has unfettered capitalism led to a breakdown of social taboo. The loss of mental health clinics, since the 1980′s, has not helped. An area of concern, that needs to be addressed, is our education system. We have allowed schools/Big Pharma to turn our education system into a chemistry lab. When these young men graduate we tell them good luck. By the way you are your own. No more state paid meds. What do we expect. Expect more of the same.

  • Jim Smith

    If it bleeds, it leads. These ambulance chasers almost seem to like this sort of thing. I think all reports mentioned that it was the 2nd deadliest mass-shooting in the U.S. like there is some sort of contest going on. Some outlets even went as far as listing recent mass-shootings & their body counts… Why? Sadly, we all know this is not the last time this will happen. Now go buy stuff, it’s Holiday Season!