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Highs and lows of marathon news coverage

By Alan Pergament 

In a way, Friday was a media marathon about the hunt for the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect.

And like a marathon, the day-long coverage was often riveting TV and radio, in between long stretches of repetition and going nowhere.

Like many WNYers, I followed it wherever I was --- at home, on the way to and from the gym and on the way to and from a store.

For the most part, the network coverage of the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was restrained and reporters were careful to avoid any mistakes in a quest to be first. Here are some more things I noted about the coverage while dial-switching:

After the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, NBC anchor Brian Williams astutely gave a shout out to “sweeping technology,” noting that “it is really hard to get away with something bad in this country.”

Brian Williams: Praises Technology

The Lord and Taylor security camera video certainly had alot to do with initially identifying the suspects near the Boston Marathon finish. I’d hate to think what would have happened if the department store didn’t have that video or there wasn’t some other independent video putting the
suspects at the scene of the crime.

The Boston residents interviewed by the networks after the capture were impressive speakers who beautifully put their feelings in context. One Watertown, Mass. woman told NBC’s Lester Holt “I feel like I have been watching a bad movie that I haven’t been able to turn off.” She wasn't alone in that sentiment.

Another woman celebrating the capture with scores of people said: “I don’t want to leave because there’s such a feeling of unity.”

I was at a Cheektowaga gym riding a bike when watching the Tsarnaevs’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni of Montgomery Village, Md., hold a press conference carried on CNN condemning his nephews as “losers” who shamed all Chechens. The sound wasn’t on, but you could feel Tsarni’s rage through the closed captioning. When I later saw his remarks repeated on one of the networks, the rage didn’t appear any stronger.

On my way to the gym, there was a lot of speculation on public radio’s 88.7 FM about the psychology of what caused the brothers to do what the are accused of doing based on what other terrorists had done. You wish the media would steer away from such speculation and wait to see if their uncle’s “loser” explanation is as accurate as any explanation.

A caller to a program on the public radio station astutely noted that the FBI put out photos of the suspects Thursday without mentioning their apparent ethnicity, a move the caller suggested was meant to prevent people from vilifying all immigrants. It is a danger that should be avoided.

As I speculated would happen earlier this week, the suspects got more than their share of media attention Thursday and Friday after they finally were discovered. But for the most part, the media did remind viewers of the victims of Monday’s blasts. It was a little unfortunate than some of the Massachusetts authorities who spoke after the capture didn’t remember the names of the dead.  

Poor Matt Lauer. On Friday morning, the “Today” co-host was in Texas to cover the fertilizer explosions. He was made to look awfully foolish when the program went to him before co-host Savannah Guthrie addressed Friday morning’s bigger story -- the shootout that led to the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Guthrie did a solid job and earned her stripes, showing viewers why she was brought in to replace Ann Curry in a move that unfortunately for NBC appears to have hurt “Today” ratings. But Guthrie could have used a little help. Lauer was back hosting 'Today" this morning on his usual day off.

It was surprising to hear a high school classmate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev say on NBC that she and other classmates thought the FBI photos looked like him, but they didn’t think to call the authorities because he was such a good guy and she couldn’t believe he would be involved. But hours later, a teacher at his high school said just about the same thing. How many times do we need to be told that appearances can be deceiving?

Trivia time: A public radio host from Boston noted that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev attended the same public high school as actors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and retired NBA star Patrick Ewing that championed diversity and was very accepting of immigrants.    

Channel 2’s Mary Friona broke into “Today” to advise viewers that authorities said they stopped a car with two Russian nationals on the way to Niagara Falls with Massachusetts license plates and suspicious backpacks. To her credit, Friona was calm and essentially said Channel 2 didn’t know if it
was anything or a false alarm. In an ideal media world, the media would have waited to find out that the people in the car were just tourists and they weren’t from Russia after all. But that ship has sailed so you can’t blame any media outlet to go with what authorities tell them. I do wish Channel 2 and other outlets would tell us who those authorities were.

If I were working for Channel 2, I probably would have aired an interview with a very close friend of mine who lives in Cambridge, Mass. after I spoke with him Friday afternoon to see how he and his family were doing. They were fine, which meant it wouldn’t have been much of a story. Channel 2 sportscaster Jonah Javad joined Scott Levin Friday in doing a story this week about relatives near the story who really didn’t provide anything newsworthy.

I didn’t see it, but I heard from a former Channel 7 colleague of Dan Hausle that the former Eyewitness News reporter -– who now works for a Boston station --  announced the capture on NBC.

I’m sure an auto mechanic who knew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spoke for many Americans when he told a CBS reporter that he hoped he would be captured alive because dying is easy and he should have to suffer.

I arrived home from shopping in time to hear CBS’ Scott Pelley tell a WBEN radio audience that a big cheer was let out that made it appear that Tsarnaev had been captured. A few minutes later I parked in front of my TV set to hear the news had been confirmed and “the bad movie” that a Watertown resident had spoken about had an audience-pleasing, peaceful ending.







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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

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