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Ch.7 makes right call on tornado coverage at 11

By Alan Pergament

The differences in news philosophies between Channel 2 and Channel 7 were on display Monday during coverage of the devastating Oklahoma tornado that grabbed the attention of the national morning shows today and the cable networks Monday night.

Channel 7, the third-rated news station, gave 11 p.m. viewers Team Coverage for more than seven minutes, more than twice as long as Channel 2 gave the story.

Of course, Channel 7 has the smallest staff in town, and team coverage fills time. But this national event, certainly deserved the extra coverage at 11 p.m.

The coverage included a lengthy report by ABC News and a telephone interview with a Western New Yorker who was visiting her native Oklahoma and saw the twister from an airport runway.

There also was an explanation from meteorologist Aaron Mentkowski about what qualifies a tornado to be labeled an EF-4 and a report from Allen Leight about the history of tornadoes in WNY that included some file footage of Channel 7 legend Irv Weinstein talking about an 1987 tornado in Cheektowaga that was called the worst in the area.

Any excuse to get Irv out there probably is a good idea for Channel 7, but the local damage shown in the 1987 report looked incredibly minor compared to what was happening in Moore, Okla. on Monday.

However, you couldn't blame Channel 7 for localizing a news story that is bound to be covered nationally for weeks even if many WNYers might not be able to spot Oklahoma on a map and may have become numb to all the recent disasters covered extensively on TV.

I had DVRed Channel 2's coverage and expected to see something similar. (I didn't see Channel 4's coverage.)  Channel 2's national report on the Oklahoma disaster had the best quote of the night, with a man covered in mud saying the scene was "something out of the movie 'Twister' with horses and stuff flying everywhere." 

Then it was off to meteorologist Kevin O'Connell, who briefly talked about the magnitude of the Oklahoma tornado and then gave a WNY weather report.

And that was it at the top of the news. The newscast ended with Channel 2's anchor team discussing the tornado for about a minute. It is normally referred to as "happy talk" but that was far from the case on this night. The coverage at the top of the newscast was all over in less than three minutes because Channel 2 had "to keep people in power accountable."

Reporter Kelly Dudzik spent four minutes -- longer than the time Channel 2 spend on the tornado -- dealing with Mickey Kearns' decision to leave the Democrat conference in a dispute with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver over his handling or mishandling of a sexual harassment case involving another assemblyman.

Dudzik mentioned that Kearns is a Democrat who ran as a Republican, which put his defection in some perspective. Then she tried to "keep people in power accountable" by asking other area members of the Assembly their position on Kearns' decision. They either gave non-answers verbally or in statements or didn't respond at all. So much for keeping people accountable.

The issue of sexual harassment is a very serious one, but on a night of the Oklahoma devastation the Kearns-Silver dispute seemed to be a minor issue that certainly didn't need four minutes of coverage.

I'd rather watch Irv Weinstein delivering the news than four minutes about statewide politics that has continued in the 26 years since the Cheektowaga tornado.

Of course, Channel 2 News has built its reputation on asking the tough questions and keeping people accountable, but it can become wearying at times and even cause for ridicule.

At 6 p.m. Monday, Channel 2 reporter Dave McKinley interviewed County Executive Mark Poloncarz about the recent discovery by County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw that the records of social service recipients weren't disposed of properly.

Poloncarz deplored the mistake, and Mychajliw gloated about his department's discovery of it.

McKinley then went to Erie County Legislator Thomas Mazur, who noted that differences between the county executive and the comptroller are nothing new and that Poloncarz operated similarly when he was the comptroller and Chris Collins was the county executive.

Then Mazur delivered the line of the night: "Stefan isn't doing anything different. Every time you turn around... Did he have his Red Coat on when he was jumping in the dumpster? Come on."

If you don't get the reference, Mychajliw was a member of Channel 2's Red Coats when the station started keeping people accountable during the Giambra administration.

It was such a good line that I had hoped to hear it again at 11 p.m. I would have even cut down the Kearns story to air it again.



Television | TV news
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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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