Crisis brings out surprises in media

TV/RADIO COLUMN

Reaction: Since last week's attacks, TV, radio and newspapers have made some intriguing decisions.

Terrorism Strikes America

September 19, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Crisis, the pundits tell us, can bring people together. Even very, very unlikely people.

During the terrorist attacks last Tuesday morning, flatulence-obsessed Howard Stern sent out staffers to function as reporters to describe the calamity.

On Monday, Rush Limbaugh, he with "talent on loan from God," actively rejected the Rev. Jerry Falwell's tirade blaming feminists, civil liberties lawyers and gays for last week's terrorist attacks.

FOR THE RECORD - A television column in Wednesday's Sun incorrectly characterized the response of National Public Radio to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. NPR requested that its affiliated stations stop airing scheduled underwriting spots acknowledging program sponsors until Sept. 17. The Sun regrets the error.

In the first days after the event, Baltimore's Clear Channel stations - WPOC, WCAO, and WOCT - broadcast news for hours on end. According to general manager Jim Dolan, the three have avoided playing songs that might unsettle listeners, such as Dave Matthews' "Crash," Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," or AC/DC's "Safe in New York City." Talk of a corporate ban on specific songs, however, appears to be an Internet myth.

Television networks have run day after day of news specials, dumping ads and delaying new shows for the better part of a week. That's led Nielsen Media Research (the ratings company) to postpone the start of the official season because it's had no new shows to rate. In contrast, National Public Radio never stopped broadcasting its "corporate underwriting" spots - but please, remember not to call them commercials.

In Delaware, a morning show host for WZBH angered listeners when he grumbled on the air about having to interrupt a song in favor of news bulletins. (That information can be found at DCRTV, an industry Web site found at www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Lobby/4619/.) His employers weren't happy, either, and the host resigned under duress.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the corporate sensitivity spectrum, CBS and producers of Big Brother 2 decided to tell the contestants in that so-called "reality" program about the terrorist strikes. But, in keeping with the isolation demanded by the show's rules, the participants were not shown any news footage. All three finalists - ostensibly adults - decided to continue their quest for the $500,000 first-place prize to be awarded tomorrow.

Monica Bailey of Brooklyn, N.Y., who has a cousin thought to have been killed in the crashes, is among the finalists. "Monica felt she was going to see this through until the end," said Diane Ekeblad, a CBS spokeswoman. "She felt that was what her family would want her to do."

Such are some of the on-the-air after-effects of the terrorist acts that struck in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. But they're not the only manifestations of the sentiments people feel.

Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press, wore a ribbon as he interviewed Vice President Dick Cheney, while NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell did not. NBC officials say that discrepancy reflects individual choices. "Russert is a journalist, but he's also a citizen who's in mourning," said Barbara Levin, communications director for NBC News.

Late yesterday, the Associated Press reported that ABC News would not show the video of airplanes slamming into the World Trade Center without the network news chief's permission. ABC says viewers are concerned that the repetition is disturbing.

This newspaper has also sought ways corporately to express the sense of grief and national purpose stirred by the attacks. The Sun has printed a full-page reproduction of flags and is co-sponsoring a musical rally for tonight at the state fairgrounds in Timonium that will feature public officials. Some journalists at The Sun and other media outlets have privately expressed discomfort with the level of civic involvement of their employers.

A top newspaper officer said the rally was appropriate because it was patriotic, not political. "People have that need to get together and express their emotions publicly," said Marti Buscaglia, The Sun's vice president of marketing and communications.

It's not the only place such tensions are playing out. As noted in an article in yesterday's Sun, the Sinclair Broadcast Group directed its more than 60 stations, including WBFF-TV and WNUV-TV in Baltimore, to broadcast spots declaring support for the efforts of President Bush and other government leaders. The spots direct viewers to log on at www.sup portournation.com or to call a 900 number to register their views. (Officials said the 50-cent fee for each call simply covered its costs.)

At WBFF, anchors were drafted to tape the messages in support of the White House, stirring internal fears they were compromising their professional objectivity.

Sinclair's vice president for corporate communications, Mark Hyman, said he was surprised the anchors' involvement would be controversial: "I can't imagine on Dec. 7, 1941" - the day of the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor - "that too many people would say, `I didn't vote for that FDR guy, and I can't support what he's doing'."

After five straight days of watching pillar-to-post coverage of the national trauma, I also turned to a trusted friend for solace: old episodes of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle on the Cartoon Network.

Pann moves to WUSA

Former WBAL-TV weather forecaster Tony Pann has joined WUSA-TV in Washington after a stint at WCBS in New York City. Pann said he was eager to return to the area so he did not have to commute to see his family; his wife, MaryEllen Pann, is a weather forecaster for WBFF.

The move teams Pann up with his old news director from Baltimore, Dave Roberts, now at WUSA. Former WBAL staffers Lesli Foster and Virg Jacques have also found a home with Roberts.

WERQ's Corey leaves

Longtime Baltimore radio fixture Wendy Corey left town last week after 16 years on the air. A veteran of several stations, the news announcer had most recently appeared on Radio One's WERQ (92.9 FM) and WOLB (1010 AM).

In an e-mail, Corey said she moved to Connecticut with her husband, who took a job in New York.

Questions? Comments? Story ideas? David Folkenflik can be reached by e-mail at david.folkenflik@baltsun.com or by phone at 410-332-6923.

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