Cable news stops just short of heckling in covering vows

April 10, 2005|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Cable news channels took off the gloves yesterday in their coverage of the wedding of Prince Charles to Camilla Parker Bowles.

Perhaps it was the proximity of American TV news anchors and correspondents to their Fleet Street tabloid brethren. Or maybe, the cable news gang simply felt the need to get snarky after having to be on its very best behavior in covering the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome.

Whatever the reason, rather than reporting the story of the royal wedding in a journalistically straightforward manner, cable news channels CNN, Fox News and MSNBC wallowed through four hours of sarcasm and snide commentary that stopped just short of heckling.

The major broadcast networks of ABC, CBS and NBC offered limited coverage: by and large, choosing to stick with a New York orientation to their weekend morning shows and only periodically going to Windsor for the wedding. And, if the actions of Baltimore's affiliates were an indication of how other stations across the country responded, it was a wise choice.

WJZ, the CBS-owned station here, had its own local anchors doing voice-overs on brief segments from the wedding rather than using full network reports. WMAR, Baltimore's ABC affiliate, stayed with such regularly scheduled programming as Lizzie McGuire. All of which left the prince and his bride mostly in the hands of the all-news cable channels - where they were given rude treatment indeed.

No one was more consistently aggressive or came closer to mocking the proceedings than Anderson Cooper, who was co-anchoring CNN's coverage. It was as if he was trying to imitate the tart, satiric tone of Jon Stewart on Comedy Central's Daily Show rather than anchor coverage of a news event for a global audience.

As police were shown leading away a streaker shortly after the civil wedding ceremony, Cooper commented: "I'm convinced he's a member of the wedding party, and he's being taken back to the party."

In response to an on-screen commentator noting the queen's absence from the civil ceremony, Cooper offered: "Ah, but she was there in spirit. Her portrait was hanging in the room." The sarcasm was a setup for more discussion about how stern she looked in the portrait.

Then, as the CNN cameras focused on a statue of the queen (holding scepter and globe) outside the Guildhall where the civil ceremony was held, Cooper kept on: "That's a large statue of her presiding with her staff and, what is that, her big ball? I'm not sure, but it's a symbol of something."

That was the tone across the cable TV landscape.

"I feel so functional now," Fox News co-anchor E.D. Hill said in response to a report on the queen's family. "Compared to that family, everyone is so normal."

Commenting on Parker Bowles' former husband's attendance, Fox co-anchor Jon Scott rhetorically asked Hill, "Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall in that receiving line?" After a brief silence, he added, "Though I'm told there won't be a receiving line."

No one was nastier than MSNBC analyst Victoria Mather, who responded to a question about the possibility of Prince Charles kissing his bride in public after the civil ceremony: "Would you want to see two old people kissing?"

In describing the kind of lipstick and makeup Parker Bowles was wearing, Mather said, "It's sort of like making up an old wall with metallic paint."

American television went wildly overboard in 1981 when it helped turn Prince Charles' marriage to 20-year-old Diana Spencer into one of the greatest electronic fairy tales of the 20th century.

Yesterday, the cameras and commentators returned with a vengeance and seemed to be punishing the prince and his bride - perhaps, for not following the script written 24 years ago.

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