TV maintains round-the-clock vigil as nation tries to make sense of tragedy
Thursday, September 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
NEW YORK (AP) _ The sorrow sinking in, television networks subtly downshifted from frenzied coverage of the explosions at the World Trade Center and Pentagon to compelling accounts of the human misery they brought.
ABC, CBS, NBC and the cable news networks stayed on the story full-time into Thursday, eschewing commercials. Broadcast veterans said they couldn't recall such uninterrupted coverage of a story since the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.
Wednesday night's sad pictures included a candlelight vigil in Washington, D.C.
Fox News Channel interviewed a woman who came into New York City as an intermediary for wives searching for their husbands' names on a ``safe list.'' NBC showed relatives, clutching pictures of missing loved ones, massed outside of a hospital _ a heartbreaking scene Americans are used to seeing in foreign countries, not in New York.
Anchor Tom Brokaw noted the ``psychological toll on all Americans as they see the same scenes again and again.''
Television ratings began to show how many millions of Americans turned to TV as the ``national campfire,'' in the words of ABC anchor Peter Jennings.
An estimated 60.5 million people watched the attack coverage in prime-time Tuesday night on NBC (22.4 million), ABC (17.6 million), CBS (14.4 million) and Fox (6.1 million), according to Nielsen Media Research. Viewership on those four networks was up 47 percent over Sept. 11, 2000.
The three cable news networks also drew big audiences in prime-time: 7.7 million for CNN, 4.4 million for Fox News Channel and 2.4 million for MSNBC, Nielsen said.
It still may be difficult to determine how many people were watching overall because cable networks that don't normally carry news _ ESPN, TNT, VH1 and others _ beamed coverage of the attack from other networks and their ratings were not immediately available.
By going commercial-free, the networks were likely losing millions of dollars in revenue. They may not have had much choice: Most advertisers aren't eager to have their products plugged during such a horrific event.
Newspapers across the country also devoted most of Wednesday's editions to coverage of the attack, with headlines like ``Day of Evil'' in California's Orange County Register and ``Day of Death'' in the Indianapolis Star.
Time and Newsweek both rushed out special editions.
New York's WCBS-TV announced that two employees, transmission engineers Isaias Rivera and Bob Pattison, were missing. Both men had been at the station's transmission facility on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center.
CNN used videophone technology _ jittery pictures normally reserved for reports from faraway locales _ from downtown Manhattan because the loss of transmitters on the World Trade Center made live reports there difficult.
``You feel a mix of sadness, anger and outrage while professionally you're trying to tell the story and do it justice,'' said Eric Shawn, a Fox News Channel correspondent reporting from near the collapsed towers.
NBC's Anne Thompson noted the grimness of the rescue effort.
``You watch the firefighters come out and see the look of hopelessness on their faces,'' she said.
New York City's local Fox affiliate set up a Web site for relatives of missing people to post pictures of their loved ones. The station took calls from family members pleading for help, including one woman, Latania Graham, who was searching for her boyfriend's brother, a Port Authority police officer.
``If anyone has seen him, if he helped anyone, he has a birthmark on his right arm,'' she said.
Hundreds of times Tuesday, networks aired footage of the jetliner piercing the south tower of the World Trade Center as the north tower burned from a previous attack. In the overnight hours, a film clip of the first strike also emerged.
The footage came from a camera operator who was making a training film for firefighters in the street near the World Trade Center. When he heard a low-flying plane, the cameraman aimed his lens up at the tower just in time to catch the impact, said J.P. Pappis, editor of the Gamma Press agency, which bought the footage for an undisclosed price.
Gamma sold rights to use the footage to CNN and Associated Press Television News, he said.
The Radio and Television News Directors Association, expected to bring 4,000 broadcast executives to Nashville for its annual convention this weekend, canceled the gathering.