COMMENTS: Minor NH Flare-up Attracts Glaring National Attention

A trivial local crime story in a small New Hampshire town which hurt nobody led all three networks. A suspect identified as Leeland Eisenburg was arrested for holding four adults and a baby hostage in a downtown storefront office in Rochester NH, population 31,000. A police SWAT unit was called after the man claimed he had armed himself as a suicide bomber. The stand-off lasted five hours before being resolved peacefully. His so-called bomb was a set of flares bought from a hardware store. So why was this defused confrontation elevated to Story of the Day status? The office was staffed with New Hampshire primary campaign workers and their kidnapper's demand was to talk to their boss, Democratic frontrunner and Senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It was not just the broadcast networks that had their news judgment distorted by Rodham Clinton's involvement in the story. "This is something that the whole country was watching unfold early this afternoon," exaggerated Paul Burton of Boston's WBZ-TV, filing for CBS. "It has been the subject of non-stop cable news coverage all afternoon and evening," declared NBC anchor Brian Williams before he introduced Andrea Mitchell's live stand-up from Washington DC.

The candidate herself was not even in New Hampshire. "The last time she was in the town of Rochester was back in early August," ABC's Kate Snow recalled. Rodham Clinton was in Washington DC where she was scheduled to make a speech to the Democratic National Committee. It was canceled. "Police wrestle with whether to meet the demands of a hostage taker to talk to a third party," ABC's Pierre Thomas (no link) generalized, citing previous stand-offs involving Jimmy Carter in 1977 and Ronald Reagan in 1993. "The former First Lady is not a trained hostage negotiator."

On the three newscasts, only NBC's Mitchell tried to draw a larger lesson from this inconsequential event. She wondered: "Will this incident, even harmless as it was, affect the retail door-to-door open quality of New Hampshire politics?"


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