COMMENTS: Xmas Shopping Bloodbath

The red and green of the seasonal decorations at the Von Maur department store in Omaha turned pure gore red in mid afternoon. The Story of the Day--and the lead item on all three newscasts--featured a suicidal young man who sprayed bullets at Christmas shoppers from a third floor balcony before turning the gun on himself. At the end of the carnage nine people were dead.

In the trade-off between covering such a local story with its own correspondents or with on-the-scene reporters, ABC prompted for the former, CBS the latter and NBC a mix. Both ABC and NBC kicked off with their own Chicago-based staffers. ABC's Chris Bury narrated a "chilling scene" with "holiday shoppers streaming out, hands up." NBC's Janet Shamlian relayed word that the killer was a 19-year-old man who "left a suicide note saying he was going out in style." Only ABC tried to put the shooting in a broader context. Pierre Thomas in Washington ran down a series of recent similar shopping shootings in Georgia, Texas and Kansas City: "Police have long worried that malls are the perfect target for the deranged or the terrorist."

For CBS, using Michelle Bandur of its KMTV affiliate represents something of a trend. Last Friday, CBS used WBZ-TV's Paul Burton for the hostage siege in New Hampshire; in October KFMB-TV's Phil Blauer reported for the network on the wildfires in San Diego. Bandur recounted the sense of crisis at the three-level Westroads Mall--"so many shots so fast that by the time police arrived, only six minutes after the call, it was too late." NBC anchor Brian Williams turned to Brian Mastre of affiliate WOWT only for color commentary (at the tail of the Shamlian videostream). Mastre told us that Westroads is an "upscale mall in the center of the city." Among the gunman's targets, he added, was a teddy bear.


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