CONTAINING LINKS TO 51991 STORIES FROM THE NETWORKS' NIGHTLY NEWSCASTS
     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM APRIL 16, 2007
The rampage through the campus of Virginia Tech by a lone gunman attracted record levels of coverage from the nightly newscasts. He killed 32 others, mostly as they attended class, before he ended it by shooting himself in the face. It was the deadliest single shooting spree in the nation's history. Fully 89% of the three-network newshole, 62 minutes in all, was devoted to this single story. It is only the third time since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, that the three newscasts have combined for more than an hour of coverage on their Story of the Day.    
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video thumbnailNBCVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadGunman attacks in dorm, classrooms, kills selfKevin CorkeVirginia
video thumbnailABC
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Virginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadGunman attacks in dorm, classrooms, kills selfDavid KerleyVirginia
video thumbnailABCVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadLag time in security response between murdersPierre ThomasWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadStudents, campus workers wait and worryThalia AssurasVirginia
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Virginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadStudents used hi-tech, online to keep informedBill BlakemoreNew York
video thumbnailCBSVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadStudents used hi-tech, online to keep informedDaniel SiebergNew York
video thumbnailNBCVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadPolice to probe killer's motives, methodsPete WilliamsWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadColleges, schools have been killing fields beforeLisa MyersWashington DC
video thumbnailABCVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadKillings may have impact on firearms lawsJake TapperWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSStorms, heavy rains along eastern seaboardNor'easter leaves floods in WV, suburban NYCNancy CordesNew York
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
VIRGINIA TECH MASSACRE BREAKS RECORDS The rampage through the campus of Virginia Tech by a lone gunman attracted record levels of coverage from the nightly newscasts. He killed 32 others, mostly as they attended class, before he ended it by shooting himself in the face. It was the deadliest single shooting spree in the nation's history. Fully 89% of the three-network newshole, 62 minutes in all, was devoted to this single story. It is only the third time since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, that the three newscasts have combined for more than an hour of coverage on their Story of the Day.

The carnage started shortly after dawn, according to NBC's Kevin Corke, at a freshman dormitory, where a female student and a resident assistant were shot to death. Then two hours later "on the opposite end of campus" a second shooting began in an engineering building of classrooms. It ended when the gunman killed himself before police could stop him. By noon "the horror of the second shooting spree begins to sink in as the death toll keeps rising." ABC's David Kerley (subscription required) commented on the "stunning sadness on campus." The highway leading down to the campus from northern Virginia is "packed with parents" coming to check that their child is safe.

The Virginia Tech campus shooting happened three days short of the eighth anniversary of the killings on the campus of Columbine High School in Littleton Colo. Back in 1999, that shooting left 15 dead and attracted a peak of 49 minutes of network coverage on a single night. By the way, the other two stories to receive at least a daily hour of coverage as a three-network total since 9/11 were the peak day of Hurricane Katrina and the electricity blackout that engulfed most of the northeast of the United States in August 2003.

CBS Evening News actually spent even more time than its 18 minutes on the story, lengthening its half-hour newscast to an hour--but for consistency's sake Tyndall Report monitored just the first half hour. NBC cut back on advertising by four minutes to provide more complete coverage. ABC, too limited its advertising content, but not because of the massacre: it had already committed itself to reduced commercials each Monday in the month of April.


EYEWITNESS NEWS NBC and CBS both sent their anchors to the college town of Blacksburg Va at the foot of the Blue Ridge. CBS' Katie Couric (no link) interviewed an eyewitness to the gunman, Derek O'Dell, who survived with a bullet in his arm: "He did not say anything, which I found very unusual. He just started shooting people…I had not realized that I had been shot until I got up and saw the blood on my arm." NBC's Brian Williams interviewed sophomore O'Dell and his classmate Trey Perkins: "A man ran in. He just shot our professor." "I saw him actually reload a clip while he was in our room. He had unloaded probably eight or ten shots into people in our class," O'Dell added. "He looked to be trained in how fast he reloaded the gun." ABC, whose anchor Charles Gibson remained in New York, intercut the account of Perkins with two other students, Josh Wargo and Alec Calhoun, into a three-person 1st Person compilation. "Everybody started jumping out of a window. It was about three stories," Wargo recounted. "There must have been 15 or 20 of us lined up to jump out," Calhoun continued. When one jumper broke his leg and another hurt her back, Calhoun "jumped into a bush…The two people behind me ended up getting shot."

A choked-up Gibson (subscription required) saw the incident through a father's eyes, rehashing the anxiety that parents must be feeling. He concluded with a photo essay of stills from the campus, calling it a sanctuary: "We parents send our sons and daughters there to be safe. But by definition, so are campuses open--open to new thoughts, open to the students, open to outsiders."


THE OTHER SHOE DROPPED Besides the sheer shock of the event, a major angle concerned the performance of campus security. Had they erred in relaxing for two hours after the initial killings, in the false belief that there was no follow-up yet to come? Should they have issued an alert? "Students want to know why all classes were not canceled immediately and the campus locked down," ABC's Pierre Thomas, a Virginia Tech alumnus, reported. When Wendell Flinchum, the university's police chief, explained that witnesses told his investigators that the gunman had fled campus, Thomas said simply: "They were wrong."

University president Charles Steger was interviewed by both CBS' Couric (no link) and NBC's Williams. On CBS, Steger explained that the dormitory was indeed locked down after the first shooting--but not the rest of the campus. He warned students by e-mail of the dormitory incident and "to be cautious" at around the same time the second incident started. With 9,000 resident students, 14,000 commuting students and 10,000 campus employees, "this is like shutting down a city," Steger told NBC. "You cannot do it instantaneously."

As for the preparedness of local emergency medical services, EMT volunteer Sarah Walker (no link) reassured NBC's Williams on that front: "Just a year ago we did practice for a massive casualty injury here in Blacksburg."


HIGH TECH AT VIRGINIA TECH CBS' Thalia Assuras encountered a group of freshmen friends "struggling against their worst fears." Assuras concluded: "The waiting seems to be worst of all--waiting to hear if friends will be found safe, waiting to hear the names of the victims." But both Assuras' colleague Daniel Sieberg and ABC's Bill Blakemore (subscription required) saw the other side of the coin: how the contemporary tech-savvy twentysomething is able to create ad hoc communications networks to disseminate "instant Internet reporting, of, by, and for the community closest to this tragedy," as Blakemore put it. He called cyberspace "the instinctive emergency gathering place" and quoted from the students' facebook.com postings--even this one: "If this is where all the news broadcasters are contacting me from, stop doing it!" Sieberg described e-mails and instant messages "as a lifeline to the outside world"--via a webcam interview through a student's laptop. The university's official Website was "overwhelmed" and "not always accessible." However, the student-run campus news site Planet Blacksburg was posting continual updates by noon, receiving up to 100,000 online visitors.

All three networks aired the Exclusive cell phone recording, courtesy of CNN, by graduate assistant Jamal al-Barghouti that captured the actual sounds of the gunfire. ABC's Kerley (subscription required) counted audio traces of 27 shots on the "scratchy" video.


PREMATURE It was too early for the networks to report on the shooter, his motives and methods. He had not even been identified yet. But that did not stop the networks from trying. CBS had Bob Orr debrief anchor Couric. "What are they telling you about the suspect?" "Not very much…I can tell you this. The crime scene is just awful." ABC went to its in-house criminologist Brad Garrett (no link), a former special agent for the FBI: "The key is probably going to be the initial homicide." NBC's Pete Williams filed a taped package on the basis of tips from his FBI sources. The gunman's motive may or may not have been an argument with his girlfriend. He may have chained the doors of the building shut to prevent his would-be victims from escaping.


CAMPUS NEIGHBORS NBC assigned Lisa Myers to look into the larger question of campus security. She listed various schools and colleges where shooting sprees had taken place--University of Texas clocktower in 1966, Columbine High School in 1999, Appalachian Law School in 2002, University of Arizona Nursing College in 2002--and tried to find a common thread in the shooters. "Experts say they did have one thing in common: an inability to deal with their rage." NBC's in-house criminologist Clint van Sandt told Myers that even the best security cannot deter a suicidal killer: "If they have made up their mind and are prepared to both kill and die, there is little we can do--except perhaps kill them before they are able to act out." And ABC's in-house security consultant Jerry Hauer generalized for Pierre Thomas: "Most university police departments are not prepared to deal with hostage situations, mass casualty incidents, mass shootings."

ABC had Jake Tapper look at the possible impact of the shooting on firearms control laws. He quoted President George Bush's favorite gun control law, the one he cited in a Campaign 2000 debate: "There is a larger law. Love your neighbor like you would like to be loved yourself." Tapper observed that the legislative reaction could go either way. After the Luby's cafeteria shooting in Killeen in 1991, Texas reacted by making it easier for gunowners to carry concealed weapons in order to protect themselves. After Columbine in 1999, then-President Bill Clinton lobbied to have loopholes closed to make it more difficult to buy weapons at gunshows. NBC's Williams observed that an expired automatic weapons law would have limited this gunman's ammunition clip to ten rounds; the new law permitted the 19 bullets he used.


WELLINGTON BOOTS The only other story to warrant a reporter apart from Virginia Tech was the wet weekend weather in the northeast. ABC had John Berman examine the high spring tides in Winthrop Mass: "The water was pouring over the wall, carrying rocks and sand right into the street." CBS sent Nancy Cordes to stand in a puddle in the sodden suburbs of New York City, where some residents were rescued in the scoop of a construction frontloader. "Forget April showers. This was a deluge--a true nor'easter."


MENTIONED IN PASSING The network newscasts do not assign correspondents to all of the news of the day. If Tyndall Report readers come across videostreamed reports online of stories that were mentioned only in passing, post the link in comments for us to check out.

Today's pair of examples: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain why those eight US Attorneys were fired was postponed…the hold on power by the coalition government in Baghdad grew yet more precarious as the bloc loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr withdraw from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet.