SBD/May 3, 2011/Media

ESPN Praised For Coverage Of Bin Laden News During "Sunday Night Baseball"

Shulman (r) breaks news of bin Laden's death during Mets-Phillies game
ESPN did its "journalistic duty late Sunday, slowly, carefully and with a minimum of emotional flourish informing viewers during the Mets-Phillies game that Osama bin Laden was dead," according to Neil Best of NEWSDAY. ESPN play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman "shared the news after the bottom of the eighth inning, with the score tied at 1, after a text message that analyst Bobby Valentine had shown him was confirmed" by ABC News. ESPN VP/Production Mike McQuade said, "We were reacting to the news in front of us. So we were cautious. But we weren't going to avoid the story, either." Best notes it was not until Valentine "noted the chants of 'U-S-A' that the announcers focused on the larger implications," but "even then, their approach was low-key." ESPN's handling of the news was a "just-the-facts approach, a far cry from the emotional delivery of Howard Cosell under similar circumstances in 1980," when he told "Monday Night Football" viewers about John Lennon's death (NEWSDAY, 5/3).

BREAKING THE NEWS: Shulman said after learning of bin Laden's death from Valentine's text, "I talked to the producer in the truck and asked if they knew what was going on. Or maybe they asked me. I couldn't just say something on-air because of a text, I needed corroboration. It all happened in about 30 seconds" (USATODAY.com, 5/2). Shulman added, "What happened Sunday night is not in the play-by-play handbook. I'm talking to guys in the truck, finding out what they knew, whether they wanted me to say something. I'd talk to them for three, four seconds, come back, call a pitch, come back, call a pitch. I couldn't have imagined having this situation and in my mind. I was very conscious of not wanting to say the wrong thing" (L.A. TIMES, 5/3). Valentine revealed that when McQuade and fellow ESPN Producer Tom Archer "initially went to him, he declined" to address bin Laden's death live during the broadcast because he "was not prepared emotionally to talk about it." Valentine: "When I heard it was confirmed, I got choked up. Tom Archer asked me how I was doing to get on and I didn't think I would be presentable." NEWSDAY's Best notes Valentine is "closely associated with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when he was manager of the Mets and slept at Shea Stadium for several days helping with relief efforts." Valentine said that ESPN staffers "in the production truck told him he didn't look quite ready to go on camera," even after the 14th inning (NEWSDAY, 5/3).

TRYING TO FIND THE RIGHT BALANCE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay notes Mets radio announcer Howie Rose "felt comfortable enough to go on the air with the news during the top of the ninth inning." Rose, working with partner Wayne Hagin, "didn't want to say anything on-air until they knew for sure." After announcing a strike call on air, Rose said, "This is becoming an almost surreal evening." Gay notes the "juxtaposition was bizarre." Rose recalls, "We had two wildly unrelated scenarios" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/3).
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