SBD/October 17, 2011/Media

Wheldon's Death Treated As Top News Story On Morning Shows; ABC Praised For Coverage

All three network morning shows today led with story about Wheldon's death
The death of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon during yesterday’s Izod IndyCar World Championships has transcended sports and is being treated as one of the day’s top news stories. All three network morning shows led today with Wheldon’s death. ABC’s “GMA” featured a live interview via satellite with ESPN’s Jamie Little and IndyCar driver Alex Lloyd from Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The beginning of the second hour featured ABC’s Ryan Owens reporting live from LVMS. NBC’s George Lewis, CBS' Bill Whitaker and CNN's Carlos Diaz also all reported live from the track this morning. CBS' "The Early Show" included a live report with SI.com's Bruce Martin from the track and former IndyCar driver Lyn St. James live via satellite. Last night's 11:00pm ET edition of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” led with Wheldon instead of highlights from Week 6 of the NFL season (THE DAILY). ESPN’s Linda Cohn began the broadcast, “Instead of starting the program with the joy of what sports brings us all, we have to begin with sadness.” ESPN’s Steve Levy said the Cardinals win over the Brewers to clinch the NL pennant and highlights from Week 6 of the NFL season “will have to wait” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 10/16). NBC’s “Nightly News” last night also led with Wheldon, airing a 1:30am report that included footage of the crash and the five-lap tribute the drivers held for Wheldon following the announcement of his death. NBC's Lester Holt said, “Tragedy has taken the life of one of car racing’s most well-known names" ("Nightly News," NBC, 10/16). At 7:00pm last night, ESPN.com, SI.com, Yahoo Sports, FoxSports.com and CBSSports.com all had Wheldon’s death as the top story on their sites instead of the NFL. IndyCar’s home page featured a picture of Wheldon and the top of the Borg-Warner Trophy (THE DAILY).

KUDOS FOR COVERAGE DECISION: AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Ben Koo writes it was "no easy decision in Bristol on how to report the news on a jam packed Sunday Night 'SportsCenter,'" but to ESPN's "credit, they opened the week's most revered edition of the highlight show jumping right into [the] Wheldon story and staying with it for a full eleven minutes." There was "solid coverage from multiple angles including a very nice tribute by Jeremy Schaap," with another six minutes of coverage midway through the show. Koo: "ESPN could have skimped on the coverage here if they chose to do so and it wouldn't have been a big deal. ... For all the crap we and others out there give The Worldwide Leader, credit to ESPN here for not marginalizing this story and covering the tragedy with vigor" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 10/17).

A TOUGH SITUATION: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes ABC's coverage following the announcement of Wheldon's death "was respectful and journalistically sound." The announcers, "appropriately, said nothing during the five-lap tribute." However, ABC "inexcusably missed the announcement" of Wheldon's death, as it joined IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard's press conference "in progress." The net had spent the "two hours after the crash trying to stay on top of the news and providing whatever information it could gather," even sending reporter Jamie Little to the hospital. ABC later "warned viewers it was going to show replays of the crash then proceeded to show six from different angles." Jones: "Too many? Too graphic? Who's to say? There is no manual or script to cover a death in a sporting event" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 10/17). BLEACHER REPORT's Tom Loughrey wrote under the header, "ABC And IndyCar Handled Sad Situation With Class." Showing the replay of the crash was a "decision that some viewers questioned." However, it "seems fair to have replayed the fatal crash for viewers who didn't see it happen" (BLEACHERREPORT.com, 10/16). In Ft. Wayne, Reggie Hayes writes he was "not entirely comfortable with cameras zeroing in on drivers so soon after they were told their friend was dead." Hayes: "I thought ABC lingered a bit too long and intrusively on [Dario] Franchitti as he sat in his car before going back out. Yet I also appreciate the coverage, as it brought the tragedy's human side to the forefront" (Ft. Wayne NEWS-SENTINEL, 10/17).

PRAISE FOR ABC FROM TWITTER: Motorsports reporter Tom Bowles wrote on his Twitter account, "I cannot emphasize enough what an incredible job ABC crew has done under these circumstances." CBSSports.com's Pete Pistone: "Marty Reid just turned in one of the greatest broadcasting performances in television history - thanks to all on the ABC team." Performance Racing Network's Jim Noble: "In the midst of this tragedy, absolutely tremendous job by Marty Reid, @rickdebruhl @JamieLittleESPN @vincewelch and entire ESPN/ABC team." WHAS-ABC's Bryan Baker: "Classy coverage of the Indycar race following the tragedy. Poignant, memorable call by #ABC announcer Marty Reid." The Biz of Baseball's Maury Brown: "Very hard watching this IndyCar footage. ABC doing the right thing by going silent." But SI.com's Stewart Mandel wrote, "This is really morbid live television from IndyCar race. They just keep replaying and analyzing the crash. Someone DIED. Stop!"

BRIEF STOP IN THE BOOTH: Wheldon had served as a guest analyst for Versus during several races this year, and Versus' Robin Miller said Wheldon was “so good” as an analyst. Miller said, “He was going to be a very big presence on television when he got done driving IndyCar” (“Wind Tunnel,” Speed, 10/16).
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