SBD/November 11, 2011/Media

CNN Praised For "Superior Job" To ESPN In Covering Penn State Scandal

CNN had cameras covering student riots live as they began to breakout at Penn State
There is “no doubt that CNN did a superior job to ESPN” in covering the firing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier Wednesday night “amid the maelstrom of child sex abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky,” according to Chad Finn of the BOSTON GLOBE. CNN’s cameras “were there for the beginning of the escalating tension between students and police dressed in riot gear.” ESPN “stunningly … did not have a live camera in place and did not have footage of the tense scene” until 11:15pm ET. Instead, it relied upon "SportsCenter" anchors Steve Levy and Stuart Scott “to conduct phone interviews” with ESPN college football experts and personalities. Any viewer “flipping between ESPN and CNN knew ESPN’s voices had nothing on CNN’s video.” ESPN Exec VP/Production Norby Williamson said, “I will tell you that while I applaud the voices and the totality of the coverage in everything that we did, you always learn something from this, and I think when we look back and we look at a point of comparison, I think we were late and were a little remiss on our live coverage of the scene on the ground at State College." He added, “CNN had their camera in the right spot at the right time as the student insurrection, the gathering started.” Finn writes ESPN “seemed to be chasing the news the rest of the night, at one point even using recorded, static footage provided by Comcast SportsNet while CNN was live.” Williamson: “I think we could have done a better job of anticipating where we needed to be’’ (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/11). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes ESPN covered the student unrest after the firing of Paterno “as if it hadn’t mastered this TV thing.” ESPN on Wednesday “failed for more than two hours to capture the visuals of the frantic night.” Sandomir writes “all but the news conference video looked to be taped.” Sandomir: “No matter how smart ESPN’s analysts and reporters were by telephone, its package severely lacked the necessary visuals” (N.Y. TIMES, 11/11). BROADCASTING & CABLE's Ben Grossman wrote ESPN "deserves kudos" for staying with the story all night, but CNN "kicked ESPN's ass for a good stretch with footage" from PSU's campus (, 11/10).

MUST-SEE TV: USA TODAY’s Michael McCarthy writes ESPN’s coverage of the Nebraska-Penn State game on Saturday “will probably draw a BCS bowl-sized audience,” as the telecast could become “a combination soap opera, news media circus and morality play.” ESPN analyst Urban Meyer, “speculated to be a potential successor to Paterno, will call the game along with Dave Pasch, Chris Spielman and Tom Rinaldi” (USA TODAY, 11/11). In N.Y., Bob Raismann notes Pasch “took the extra step of reaching out, calling other broadcasters for advice and counsel,” such as NBC’s Bob Costas and ESPN’s Mike Tirico, Sean McDonough and Brad Nessler. Pasch said, “I’m trying to be real sensitive to the viewer and the listener (while) just not knowing who’s listening. It could be anyone, perhaps a family member, or the alleged victim himself. I just want to be mindful of that. I want to choose my words carefully.” The presence of Meyer in the booth is “complicating matters, perhaps making the telecast even more intriguing.” With Meyer “prominently mentioned as a possible successor to Paterno,” Pasch "will likely pop that question" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/11). The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers said, “Penn State ratings just got a big bump though. I mean, this is the world we live in, they’ve got all this attention. People like me, I wasn’t following Penn State. Now I’m going to pay attention” (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 11/10).

WRONG FOCUS? Comcast SportsNet’s Al Koken said, “If you only get your news from ESPN or Comcast SportsNet or whomever, if you happen to just glance over to CNN, who’s covering it as well, no one ever mentions the educational angle of it. You’d think Joe Pa was the president of the university … and that also becomes the ultimate part of this problem, that he’s the only part of this story, where the university president is irrelevant. And what does that tell you about the sway and the control of this football program?” (“Washington Post Live,” Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 11/10).
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