CBS Criticized For Handling Of Belcher Murder-Suicide On Pregame Show
CBS yesterday “made an awkward TV situation way more awkward than it had to be,” as the network's "The NFL Today" pregame show did not mention the murder-suicide involving Chiefs LB Jovan Belcher “during its first few minutes,” according to Michael Hiestand of USA TODAY. CBS aired a “canned segment hyping a sponsor" before getting to the story five minutes into the show. The net also "kept tone-deaf elements in the show, such as a segment with a cameo from a Victoria’s Secret model meant to hype CBS prime-time programming.” CBS Exec Producer & VP/Production Harold Bryant said of yesterday's show, “It was about trying to find the right balance. We covered it very well.” He said that the balance was “about giving the show’s analyst more time to talk about the Belcher news -- they got two segments -- but also still covering what was going on Sunday.” But Hiestand writes even if this was the “last kind of news NFL studio shows want to cover, it should lead,” and it did “everywhere but on CBS.” NFL Network’s opener was “on Belcher, and it was repeated at the top of each hour of its six-hour pregame show.” ESPN VP/PR Josh Krulewitz said that the network “tweaked its studio show, including dropping a taped segment in which comedian Frank Caliendo impersonated Bob Ley,” to make room for the Belcher story on "Sunday NFL Countdown." ESPN “showed sensitivity in airing a graphic with photos of both” Belcher and his murdered girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins. The "Fox NFL Sunday" pregame show “managed to stay credible in reporting on Belcher.” Fox Coordinating Producer Bill Richards said that a “taped element with actor Kurt Russell was dropped, as was a Michael Strahan segment on pass-rushing” (USA TODAY, 12/3).
LOOKING AT THE COVERAGE: SI.com’s Richard Deitsch writes CBS “disgraced itself” yesterday, as producers “could have tuned in to ESPN or the NFL Network earlier in the day and watched how other outlets exhibited the proper sobriety following a double shooting involving an NFL player.” Had CBS “headed straight into thoughtful analysis and reporting of the story after its opener, it would have saved itself from these kind of critiques.” Instead, the net “compounded the shill job by opting not to talk about the murder-suicide for the next five minutes.” Unlike ESPN, CBS “did not have a graphic to commemorate the life” of Perkins, nor did its viewers “learn that Perkins was the cousin of the wife" of Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Chris Berman began the pregame show on the “appropriate somber note, with the producers showing a live shot inside Arrowhead Stadium.” Berman then “sent the audience to reporter Ed Werder, a longtime journalist who had traveled to Kansas City.” Though Berman at one point “misidentified the age of the victim, the show paid her tribute with co-host Tom Jackson reminding viewers not to forget the 22-year-old Perkins.” Fox opened its broadcast “with a live shot inside of Arrowhead Stadium and host Curt Menefee understanding the magnitude of the story.” Menefee told the audience that Fox “would be bypassing its normal routine to focus on the story out of Kansas City.” He closed the segment by saying, "When we come back, we'll talk football." Deitsch: “Well done, Fox” (SI.com, 12/3). Media writer Ed Sherman writes, "There was only one top story going into Sunday’s games, and it wasn’t the playoff races with five weeks left in the season. I’m pretty sure CBS realizes it made the wrong call" (SHERMANREPORT.com, 12/3).
FIVE MINUTES TOO LATE: In Tampa, Tom Jones writes CBS made the “worst pregame decision.” Jones: “What in the world was CBS thinking by waiting five minutes ... before bringing up the murder-suicide involving Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher? … It was about as bad of an opening five minutes I can remember on an NFL pregame show” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 12/3). AWFUL ANNOUNCING’s Matt Yoder wrote the decision to not lead with the Belcher murder-suicide “drew immediate outrage from viewers and followers on social media as tone-deaf and inappropriate.” The fact that CBS “spent more time shamelessly cross-promoting a Victoria's Secret program than they did on the initial Belcher report only increased the criticism towards the network” (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 12/2). Grantland.com’s Bill Simmons wrote on Twitter, “Interesting decision by CBS to start their Sunday pregame show by jovially breaking down the AFC playoff picture. ... CBS should be embarrassed. Didn't bring up Belcher until 12:05. Avoided 'should they have played today?' convo completely. What a disgrace.” The Denver Post’s Adrian Dater wrote, “Nice of CBS to whitewash the whole Belcher thing too. A joke. Bought and paid for analysts. House men.” Valparaiso Univ. media professor Paul Oren: “Thank you CBS Sports for giving us the 'Fantasy Analysis' of Belcher's suicide at team headquarters. Are you serious?”
WHAT'S THE AGENDA? SI.com’s Deitsch notes as news broke Saturday morning about Belcher, NFL Network “opted to continue airing its regular-scheduled programming while using the scroll at the bottom of the screen to update coverage.” The only "hint of coverage ... was someone from a makeshift studio giving a 60-second news brief.” NFL Network execs and its talent have “always been aggressive with reporters to counter the notion that they are a house organ for the league,” so it is worth wondering why the net opted "not to go to a live studio format on Saturday morning to cover a murder-suicide involving an NFL player.” NFL Media Group VP/Communications Alex Riethmiller said, "NFL Network became aware of the breaking news in Kansas City shortly before 8 a.m. PT on Saturday. Immediately, a story went up on NFL.com, which was composed of information from NFL.com reporters Ian Rapoport and Albert Breer, as well as wire services. At 8 a.m. PT, NFL Network broke into regularly scheduled programming to report the news. NFL Network continued to give live updates from the newsroom every 30 minutes, providing the latest news and developments." Deitsch notes the net “doesn't have live programming on Saturday mornings, but given how weighty and newsworthy this story was, you send an anchor in to host coverage” (SI.com, 12/3). Meanwhile, media reporter Staci Kramer wrote on Twitter, "Impressed by @NFL radio 'Press Coverage' show on @Siriusxm efforts this am on a tough story. Careful, respectful but news oriented."
THE RIGHT PLATFORM? NBC's Bob Costas last night during halftime of the Eagles-Cowboys game used his weekly essay to address the Belcher tragedy and gun control in the U.S. He said, "You want some actual perspective on this? Well, a bit of it comes from the Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock, with whom I do not always agree, but today said it so well that we may as well just quote or paraphrase from the end of his article. ‘Our current gun culture’, Whitlock wrote, ‘ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenience store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead. Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it.’ In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows? ‘But here’, wrote Jason Whitlock, ‘is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today’” (“FNIA,” NBC, 12/2). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Yoder in a separate piece writes, “Regardless of the topic, the larger point is that Costas' editorializing needs to be saved for a more fitting platform like ‘Costas Tonight’ or ‘Rock Center.’” The halftime essays have been “out of place on ‘SNF’ since their inception, this week notwithstanding.” CBS yesterday morning “didn't strike the right balance when they pushed this story to 12:05 on their pregame show,” and NBC “didn't strike the right balance handing Bob Costas the platform to lecture those who can never attain proper ‘perspective’" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 12/3).
MEDIA MONITOR: All three network morning shows today covered the Belcher story within the opening 10 minutes. CBS’ Manuel Bojoquez and ABC’s John Schriffen each reported live from Arrowhead Stadium, while CBS’ James Brown appeared live via satellite (THE DAILY). Brown said there was discussion of cancelling or postponing the game on Sunday “but the league left that up” to the Chiefs, with coach Romeo Crennel “had his six team captains get together, take a poll of all of the players and unanimously they agreed to go forth” and play the game. Brown: “That was their way of coping with the situation. I really commend the organization also for having a moment of silence for domestic violence victims” (“CBS This Morning,” CBS, 12/3). Last night’s editions of NBC’s “Nightly News” and ABC’s “World News" both led with Belcher; CBS’ “Evening News” did not air because of the net’s NFL coverage (THE DAILY).