Late apology forces some networks to change their stories
It was 6:13 p.m. when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer went on Wolf Blitzer’s show on CNN to apologize for his gaffe comparing Hitler to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Spicer had said Hitler did not stoop to the Assad’s level by using chemical weapons on his own people.
Each network had a decision to make. It was 17 minutes before airtime. Were they to include Spicer’s apology, or did they keep their original coverage?
Linda Mason, former Vice President of standards for CBS, doesn’t think it was a difficult decision.
This apology was an integral part of the story, and even if happened while they were on air it should be reported,” Mason said. “[CBS Correspondent Nancy] Cordes had a live close incorporating these facts which she did at 6:30pm, and NBC and ABC used Spicer himself.”
CBS kept its story in tact, electing to not insert Spicer’s apology. Instead Nancy Cordes, in her closing remarks, said “this evening Spicer fell on his sword and apologized…a swift mea culpa.” Mason says this was an effective tactic since the video had broken so late.
Reporting what Spicer said and having Spicer say it himself are two ways to convey the same information,” Mason said.
By 7:00 p.m., NBC’s Peter Alexander got a one on one interview with Sean Spicer on the White House lawn where Spicer apologized.
ABC kept its original story, but in a question and answer portion, Cecilia Vega reported Spicer’s apology on CNN, and ABC played it in full.
Producers had to confront the newsworthiness of this story. Was it just another gaffe by Spicer, or was it bigger? Mason believes the story needed to run on the air:
“This is the chief spokesman of the President of the United States. To make such a gaffe is not what the spokesman is supposed to do—he is there to protect the President in anything he says.”
Mason also believes the story was lead worthy, saying there wasn’t any other breaking news story that night.
“Flexibility is the key to a hard news program.”