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CBS Lambasted for Its Handling of Super Bowl Blackout New Yorker

CBS has come under fire for its handling of the blackout that disrupted Sunday’s Super Bowl for 34 minutes, with one of the most scathing attacks coming from The New Yorker’s Steve Coll.

Coll notes that when the blackout first occurred, some viewers probably wondered whether a terrorist attack was under way.

“The initial period of the blackout was especially unsettling,” Coll writes. “It was like a nationally shared, television-enhanced experience of a stroke. CBS, this year’s Super Bowl broadcaster, maintained its visual signal, but the network initially lost audio. The broadcast’s director selected a field-level camera angle that pointed up to the half-darkened stadium lights, in a mute effort to show what was going on. Yet, without the benefit of commentary, viewers could only guess at what had transpired.”

The article suggests that CBS, a network with a proud history in TV journalism, should have recognized the incident for what it was: breaking news, which needed to be covered.

“Surely, I thought upon my couch, CBS, the network of Eric Sevareid, Dan Rather, and ‘60 Minutes’ -- the network that had lately recruited Charlie Rose to anchor its morning show -- would tear into this story,” Coll writes. “It did not. What followed was embarrassing and irresponsible.”

Coll writes that CBS should have turned over the telecast to its news division, but chose instead to have its sports team try to fill the dead air.

“CBS acted as if it possessed no news division,” Coll writes. “It relied on James Brown, the congenial jock-wrangling anchor of ‘The NFL Today,’ to handle the story. He and his fellow commentators -- retired quarterback Dan Marino, retired NFL coach Bill Cowher, and retired tight end Shannon Sharpe -- acted as if the unexplained loss of electricity in a stadium filled with seventy thousand-plus people during the most-watched American television event of the year was just a twist in the story of who would win the football game, and nothing more.”

The piece points most of the blame at CBS’s president and CEO, Les Moonves.

“Why didn’t he throw the broadcast to his news division in New York for at least an interval, to signal to viewers that the network recognized that something unusual and newsworthy had just occurred, and to attempt to inform them, as best as possible, with reliable reporting?” Coll writes.

“Moonves told the Times that he knew he had the option to switch to CBS News in New York, but ‘we were told it would be twenty minutes. ... We knew it wouldn’t be down for hours.’ Even so, why did CBS not immediately scramble its news producers to hunt down subjects for on-air interviews? Why was there no off-air reporting relayed from CBS News to James Brown about whether there was any indication of foul play, or any information at all available beyond the no-commenting, self-protecting public-relations arm of the NFL juggernaut, to which we have become all too accustomed during its systematic campaign of denial about football-related concussions?”

We recommend clicking here to read the rest of Coll’s comments.