The Insider lost a lot of sleep last week, not just because of the sorrowful pull of the Virginia Tech story, but because there were so many compelling grace notes struck by the national TV news folks assigned to cover an event of horrific proportions.
In such times, being a solid reporter is only part of the job. More important is being the right voice and having the right demeanor when we are caught in a time and place that is horribly wrong.
From some, after more than 30 years of covering the news, this is expected. Chief among those who seem never to hit a sour note is ABC’s “World News” anchor Charles Gibson. He has the experience and an innate humanity that transforms even the most difficult and potentially dicey interviews into a conversation that will not leave a viewer squirming, but with a better sense of the subject’s experience, however unimaginable. His approach even allows the viewer to believe Mr. Gibson may have applied some balm to the subject without a whit of showboating.
If Walter Cronkite was the Baby Boomer TV audience’s avuncular uncle, Mr. Gibson proved again last week that he is this generation’s much-needed TV father figure who can help us navigate emotionally rocky shoals. Long live Charles Gibson.
Terry Moran’s work in Blacksburg, Va., made The Insider think for the first time that the member of “Nightline’s” triumvirate is developing into his own as an anchorman instead of patterning himself too closely after the late Peter Jennings. Put him at the top of the list of successors, when that time comes. He was steady, tic-free and confident standing in the middle of an evocatively lit patch of grass on the VT campus.
“Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts has never been better. She spoke in complete sentences and her almost teary eyes spoke volumes appropriate to her presence on campus.
“Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer once again proved himself to be the Charles Gibson of NBC News. His sense of tone and timing and gesture is appropriate. Sitting next to him, Meredith Vieira blossomed.
“The Early Show” co-host Harry Smith did himself, and CBS News, proud.
John Roberts, in his first week as co-anchor of CNN’s “American Morning,” was so convincing and comfortable that it was hard to remember why he had not persuaded CBS brass that he should succeed Dan Rather three years ago. CBS News’ loss is definitely CNN’s gain.
Fox News Channel’s Shepard Smith has now proved that he, so glib and wry in the studio weekday after weekday, is the real thing on the scene of wrenching stories best told with an undercurrent of journalistically sound emotion and the ability to report at length on one’s feet. Even more impressive: He cannot be goaded by pamphleteering studio anchors or the flamboyant Geraldo Rivera, on the other side of a split screen, into jumping to any group conclusion. And that was particularly welcome and impressive during the early news cycles of the Virginia Tech story. Someone please give this man a steady assignment that makes more use of his people skills than of his inflective eyebrows and his admittedly amusing chats with Jane Skinner.
This is certainly not a complete list of everyone who contributed powerful moments — including non-journalists such as the extraordinarily affecting VT poet/professor Nikki Giovanni and President and Mrs. Bush at the heartbreaking and heart-mending convocation on campus last week.
But The Insider cannot use up all of her allotted space without singling out “Nightline” correspondent John Donvan. Anyone who is not a Donvan cult member should read his story about the poignant business boom for Blacksburg florists last week. What could have hit a dissonant note in less skilled hands instead was a respectfully enterprising look at just one of the unexpected results of a heartbreaking story.