NBC News still may be wiping the egg off of its face yesterday, when it declined to cover the most important war-crimes effort since Nuremberg in favor of … Katie Couric’s badminton match:
ABC and CNN managed to outhustle their competition yesterday morning and placed the only Western journalists, aside from a news pool reporter, inside the Baghdad courtroom where Saddam Hussein was listening to the charges he will face when he goes to trial as a war criminal.
No network was more red-faced than NBC, which passed up the chance to broadcast, at the same time as every other television news outlet, the first scenes of the former dictator in the courtroom. NBC chose instead to continue a taped interview with the movie star Robert Redford, followed by a live badminton match between Katie Couric, the anchor of the network’s “Today” program, and competitors from the United States Olympic badminton team. …
NBC had no news of the events in the courtroom until after 9 a.m. The network simply passed on the chance to broadcast the video coverage of Mr. Hussein’s court appearance. … Ms. Genelius said CBS gave a two-minute warning to all other television news outlets that the scenes of Mr. Hussein would be transmitted. Every news organization interrupted its other programming to air those scenes at 8:30 a.m., except NBC.
When you wonder at the editorial choices made by the folks at NBC News (which, obviously, includes MS-NBC and CNBC), look no further than this humiliating incident. People still talk about the Heidi Bowl more than 30 years after NBC Sports decided to cut away from a Jets-Raiders football game instead of simply delaying the start of a rerun of a children’s movie, and viewers missed the Raiders’ two touchdowns in the final two minutes to win.
Needless to say, the embarrassment of this decision will be much worse, especially since the programming involved is so inanely self-promotional. Even on a slow news day, what possible public interest could be in watching badminton, and especially involving the overexposed Couric? Even a speech extolling patriotism on the Senate floor by Robert Byrd would hold more entertainment value, and certainly more news value. Seeing one of the most brutal tyrants in recent history haled before a court of his former victims to answer charges of mass murder doesn’t happen more than once or twice in a lifetime.
“We made a bad call,” said Allison Gollust, the spokeswoman for NBC News. … Ms. Gollust said the network had no explanation beyond, “We made a mistake.”
So did your viewers. Fortunately, in the future you will have less of them.