Archive for Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Missing intern coverage hit-or-miss

July 11, 2001

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— If you watch cable news networks, with the drumbeat of "Where's Chandra?" headlines, you'd think the disappearance of a Washington intern was all the country was talking about.

Yet if you relied on the "CBS Evening News" to know what's going on, you wouldn't even know Chandra Levy was missing.

For television networks, the story of Chandra Levy and U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., is reviving arguments about restraint and taste among news organizations with vastly different opinions on how to treat the story.

"It seems to me there's been a complete suspension of doubt, fairness and objectivity in this story," said Jim Murphy, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News."

To date, Dan Rather's broadcast hasn't mentioned a word about the story. Murphy said he was reserving that for a major development in the case if Levy or her body were found, for instance, or if Condit was named a suspect in her disappearance by police.

He and Rather discuss the story all the time, most recently Tuesday morning, he said.

"We both know at some point we have to report this story, but we both feel that to this point, it's been a circus," Murphy said.

ABC's "World News Tonight" has mentioned the story only twice once at length last Friday when it had exclusive information about the congressman's cell phone records. NBC's "Nightly News" has done 10 stories on the case.

The story, with its "soap opera" aspects, seems more suited to network morning shows, which have more time to fill.

ABC's "Good Morning America" has devoted 56 minutes to the story since it first broke. NBC's "Today" has done 45 minutes and CBS' "The Early Show" 39 minutes, according to Andrew Tyndall, a consultant who measures network news coverage.

Major newspapers have been relatively cautious in giving the case front-page attention. USA Today on Monday ran a front-page piece with Levy's family asking that Condit be given a lie detector test, one of a package of three stories that took up two-thirds of an inside page.

The New York Post had a front-page headline Tuesday, "Condit 'Kinky Sex."' It was a report about a woman claiming she was Condit's lover and saying she was suspicious of some of his sexual habits.

The cable news networks continued their heavy coverage on Tuesday, although perhaps with a little less single-mindedness.

One new navel-gazing element: CNN and MSNBC both did segments on media coverage of the story.

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