2ND UPDATE: The answer depended on where in the country you were watching tonight’s ending to the ‘Stand Your Ground’ case of neighborhood watch George Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. But CBS among broadcasters and MSNBC among cable were first to cover the verdict live.
Among broadcasters, ABC News missed live coverage of the verdict but had the most comprehensive coverage. Anchor David Muir was joined live by Chief Legal Anchor Dan Abrams in NY, Correspondents Matt Gutman and Gio Benitez outside of the Seminole County courthouse in Sanford, and Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas in Washington DC. A Special Edition of 20/20 continued until 11 PM ET with a complete look at the trial. According to TVNewser, CBS was first on the air at 9:58 PM during the closing credits of 48 Hours in the Eastern and Central time zones for a very brief special anchored by Jim Axelrod. Then on NBC Lester Holt anchored a blink-and-you-missed-it special report interrupting the final seconds of a TV movie while the verdict was being read. And ABC first joined as the jurors were being polled: the network was showing the canceled 666 Park Avenue and promoted the live verdict in a news crawl.
By contrast there was blanket coverage all today on HLN, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC which reported the verdict at 9:49:00 followed by CNN at 9:49:55 and FNC at 21:50:11. FNC’s Harris Faulkner anchored when the verdict was read and following the announcement. Live coverage and analysis continued with Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren both phoning into the program. Plans are still fluid but FNC will remain live until 1 AM Sunday for more guest analysis. All cable news have seen ratings spike because of the live televised drama surrounding opening arguments, testimony, closing arguments, jury deliberations. Today the channels were closely following the 6 female jurors asking for clarification about the manslaughter charge leading up to the verdict. “We don’t want to speculate here but this at least tells us where the jurors are in the process,” a CNN host said. HLN’s Nancy Grace even claimed to know that 2nd degree murder was “off the table”.
Now the question is whether TV news goes overboard predicting public reaction to the verdict. ABC tonight reported about threats against the families and “concerns about security”. CNN came under media fire tonight for immediately after the verdict cutting to a “heartbroken African-American boy” outside the courthouse.
Meanwhile, NBCUniversal will start fighting Zimmerman’s defamation lawsuit over an edited 911 call from the night of the shooting. In March, NBC filed a request for a stay until the trial was over. Zimmerman accused the news outlet of using “the oldest form of yellow journalism”. (Read the suit here.) The 24-page complaint claims “NBC News saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, and so set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain.” NBC correspondent Ron Allen, as well as Lilia Rodriguez Luciano and Jeff Burnside are also named as defendants. Luciano and Burnside, plus a NBC producer, were fired after an internal investigation.