UPDATE, 2:37 PM: NBC News announced NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt will be expanded to an hour tonight to cover “the busy day of breaking news on all fronts.” The announcement follows NBC’s decision to break into regularly scheduled programming for a fourth time today to report Richard Matt, one of the convicted murderers who had escaped from a New York prison three weeks ago, had been shot and killed by a border patrol agent. ABC News likewise broke into its programming for a fourth time today to cover the killing.
PREVIOUS, 12:57 PM: Broadcast networks unanimously opted to break in to their regularly scheduled programming three times today with coverage of breaking news events that served to illustrate monumental cultural shifts happening in this country.
“This was not a borderline decision – this is huge…a monumental cultural shift the Supreme Court just put its stamp of approval on,” one industry pundit said of the first two news interruptions. The third interruption of regular programming was related to great loss of life on U.S. soil, as are so many broadcast news special reports in these days of cable and online coverage.
At shortly after 10 AM ET, ABC, CBS, and NBC news divisions broke in when a divided Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage. At shortly after 11 AM they broke in again to cover President Obama celebrating the ruling from the White House’s Rose Garden.
“These are all significant events – there are still occasions where a news organization can judge that something rises to the level of interrupting a non-news audience to bring a development to the screen,” CBS News chief David Rhodes told Deadline this morning.
Fox broadcast network stations were given access to a Fox News feed but, out of primetime, it takes about a week to know for sure how many stations broke into their programming to take the feed. We know it at least included New York, Washington and Los Angeles, but is presumed to have included a large number of Fox stations.
“You cannot imagine the roar of this crowd when it became evident the first decision the court was going to announce was the landmark ruling,” CBS News chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford remarked moments after the ruling was announced. “It’s the decision this crowd has been waiting for and the nation has been waiting for…Same sex marriage is the law of the land.”
“This is a total victory for advocates of same sex marriage,” effused NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams:
In a 5-4 ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority with the four liberal justices. Each of the four conservative justices wrote their own dissent, including Justice Antonin Scalia, who blasted the Court’s “threat to American democracy,” and Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote that the decision had “nothing to do with the Constitution.”
Little more than an hour later, all broadcast networks again broke in to cover Obama’s address:
“Today we can say in no uncertain terms that we made our union a little more perfect,” Obama said.
Some “good Americans,” Obama said, “will continue to hold wide range of views on this issue… based on sincerely held beliefs…All of us who welcome today’s news should be mindful of that fact,” he urged. Those unhappy with the court’s decision include all of the announced GOP White House hopefuls revving up their campaigns.
“I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision,” Jeb Bush said of this morning’s SCOTUS call.
“Once again the Bush-appointed Supreme Court Justice John Roberts has let us down. Jeb pushed him hard! Remember!,” chimed in Donald Trump.
“Today, 5 unelected judges redefined the foundational unit of society. Now it is the people’s turn to speak #Marriage,” added Rick Santorum.
“Today should also bring us hope in the many issues” with which the country still grapples, Obama said in the Rose Garden, adding “real change is possible,” setting up the eulogy he delivered a few hours later in South Carolina for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the state senator who was leading bible study class at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church when he, and eight other black churchgoers, were murdered by white supremacist Dylann Roof. ABC, CBS and NBC News broke in and covered Obama’s 40-minute eulogy in its entirety.
“In the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23,” Obama said, describing Pinckney. “What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to happen when you’re eulogized, after all the words, recitations and resumes are read, just say someone was a good man.”
The president called for Confederate flags to come down — like the one at the state capitol building that Pinckney’s coffin was wheeled by this week to lie in state — and again called for legislation to stem gun violence. But the viral moment came when he abruptly broke into song, Amazing Grace.
“It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats now acknowledge…the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride,” he said.
“For many..that flag was reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now…Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness. It would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.”