Updated with President Obama’s remarks and update on victims: Brian Williams made his real return to TV news this afternoon anchoring MSNBC’s live coverage of the country’s latest mass shooting at a school, this time at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR. Sure, Williams had anchored large swaths of MSNBC’s Pope Francis coverage, marking the new return to NBC News after a months-long suspension. But that event had been heavy on pomp, circumstance and filling time during the Fiat drives and throwing to Luke Russert trying to chat up a shy child waiting with her father along the pope’s route in hopes of a glimpse.
Today, Williams took the lead on the kind of on-the-fly big breaking news that NBC News chief Andy Lack said the country’s most watched news anchor would helm for MSNBC going forward. The Oregon shooting, on which details still are emerging, is shaping up to be eerily similar to that of the Columbine High School slaughter of April 1999, when two students killed 13 people and wounded two dozen others on the Colorado campus before killing themselves. Today’s shooting is said by authorities at this time to have killed 13, injured about 20 and been the work of a lone, and as yet unidentified, 20-year-old gunman, who died after a confrontation with authorities. (Update: At 7:52 PM ET, Douglas County sheriff John Hanlin held a news conference said 10 are dead and seven injured, three of them critical. He continued to decline to identify the gunman or any of the victims.)
NBC News also broke into the broadcast network’s regularly scheduled programming at 2:32 PM ET for a Lester Holt-anchored special report on the number of dead and wounded at the small college – Holt being the guy who took over NBC Nightly News that Williams had anchored a decade before being suspended in February for exaggerating his account of his experience on a military helicopter during the Iraq War on the newscast. The Holt-anchored NBC News special signed off at 2:34 PM.
ABC News similarly broke in at that time, with George Stephanopoulos anchoring and consultant/former FBI agent Brad Garrett contributing, Ditto CBS, with Jim Axelrod anchoring. In and out the broadcast networks jumped on to the story throughout the day. ABC News jumped back in a third time around 3:20 PM with David Muir anchoring and Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl. CBS News’ Scott Pelley anchored a special report on that network at 4 PM; Holt came back to NBC with another special report at 4:08 PM ET, anchoring a two-minute special report with Pete Williams joining from Washington. Holt anchored another Special Report when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown began her news conference on the shooting at 4:50 PM ET. And on and on.
Williams continued to helm coverage at MSNBC, noting that Roseburg is “joining the short list” of small towns that have been the sites of mass school shootings in the past two decades. “It’s how we know so many communities,” Williams said, citing Columbine as well as Newtown, CT. “In rural areas like this, all kinds of volunteer firefighters, EMT’s dropping whatever is happening in their lives” to head to the scene, making it “heavily traumatic obviously for everyone who has to deal with it.” He also noted that in this country you must get screened and patted down to board an airplane, but “attending community college still depends on sane rational fellow students to keep it safe.”
President Obama has been briefed on the situation, but not heard from him yet, but “our White House team is monitoring that,” Kate Snow informed Williams. “Yeah,” he said, as the cable news network, like others, plowed its way through the list of go-to places that have become a matter of form when covering mass shootings:
White House — check.
Politicians statements – check. (Nancy Pelosi, Jeb Bush, John Boehner, Hillary Clinton are among those tweeting their horror/condolences in re today’s mass shooting).
Students at the scene via social media – check.
Former FBI profiler talking about the “proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back in the shooter’s mind” – check.
“This is always a spooky business watching people walking through the parking lot and police with dogs which means one of those cars belonged to the gunman,” Williams said as MSNBC aired aerial views of the campus. He noted the cars in the parking lot corresponded to students and staff who’d been inside “some of whom won’t be going home tonight.”
At 4:31 PM ET, with the gunman dead though not yet publicly identified, Williams explained to viewers this is when investigators begin to go “down the rabbit hole” with an ID on the killer leading to finding his residence which leads to finding his writing and family members and people who had tangential relations with him that eventually gives you the case to build.”
A packed house of TV news cameras and print journalists attended when President Obama finally addressed the latest shooting in a scathing speech delivered from the White House’s so-called Brady Press Room — named for press secretary James Brady who’d been shot and permanently disabled during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in ’81.
“There’s been another mass shooting in America,” Obama began angrily. “There are more American families – moms, dads, children – whose lives have been changed forever. That means there’s another community stunned with grief – and communities across the country forced to relive their own anguish and parents across the country who are scared because they know it might have been their family or their children.”
“This has become routine,” Obama said. “The reporting is routine. My response here, at this podium ends up being routine, The conversations in the aftermath of it — we’ve become numb to this.”
Stopping periodically to collect himself, Obama said, “We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”
Early in the day, Cory Bergman, co-founder and GM of
@breakingnews, a standalone mobile startup owned by NBC, boasted he’d sent a “proximity alert” to local residents 22 minutes before the first national news org pushed the news.
But not everyone was appreciative: