4th UPDATE, 10:27 PM: It’s after midnight in Ferguson now but looks like reporters are still fair game for some. In the middle of a talkback with CNN’s Jake Tapper just a few minutes ago correspondent Sara Sidner was hit in the head by a rock that someone threw at her. “Sorry I just got hit by a rock,” said the tough reporter before going straight into describing the burnt out scene around her. “I’m OK, I’m OK, I’ve been hit by much worse in my day.” Sidner went on to continue her reporting but Tapper jumped in asking her “to get to safety” as more rocks were flying towards her. No stranger to Ferguson, the LA-based reporter has been covering the story in the Missouri town for the past two months. “People are asking me about my head,” Sidner was telling Tapper when she returned to the air at around 10:24 PM PT, unfortunately the link was lost before she could finish. (Sidner returned to the air about 5-minutes later, though she had to deal with some guys in the background who wanted to be on camera)
3RD UPDATE, 8:08 PM: In an area with no apparent police presence, very unpeaceful protesters briefly pelted CNN reporter Stephanie Elam. She had at least two security guards with her, but anchor Jake Tapper recommended she get to a safe area. “It’s OK, she’s just having fun, “ Elam said of the woman throwing stuff at her. Other CNN reporters are claiming that unrest and the protesters seemed to be dwindling, though some looting is still being reported. At least two police cars are on fire, but Anderson Cooper says the scale of unrest is quite small.
Things got a bit rougher for Fox News’ Steve Harrigan tonight. The no-stranger to tough circumstances reporter went off the air for a few minutes after his camera was attacked in Ferguson. Just before 8 PM PT, Harrigan was reporting on looting at a liquor store when someone in the Guy Fawkes masks worn by protestors said, “Hey man, fuck you!” and knocked his camera to the ground. That kind of language has been heard clearly and repeatedly on FNC tonight, with hosts apologizing to viewers. The photo at right is what was seen live on FNC at the exact moment the camera was hit. Harrigan, who was walked through wafting tear gas earlier, was back on air at 8:10 PM PT reporting that “the only casualty was the camera” and shooting video of more looting with his iPhone.
In LA, protesters briefly got up on the 10 Freeway and have caused traffic to back up for miles.
2nd UPDATE, 7:49 PM: Just as President Barack Obama’s remarks were ending, CNN’s Don Lemon and crew were hit with what the anchor thought was tear gas live on air. Soon afterward, St. Louis County Police sent out a tweet saying it is smoke not tear gas. Removed to a “safe area” as unrest escalated, Lemon said on air he doesn’t know what it was but it was “very hard to breathe.” Fellow CNNer Chris Cuomo tweeted this:
UPDATE, 7:22 PM: Not every network cut live to the announcement of no indictment of Officer Wilson from Ferguson , they all did when President Barack Obama spoke to the nation about the case and the death of Michael Brown.“There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it will make for good TV,” the President said of unrest in Ferguson and elsewhere over the decision. Quoting Brown’s father, Obama urged peaceful protest. This was happening as cable news outlets reported gunfire and tear gas being used in Ferguson.
On the East Coast, ABC cut into Castle and CBS cut away from its primetime programming at 10:07 PM ET to go to the White House. NBC cut away from the beginning of the second week of its new White House drama State Of Affairs to show Obama live. It was the local news hour on East Coast Fox stations so local stations handled the bulk of the coverage of the President’s comments. On the West Coast NBC and Brian Williams went to the President’s remarks advocating non-violence in Ferguson at around 7:06 PM, as did the Fox and CBS’ affiliates soon afterwards. ABC in LA kept showing Jeopardy! The coverage of the President’s comments ended at 10:20 PM ET and 7:20 PM PT.
PREVIOUS, 6:45 PM: The dark and tense streets of Ferguson took over primetime tonight in parts of the country with the announcement of the grand jury decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of teen Michael Brown on August 9.
In certain time zones, some of the networks went live to the 8:15 PM CT announcement and press conference from St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch. On the West Coast all of the Big 4 cut into their evening programming. On the last Monday of the November sweep, ABC cut into Dancing With The Stars on the East Coast and Central time zones. ABC cut in nationwide at 9:13 PM ET. One affiliate in Chattanooga, Tennessee put up and then quickly took down a tweet oddly apologizing for the interruption of the breaking news.
In NYC, NBC ran a crawl during The Voice just after 9 PM ET, when the announcement was supposed to occur, telling viewers the grand jury decision was expected in a few minutes. However the Peacock did not cut into the singing competition show until 9:27 PM ET and went back to The Voice within a few minutes. On most of the East Coast, CBS preempted freshman Scorpion to show the Ferguson remarks. However, in NYC and Buffalo, the Bills and Jets NFL game that CBS was showing in those markets was not left behind for news from Ferguson. Instead the network showed a crawl detailing the announcement. The lopsided game was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon, but was shifted to tonight due to extreme weather. CBS Buffalo affiliate WIVB plans to show 2 Broke Girls, The Big Bang Theory and Scorpion starting at 1:35 AM after The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.
Fox affiliates showing either Sleepy Hollow on the East Coast or Gotham in the Central time zones had the option to switch to Fox News Channel coverage of the whole McCulloch presser. Stations could also grab a 2-minute summary of the Ferguson announcement that FNC is putting together. If they go with the latter, prime will slide accordingly in the relevant markets. In LA, Fox went to the FNC live coverage. In NYC, programming wasn’t interrupted until 9:40 PM ET with instead a banner detailing the announcement running beforehand.
In his role as the chief anchor during all special reports and breaking news, George Stephanopoulos fronted ABC’s coverage with a team of correspondents in and around Ferguson. Brian Williams, who went to Ferguson during the protests this summer, hosted the network’s coverage from NYC. NBC has correspondents Ron Allen and Miguel Almaguer in Ferguson to report back to Williams on the East Coast. CBS’ Scott Pelley also helmed his network’s coverage from NYC tonight with reporters on the ground there.
As expected, all the cable news networks were also live and are going heavy on Ferguson coverage tonight to varying degrees after being on the story all day. CNN has had Don Lemon and Jake Tapper anchoring live from the area with a phalanx of correspondents like Jason Carroll, Sara Snider, Van Jones and Evan Perez. Wolf Blitzer stayed in the studio in D.C. but handled the no news of Governor Jay Nixon’s presser that he didn’t know the grand jury decision. After Erin Burnett picked up the baton from the East Coast, the network went into the night with Anderson Cooper live from Ferguson for the McCulloch presser.
It didn’t go as smoothy as the Jeff Zucker run channel hoped it seemed. CNN lost audio with Cooper just after the critical 8 PM CT hour but fortunately got the anchor back within 20 seconds.
In his opening remarks tonight, McCulloch took a swipe at “the 24 news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, anything to talk about.”
FNC hasn’t sent any of its big names to Missouri but dedicated its primetime to the case with reporters Steve Harrigan, Mike Tobin and Adam Housley reporting from the scene. Shep Smith will offer special reports to affiliates while tonight’s The O’Reilly Factor centered on the grand jury announcement. The Kelly File went to the presser live with Hannity scheduled to further coverage at 10 PM. (UPDATE, 7:03 PM: Megyn Kelly stayed on the air live into the next hour with Sean Hannity expected to come on later) Smith will pick up the coverage at 11 PM ET with Megyn Kelly back again at midnight going until at least 1 AM. Fox Business Network’s Cavuto Tonight will be covering the grand jury announcement too until 11 PM ET.
After Ferguson centric editions of PoliticsNation With Al Sharpton and Hardball With Chris Matthews, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes did his All In show from the area tonight. Hayes, correspondents Trymaine Lee, Amanda Sakuma and Zack Roth are reporting from the St. Louis suburb. Craig Melvin is set to file for both MSNBC and NBC from Ferguson. Coming into her regular 9 PM ET slot, Rachel Maddow went live with the announcement. The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell is set to pick up with more coverage of Ferguson later tonight. Oddly, CNBC did not cover the Ferguson situation at all tonight.
Al Jazeera America also has a big team in the town for its flagship America Tonight show. Correspondent Lori Jane Gilha is there, as is AJAM’s Sebastian Walker and Robert Ray. The channel’s John Terrett will be reporting from nearby Clayton where the grand jury actually convened. PBS’ NewsHour also was on the Ferguson beat live. Internationally, the BBC and Canada’s CBC are among those reporting live from Ferguson also.
The St. Louis County grand jury had met behind closed doors, weighing criminal charges against officer Wilson, in the summer shooting of Brown. The grand jury considered charges ranging from first-degree murder to criminal negligence. Lawyers for Brown’s family have said Brown was trying to surrender when the officer shot him. Wilson’s supporters maintained he shot Brown in self-defense.
TV news operations have played a key role in the Ferguson situation since it erupted. The Associated Press revealed this month that local authorities got the federal government to restrict about 37 square miles of airspace over Ferguson for 12 days by pitching it as “safety concerns,” when in fact the purpose was to keep away news helicopters that might have covered the violent street protests. “They finally admitted it really was to keep the media out,” one administration manager said of the St. Louis County Police Department in a series of recorded telephone conversations obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Ferguson police tear gassed and lobbed rubber bullets at TV news crews after Brown’s death. In early October, a federal judge said the police had violated news crews’ constitutional rights.
“Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying and arresting reporters who are just doing their jobs,” President Barack Obama said in a televised news conference on August 14, as protesters continued to rage in the town.
Journalists from AJAM were shot at with rubber bullets and tear gas as they were recording another night of protests and violence in Ferguson, though they were easily identifiable as a working TV crew, setting up their camera for a live report. Police continued to shoot after crew members clearly and repeatedly shouted ‘Press.’
Four days later, Obama again used the airwaves to talk to people about the continuing violence in Ferguson. For his two appearances, the media nicked him for: speaking from Martha’s Vineyard, not discussing the situation in racial terms, not wearing a necktie, etc., because such is the nature of TV news these days.
Covering the outrage and violence in Ferguson, MO in the wake of teen Brown’s death boosted cable news network numbers. When CNN led a night among news-demo viewers, besting FNC with 423,000 viewers aged 25-54, and 405,000, respectively, Bill O’Reilly came back from vacation just in the nick of time, boosting Fox News Channel back on top in primetime ratings after the rare news demo win by CNN. “I came back from vacation because I am furious – furious – about how the shooting death of Michael Brown is being reported and how various people are reacting to it.” He said the media generally is “terrified of any racial situation.”
A week and a half ago, the FBI warned, “The announcement of the grand jury’s decision … will likely be exploited by some individuals” and stressed the “importance of remaining aware of the protections afforded to all U.S. persons exercising their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.