A Triple Murder Doesn't Make the NewsHour

By Michael Getler

FEBRUARY 12, 2015

“I am an avid follower of your daily news,” wrote a viewer in California. “Today [Wednesday, Feb. 11] I was very shocked to see that the news of the three young Muslims killed by a Muslim-hater in N.C. was completely blacked out by the PBS news team. Is it by design or an oversight?”

It is not determined if the alleged shooter was a Muslim-hater. Initial reports were that it involved a parking dispute. But I also found it shocking that this crime—that merited coverage Wednesday evening by all the major network television news programs, and got a lot of attention overseas as well—was absent from the NewsHour, which is twice as long as the nightly network broadcasts.

Here is how NBC and CBS handled the unfolding story, including the angle that this may have been more than a parking dispute.

The NewsHour did have a story on its website earlier in the day, but nothing on television.

Police said that, at least initially, it appeared that a dispute over parking spaces might be a factor but also promised to look into whether the violence might have been motivated by hate based upon religious factors.

I asked the NewsHour’s executive producer, Sara Just, if there was any reason why the shooting was not reported to PBS viewers. Here is her response:

"We reported it online here. We decided to hold off on the broadcast last night because of the reports that this seemed to be a longstanding personal dispute over parking. However, there seems to be more developing today, services for the victims, an investigation about whether it may have been a hate crime, and we expect to report it on the air tonight.”

Setting aside what was missing for the moment, Wednesday evening’s edition of the PBS NewsHour was a very good program, newsy, informative, fast-moving. It covered the president’s request to Congress for new war powers against the Islamic State and reaction to it, and fresh reporting from Yemen where U.S., British and French embassies have been evacuated after a Shiite rebel take-over of the country. There was, of course, discussion of the media explosions surrounding Brian Williams at NBC and the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, and a fair amount of other stuff that was good but not of a daily nature and not perishable so that it could be used at another time.

So failure to even take note in a news wrap-up of the fatal shooting of the three young Muslim students near the University of North Carolina campus, apparently by a disgruntled neighbor whose motivation or motivations have yet to be determined, strikes me as a seriously bad call.

The e-mail from the California viewer was the only one I received on the subject. But that may be because NewsHour viewers didn’t know what was missing.

Posted on Feb. 12, 2015 at 3:10 p.m.

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ABOUT THE OMBUDSMAN
As ombudsman, Michael Getler serves as an independent internal critic within PBS. He reviews commentary and criticism from viewers and seeks to ensure that PBS upholds its own standards of editorial integrity. Read More >

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