McCain, Franklin services challenge TV networks

NEW YORK — Two beloved Americans, two services: one screen wasn’t always enough for television news networks following services for Sen. John McCain and Aretha Franklin on Friday.

CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC each tried to keep viewers caught up on people paying respect to McCain as his body was lying in state in the U.S. Capitol, and the lengthy remembrance for the Queen of Soul in Detroit.

A true collision was avoided when Franklin’s service started late, allowing the news networks to cover the Capitol ceremony in full. The broadcast networks ABC, CBS and NBC interrupted their regular programming to show speeches by government leaders, including Vice-President Mike Pence.

McCain’s 106-year-old mother attended the Capitol ceremony honouring her son, although that caused one awkward moment for CNN. The network misidentified another woman in a wheelchair as her and later had to apologize.

Throughout the day, the networks would check back to show a line of people behind a velvet rope, as they filed past McCain’s coffin.

It was a different scene in Detroit, where parked rows of pink Cadillacs stood in Franklin’s honour.

“The only thing really missing here is the red carpet,” said MSNBC’s Ron Mott.

The sprawling ceremony was at times an unwinnable challenge for the networks. They weren’t willing to cede their airtime completely to the event, so it meant for some frustrating moments where correspondents talked over speakers and singers instead of letting them be heard, or missed them entirely.

During a roof-rattling gospel performance by Audrey Dubois Harris, CNN covered it in full, MSNBC showed her face while reporters talked over the song and Fox was talking politics. At one point, Fox’s Chris Wallace was talking about President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions while a small box in the corner showed Chaka Khan singing in Detroit; eventually Wallace was cut short to see the rest of her performance.

MSNBC cut to guests talking about Kahn’s performance when it seemed like it was over — only to have her return for a reprise. When singer Ron Isley gave a quiet, rambling talk before singing, you could almost feel the calculations of TV producers wondering whether to stick with him.

Everyone paused, however, to cover speeches by former President Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson.

After Clinton was done, Fox’s Chris Stirewalt said that he was “a shadow of the man that we remember from 25 or 30 years ago.

“Time is passing by,” he said. “This is a moment of reflection for the country about what we’re losing and the lessons learned along the way.”


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