The Broncos, the New Life Church and Arvada Shootings, and Local TV Priorities

When I clicked on my television Sunday afternoon, December 9, I thought all I'd see was football. Instead, I got a crystal-clear lesson in TV priorities, as assorted stations covered and/or didn't cover a pair of local shootings -- one at Arvada's Youth With a Mission center, the other at Colorado Springs' New Life Church -- that left four dead and six wounded, some seriously.

During the first half of the day, I was outside the media bubble -- so my first contact with the televised version of the world came around 1:30 p.m. I soon discovered two NFL games in progress: San Diego vs. Tennessee on Channel 4 and Dallas vs. Detroit on Channel 31. Both contests had intrigue, since the underdogs were ahead at the time I tuned in -- and a San Diego loss coupled with a Denver Broncos win against the pathetic Kansas City Chiefs later in the day would have improved the Broncos' playoff hopes from ridiculously bleak to unlikely but within the realm of possibility. I used my set's picture-in-picture feature to keep track of both, watching in something less than amazement as Tennessee and Detroit pissed away their respective advantages.

Then, something beyond the field of play caught my eye: a crawl on Channel 4 mentioning a shooting at New Life, the megachurch that made national news after its pastor, Ted Haggard, admitted to "sexual immortality" following claims by male escort Mike Jones that Hag had hired him as something other than arm candy. The message also made note of a shooting in Arvada that I knew nothing about at that point.

I instantly began flipping around, trying to get more details, and soon discovered that most outlets were conducting business as usual. I saw no mentions of anything untoward on channels 2 and 7, and didn't eyeball a Channel 4-like crawl during Channel 31's football broadcast. Likewise, neither CNN nor MSNBC were devoting live airtime to the Colorado events.

That left two exceptions: one local, one national. Channel 9 broke in with an update from anchor Bazi Kanani, who briefly provided more information about the shootings from the station's studio and noted that Arvada authorities would be holding a news conference at 3 p.m. Meanwhile, Fox News, the if-it-bleeds-it-leads champ of national cable-news services, dropped its schedule like a steaming goat cluster in order to focus entirely on the violence. The FNC approach was typically hyperbolic, with much focus on a report from correspondent Carol McKinley that a second gunmen might be on the loose in Colorado Springs -- a tip that now seems to have been bogus. In addition, the FNC crew couldn't resist getting ideological, speculating early and often about whether the attacks on these people of faith could be considered hate crimes. Nevertheless, the channel offered by far the most comprehensive coverage of any outlet, including its own local affiliate. Channel 31 provided Fox News with a live feed from the site of the impending news conference -- but although FNC viewers saw these images prior to 3 p.m., folks tuned to Channel 31 were treated to a vintage rerun of M*A*S*H.

While all this was going on, Channel 4 was faced with a dilemma of its own. The San Diego-Tennesse matchup was going down to the wire, but the Broncos game was slated to start at 2:15 p.m. With the clock about to expire, San Diego QB Philip Rivers threw a pass to receiver Antonio Gates, and within a nanosecond of Gates' feet touching the turf to score a tying touchdown and send the game into overtime, the station cut directly to a Burger King commercial that featured a guy getting a glass of cold water thrown in his face. I knew how he felt -- and if the station took special measures to keep viewers apprised of the San Diego-Tennessee score, I didn't see them. I wound up having to look on the Internet to confirm my suspicion that San Diego eventually wound up victorious.

On the shootings front, Fox News had the national field to itself up until 3 p.m. CNN stuck to its prescheduled stuff, as did MSNBC, which apparently determined that a canned program called (I'm not making this up) Honeymoon From Hell was more important than the two lethal episodes in Colorado. However, things changed when the news conference got underway. CNN went live, as did channels 9 and 31. If channels 2 and 7 did likewise, I missed it -- and I kept checking back. And Channel 4? The station stuck with the Broncos, not bothering to have anchor Kathy Walsh update the shootings until half-time, long after the news conference was over.

Okay, okay, Broncos fans would have come uncorked if Channel 4 had cut away from the game to televise the news conference -- but it would have been a simple matter to, say, inform viewers that the address was being streamed on its website in real time via the same kind of crawl that had been used earlier. Although the station might have done so -- I was watching the news conference on other channels, so something could have slipped by me -- I doubt it. After all, the Broncos were winning. Gotta get your priorities straight. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts