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The Governor, the Emperor and the Media

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Did Denver television stations actually underplay a local story that went national? Based on a cursory sampling of broadcast coverage on July 16, the day gun-wielding Aaron Snyder, 32, was killed in the Colorado State Capitol near the office of Governor Bill Ritter, this seems to be the case.

Major news agencies across the country quickly picked up on the incident. For instance, the tale ran in the number two slot in National Public Radio's 5 p.m. newscast, and later that evening, it held steady at second on the MSN roster of top stories. But while it topped every Denver newscast, as well it should have, the Snyder scenario hardly dominated the programs as a whole. Typical was Channel 7's 10 p.m. offering, which dedicated about the same amount of airtime to the shooting as it did to an endless puff package about dating and relationships "reported" by anchor Anne Trujillo.

There are plenty of reasons why stations didn't give viewers the wall-to-wall treatment. Snyder was armed to the teeth, but his garb and remarks -- he wore a tuxedo and declared that he was "the Emperor," ready to take over state government -- made the scenario seem sillier than it really was. Moreover, Snyder was a loner with no criminal record, thereby robbing media outlets of easily exploited mugshots. Indeed, the morning after, a photo of the gunman still had yet to surface. Family didn't cooperate with sound bites, and neighbors who lived near Snyder in Thornton didn't offer much, either. Likewise, no video of the confrontation was available, leaving stations to rely upon mostly static shots of yellow police tape and people milling around. And numerous other newsworthy events demanded coverage that day, including a fatal police tasering and the inauguration of Denver's mayor, John Hickenlooper.

Still, the Synder matter was shocking in and of itself, and cast a light on lax security at the Capitol. Local stations picked up on this angle, and perhaps they'll explore it in more depth over the course of coming days. But Channel 9's offerings early on July 17 didn't smack of renewed focus. The 6 a.m. newscast featured a live report from the Capitol, but it was mostly a cursory recap that wound down after about ninety seconds. Then it was on to the usual fare, including endless weather and traffic reports.

This approach doesn't qualify as restraint. It's more like benign neglect. -- Michael Roberts

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