While CNN and MSNBC report violence in Egypt, Fox News covers launch of owner's new iPad product
The next time someone asks me dismissively why big TV anchors flock to the scene of big news events, I'm going to point them toward CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.
Since early this morning, Cooper has provided riveting coverage of a worsening situation in Cairo in personal terms, describing how a crowd of supporters for embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak attacked him and his camera crew, kicking and punching them until they could reach safe haven in a building.
Later, as CNN trained its cameras on fires erupting from Molotov cocktails thrown around the area where pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak forces were clashing, Fox News Channel made a different choice -- cutting to a 30-minute, continuous report on the debut of owner Rupert Murdoch's new iPad news publication, The Daily.
It was the kind of irony only TV can serve up instantly, with officials from Murdoch's team talking about cool new ways for covering the news instantaneously, while rivals CNN and MSNBC were actually covering news, airing live shots from Egypt capturing the fighting then underway.
Already, American cable news channels have been forced to toggle between the giant snowstorms burying Chicago and the East, disrupting airline schedules across the country and more, while also trying to keep an eye on Egypt. But Fox News, which returned from its 30-minute lovefest for The Daily with an update on Egypt before plunging back into weather coverage, seems to echo Americans' worst instincts about overlooking international coverage.
Cynics have wondered why big name anchors need to be in such dodgy circumstances; NBC News anchor Brian Williams on Monday reported from Egypt using a modified satellite phone which offered low picture quality. CBS anchor Katie Couric was snapped by paparazzi sunning in Miami over the weekend as Cooper and Williams were headed to Egypt; she didn't begin reporting from Cairo until Tuesday. ABC's top anchor Diane Sawyer remains in the U.S.; This Week host Christiane Amanpour has been reporting from Egypt for both ABC and her former employer, CNN.
But good TV is also about compelling images. And there's no better way to get viewers engaged in an important story than by showing an anchor they know and trust immersed in the middle of it, delivering details only available on site.
Especialy when other correspondents besides Cooper have told tales of being attacked today, seemingly by Mubarak supporters trying to stop TV coverage, including ABC's Amanpour and CBS' Mark Strassman.
It remains another enduring TV irony that some of the best on the ground coverage of Egypt's unrest has come from Al Jazeera English, the English-language channel unable to gain a significant footprint on U.S. cable systems, thanks to fears about its pro-Arab programming.
At a time when many viewers have access to multiple ESPN and Disney Channels, American viewers who don't watch Al Jazeera online are stuck viewing glimpses of their work displayed on other TV news outlets.
It's interesting that cable TV's most-watched newschannel -- and its sister channel, Fox Business Network -- would decide breaking news in Egypt should take a backseat to its owner's long-planned, glitzy launch of an iPad newspaper.
Wonder if that's the kind of news judgment we can expect from The Daily, as well?