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Television tiptoes around terminology

Published Oct. 2, 2005

Television networks broke into afternoon programing to cover Monday's abrupt stock market decline, using care in terminology to avoid panicking investors or affecting the outcome of the story.

CBS broke in with the first network special report at 1:38 p.m., nearly an hour before either NBC or ABC interrupted regular programs.

Correspondents assiduously avoided use of the word "crash" to describe the Dow Jones industrial average's worst single-day point drop in history.

NBC called it "The Big Drop." CNN instructed its reporters to use the terms "sell-off" and "correction." Fox called it "Blue Monday."

"Financial journalism is one of those areas in which one has to be acutely conscious of the consequences of a report," said Lou Dobbs, CNN's chief financial correspondent. CNN used the phrase "crash" to describe what was happening in Hong Kong, he said.

ABC first interrupted programing with a special report at 2:38, although it twice flashed a printed notice of the stock market's decline on the screen before that. NBC's first report came at 2:45.

NBC waited for the day's first suspension of trading to break in, said NBC News spokeswoman Julia Moffett. "We weren't just going to break in and say the market's been volatile," she said.

Fox let its affiliates decide whether to break into programing with Fox News Channel coverage.

The news channel MSNBC took advantage of its partnership with financial news network CNBC, simulcasting CNBC's coverage for more than 35 minutes Monday.