CBS Drops the Ball in Superdome Blackout Coverage by Failing to Press the NFL for Answers

Published on: 4th February, 2013

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CBS Drops the Ball in Superdome Blackout Coverage by Failing to Press the NFL for Answers  | read this item

From Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News:

The fans inside the Superdome were not the only ones left in the dark when half the building’s power went out in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII Sunday night.  Viewers were left with unanswered questions as CBS Sports’ sideline reporters, and the rest of the cast, failed to go into a reporting mode.

There was no outrage, no questioning how a thing like this could happen on the NFL’s biggest night of the year.

At a time when they should have been aggressively gathering news, CBS’ crew was satisfied with the crumbs the NFL dropped on them. And they swallowed the scraps gladly. Not once during the 34-minute delay did a representative of the National Football League appear on camera to attempt to explain what caused half the Superdome to lose power. Why should they? No one from CBS put any pressure on them.

Instead of having anyone with a microphone express a hint of outrage, they accepted what was going down. “As soon as they know (what knocked the power out) someone (from the NFL) is going to come down and we are going to interview them to ascertain what knocked out the power,” said Solomon Wilcots, one of CBS’ sideline reporters.

No, that ain’t the way it works. The idea is to find an NFL suit, stick a microphone in his/her face and ask the following question:  What the hell is going on?

Think about it. CBS pays billions for the right to air NFL games. Much of that dough is shelled out to secure rights to the Super Bowl. So, on the big night, there is a major screwup and the NFL won’t put  someone on the air — and CBS won’t push the league — to try to explain what’s going on? That’s mind-boggling.

But not quite as wacked as CBS’ laid-back approach to reporting this story, which will go down as one of the more unusual moments in Super Bowl history. All the players were on the field, waiting, stretching. Why not take a camera and microphone on the sidelines for an interview? If they blow you off, fine — at least viewers would have something worth watching.

Instead of hearing from James Brown, Dan Marino, Bill Cowher and Shannon Sharpe (Boomer Esiason was working the radio) that the 49ers would benefit from the delay, why not ask players from both teams their thoughts on the matter?

At one point, CBS had a shot of John Harbaugh screaming at some suit who we assumed worked for the NFL (we take that grand leap because CBS never identified who the gentleman was). Why not stick a microphone in Harbaugh’s face and ask him why he was angry?

Maybe he would have told you his brother’s team was going to benefit from the delay, which it did. At one point Steve Tasker, the other sideline reporter, said he had signaled for “John Harbaugh to come over,” but the Ravens coach had declined. That is the closest viewers got to a legit interview.

For the record, Jennifer Sabatelle, CBS Sports’ VP/communications, said Tasker and Wilcots  “and our studio team reported on the situation as a breaking news story providing updates and reports while full power was being restored to the dome.”

Compared to what? In 1989, when an earthquake (duh, much more serious than a piddly blackout) hit Candlestick Park before Game 3 of the A’s-Giants World Series, Al Michaels and the ABC crew segued into full news mode and covered what was going down thoughtfully and thoroughly. Michaels and Co. showed how sports reporters can handle a news story by just asking the right questions.

Instead of doing just that, CBS stayed in a total sports mode, replaying first-half highlights and getting insight from Cowher on what he would be telling his team under the same circumstance. Imagine if someone from CBS asked one of the Harbaugh brothers that very question? With CBS only updating viewers on when the game might resume, it is reasonable to wonder how many of them bailed out during the delay. CBS was fortunate the game tightened down the stretch, making for an exciting finish.

It’s doubtful Sharpe’s one-liners, like wondering who paid the Superdome’s electric bill, were holding the audience. Same for his other gem: “I’m not saying the fat lady is singing, but they cut the power off so she could warmup in the darkness.”

CBS’ inability to report the news, dig into all angles of the story, is a direct result of how the NFL controls the media. If normal coverage is limited and restricted, it stands to reason that league suits would try to black out all coverage of a Super Bowl blackout.

The lights going out signaled a major embarrassment for Roger Goodell and Co. On the night of the league’s biggest event, a game that media and fans go gaga over for two weeks, the NFL came off looking like a minor league operation.

In the end, the league could have looked even worse.

If CBS had done its job.

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