When it comes to ballyhooing “breaking news” on a newscast, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer uses—and abuses—that phrase probably more than any other anchor. Often the supposed breaking news he’s promoting is not breaking, and in some cases, not even news. (You might call it olds.)
Let’s take a look at one day in the life of “breaking news” at the hands, or larynx, of Blitzer.
On March 3, Mitt Romney spoke in Salt Lake City at 11:30 a.m. EST. For 20 minutes, he lambasted Donald Trump. At 12:15 p.m., the CNN anchor, Ashleigh Banfield, called it “breaking news.” It was, indisputably. About 12:37, she said, “This was the scene, folks, in a speech that will surely turn up in the textbooks.” Don’t be too sure.
At 1 p.m., Blitzer took over the CNN anchor chair: “We begin with breaking political news.” No problem there: the Romney news was still fresh enough to call it “breaking.” At 1:29, Blitzer said, “Right now, we’re standing by to hear from the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump. He’s going to come out on that stage momentarily.” Blitzer apparently meant in a moment. Momentarily means for a moment or short time.
At 2 p.m., Brooke Baldwin took over the anchor desk. About 2:10 p.m., she intro’d Trump, who was speaking at a political rally in Portland, Maine, and tanning Romney’s hide.
At 5 p.m., Blitzer took charge again. He started by saying five hours after Romney finished speaking: “Happening now, breaking news. Revenge and remorse.” Breaking news? Revenge? Remorse? What’s that all about? Blitzer continued: “The 2012 Republican nominee unleashes a stunning attack on the 2016 front-runner, who answers with his usual punch in the gut. Will they rip the Republican party apart?” A few minutes later, Blitzer said, “The breaking news: it’s open warfare in the Republican party right now.” That’s not new. On Jan. 21, National Review magazine ran anti-Trump essays by 20+ prominent conservatives. And on March 2, the day before this close look at Blitzer, several dozen Republican foreign policy experts signed an open letter (@WarontheRocks) accusing Trump of being “fundamentally dishonest” and “unfit” to be president.
At 5:20 p.m., right after a commercial, Blitzer said, “We’re following the breaking news. Only moments ago, right here in the Situation Room, our special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, reported that Mitt Romney’s inner circle, sources tell her, is exploring ways to block Donald Trump over at the Republican national convention later in July in Cleveland.” Sources? Vague.
At 5:28, Blitzer said, “We’re following breaking news and another astonishing and improbable moment in this, the 2016 presidential campaign: 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney‘s speech publicly attacking Donald Trump, as in Romney’s words, a phony and a fraud.”
A few minutes later, Blitzer said, “The breaking news: it’s open warfare in the Republican party right now.” Breaking? Open warfare? Right now? Near 5:50, Blitzer said, “And breaking news. A day after the United Nations imposes tough new sanctions, North Korea fires off a salvo of missiles, and Kim Jong-Un orders nuclear warheads be ready for use.”
But 18 hours earlier, shortly after midnight, CNN reported: “Our top story this hour: ‘North Korea has fired six short-range projectiles off the east coast of the Korean peninsula. South Korea’s Defense Ministry says it happened just a few days ago, and now they’re analyzing the situation.” Back to Blitzer: After a commercial break, the announcer said, “This is CNN breaking news.” Then Blitzer said, “The breaking news coming in to the Situation Room, only moments ago, Kim Jong-Un’s regime issued a chilling new threat. A threat involving nuclear weapons.” True. But what country is that?
At 5:59, Blitzer said: “Breaking news we’re following. [He didn’t say what that news was.] Also coming up, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney attacks 2016 presidential front-runner Donald Trump as a phony and a fraud.” Breaking?
At 6 p.m., Blitzer began, “Happening now, breaking news: civil war.” Didn’t that war end at Appomattox Court House? A few minutes later, the announcer said, “This is CNN breaking news.” Immediately, Blitzer said, “The breaking political news this hour: the extraordinary war of words between Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and Mitt Romney….” Breaking?
About 6:25 p.m., Blitzer said, “There’s more breaking political news we’re following, including new details of the war between Mitt Romney and Donald Trump right now, the epic battle that may play out at the Republican convention in July.” Breaking? At 6:26, Blitzer said, “There’s more breaking political news tonight, a possible, possible major turnaround by Donald Trump, a source telling CNN that the GOP front-runner who boasts of funding his own campaign will, in fact, turn to major donors to finance his White House bid if and when he secures the Republican presidential nomination.” If, when, possibly, possibly. Doesn’t sound too solid. (CNN’s word-for-word transcript is available on the internet.)
Finally, a few seconds before 7 p.m., Blitzer said, “Be sure to join us tomorrow.” Why? For more breaking news?
© Mervin Block 2016
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“Writing Broadcast News” and “Broadcast Newswriting: The RTDNA Reference Guide”
“Rewriting Network News” and “Writing News for TV and Radio”
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