NEW YORK — News nets abandoned their competitive ways on Tuesday in order to cover the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history.
Virtually all networks carried the story live throughout the day, preempting regular primetime and latenight programming.
“It is literally all hands on deck,” a CBS News spokesman said. “In terms of the history of broadcast journalism, this is unprecedented. Every human being who is available is working.”
The spokesman added that CBS News coverage would air on the Eye web “indefinitely.”
CNN went into “full war load. We have everyone working a minimum of 12-hour shifts until further notice,” said Eason Jordan, president of newsgathering and chief news exec at CNN News Group.
At the suggestion of “60 Minutes” creator Don Hewitt, the major television nets agreed to share all footage gathered during the terrorist attacks and their aftermath.
“Don said, ‘This is a national crisis. There should be nothing proprietary about it,’ ” a CBS spokeswoman said.
CBS News topper Andrew Heyward contacted CNN Newsgroup chairman and CEO Walter Isaacson and NBC News prexy Neal Shapiro, who readily agreed to share footage.
The exchange marked unprecedented cooperation among the usually ultracompetitive newsies. ABC and Fox were not contacted since they already share footage with CBS through Network News Service (NNS).
“We’re competitive by nature, but given the horrific nature of what’s happened, we decided to put some of our competitive juices aside and try to do what’s in the best interest of the people, which is to give them as much information as possible,” CNN’s Jordan said.
MSNBC’s Brian Williams summed it up best when he said on-air, “It’s not a day to be competitive. It’s a day to cover a national tragedy.”
Meanwhile, corporate synergy came into play as niche cablers referred viewers to sibling news channels or repackaged news feeds from their sister broadcasters.
Fox Sports Net and FX aired Fox News coverage, with Fox Family and National Geographic directing viewers to its cable news sibling.
ESPN broadcast ABC News’ coverage. VH1, MTV and CMT ceased regular programming and instead aired CBS News coverage of the disaster. CNN aired directly on its sister nets TBS, TNT and Turner South, while ShopNBC turned to MSNBC’s coverage.
“We view our networks first and foremost in times of tragedies like this as ways to get information to people,” said Jeff Shell, president and CEO of Fox Cable Networks Group. “We’ll continue to do this until further notice.”
National Geographic and Fox Family switched to Fox News early in the day, but returned to regular programming at 3 p.m. EDT. “Networks with family programming provide an alternative for families home with their children,” Shell said.
CNN founder Ted Turner was the one to suggest that TBS, TNT and Turner South interrupt their regular schedules to carry CNN live.
Fox News was the first to “brand” the tragedy with a “Day of Terror” graphic. The network later changed its coverage to “Terrorism Hits America.” MSNBC named the coverage “Attack on America,” while CNN used “America Under Attack.”
Throughout the day — and unlike during the first hours after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 — news anchors and commentators were cautious about drawing any conclusions about who was responsible for the terrorist attacks.
“The same standards apply to this story as to any other story — people need to use good news judgment. I don’t think there’s any speculation going on,” an NBC News spokeswoman said.
In fact, until the second plane hit the second of the twin World Trade Center towers, reporters didn’t speculate about whether a terrorist attack was involved.
“In our reporting, we’re going to be a bit conservative. This is already horrendous, and we don’t need to make it worse,” CNN’s Aaron Brown said.
Because of the newsies’ restraint, little misinformation was circulated, but there were a couple of minor glitches.
ABC’s Peter Jennings reported that a car bomb exploded outside the State Dept., which turned out not to be true.
CNN, along with virtually every other national broadcaster, had a transmitter atop the World Trade Center. The news net lost access to backup transmitters when the Empire State Building was evacuated.
Having lost their WTC transmitters, Gotham stations WWOR, WNYW, WNET, WPIX, WABC and WNJU (Telemundo) were knocked off the air either temporarily or all day.
(Melissa Grego in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)