Broadcast Nets Poised to Pounce on Zimmerman Verdict

George Zimmerman
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

ABC News plans special report when verdict comes down

ABC News is preparing to air a special report when jurors in the much –covered George Zimmerman trial reach a verdict, a signal that a story that has primarily been considered one more platelet in the lifeblood of the cable-news cycle is about to become something of a national event.

ABC News said Friday it will air a special report on the network when the Zimmerman verdict is reached. ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams and correspondent Matt Gutman, both who have been covering this case from the start, will offer reporting and analysis. The two staffers will report on the verdict for all ABC News platforms including “World News with Diane Sawyer,” “Good Morning America,” and “Nightline.”

The other broadcast networks have yet to disclose their plans, but could do so if it seems clear the jury in the trial is likely to move quickly toward a decision.

The event is a potentially explosive one. The Zimmerman case, in which a 29-year-old one-time volunteer for a neighborhood watch in Sanford, Florida has been charged with the shooting death of a teenager, Trayvon Martin, has been closely followed. “This is about more than just the crime itself,” said Scot M. Safon, an executive vice president at CNN Worldwide who oversees HLN. “There are questions about gun control and race relations, racial profiling and the proper role of a neighborhood watch” that make coverage compelling to more viewers than those tune in for trial coverage, he said.

On late Friday morning, eastern time, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, HLN and CNN were all providing live coverage of the defense’s closing arguments. An MSNBC spokeswoman said the network planned ”rolling” coverage of the event. At the broadcast-network newscasts, the trial has been covered gradually, but has rarely been the lead of “CBS Evening News,” “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” or “NBC Nightly News,” according to the Tyndall Report, a service that tracks the content of the broadcast-network evening newscasts,

Between July 1 and July 5, all three network newscasts covered the trail, but the lead of each telecast was given to coverage of Arizona wildfires or unrest in Egypt, according to Tyndall. CBS led with coverage of the Zimmerman trail on July 5, Tyndall said.

“On the nightly newscasts,  ABC and NBC are filing on a daily basis,” with correspondents  Gutman and Ron Mott, respectively, Andrew Tyndall, who oversees the service, said in an interview, while CBS has used correspondent Mark Strassman “sporadically,” he said, or five times out of the first 14 weekdays of the trail. “By my reckoning, CBS makes the right call here. Zimmerman is rarely rated newsworthy enough to qualify as the nightly news lead item: gay marriage, the hotshot firefighters, the coup in Egypt, the Asiana Airlines crash have all preempted it from the top spot.”

Whether an actual verdict in the trial changes that sentiment remains to be seen.

At one Orlando station,  coverage of the Zimmerman case and trial has usurped the airwaves. WESH, an Orlando, Fla. NBC affiliate owned by Hearst Corp., is “wall to wall,” said Bob Longo, news director at the station. “If the trial is starting at 8:30 a.m., we’re going on at 8:30 a.m. If the trial goes at 9 a.m., we anchor coverage of the trial itself. We’ve got three analysts that we are using” at a studio built near the courthouse with a satellite truck at the ready.  “We’ve got a special set of graphics just for this,” said Longo, who added he was in danger of losing his voice. “”We are pretty intensive in our Zimmerman coverage.”

Trial coverage has garnered upswings in viewership. HLN has posted triple-digit increases in both total viewers as well as audiences between the ages of 25 and 54, the demographic advertisers covet most in news programming.

The gambit among those covering the trial closely is that a verdict will intensify audience interest. HLN’s Safon said the network has about 50 employees at the ready, prepared to mobilize when a verdict is reached. And even when the immediate furor subsides, he said, HLN is likely to continue focusing on the topic.  HLN normally relies on pre-taped programming on weekend nights, he said, “but that is not the case tonight and that is very likely not the case tomorrow.”

At WESH, local interest is enough to fuel justification for extended coverage, said Longo, the news director, who doesn’t feel TV-news treatment of the event has grown sordid. He has seen no more than  few protesters outside the court building, he said. “Local folks seem to have their heads on straight, and justice is being served with the trial.” Even so, WESH has plans to add context and perspective to its coverage of the event. “We will cover the verdict and we will be prepared to offer commentary and conversation based on that.”

WESH viewers want to see the trial to its conclusion, he added. Whether the nation does may be a matter for others to decide.

“This was a real event, a tragic event,” said Longo, ” and “this is giving it closure. Whether CNN and the cable shows should be devoting the amount of time to it instead of stories like Egypt or the plane crash in  San Francisco is probably a question for other folks.”

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  1. Don Dial says:

    One could only hope Mr Zimmerman successfully sues every Major News Network Govt Agency and Politician that had the audicty to prejudge and try him in the Media and Public Opinion. I think we have a major problem in our Country with Honesty and Integrity. There’s also an ex police Chief due some reparation and apology s

  2. Pouncekitty says:

    Of course they will pounce! This is the “drama” they can’t muster on their own pathetic shows. This is the racism they have stoked and ginned up from day one. The Networks are bankrupt and empty. CNN called Zimmerman a “white hispanic” to gin up racism! This is your scumbag leftnut media, my dears. Live with it!

  3. Dizzy says:

    They’ve already got him convicted on the 20/20 telecast I saw on TV last night.

  4. Supie says:

    Fox News is in full meltdown over the Zimmerman jury asking for clarification on manslaughter.. one of their reporters suggested that the jury was confused and doesn’t under stand the law… that goofy looking Greg guy said that… Fox has been rooting for a not guilty verdict for over a year..
    Man – could Fox News going down in flames AGAIN… ? ?

  5. BL says:

    They can cry all they want when he is acquitted won’t matter, and I won’t bother watching any of it. Anyone who riots over it needs to get thrown in jail and then get a job and a life.

  6. mary levine says:

    This trial was brought in haste due to outside influences. Although I feel compassion for the parents this is a clear case of self defense especially with the enactment of the Stand Your Ground law. In other words you can start fight in Florida, and if you start to lose you can shoot the guy and not get arrested. That is why the prosecution looks so feeble; in this jurisdiction they don’t have a case. I think it’s a bad law, but it still exists and there will be more tragedies like this where nobody is held accountable when a murder occurs.

  7. The networks are like jackals. They have been trying to convict George Zimmerman; and they will pay a heavy price for this.

    More and more Americans are turning away from the networks; and this will merely hasten the exodus!

  8. 1peevedbob says:

    They ALL have headlines ready for either Guilty or not Guilty, outrage or joy.

  9. Don Lino says:

    HLN ( Hysterical Ladies Network, accdg to lawyer guest at CNN ) , in my view, is a disservice to the decent Americans. With HLN’s Nancy Grace as prime time host, forget it. I switched to Foxnews, fair & balanced. But I still like Erin Burnett, Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Malveau, Fredirica, Lemon, Hosts of New Day on CNN during any coverage…..

  10. Jim Grant says:

    Both of msnbc’s viewers said the coverage there was the best.

  11. Ray Cahill says:

    Sounds like everyone is geared up and ready to see the Canadians burn down their own neighborhoods, like the always do.

  12. Captain Skip says:

    One self defense shooting in Sanford, FL. gets extended coverage but no mention of the dozens of murders that take place weekly on the streets of Chicago. That is what’s tragic.

  13. J. Galt says:

    What the hell is going on in this country! This was a clear case of self-defense. The world is upside down. Right is called wrong and in this living Twilight Zone, wrong (thuggery) is ignored.
    John Galt Take Me With You . com

  14. DC Dayt says:

    One point I haven’t heard mentioned that should be considered in Z’s defense: it’s dark out and he is sucker-punched by a much taller guy wearing a hoodie, one who then straddles him and beats his heat on the concrete. At what point and by what means is Z to be able to discern the attacker is a minor? Given the circumstances…he could be 20, 30, etc. At the time, I’d bet Z was defending against an attacker – not a minor.

  15. Rich N says:

    The sons have different names, the father of Trayvon has gone missing until now. The mommy is a liar, but no one cares because this is all about the black teenager and the (white) hispanic guy.

  16. Safon meant ‘the ALLEGED crime’ right???…shhhh don’t look now but your lack of objectivity is showing!!

  17. Rich N says:

    HLN coverage is about what you would expect…”Poor little 12 year old Trayvon…” Every picture they use in background is of the deceased at 12 or 13 years of age. Zimmerman showed very poor judgement, but he did not break any laws by defending himself. As for HLN, Nancy Grace is pathetic when she whines in that ‘mommy’ voice she turns on and off. Jane Velez looks like an ad for “before plastic surgery” and an all over bottled tan product. Both of them yell at you constantly.

    • Helpless says:

      The sad fact is that if Nancy Grace and her fellow reporters didn’t spout the line they do, they would no longer have jobs.

  18. says:

    Dumb people love this type of news. It stirs their emotions, not their intellect, which is lacking.

  19. sunny says:

    The media should be ashamed of itself. Making a local issue a national issue and causing more divisiveness than ever.

  20. rawhheadrex says:

    40+ years in television news, oxymoronic that! TV news is about equality and that includes lack of qualification, integrity and purpose. It is nothing more than the chronicle of popular culture. The time is long past when it has significance.

  21. dano says:

    “This is about more than just the crime itself,”

    That seems to be the presses perspective; however, when is it a crime to defend yourself? I guess thats what the trial is about and the verdict will address.

  22. Dave says:

    So what if they do? It will be tweeted and disseminated online before they get a chance to utter a peep.

  23. itsy_bitsy says:

    We can only hope that they will show less partiality than they have in the past! If George Zimmerman is found innocent, it will be disgraceful if they rail against him and the verdict, though I expect no less from them!

  24. Enano says:

    Where was all of this media attention during the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the abortion butcher who delivered babies alive and then “snipped” their necks, killing them?

  25. jojopittsburgh says:

    Yes, it is amazing how, I think starting with OJ, and through the Michael Jackson, Phil Specter trials, all we get anymore is Stupid people, people who never watch the news and have “no ideas”. My ideas of people without ideas is “plants” or pathological liars trying to get on a jury.

  26. cadavra says:

    Zimmerman is white. “Hispanic” is a nationality, not a race, just as Judaism is a religion, not a race.

  27. SamIamTwo says:

    Yeah they no doubt have prepared statements if it goes either way. No bias reporting on this one, eh?

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