HuffPo Slams NBC for Not Sensationalizing Eight Belles' Derby Death

May 5th, 2008 3:18 PM
On the heels of accusations that the media exploited the death of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, now there are cries that NBC didn't spend enough time on Eight Belles' death. After her second-place finish in Saturday's Derby, the three-year-old filly snapped both ankles and was euthanized by a vet on the track.

Ruth Hochberger is one of the voices criticizing NBC for their “abysmal” coverage, but her May 4 Huffington Post article misrepresented the broadcast, claiming there was a “complete failure to tell the story.” She scolded NBC because, “Its nearly three hours of coverage of yesterday's Kentucky Derby just about completely ignored the news. “

Since Eight Belles' death was near the end of the “nearly three hours of coverage,” why is Hochberger penalizing NBC for not having a time machine and ignoring it earlier?

It didn't satisfy Hochberger that NBC refused to speculate and reported only when they knew the facts. She seemed to want the wall-to-wall guesswork reporting one finds with the “baby stuck in a well” crisis journalism where a network trains the camera on “breaking news” and continuously chatters about what might be happening, regardless of how much they know (all bold mine):

The news here (and Bob Costas used to fancy himself a journalist) was the dead filly. How did this happen? Could the jockey have done anything? Were there any signs in the horse's prior medical history that could have foretold this? How often does something like this happen? How did they euthanize the horse? Is this a no-brainer decision, or is there some specialist somewhere that would have made a stab at saving this horse?

I -- and I'm sure millions of others watching -- was curious. I wanted answers. And I got none.

Well then, she simply wasn't paying attention. I too was watching, and but I heard the NBC team explain the basic facts. Unlike Hochberger, I realized that those involved with Eight Belles were a little busy. Did she expect NBC Sports' mounted reporter Donna Brothers to badger the jockey for answers instead of loaning him her horse so he could notify trainer Larry Jones that Eight Belle had been put down? Did she expect Costas to stalk the vet until he showed the needle that was used or interrupt the award ceremony so he could ask Big Brown's owners what it feels like to win that way?

I'm sure that if NBC had shown Eight Belles struggling on the track and eventually dying, PETA and some in the media would have said that NBC had violated the filly's dignity, wth articles and TV segments asking if NBC went too far.

Hochberger sensed a conspiracy. NBC's “blackout” was because they didn't want to ruin the “'fun' Derby Day,” stating, “It cannot afford to send its viewer home, thinking that horses actually die in the Derby.”

Did she not see any of NBC's stories about Barbaro? That year's round-the-clock reporting conveyed the danger. This year, to boost viewers, NBC added an award-show style celebrity red carpet. If they were only concerned with ratings, they would have turned Eight Belles' death into the next sensationalized story of the week and hyped the next two races in the Triple Crown.

So, a major news network basically pretends there is no dead horse on the track, wasting a totally teachable moment, refusing to answer the myriad questions that occurred to at least this viewer.

NBC's performance was abysmal. Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and John Chancellor must be spinning in their graves. Bob Costas should be mortified. And what are we, the viewers, to do to make sure we get the story of the next elephant in the room?

Again, NBC reported Eight Belles' status as soon as NBC was definitively told what had happened. Just what was NBC supposed to teach, and were they supposed to ignore the Derby winner to do it? Not every tragedy should be turned into one of those “The More You Know” public service announcements.

NBC wasn't biased or deficient in their coverage; they got it right. Hochberger didn't.  

**Photo credit: USA Today

Lynn contributes to NewsBusters. Email her with tips or even complaints at tvisgoodforyou2-at-yahoo-dot-com.