NEW YORK (AP) – For a broadcast reporter, these are the times when MSNBC’s Brian Williams says you can almost smell people looking at you.
Planes crash into the World Trade Center. A president is assassinated. An election is plunged into turmoil. The first man walks on the moon. Daily life is put aside and people gather around the televisions to soak up the news.
How TV and radio reporters handle the situation when history is suddenly forced upon them is the subject of a new podcast based on Joe Garner’s 1998 book, “We Interrupt This Broadcast.” The 12-episode series, narrated by Williams, will be available on July 20, and new seasons are already in the works.
Hearing some of these moments as they unfold is scary, especially if you were there to hear them the first time around. In many cases, a journalist’s mundane day has suddenly turned into one of the most defining of his career, and all skills are put to use.
âYou can’t measure it when it happens, but you are doing the best you can,â Williams said. “You will be remembered when people look back and see how we covered these stories.”
The first season episodes explore the attacks of September 11, 2001, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the shooting of President Ronald Reagan, the moon landing, Columbine, the death of Princess Diana, the D-Day invasion and the explosion of Hindenburg.
While the recordings from that time obviously make up a big part of the series, Garner said he knew it wouldn’t be enough for a podcast.
Thus, the series draws on interviews with the people involved to give a richer perspective.
That’s when you hear, for example, NBC News producer Beth O’Connell recounting how she called staff members into a conference room after planes hit the World Trade Center to urge them to take some times to shop for shirts and toiletries at Rockefeller Center. . They were likely to be at work for a long time.
In 1968, annoyed astronaut Wally Schirra refused to turn on a camera during the Apollo 7 mission, illustrating how television coverage wasn’t exactly a top NASA priority. A year later, Schirra was sitting in a CBS studio next to Walter Cronkite describing the Apollo 11 mission that landed on the moon.
Cronkite features heavily in the series. It was a highlight on television in 1963 when he took off his glasses to calm down briefly after telling the nation that Kennedy was dead.
One of Cronkite’s former office assistants, Mike Russo, is interviewed in the moon landing episode, as is Richard Nafzger, a NASA official tasked with ensuring that Neil Armstrong’s first moon landing has been filmed.
âNobody knows who I am,â Nafzger said. “But if that failed, my name would be everywhere.”
A moment lost in history: NBC had prepared a space-themed entertainment special – with performances of songs like “Moon Over Miami” – for the expected time between the astronaut landing and the moonwalk of Armstrong, but he was abandoned when he and Buzz Aldrin left the landing craft faster than expected.
One point that journalists repeat over and over again is the need to remain calm during these great times. One of Aaron Brown’s most distinctive memories is repeating those words to himself as he walked over to CNN’s New York office to anchor CNN’s 9/11 coverage.
âYou kind of get into a fad,â veteran reporter Bill Kurtis, who appears with Williams on the show, said in an interview. âYou don’t let your passions take over. You adopt insightful behavior as you go about doing your job, which is to find facts and disseminate them.
Unfounded rumors frequently circulate in these situations, and an essential part of a presenter’s job is not to give them oxygen. Williams recalled the anger of former ABC presenter Frank Reynolds when he was forced to withdraw the flawed report that Reagan’s press secretary James Brady died in the 1981 assassination attempt .
Particularly on television during traumatic days, journalists often take on roles beyond journalism.
âIt kind of becomes a chapel,â Garner said. âIt becomes a national home. We all come together there and we hold hands figuratively and the anchor kind of gets us through that. “
The podcast takes a potentially dangerous risk with two episodes imagining how historic events, like the passage in 1919 of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, would be handled by broadcasters. These episodes were not available for review.
âWe also have plans in the coming seasons to do the stories that changed our business – to do the stories that taught the mostly older white guys who run the media in this country that viewers and listeners have. a funny way of deciding what’s news, âWilliams mentioned.
Garner said he was struck by the self-assessment many broadcasters offer of their work. The clichÃ© is that journalism is the first draft of history. The people involved did not have a chance to rewrite it.
“I hope (listeners) will understand the humanity at the heart of audiovisual journalism,” he said.
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