Thursday, January 05, 2006

More about the reporting of the Munich Massacre of 1972

In my previous post, I recalled hearing the "good news, bad news" reports of the Munich Massacre:

Those of you who, like me, are of a certain age, may recall that when the shootout and botched rescue attempt occurred at the airport the first reports--widely disseminated--were that all the athletes were safe. Then, just a few hours later, the news was reversed.

Do you remember? I do, only too well. It was exquisitely painful, and the pain was somehow even greater because of the initial false reports. How did they get it so wrong back then? I've never read an explanation; if anyone has one, please feel free to offer it.


I still don't have an explanation, but I found some interesting links via this post by Yehudit of Keshertalk. In one, Roone Arledge, who was the head of ABC sports at the time, tells the story of waiting for a report on how the airport rescue attempt had gone:

The console phone rang five minutes later; it was Marvin. He'd just seen his friend Otto Kentsch, assistant to the chief Olympics spokesman, coming out of a meeting, eyes watery. Kentsch wouldn't go on the record, but he told him: The hostages were dead. All of them.

I found myself suddenly faced with the oldest dilemma of the news producer. If I put the story on right now, we'd have a worldwide scoop. But what if, by some long chance, Kentsch was wrong and the whole world heard ABC blow it?

I decided to wait for confirmation. Better right than first. I had what I needed to hold the network, though, and I wanted Jim to prepare our listeners.

"Looks very dark for hostages," I whispered into his earpiece. "Announcement soon. Don't get their hopes up."

We kept waiting for word. Fifteen minutes ... 30 ... 45. At Olympic headquarters, they were reviewing the day for the media in half-hour increments, halting between each one for French, then English translation. German thoroughness, God almighty!

Finally, at 3:17 a.m., Reuters removed all our doubts.

"FLASH! ALL ISRAELI HOSTAGES SEIZED BY ARAB GUERRILLAS KILLED."

We could go with it.

"Official," I whispered to Jim. "All hostages dead."

He turned to look straight into the camera. For the first time that day, he appeared truly tired.

"I've just gotten the final word," he said. "When I was a kid, my father used to say our greatest hopes and worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears were realized tonight...." He paused. Then, "They're all gone."


Roone Arledge was correct, although I wonder how often his words are heeded today: better right than first.

10 Comments:

At 8:12 PM, January 05, 2006, Blogger Jamie Irons said...

Neo,

One is impressed by the decorum of the news media in this case. I don't know how widespread such reserve was back then.

I couldn't help noticing the appellation "Arab guerillas." Such a quaint designation. Political correctness was already poisoning our understanding of the world.

Now the descendants of those "guerillas" hand out candy to children when a great statesman lies at death's door (a man who gave them at least some of what they putatively want, a state of their own).

Strange times.

Jamie Irons

 
At 8:20 PM, January 05, 2006, Blogger ExPreacherMan said...

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At 8:24 PM, January 05, 2006, Blogger ExPreacherMan said...

Tis a tough thing for a reporter to withold a sensational story without verifying the truth. But it still wrong to report a rumor as truth.. Miner story and your Munich story are good examples of the wrong and the right.

Still, the left will try to pin the mine disaster on Bush -- They might even go back to Munich to find a Bush connection.

 
At 8:32 PM, January 05, 2006, Blogger Maggie45 said...

They already are trying to blame it on Bush. The Political Teen has a post about it. Too bad we don't have men of Roone Arledge's character today on television news.

I live in an area which requires cable for television reception. Not too many months after 9/11 I could no longer afford to pay for it, so I shut it off and instead used the internet for my news, and would check out videos from the library for entertainment, not to mention books. lol. About a year and a half ago, I could afford to pay for cable again but am choosing not to as my stress level has gone WAY down. I used to watch CNN with those talking heads and the banners moving along on the bottom of the screen and occasionally on the top of the screen, or may there were two on the bottom, can't remember, but do remember the anxiety I would feel trying to keep up with it all. I now subscribe to Netflix for less than I'd pay for the cable, and I'm enjoying it very much, thank you.

 
At 11:23 PM, January 05, 2006, Blogger chuck said...

I remember the Tenerife plane collision disaster. There were many early reports that I ignored while I waited for CBS to chime in. In those days CBS was the best news network and they waited the longest of the networks to report the details, and they got them right! There is no substitute for time when it comes to ferreting out the facts. But those were the olden days and I am showing my age.

 
At 5:41 AM, January 06, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I think I'm showing my age when I say the first thing I used for knowledge was the internet. Cable was for entertainment, period.

 
At 3:40 PM, January 06, 2006, Blogger Daniel in Brookline said...

I too am impressed by the decorum shown by the reporter you quote. Where has it all gone? (Or were we mistaken and idealistic to assume that it was ever prevalent in the first place?)

I'm reminded of something rather unrelated. I was living in Israel in 1991, when Saddam started raining Scuds over our heads without warning. In those days, we had no idea what he equipped them with -- chemical agents? Biological warfare? Nuclear weapons?? -- but we had to assume the worst, so when a Scud landed, heavily-protected decontamination crews would investigate the crater, looking for clues.

And more than once, the foreign reporters on the scene would be busily filming this -- and at some arbitrary point, the reporter on-camera would say something like "well, it looks like it's safe to take off our gas masks"... and the fool would then do so, on-camera.

This resulted in a rare on-camera rebuke from Brig. Gen. Nahman Shai, then head of the IDF Press Office. He went on nationwide television and said, "I hate to speak ill of my fellow journalists. But when they speculate about taking off their gas masks, they don't know what they are talking about. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM, no matter what they say. We are testing each attack as it happens; we will tell you when it's safe to take off your gas masks."

It turned out that none of the Scuds held anything worse than high explosive. But suppose one of those journalists had made a ghastly mistake... and had been listened to? They simply had no grasp of the deadly consequences of their words.

respectfully,
Daniel in Brookline

 
At 7:59 PM, January 06, 2006, Anonymous benning said...

I do remember the Munich Massacre, neo. Your background to McKay's report makes it more interesting in relation to what reporters now do. I was impressed in the previous post with the small newspaper whose editor and reporter waited for comfirmation before printing a story. Shades of Arledge and McKay, eh?

Reading the nonsense from some of the other editors - "news changes, mannnn, and it changed, mannn, we didn't do anything wrong, mannnn." - just shows how poorly they understand journalism, much less reportage.

Sad.

 
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