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.