Covering Laci

Article excerpt

Byline: Christian Toto, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Covering Laci

They're on the same television networks, hours apart. Yet the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news programs take strikingly different approaches to covering the Laci Peterson case, the Associated Press reports.

A regular morning news viewer is probably intimately acquainted with details about the pregnant Modesto, Calif., woman who disappeared last Christmas Eve and, months later, was found dead along with her unborn son, Conner. Her husband, Scott, has been arrested in the deaths and is awaiting trial.

On the other hand, someone who relies on the evening news may not even recognize the names of those involved.

For the past six months, the Peterson saga has been the third-biggest news story on NBC's "Today" and its morning brethren. Only the war in Iraq and its aftermath rated more attention than the 415 minutes nearly seven hours of talking that the three shows devoted to the case. That's more than the Columbia space shuttle disaster and homeland security.

Meanwhile, the Peacock's "Nightly News," ABC's "World News Tonight" and the "CBS Evening News" spent just 12 minutes on the story during the same period, while 63 other stories got more attention in the evening, according to the Tyndall Report, which monitors TV news coverage and compiled the statistics.

"Is it an important story? I can't say," Paul Slavin, senior vice president of ABC News, told the AP. "But I can say it was a very, very interesting story."

The show's formats, in part, dictate the contrary approaches. The evening news has 30 minutes to sum up the world, minus the commercials. NBC's "Today" is three hours long, while ABC's "Good Morning America" and "The Early Show" on CBS are two hours.

With that extra time to fill, the morning shows mirror the cable news networks, which also have spent many hours on the story.

"It just has so much," Tom Touchet, executive producer of "Today," told the AP. "It's an unfathomable tragedy. She was the girl next door, she was full of hope and enthusiasm, she was thrilled to be pregnant, and she goes missing on Christmas Eve. There's just so much our audience can relate to."

Top-rated "Today" has devoted 154 minutes to the case, more than any of its rivals. "Nightly News," also No. 1 in the ratings, gave the story a scant two minutes.

Mr. Touchet doesn't believe "Today" has overplayed the story. There were significant developments each time it was covered, he said.

Still, "Nightly News" executive producer Steve Capus said he's "entirely comfortable" with his decision to largely ignore the story and won't judge others. …