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Networks take time for memorial service

Television offered a sounding board Tuesday as people struggled to make sense — if they ever could — of why a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Television offered a sounding board Tuesday as people struggled to make sense — if they ever could — of why a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.

The major networks broke from regular programming to cover an on-campus memorial service with President Bush, only hours after the shooter had been identified and before all the identities of his victims were publicly known.

Even though cable news networks provided continuous coverage, the pace was slower than Monday, when the horror unfolding was fresh. CNN was even reduced to interviewing the man who delivered mail to suspect Cho Seung-Hui.

ABC, CBS and NBC focused on trying to piece together the mystery of a suspect who left few tracks (MSNBC.com is a joint venture between NBC Universal and Microsoft).

“He didn’t have any friends,” said CBS News’ Bob Orr. “He didn’t have any criminal record. We don’t have any idea why he did this.”

Network anchors Katie Couric, Charles Gibson and Brian Williams all did expanded hour-long newscasts from the campus in Blacksburg, Va. It was the second day for Couric and Williams, first for Gibson: ABC, worried that bad weather wouldn’t get him there in time for “World News,” chose to have him anchor from New York on Monday.

Each of the anchors was granted interviews with President Bush, who delivered condolences with a somber voice and furrowed brow.

Katrina comparisonBush’s presence in Virginia was criticized earlier in the day by Rosie O’Donnell on ABC’s “The View,” who contrasted his actions following Hurricane Katrina.

“It was interesting to note that President Bush was flying to Virginia Tech today and took him a week to get to ... Katrina to visit the victims,” she said. “You can’t pretend that it’s the same. How many people died in Katrina?”

NBC’s Williams said Bush has been effective as a mourner-in-chief. “He is quite good at it, quite soothing at it,” he said.

The convocation Tuesday, with political and religious speeches and “Let’s go, Hokies” cheers, showed a community in the first stages of dealing with the tragedy. The anchors showed it with little comment.

“This is, I suggest, the beginning of a long process of memorializing and internalizing what happened here,” Gibson said.

A technical glitch on “Dateline NBC” Monday night briefly made it appear that a medical technician being interviewed by Williams was in the cross-hairs of a gun. The lines, normally seen by camera operators trying to center their pictures, usually don’t appear on the screen but briefly did in this case until corrected — an embarrassment given the nature of the story.

A spokeswoman said NBC received no complaints.