Published February 21, 2002
NEW YORK – The cable news network MSNBC reported the news of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's death nearly an hour after its rivals Thursday, interrupting a women's curling match from the Winter Olympics.
It had been the cable network's fear that it would be left flat-footed in covering a major breaking story because of its commitment to showing the Olympics.
MSNBC aired a two-minute report about Pearl's death at 5:20 p.m. By that time, reports had already been shown on CBS, CNN, ABC, Fox News Channel, NBC and CNBC. CBS appeared to be first with the news, citing sources it would not identify, at 4:21 p.m. CNN, at 4:26, led the cable news networks.
As the news broke, MSNBC was showing the gold medal curling match between Switzerland and Great Britain.
"It was a matter of getting the time to do it," said MSNBC spokesman Mark O'Connor. An MSNBC reporter, Bob Kur, went on CNBC to report on the story at 5 p.m.
"As long as we have other platforms to break news on, that's what we did," O'Connor said.
The Olympics coverage has meant big ratings for MSNBC, in some cases tripling its average afternoon viewership. NBC and CNBC cover the Olympics in prime-time, while MSNBC has shown events regularly from 1-7 p.m. EST.
In an interview Wednesday, MSNBC President Erik Sorenson noted the risk that NBC's corporate interest in covering the Olympics could clash with the news network's goals.
"For two weeks it sends a message to news junkies in the afternoon that's not particularly helpful," Sorenson said. "Fortunately, it's been a slow news period."