Networks Tackle Early A.M. Brussels Attacks

Due to a coordinated attack during the morning commute in Brussels, the network news outfits got an early start Tuesday covering the latest overseas terror tragedy. The attack happened around 8 a.m. local time, which was 3 a.m. in New York, so the lead anchors were already in mid-morning mode when their usual 7 a.m. starts occurred. CBS numbered the fatalities at 21, while ABC hit the 7 a.m. hour with the wail of sirens in Belgium and the graphic “Brussels Under Attack.” George Stephanopoulos, on since 5 a.m, spoke of “terrified passengers running for their lives” and video supporting his statement.  

On NBC, the report said 15 dead at the top of the hour and the screen read “Terror in Brussels.” Matt Lauer echoed Stephanopoulos’ sentiment. “The devastation is apparent to anyone who can see these images,” he said.

His partner, Savannah Guthrie, mentioned how the Brussels airport was a known soft target. Conversing frequently with security professionals, she said, “When they speak of soft targets, this is one of them.”

There weren’t many images to share in the hours after the attacks, the networks repeating clips of people fleeing the stricken train station and the wreckage at the airport, and law enforcement officials marching about.

The network news outfits faced an extra challenge, with much of their personnel in Cuba, chronicling President Obama’s historic visit.

While most of the coverage came from New York—or perhaps London, such as NBC’s Keir Simmons speaking of a “clearly coordinated” string of attacks—CBS did have its London-based correspondent, Charlie D’Agata, “near the airport” in Brussels. He spoke with anchor Anne-Marie Green via phone around 4 a.m., while CBS This Morning anchors Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King and Anthony Mason took over at 6.

CBS, the screen reading “Brussels Terror Attacks”, also used Skype to communicate with an eyewitness, Zoya Sheftalovich, who described the neighborhood where bombs were set off in the subway as the “heart of the European quarter.”

It was a notable juxtaposition, the remarkably composed eyewitness sharing the screen with the absolute chaos following the bombings.

ABC had correspondent Alexander Marquardt in Brussels.

With a local newscast at 7, WNYW reported more than a dozen dead, and anchor Rosanna Scotto teased an interview with Rep. Peter King. Video from Sky News HD rolled on the screen.

WNYW’s cable cousin, Fox News Channel, too had video from Sky as the Fox & Friends crew analyzed the news above a “Terror in Brussels” graphic, and wondered if more attacks were to follow. FNC listed the fatalities at 15. Benjamin Hall, FNC foreign affairs correspondent, spoke about the social media chatter following the attacks. “They are really going hot at the moment,” he said, citing the hashtag #BrusselsOnFire.

Fox Business, for its part, had Maria Bartiromo interviewing John McCain and presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and John Kasich about the attacks, and national security.

CNN showed Reuters video of people fleeing the train station. listed “at least” 26 dead as of 8 a.m.—15 in the subway station and 11 at the airport. One correspondent called it “an attack on Western lifestyle” while mentioning beefed up security in other European cities.

CBSN went live at 4:10 and has been wall to wall on the terror tragedy since.

MSNBC began at 4 a.m., with Dara Brown, Ayman Mohyeldin and Katty Kay, then Brian Williams picking it up at 7:10. Chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, in Washington, called the attacks “well planned” and mentioned the “very disturbing” images from Brussels.” Williams acknowledged Engel’s peripatetic nature, adding “we’re feeling awfully fortunate to have your counsel” on a hectic, and tragic, morning. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.