ABC News: The Anchors Are Laughing; the Network Is Not

News bloopers have long been an online-video staple, with clips of anchors losing their composure almost a genre unto themselves. But lately, it seems that an inordinate number of those clips are coming from ABC News.

By now, you probably know about World News Now’s Ryan Owens and Taina Hernandez, the anchors of ABC News’ overnight newscast, who inexplicably cracked up while reporting on actor Owen Wilson’s suicide attempt last month. The clip -- and a subsequent on-air apology -- has been circulating via YouTube for the past couple of weeks.

Unlike Merry Miller, however, the poor ABC News Now rookie who became a viral sensation this summer thanks to her cringe-inducing interview with actress Holly Hunter, Owens and Hernandez are serial offenders.

A collection of clips curated by a YouTuber known as bigboss969696 shows that in the past three months alone, the duo has giggled through segments on such lighthearted topics as terrorism, wildfires, breast cancer and the Iraq war. At one point, Owens and Hernandez (known online as “The Laughing Taina”) break into laughter while reporting the death toll from flooding in Texas.

Taken together, the clips are hard to dismiss as isolated incidents.

All of this comes at a time when ABC News is resurgent: World News has surpassed longtime leader NBC Nightly News to become the No. 1 evening newscast; GMA’s morning gains have Today looking over its shoulder; and Nightline has grown its 11:35 p.m. audience in the face of an entertainment division just begging to take over its time period.

So it’s all the more puzzling that ABC News would countenance such sophomoric antics. Said one ABC News staffer, “Isn’t anyone watching this stuff?”

ABC News senior vice president Jeffrey Schneider conceded that the anchors’ behavior during the Owen Wilson segment was “clearly inappropriate.” They were reprimanded, he added, and they have apologized. He did not comment on the other incidents.

According to another ABC News source, what began as lighthearted banter between the anchors has gotten completely out of hand. (Neither Owens nor Hernandez responded to requests for comment.)

No doubt Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has inspired many newscasters to take themselves a bit less seriously. But while there’s certainly room for a little irreverence on a program broadcast at 3 a.m., World News Now purports to be a real news program that bears the name brand of ABC’s nightly newscast.

And thanks to the viral nature of the Web, it isn’t just insomniacs who are watching.

“This is not good for the brand,” said Andrew Tyndall, a B&C contributing editor and publisher of the Tyndall Report, which analyzes television news. “This is an example of how the new rules apply, especially when it comes to bloopers. The things that spread like wildfire are the bloopers, not excellence.”