Reporting meets cheap emotion in Guinn coverage


Early evening newscasts the night of ex-Gov. Kenny Guinn's death last week were all that in the first-blush coverage:

■ KLAS-TV, Channel 8: Exemplars of professionalism -- mostly. Even-keeled reporting was largely free of faux-sentimentality and tabloid-y buzzwords ("terrible," "shocking"). Incisively reflecting on Guinn's knack for negotiating and governing, George Knapp injected a dollop of humor, explaining how you'd "better pack a lunch" when the wonkish governor launched into policy talk. Praising the politico's abilities, analyst Steve Sebelius still noted how Guinn "overplayed his hand" in a 2003 tax battle with legislators.

Details of Guinn's fall off his roof and his death, reported by Nathan Baca and Jonathan McCall, also eschewed emotion, marred by one egregious exception: Footage of a sobbing, just-widowed Dema Guinn departing UMC in a car, turning away from the camera in distress and burying her head in a friend's chest. Our state's ex-first lady is still a public figure, and yet: Did this uncomfortable invasion convey relevant facts or merely ogle a person in pain?

■ KTNV-TV, Channel 13: Refreshing from our market's melodrama mavens, the coverage bypassed extraneous sadness from anchors Steve Wolford and Nina Radetich introducing the story and interviewing Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Rikki Cheese recapping the day's events and Heather Klein talking up ex-Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt. Only misstep: Botched editing on a retrospective narrated by Casey Smith, his voice overlapping reporters' narration and Guinn's voice from past clips for an incomprehensible mess.

■ KVVU-TV, Channel 5: "Very sad day," "family in shock," "total shock to the family," "sudden loss," "rocked by this loss," "very shocking loss" -- all in just 90 seconds of reporter Elizabeth Watts' summary, plus Olivia Fierro's "sad/tragic news" and John Huck's "We'll miss him and we miss him already." Enough already, except for ...

■ KSNV-TV, Channel 3: "Big loss" was Hetty Chang's descriptor and Anita Roman favored "incredible loss." Neither rivaled Sue Manteris, who opted for "tragic loss" and "so shocking" before nearly jumping out of her skin with admiration for Guinn while interviewing ex-Gov. Richard Bryan with Jim Snyder.

Impact of excess emotion? Adding zilch to a straight news story, it plays like false compassion calculated for effect and force-feeds feelings to viewers. Tell us the news. We'll decide how sad it is and how bad to feel. We can sympathize over the death of a fine man and public servant without being urged to experience "shock" and "loss."

Conditioned for overwrought displays of emotion like Pavlovian pooches, we now get it not only in news but reality TV with its screechy exhibitionists, contributing to an emotionally inflamed culture where overstatement, overreaction and loudmouth-itis are the norm. Media is already accused of manipulation without spouting forced little drama-prodders.

Outdated as it is from the Paleozoic press age, one recalls Walter Cronkite announcing the time of death of JFK, somberly gazing at a studio clock, slowly putting his glasses on, a fleeting catch in his throat the only betrayal of emotion.

Excitable adjectives were unnecessary to feel what an entire nation felt then.

How incredibly, unbelievably shocking that seems now.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ or 702-383-0256.