- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

How did local news anchor Mike Buchanan get the biggest scoop so far in the investigation of the Washington area sniper shootings?
He got an anonymous tip.
The sniper apparently left a tarot card scribbled with the message "I Am God" at the Bowie middle school where a 13-year-old boy was gunned down Oct. 7. The card's discovery was a closely held police secret until the next day, when a caller leaked it to Mr. Buchanan, the early morning newsman for WUSA-TV (Channel 9).
"[The tipster] wanted to know why we hadn't put this information out there. They were angry," said Mr. Buchanan, who was WUSA's police reporter before moving to the anchor chair in 1989.
Mr. Buchanan famous for his Sgt. Joe Friday-style delivery spent the rest of the afternoon working his old sources on the police beat to confirm that the tarot card actually existed.
By 9 p.m., he had the story nailed down. He called the Prince George's County police press office to let them know what he planned to report. They didn't ask him to hold the story.
He also tried to reach Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat who has been involved with the sniper investigation. "It was more of a courtesy call, just to let him know what we had. I left a message with his press aide. I never heard back," he said.
Mr. Buchanan's report led WUSA's 11 p.m. newscast that night. He said he got "the old rush" from putting a big exclusive on the air even though he was exhausted from waking up at 2 a.m. that day to prepare for his regular gig on the early morning news.
The next day, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose blasted WUSA, saying Mr. Buchanan's report had compromised the police investigation. The story also sparked a debate in the media about its role in the sniper case.
WUSA management released a statement that it stood behind Mr. Buchanan, who made his name in local television by scooping the competition.
In 1981, Mr. Buchanan was the first journalist to report that John Hinckley Jr. had shot President Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster. Five years later, Mr. Buchanan and colleague Dave Statter broke the news that University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias had died of a cocaine overdose.
Mr. Buchanan said he doesn't miss the grind of daily police reporting, which another veteran, Gary Reals, now handles for WUSA. Even though Mr. Buchanan has been in the anchor chair for 13 years, he said many colleagues still think of him as a police reporter.
"Someone hears a siren and they tell me, 'Hey Mike, they're playing your song.'"
Split decision
Two local television stations were forced to interrupt expensive sports programming Monday night to update viewers on the sniper's latest victim, 47-year-old Linda Franklin, who was shot outside a Home Depot in Falls Church.
WTTG-TV (Channel 5) news anchor Brian Bolter broke into Fox's coverage of the San Francisco Giants-St. Louis Cardinals baseball playoff game at 9:48 p.m. for a two-minute report on the shooting. Viewers saw a split screen with Mr. Bolter on one side and the game on the other.
At roughly the same time, WJLA-TV (Channel 7) interrupted the San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks matchup on ABC's "Monday Night Football" for a full-screen report on the shooting. It switched to a split screen for subsequent updates.
WUSA interrupted CBS programming three times for brief reports, while NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4) ran a crawl at the bottom of the screen, beginning at 9:53 p.m.
The split screen on WTTG and WJLA jarred some viewers, who were treated to scenes of cheering sports fans juxtaposed with live news reports on the shooting. About 20 viewers called WTTG to complain.
"I don't regret it. You have someone with a high-powered rifle shooting people. We had to balance our responsibility to alert the public with our commitment to stick with the game," said WTTG news chief Katherine Green.
Meanwhile, viewers hungry for full coverage of the shooting gave NewsChannel 8 the highest ratings in its 10-year history. An average 110,629 households tuned into the local cable network between 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., a big number considering roughly one-quarter of local households don't have cable.
This just in
Bonneville International Corp. will move its three local radio stations into one building in late 2003 or early 2004.
All-news station WTOP (1500 AM and 107.7 FM) and classical music station WGMS-FM (103.5) are now based in upper Northwest; adult pop music station WWZZ-FM (104.1) is in Arlington. The company is seeking about 30,000 square feet to house the stations' 175 employees.
The District's commercial real estate market is so tight that the stations will probably be forced to move to Bethesda or Chevy Chase, according to Bonneville honcho Joel Oxley. He expects to sign a lease before mid-November.

Questions? Comments? Tips? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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