- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — After more than two decades in which Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather read to television viewers nearly every major story, none of the three played a part in yesterday’s special coverage of Pope John Paul II’s death.

Mr. Brokaw and Mr. Rather stepped down as the NBC and CBS chief anchors over the past five months, and Mr. Jennings was out sick yesterday.

The pope’s death was something for which the networks had been preparing for years and, more recently, anticipating as the pope’s condition worsened over the past few days. CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC essentially had been holding an electronic vigil since late Thursday.

ABC aired two hours of coverage immediately after the death was announced. NBC had 90 minutes and CBS 30 minutes.

“About half the world’s people have known no other pope in their lifetime,” NBC’s Brian Williams said. “Any man in that position would have left a mark, but we are talking about an extraordinary world activist.”

Mr. Williams replaced Mr. Brokaw in November, and NBC had the most complete “A” team of any of the broadcasters yesterday. He anchored from New York, Matt Lauer was in St. Peter’s Square, and Tim Russert told anecdotes and showed pictures from his meeting with the pope.

The networks all had detailed stories prepared to outline how the pope will be replaced. ABC had artist’s drawings similar to those from a courtroom where cameras are not allowed.

ABC’s coverage was anchored by Bob Woodruff. Mr. Jennings, who had anchored “World News Tonight” on Friday, was in New York but has not been feeling well and wanted to be ready for the coming days of coverage, spokeswoman Cathie Levine said.

In the midst of a transition period after Mr. Rather stepped down last month, CBS’ coverage was anchored by Thalia Assuras. Interim anchor Bob Schieffer was in Washington preparing for today’s “Face the Nation.”

CBS’ initial coverage was shorter than its rivals by at least an hour, as the network returned to a Final Four pregame show. With the games scheduled, CBS was the only one of the three broadcasters not to have a prime-time special on the pope yesterday, although a one-hour special was prepared and sent to CBS affiliates if they wanted to show it after the games, spokeswoman Kelli Edwards said.

“We felt that we showed a solid 30 minutes of thought-provoking, forward-looking coverage,” Miss Edwards said.

Shepard Smith anchored Fox News Channel’s coverage from Rome, 26 hours after the network’s faux pas of declaring the pope dead based on an erroneous report.

Aaron Brown was in Rome for CNN, which simulcast its international network in the United States for the hours preceding the pope’s death. Lester Holt anchored MSNBC’s coverage, with Chris Matthews in Rome.

Many of the networks planned special coverage today, with Mr. Lauer, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Charles Gibson and John Roberts doing unusual weekend work in the morning.

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