Here’s the time line from last Saturday. At 6:30 p.m. the abandoned Nissan Pathfinder was found smoking in Times Square. Relevant public officials marooned at the correspondents dinner in Washington quickly got word. Over the next hour and a half, several news organizations spread it as well while Times Square was evacuated. To clear the Broadway theater district at curtain time on Saturday night isn’t like emptying a high school; it’s a virtual military operation. By 8 p.m., the crossroads of the world looked like a ghost town, yet if you tuned in to a cable news network, it wasn’t news. No one seemed to know or to care. On MSNBC, which I was watching, it didn’t even merit a mention on a crawl.
MSNBC was instead busy covering the correspondents dinner itself, so we could feast on journalists schmoozing with mostly B-list show business folk — and sometimes C-list, as in Kim Kardashian. (Another NBC employee, Jay Leno, was the evening’s mirthless comic headliner.) This annual Beltway fete, once safely quarantined on C-Span, has now mutated into a poor man’s Golden Globes on all three cable news networks. On MSNBC, this meant red-carpet arrivals, in-depth historical analysis of past dinners, and morning-after post-mortems by network news stars wearing sunglasses on camera (just like Hollywood!).
One dinner attendee, Rachel Sklar, would later write on AOL News that, Michael Bloomberg aside, reports of the bomb “didn’t seem to interfere with anyone else’s evening.” That MSNBC couldn’t be bothered to interrupt its two-hour coverage of these festivities to report on the attempted bombing was particularly embarrassing, given that the network’s headquarters are just blocks from Times Square. If NBC journalists in the Washington Hilton ballroom were too busy gawking at Justin Bieber to pounce on the bulletins moving through the BlackBerry-and-Twittersphere, you’d think someone back in New York would.