Spooks Have Your Phone Bill; Daughtry Tossed Off Idol

How did the morning shows handle the "shocking" news about NSA data collection relative to the "stunning" news of an American Idol contestant's dismissal? Nimbly, as ever.

Two major pieces of domestic news broke overnight. We mean, of course, USA Today’s report that the National Security Agency has a compiled a “massive database of Americans’ phone calls” and, Chris Daughtry’s elimination on last night’s American Idol.

How did the morning news shows handle the deluge? Nimbly, as ever, employing their bestest news judgment.

Like white on rice, NBC’s Today Show was on both stories right out of the gate this morning. First among Matt Lauer’s top-of-broadcast story teasers was the “shocking new report that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone records of tens of millions of Americans.” Third in the teaser lineup? That other “shocking” development, specifically the “[American] Idol shocker” that was Daughtry’s discharge from the show — “a stunning turn,” in Katie Couric’s eyes. Underscoring the stories similar “shock” value, Today devoted roughly the same amount of time to each — two minutes and twenty-five seconds to the NSA story and two minutes and forty-five seconds to the Idol news (leaving more than enough time in Today’s newsy first hour for Couric to report on another shocking issue — the marketing of “sassy” t-shirts to teenage girls — for an interminable seven minutes and fifteen seconds).

ABC’s Good Morning America also knows a news “bombshell” when it sees one (or two). Just like Lauer, GMA’s Diane Sawyer kicked off the broadcast by previewing the “NSA bombshell,” while devoting the third story tease to the “Idol upset” (with anchor Robin Roberts blaming her colleague Charlie Gibson’s absence on his being “too distraught to come in after what happened on American Idol last night.”) To its NSA report — a story “causing a seismic shock this morning” — GMA devoted nearly twice as much air time as did Today, spending almost five minutes on the news (complete with an interview with the USA Today reporter who broke the story).

But while GMA allotted only two minutes and thirteen seconds to its Idol report, it was clear which of the two stories hit closer to home for the anchors. “If I seem distraught and off my game, it’s because I watched American Idol and it was very upsetting,” confessed GMA’s Mike Barz. Said Sawyer of Idol Daughtry’s exit, “The only way I can get through that moment is to say he’ll get a record contract anyway.”

At CBS, Hannah Storm opened the Early Show with USA Today’s “stunning report” about the NSA, a segment that ran for almost three minutes. Inexplicably, CBS skipped the Idol news (well, maybe there’s a reason the Early Show is in third place in the ratings) in favor of an extended report (over five minutes long during the show’s second hour) on one of CBS’ own shows, CSI, which it teased by urging viewers to stay tuned in order to see “all of the stars of [that] show on our show” (quite a “get,” no?).

And what of Fox News Channel’s coverage? How did (News Corp’s) Fox & Friends handle the breaking news from (News Corp’s) American Idol — and the breaking news from USA Today?

Amazingly, the first Idol mention on Fox & Friends came a full thirty minutes into the show and the first mention of the NSA story came over two hours later. What did Fox & Friends talk about instead for so many minutes? Well, there was a spirited discussion of what type of fruit is available in the Fox & Friends green room (peaches and plums, or just oranges?); a report on “tracking down illegals, a sheriff takes matters into his own hands” in Arizona; and a bit about how “one baby bear is getting a new lease on life” — “Call us cub reporters,” joked Steve Doocy.

What’s scary is that none of these folks are “cub reporters.” They’re the people who from whom millions of Americans (still) get their news.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.