Milwaukee Stations Wrestle With Olympics, Misinformation After Temple Shooting


In the wake of the Sikh temple shooting that left seven dead, including the shooter, the Milwaukee stations had some quick decisions to make regarding whether to stick with regular programming, such as the Olympics and golf, and whether to run with information that was uncorroborated. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has an accounting of how the stations performed following the tragedy.

Writes TV critic Duane Dudek:

WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) grappled with a unique dilemma: whether to show news of a breaking local story of national significance or continue with NBC’s Olympics coverage.

WISN-TV (Channel 12) had a head start and lots of early information. Station president and general manager Jan Wade said in an email that her station was first on the shooting scene and first on the air.

WISN-TV reporter Abe Lubetkin was responsible for a gripping if not entirely accurate early report that as many as 20 to 25 people were shot by as many as four gunman. The information was provided by a man who said his father was a victim and his mother was still in the building. He told Lubetkin that police provided him with those figures.

“We were told shooters, plural,” Lubetkin later said, repeating the man’s comments.

On Twitter, WITI-TV (Channel 6) reporter Tami Hughes echoed similar reports of more than two dozen victims and, she tweeted, “the shooter may still be inside.”

It was an example of the way the fog of uncorroborated information can rush to fill a vacuum until official details are released.

The Journal-Sentinel has the same owner as WTMJ. Local TV owns WITI. Hearst TV has WISN and Weigel holds WDJT.

Adds Dudek:

As early events developed, WTMJ-TV was still showing NBC’s coverage of an Olympic equestrian event. WTMJ-TV eventually switched to all news coverage and moved the Olympics to its digital Channel 4.2.

While this switch to live coverage of a breaking local news story seems like a no-brainer, it likely was a difficult programming decision for a station that Milwaukee viewers have made the second most-watched NBC affiliate for the first nine days of the Olympics. The station returned to the Olympics at 6 p.m. and moved its coverage of the shootings to Channel 4.2.

WDJT-TV (Channel 58) inexplicably remained with golf on CBS, and was the last to join the shooting coverage.