Diane Sawyer and Her Word Games

Diane Sawyer seems to be entering a new phase—with a newish phrase. The ABC anchor started her World News with the phrase last week on Monday. And again on Tuesday. Also on Wednesday. Three nights in a row. Just as she goes on the air, she keeps using that phrase: “as we come on the air.”

She also opened her newscasts with the phrase for the past two nights, Aug. 21 and 22, bringing the total for the month so far to five. Last month, she used that phrase four times.

The phrase implies she’s about to report breaking news. Last Wed., Aug. 15, at 6:30 p.m. ET, she said:

“As we come on the air, new details are pouring in about that dramatic shooting [What dramatic shooting? It was the first time many (if not most) viewers heard of it.] in Washington, D-C today, a gunman walking [walked — if you prefer English] into the lobby of a powerful conservative organization, the Family Research Council, and shouting [shouted] something mysterious [perhaps not understandable but not mysterious], then pulling [pulled] out a weapon and firing [fired] it. He wounded [yay, a verb] a security guard who still somehow managed to wrestle the shooter to the ground, saving untold lives. A-B-C’s senior justice correspondent, Pierre Thomas, has the latest at this hour.” The latest? Don’t newscasts customarily report the latest?

Thomas identified the shooter, Floyd Corkins, but that wasn’t one of the new details Sawyer said were pouring in. Corkins’s name had been widely circulated since shortly after the shooting, which occurred about 10:45 a.m. ET. Also circulated before Sawyer went on the air was his choice of a weapon.

Three times, Thomas attributed information to sources. If an FBI agent is your source, say, and doesn’t want to be identified, you can credit the information to an investigator, maybe a government investigator. If your source is a policeman who doesn’t want to be identified, you can also call him (or her) an investigator. But source is too vague; it doesn’t sound like a solid source.

When Thomas finished his report (nothing fresh, but still a good story), Sawyer expressed concern: “And Pierre, I keep thinking of that security guard, managing to save lives even though he was wounded. How is he tonight?”

Thomas replied: “He’s in stable condition, Diane, recovering from a gunshot wound to the arm. The remarkable thing is that he helped subdue the suspect, even after being shot. A real hero, Diane.”

“It is true,” she said. “His reflexes were incredible. Thank you so much, Pierre.” It is true? Does an anchor need to attest to a reporter’s judgment or accuracy?

As long as that was the newscast’s top story, shouldn’t the guard have been identified? Fox News had identified him as Leo Johnson at 1:05 p.m. Pierre Thomas called him a hero. And in a sound bite, so did the police chief of Washington. But neither Thomas nor Sawyer mentioned his name. Thomas did mention the suspect by name, Floyd Corkins; his name was reported by the AP more than five hours before Sawyer went on the air.

Although Sawyer said, “New details are pouring in,” significant new details were apparently not even trickling in. In any case, the newscast managed not to present any of those new details she said were pouring in.

If enough viewers had caught on to that “as we come on the air” and “new details are pouring in,” there might have been an angry outpouring.

© Mervin Block 2012