The Derek Chauvin verdict Tuesday afternoon was the kind of “where were you?" moment that used to bring newspaper reporters and editors huddled together over one television in a newsroom.
With newsrooms relatively empty these days due to the Covid-19 pandemic, that didn’t happen.
But because so many more people work from home due to the pandemic, I imagine more Americans than usual were watching when a Minneapolis jury found the former policeman guilty of all charges in the death of George Floyd.
The widespread audience for the verdict certainly was a positive Tuesday afternoon.
As usual in this event, I became a dial-switcher to see how all the cable and broadcast networks and local stations handled things starting with when they were given a couple of hours warning that the verdict was coming in.
Here are my top takeaways.
Sunny Moment: I was fortunate enough to switch to ABC’s coverage via WKBW-TV when Sunny Hostin, the African American network legal analyst and co-host of “The View,” became tearful as she described what the guilty verdict meant to her, her family and the nation. I suspected her emotional message would immediately go viral and it quickly did. I suggest you head to the internet to see her comments in their entirety.
She noted it was “so rare” that police officers are convicted. She added she has an 18-year-old son who is in South Africa.
“I feel he is safer in South Africa than he is in his own country,” Hostin said. “I am so relieved that this is what justice finally looks like for my community … I believe now the moment is not just a moment ... I am so thankful that perhaps we’ll see real change. Much needed change.”
Diversity Lesson: Before Hostin spoke, legal analyst Dan Abrams noted the importance of having a diverse jury consisting of six white people, four African Americans and two people who identified as multiracial. “All quickly agreed on this verdict,” said Abrams. His summary of the jury made some of the pre-verdict speculation or fears that the verdict could go the other way seem even more implausible. In hindsight, it was hard to imagine a jury that diverse could find Chauvin anything other than guilty after only 10 or 11 hours of deliberations.
Police Support: Charles Ramsey, the former police chief of Washington, D.C., weighed in on the verdict as a CNN analyst. Ramsey, who is African American, said “this decision supports police, doesn’t harm them.” Ramsey, who said he is proud of his 50-year career in law enforcement and the great majority in the field, added: “We have people who should be nowhere near a badge and a gun.” Of the future, he added: “I am optimistic. I really am.”
Of course, the pessimistic view expressed by others was this verdict was the result of a rare situation in which the cellphone video of Chauvin putting his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds was coupled with the so-called "blue wall" of silence breaking with policemen giving testimony against Chauvin.
Question Asked and Answered: WGRZ-TV anchor Scott Levin asked a question of Buffalo lawyer John Elmore on the 6 p.m. newscast that some viewers might have thought was too obvious: How important was the video of Chauvin putting his knee on Floyd’s neck? Levin sort of answered his own question by suggesting it was a “key factor.” In fairness to Levin, sometimes journalists ask obvious questions when they know the answer. Elmore agreed it was a key factor. The importance of the video was made clear with numerous reminders Tuesday that initially the Minneapolis Police Department released a statement claiming that “man dies after medical incident during police interaction.”
Breaking News: WKBW-TV was the first local station to break from its network post-verdict coverage to carry its own 6 p.m. newscast. The decision was understandable because most of the network coverage then was of news conferences that were carried by the cable news networks and could be best edited by the local stations for later viewing. However, WGRZ or WIVB doesn’t deserve criticism for staying until 6:20 p.m. with the network coverage. It was a tough call.
Must-See TV: One must-see news conference was led by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who spoke for more than 10 minutes about the hard work of the prosecution team. Prosecutors Steve Schleicher and Jerry W. Blackwell became legal stars during the trial with some memorable lines. Schleicher told the jury to “believe your eyes” when viewing the cellphone recording. In his rebuttal to the closing statement by the defense, Blackwell said something to the jury that will go down in history: “You are told, for example, that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big. You heard that testimony. And now having seen all the evidence and having heard the evidence, you know the truth, and the truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin's heart was too small.”
Spewak Returns to Channel 2: At 11 p.m., WGRZ had the most extensive coverage, spending 13 minutes at the top of its newscast. The coverage started with a report from Danny Spewak, the former Channel 2 reporter now working for a station in Minneapolis with the same owner as Channel 2. Channel 4 spent about six minutes on the story and Channel 7 about four minutes.
Commercial Mistake: WGRZ cut out of part of the statement being made about the verdict by Vice President Kamala Harris after 7 p.m. before President Biden spoke to run commercials. It almost surely wasn’t an intentional slight. I imagine the commercials were scheduled to run inside Channel 2’s normal 7 p.m. program, “Entertainment Tonight,” and no one was alert enough to drop them.
The Money Shot: During a gathering of post-verdict people in Minneapolis, you could clearly see money being thrown in the air and some people scrambling to pick it up. A CNN reporter noted the money being thrown in the air but didn’t explain what the significance was. You wonder if there was symbolism and if it had something to do with the suspicious $20 bill that Floyd used at a convenience store that led Chauvin and other policemen to the scene. It certainly spoke to how insignificant money is compared to the tragic death of Floyd that may lead to needed change in America.