Networks Fight to the Death

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 09: Anderson Cooper attends the 12th Annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute at American Museum of Natural History on December 09, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dominik Bindl/Getty Images)

Thanks to MailOnline, where this piece first appeared

There was only one winner in the US coverage of the Queen’s death – and only one abysmal loser. And the gulf between the two yawned as wide as the Atlantic. 

To the crown, CNN: from the moment the official announcement from the palace came at 7.30am ET that doctors were concerned for the Queen’s health, CNN shelved all its regular programs and filled in those ominous hours before the almost inevitable and mournful announcement of the Queen’s death at 1.30pm.

The inimitable Anderson Cooper in the studio conducted interviews with reporters outside the palace. He only put his foot wrong once, when he referred to the Queen of England. He was subtly corrected by Christiane Amanpour who responded with ‘United Kingdom’ (actually, it’s the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, all the way since 1707 and the Act of Union).

It was a forgivable and minor blip in a long day that Anderson handled with a professionalism that was measured without being sombre and, blip aside, knowledgeable. 

Dr Sanjay Gupta stuck to medical issues, such as why the Queen might not have been taken to hospital – possibly because there was ‘no point’. He also added that we should not be speculating.

It was hard not to, given the acres of airtime broadcasters had to fill while they waited an update They doubtless already knew the Queen had died – news teams would have needed to organize their coverage – but had to wait until the official announcement.

CNN’s anchor and royal correspondent Max Foster, in London, described the ‘very strange atmosphere in the UK’ and referred to BBC man Huw Edwards’s ominous black tie. Max was extraordinary in an admirable display of calm when he clearly knew the worst.

‘I am expecting one,’ he said, stressing that an announcement would be ‘uncomfortable’ before the arrival of the Duke of Sussex, who was traveling separately to Balmoral, where the Queen was in residence.

When the moment came, a clearly emotional Max (who had incredibly held it together the whole day) announced, simply: ‘The Queen has died.’ Extraordinarily, and ever the professional, but with voice trembling, he managed to garner an articulate response when Anderson asked what his thoughts were at this moment.

Moving without being sentimental, he said that the Queen had ‘been there in times of grief’ and now, ‘it’s difficult for us not to see her in our ultimate moment of grief – her death.’ 

Where CNN was a brilliant combination of historical analysis while looking to the future, ABC focused on the personality of the Prince man who is now King Charles III. 

‘It was a difficult childhood for Charles,’ they said, before doing a bit of a hatchet job. Showing a clip of his engagement to Diana when the reporter asked, ‘Are you in love?’ (he’d answered, ‘Whatever love is’), it was hard not to be reminded of how sad a royal life Diana had endured, knowing her husband was in love with another woman. It seemed inappropriate to be reminding us of Charles’s damaged personality at this time. Too soon. 

An interview with royal biographer Andrew Morton (who wrote Diana: Her True Story, that basically eviscerated the Royal Family by giving the Princess of Wales’s side of events) did not add fuel to the fire and praised the Queen as having been ‘a point of certainly in an uncertain world.’

He also had good words to say about Charles, ‘a more political figure than the Queen’, and forceful about climate change, organic farming, and the need for a slimmed down monarchy. 

Ailsa Anderson, former Press Secretary to the Queen, brought a warm, personal touch to the coverage. What did it mean, to say the Queen had been the ‘spirit of Britain’? She was, said Ailsa, ‘the person who would not let us down.’

She was asked to talk about Elizabeth, ‘the woman’ and stressed her kindness, generosity (the staff had gifts at Christmas), her humor, and endless ability to find something interesting to take away from all her engagements.

Did the Netflix show The Crown shape how Americans perceived the Royals, asked NBC. The view was overwhelmingly yes, as it brought many new fans to ‘this vibrant young woman’ and the monarchy as a whole.

I had visions of the series’ production team sitting in a bar somewhere, already working on future episodes. In fact, writer Peter Morgan said that production on the current series had been halted as a mark of respect.

British historian Andrew Roberts made an energetic, enthusiastic contributor, especially in relation to Charles who, he said, had the same ‘inner calmness’ as his mother. There was also a special and welcome mention of Prince Philip, ‘her liegeman of life and limb’, who died in April 2021.

And so, to Fox News, which was unwatchable. Endless aerial shots of Buckingham Palace and presenters whose main words were ‘Er’ and ‘Umm’, it sounded as if they were having to Google everything before attempting to relay any information. The best that contributor Douglas Murray could muster was, ‘Queen Elizabeth delayed this as much as she could.’ It’s a bit more complex than that, Doug.

This wasn’t an easy day for anyone, including broadcasting networks under pressure, but at a heart-wrenching time, it was CNN that reigned supreme.