Calgary Herald

A few short hours in CNN’s spotlight

- BILL BROWNSTEIN CANWESTNEW­S SERVICE

It didn’t take long for Montreal to become the media focus of the world. Unfortunat­ely, it took a tragedy for the CNN, Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC and Sky TV networks, among other broadcaste­rs near and far, to take notice.

It took less than an hour for the media to mobilize following first reports of Wednesday’s shootings at Dawson College.

And the same chaos and confusion that was sweeping the streets adjacent to the school was evident in the initial coverage of the assault on the CEGEP.

Early reports had anywhere from one to four deaths, two to 20 injuries, and one to four gunmen responsibl­e for the carnage. Regardless of the discrepanc­ies, though, all media were quick to praise Montreal police and first medical responders for their handling of the situation and for stemming what could have resulted in a far greater tragedy.

But it had to be absolutely eerie and chilling for Montrealer­s watching TV outlets like CNN and Fox to see their city briefly under siege and to listen to security experts pontificat­e on possible motivation­s for the shooting. Racism? Terrorism? Drugs? Columbine copycat? Random lunacy?

And it had to even more eerie and chilling for Montrealer­s who live around Dawson College.

As someone who lives across the street from the CEGEP, I can report it was utterly surreal to look out my window, watching scores of stunned students running down the street and police with drawn weapons scouring the neighbourh­ood for suspects, and listening to the cacophony of police and ambulance sirens and low-flying helicopter­s, and then turning on CNN and Fox and catching the same images and sounds live.

On street level, students were screaming: “It can’t happen here.” But it can and it has.

Many of the fleeing students were too young to remember — some weren’t even born — but CNN reporter Ali Velshi, who clearly has Montreal connection­s, was quick to point out the city was the setting for the Ecole Polytechni­que tragedy in 1989, when Marc Lepine murdered 14 women students.

It didn’t take CNN long to conscript CTV reporter Genevieve Beauchemin, who had also been doing a stellar job covering the story for CTV and CTV Newsnet, to bring local insight to the tragedy. Fox lined up Global TV’s Mike Le Couteur and 940 News reporter Lauren Schwartz.

CTV, CTVNewsnet, CBCTV, Newsworld, RDI and LCN, among others, quickly cut from regular programmin­g to focus entirely on the story. And it didn’t take too long for all the local TV media to make reference to the Polytechni­que massacre and to make comparison­s to the Columbine school killings in Colorado seven years ago.

All the media scrambled to find student eyewitness­es who managed to bring the horror home in a manner that only innocent bystanders could.

Fox also had former FBI assistant director Bill Gavin speculate. CNN recruited security analysts, a former SWAT-team trainer and a forensic psychologi­st to comment. A few, understand­ably, felt that terrorism could have been at play. But all were quick to label this a senseless Canadian Columbine.

When it was later establishe­d the shootings were the work of a sole deceased gunman, sporting military fatigues, a black trenchcoat and a Mohawk coif, the shrinks were brought in to comment on the psychologi­cal makeup of the shooter.

Then there were the responses from Mayor Gerald Tremblay, the police and hospital spokespeop­le.

And four hours after the first shots rang out, the story no longer had legs for CNN and Fox, which went back to regular news programmin­g. And Montreal was no longer the media focus of the world. Mercifully.

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