The 2003 blackout caused broadcasters headaches. Now a hearing on
the blackout may cause more.
As of Tuesday afternoon, only C-SPAN had confirmed continuous
live coverage of today's House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing
on ``Blackout 2003: How Did It Happen and Why?''
That may surprise people who remember what a big deal the
blackout was to broadcasters, especially the New York City-based
networks that were trying to cover the event while their own power
had been sapped.
And the hearing could be contentious. The committee has 57
members, among them Ohio Democrats Sherrod Brown and Ted Strickland
and Republican Paul E. Gillmor.
Scheduled witnesses include Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, on a panel with
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick; Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm;
Ohio Public Utilities Commission Chairman Alan Schriber; and
Brantley Eldridge, executive manager of the Canton-based East
Central Area Reliability Council.
But unless Taft decides to wear one of those ``We caused the
Blackout of 2003!'' buttons, the hearing could also be a huge
It could begin with a few hours of opening remarks from each of
those 57 committee members. Many will probably have questions for
the first scheduled witness, U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer
It did not appear late Tuesday that we would get a nice round of
finger-pointing between Taft and New York Gov. George Pataki because
Pataki is no longer on the hearing agenda.
Local stations are accordingly hedging their bets on
Representatives of WKYC (Channel 3), WEWS (Channel 5) and WJW
(Channel 8) all said they would cover the hearings during their
regular newscasts. A call to the jointly owned WOIO (Channel 19) and
WUAB (Channel 43) was not returned.
But live coverage will depend on what actually is happening
during the hearing.
It was not clear Tuesday how much coverage would be available on
the commercial cable networks.
C-SPAN at least offered the possibility of uninterrupted coverage
without gigantic red graphics filling the screen. But it could run
into scheduling problems if the hearing runs long.
The network must carry the House of Representatives when it is in
full session, and a session is scheduled for 2 p.m. today.
Should the blackout hearing still be going on -- as appears
likely -- C-SPAN can move coverage to C-SPAN2. Unless, that is, the
Senate is in session. Then C-SPAN2 must show the Senate.
C-SPAN does have a third channel, aptly named C-SPAN3, which is
available to some cable subscribers, including those getting Time
Warner Cable's local digital service.
But by C-SPAN's own estimates, C-SPAN3 reaches only about 7
million U.S. homes, compared to 84.6 million for C-SPAN and 71.1
million for C-SPAN2.
So a lot of viewers wanting blackout coverage could be in the
And that just gets you through today. A second day of hearings is
scheduled for Thursday, although with considerably less star power
on its witness list. Not even C-SPAN could say Tuesday whether it
would carry the Thursday hearing.