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Posted on Wed, Sep. 03, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
C-SPAN to cover hearings
Taft among witnesses scheduled for today's session on big blackout

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 snooze.

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 Abraham.

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 coverage.

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 dark.

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.

R.D. Heldenfels writes about television for the Beacon Journal. Contact him at 330-996-3582 or
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