On TV, A Quiet Exit For Moon’s First Man

Television news didn't seem to fully recognize the importance of the first human to walk on the moon on the weekend he died. In the hours after Armstrong's death was announced, news networks were airing canned programming.  Menacing satellite pictures of Tropical Storm Isaac had much more air time than Armstrong's dusty hops on the lunar surface. Talk of the upcoming GOP national convention sucked up the air

NEW YORK (AP) — By the yardstick of history, Neil Armstrong was among the most accomplished men ever to walk on the planet that he looked upon from afar one magical week in July 1969.

Television news didn’t seem to fully recognize the importance of the first human to walk on the moon on the weekend he died.

In the hours after Armstrong’s death was announced, news networks were airing canned programming — jailhouse documentaries, a rerun interview with Rielle Hunter, Mike Huckabee’s weekend show. Menacing satellite pictures of Tropical Storm Isaac had much more air time than Armstrong’s dusty hops on the lunar surface. Talk of the upcoming GOP national convention sucked up the air.

A trio of factors played in to the lack of attention.

First, Armstrong died on a Saturday. Not just any Saturday, when news organizations have a skeletal staff, but a late August weekend. Half the country is at the beach. It’s not a stretch to think inexperience on duty might have played a role in NBC News’ embarrassing gaffe: a website headline that read: “Astronaut Neil Young, first man to walk on the moon, dies at age 82.” (NBC called it a staffer error and said the mistake was taken down after seven minutes.)

His death came as somewhat of a surprise, too. Everyone dies, of course, and most news organizations have prepared material on hand to mark the passing of famous people. In many cases, though, there is advance word that someone is very ill, giving the media a chance to prepare and plan.

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Armstrong’s determined effort to live a quiet, private life after his astronaut days also left TV at a disadvantage. There was relatively little tape on hand to roll from interviews reminiscing about his experiences, reunions with old astronauts or public appearances. No Armstrong chats with David Letterman. No appearances in music videos. There was the moon walk, and not much else.

Notable deaths often give viewers the chance to reflect, to put into perspective lives of great accomplishment or great notoriety.

Not so with Neil Armstrong. His death was like his life: strangely muted given the magnitude of his achievements.


Comments (3)

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David Siegler says:

August 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Given that news reporting is now more carnival sideshow then serious jouralism, it is no small wonder that someone who accomplishments are of more historical significance that entertainment would want to stay out of the public light. Rest in peace, Mr. Armstrong.

Lynn Lynch says:

August 27, 2012 at 2:40 pm

It’s a sad commentary on our society when the sudden death of a drug addicts (Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, etc.) gets 10x the coverage of the death of the first man to walk on the moon. We’re living The Decline and Fall of American Civilization.

mike tomasino says:

August 27, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Back in the 1990s I worked for a company that built space batteries on whoms board Neil Armstrong served (Eagle Picher Technologies). I may have actually seen him during one of his plant visits, but I wouldn’t have recognized him. To me he would have appeared as just another 60 something man.


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