Media swarm for BTK's plea, comments

06/28/2005 12:00 AM

03/27/2012 11:03 AM

Dennis Rader took less than one minute Monday to plead guilty and tell the world he is Wichita's notorious BTK serial killer.

But local television coverage went on for more than three hours, and national cable networks provided intermittent live coverage from Wichita throughout the morning.

Despite a convoy of satellite trucks and a contingent of cable reporters, though, Rader was quickly upstaged on national TV by a one-two punch: a surprise Supreme Court ruling and a second Florida shark attack.

Only Court TV stayed with the entire proceeding from the Sedgwick County Courthouse, mostly because it was providing pool camera coverage in the courtroom for local and national networks.

CNN and Fox News were plugged in to catch Rader's guilty plea only seconds after the hearing began at 9 a.m. But MSNBC was highlighting the Supreme Court actions and came in late.

All three local channels and five cable channels watched as Judge Gregory Waller read each of 10 individual murder charges and asked Rader to plead to each.

However, before the individual pleas were completed, all of the cable stations except Court TV cut away for other stories.

That resulted in their initially missing live coverage when Rader unexpectedly began describing each murder in detail, at about 9:20 a.m.

CNN made it back first at about 9:25. But Fox and MSNBC didn't come back until nearly 9:30, missing some compelling courtroom moments as Rader said he had never strangled anybody before and didn't know how long it would take.

In hourly updates all afternoon, the cable channels used recorded clips to cover that live gap.

The court hearing ended about 10:14 a.m., and the first comment made by both Channel 3's Anita Cochran and Channel 10's Susan Peters was, "We can now call Dennis Rader 'BTK.' "

About 10:30 a.m., public defender Steve Osburn held a news conference to confirm that Rader gave a confession to police early on and that "there was no viable insanity plea."

Only local channels and Court TV covered all of Osburn's comments, although some cable channels carried recorded clips afterward.

When District Attorney Nola Foulston spoke at 11 a.m., only local channels and Court TV were interested.

So CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and Headline News missed Foulston saying that she would ask for a sentence of 175 years to life at Rader's sentencing hearing Aug. 17. They also missed Foulston's promise to reveal at that time the evidence that led investigators to Rader.

All three local channels began pre-hearing coverage about 8:25 a.m. with their teams of guest experts, including lawyers and psychologists and BTK book author Robert Beattie. Between and after Osburn's and Foulston's news conferences, the experts were brought out again.

However, one of the most striking comments came not from the professionals but from Jeff Davis, son of victim Dolores Davis.

On the phone to Channel 10, Davis said: "I am speechless. I never heard of a serial killer spilling his guts like that. We got the answers we wanted, but I never expected to get them on national television."

And perhaps the most cogent comment came from Channel 12 reporter Michael Schwanke. When he was being debriefed by anchor Roger Cornish, Schwanke said, "I'm sure most viewers have heard enough."

All three local stations planned to expand evening newscasts Monday as well as carry BTK specials, Channel 3 in prime time.

Channel 10 and Channel 12 planned to rerun the entire court hearing after the evening news, pushing back late-night talk shows an hour.

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