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ESPN handled bin Laden in low-key fashion

ESPN did its journalistic duty late Sunday, slowly, carefully and with a minimum of emotional flourish informing viewers during the Mets-Phillies game that Osama bin Laden was dead.

Dan Shulman shared the news after the bottom of the eighth inning, with the score tied at 1, after a text message that analyst Bobby Valentine had shown him was confirmed by the network's corporate sibling.

"ABC News is reporting that Osama bin Laden has been killed, and a presidential news conference is upcoming momentarily," Shulman said. "We ask all of you to go to your ABC stations for further details on that situation."

It was a just-the-facts approach, a far cry from the emotional delivery of Howard Cosell under similar circumstances in 1980, when he told viewers of the death of John Lennon on "Monday Night Football."

Mike McQuade, ESPN's vice president of production, said of Sunday night: "We weren't looking for opinions at that point; we just wanted to talk about what was going on. We were reacting to the news in front of us. So we were cautious. But we weren't going to avoid the story, either."

It wasn't until Valentine noted the chants of "U-S-A'' that the announcers focused on the larger implications. But even then, their approach was low-key. Analyst Orel Hershiser said: "It's almost a where-were-you-when. I remember where I was, I know everybody does, when the towers were hit. Now we know where we were when he died."

(On WFAN, Howie Rose first informed listeners of the reports as the Citizens Bank Park crowd began its "U-S-A" chant, saying, "It's becoming an almost surreal evening.")

It was not until after the 14-inning game that the ESPN announcers expanded on their thoughts, notably Valentine, who earlier was too overcome to weigh in fully.

"There was a lot of emotion going on," McQuade said. "When they started chanting, that sort of got everyone. The hair stood up on the backs of everyone's necks."

Valentine said producers and announcers performed well on the fly, trying to convey what was going on at the stadium in Philadelphia in a scene he called "amazing. It was a spontaneous, combustible situation."

New York Sports