12:02pm PT by Marisa Guthrie, Erin Carlson
Boston Bombers: Savannah Guthrie, Pete Williams Surprise Stars of 'Today' Coverage
The biggest news story of 2013 took a dramatic turn during the early hours of Friday as the two suspects in Monday’s gruesome Boston Marathon bombing allegedly murdered a Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus police officer, carjacked a vehicle and engaged in a ferocious fire-fight with police that left one of the suspects dead and a transit cop in serious condition with gunshot wounds.
The riveting story has offered a revealing look at the work processes of TV news organizations during a chaotic and quickly unfolding breaking news story as network bookers furiously worked to secure myriad phone interviews with friends, classmates, teachers and relatives of the suspect -- 19-year-old Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, who remained at large into Friday evening, and his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed during the fire fight with police.
And it will likely go down as among the high points in the careers of several correspondents and anchors, notably NBC News’ veteran justice correspondent Pete Williams who distinguished himself with reasoned reporting throughout; especially on Wednesday when he was among those who correctly disputed multiple erroneous reports (on Fox News and on CNN, which continued to struggle early Friday morning with accuracy issues) that a suspect had been arrested.
“This will turn out to have made Pete Williams’ reputation, just like ‘Florida, Florida, Florida’ made Russert’s,” said independent news analyst Andrew Tyndall, referring to the late Tim Russert’s reporting during the disputed 2000 presidential election. “MSNBC, using NBC News’ resources, can now claim to be not just a politics channel, but a breaking news channel as well.”
Williams scooped media this week when he reported that the bombing suspects are brothers and that the two told the driver of the Mercedes SUV they carjacked Thursday night that they were behind the blasts.
With co-anchor Matt Lauer in Texas to cover the aftermath of the massive fertilizer explosion there, his unflappable co-host, Savannah Guthrie, took the lead from Today's headquarters in New York, deftly navigating incoming breaking news on the Boston bomber manhunt as the NBC morning show stretched into the afternoon. Over seven hours, Guthrie interviewed friends of the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, finally signing off around 1 p.m. EST and ceding the anchors' seat to Brian Williams.
Her Today colleagues Al Roker as well as Lauer commended Guthrie's skillful (and epic) leadership. She's "doing a terrific job," Roker tweeted, with Lauer chiming in: "So much happening so fast in Boston! @SavannahGuthrie so great at handling all the moving parts! Wonderful coverage @NBCNews." (Lauer was on his way back from Texas on Friday afternoon and is scheduled to co-anchor a special edition of Today Saturday with Guthrie; Lester Holt and Erica Hill will continue to report from Boston.)
Over on CBS, John Miller, a former spokesman for the FBI, has given his network’s coverage a certain level of insider detail. Miller noted that during an attempted getaway during that firefight with police, Dzhokhar inadvertently backed over his brother’s body with a hijacked Mercedes SUV before driving five or six blocks and then ditching the car and escaping on foot.
ABC News’ Bianna Golodryga, who speaks fluent Russian, managed to reach the father of the two bombing suspects, Anzor Tsarnaev, on three separate occasions. Golodryga phoned Trarnaev twice. The third time they spoke, he phoned her from the Russian city of Makhachkala seeking information from her about the fate of his youngest son.
“He sounds tired [and] drained,” noted Golodryga. “He doesn’t understand any of this.”
ABC News legal correspondent Dan Abrams, who was at the World News anchor desk with Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos and Golodryga exclaimed: “That’s stunning that he’s calling Bianna to get information about what’s happening!”
“And he wants us to help him get in touch with his son,” added Golodryga, who got Dzhokhar’s U.S. cell phone number from his father. There has been no answer.