How CNN Reported Out Bomb Threat: "Everyone's Journalistic Impulses Kicked In"

Screengrab/CNN
CNN's coverage from outside the Time Warner Center

"Everyone has handled it with the resilience you'd expect from a staff of reporters," one journalist said.

CNN reporters and anchors have dominated coverage of the bomb threat that caused the network's New York office to evacuate on Wednesday morning.

"I think everyone has handled it with the resilience you'd expect from a staff of reporters," a reporter told The Hollywood Reporter. "Everyone's journalistic impulses kicked in."

The network has covered the story non-stop, plowing through shoddy telephone and video connections. Jim Sciutto and Poppy Harlow, morning anchors for the network, have delivered important on-air reporting about how the New York Police Department has responded to the bomb found in the Time Warner Center's mailroom.

CNN president Jeff Zucker and several other executives are at the network’s Atlanta headquarters on Wednesday for prescheduled executive meetings. The CNN offices there and in Los Angeles were not evacuated, sources in Atlanta and Los Angeles told THR. But both buildings are “crawling with police,” said one source.

In New York, CNN employees are ensconced in coffee shops and hotels around the network’s Columbus Circle headquarters, including the Hudson Hotel, on the opposite side of West 58th Street from CNN.

Sciutto and Harlow, who were evacuated in the midst of their broadcast, have spent several hours anchoring from the street along with Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan. (Cuomo's brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said Wednesday in a press conference that a suspicious device was sent to his Manhattan office.)

The control rooms for CNN's morning and daytime programming are in Washington. D.C. But the network’s primetime lineup (from 7 p.m. to midnight) originates from control rooms in New York. The authorities let CNN employees back into the building around 3:30 p.m. ET. But sources at CNN noted that the plan in place had been to continue to broadcast from the street during primetime and to use control rooms at the network's Washington bureau.

One staffer noted that the seriousness of the situation was apparent immediately because the fire alarm went off live on the air at 10:09 a.m. when Harlow and Sciutto were at the New York anchor desk. The Washington bureau sprung into action, putting DC correspondent Rene Marsh, who covers government regulation and transportation, into service at the anchor desk by the time the network came back from commercial at 10:10 a.m. Sciutlo detailed the unfolding evacuation via phone. And then by 10:25 a.m., the network had video of Sciutto and Harlow on the street in New York.

"It was very calm, but it felt serious," said a New York-based CNN employee. "We were moved by the New York police further and further away from the building. That kept going for a good two hours. It was a little chaotic in the street because traffic was cut off and emergency vehicles were all over. CNN did what CNN does; kept reporting the story from the street corner. There’s not a lot time to have emotion. But big-picture, it’s kind of scary. So I think we’ll feel that later. It starts to feel close to home, when it happens in your building." 

“An awful lot of us have covered the wars and been though 9/11,” said another staffer. “And it’s easy to be blasé about this because no one was hurt. We’ve had security scares in the building, they’ve closed one of the entrances. But now we know there are people walking around with guns. So people are really scared and upset. There are people who are very disturbed by this.”

The network has been praised internally for being transparent with employees, sending out frequent memos about the situation and updating employees on when they might be able to return to work.

"It was frightening, of course, and I think there are plenty of people on edge, but for the most part we're carrying on," the CNN reporter said.

CNN employees have been told by Zucker that they can work from home on Wednesday.

"The bosses have been great at explaining things and being flexible in letting us go home," said another employee.

In one memo on Wednesday afternoon, Zucker praised his employees for reporting out the story: "I want to commend all of our colleagues in New York, in particular, and elsewhere, who have helped keep us on the air as this crisis has unfolded. I am really proud of all of you."

Earlier in the day, Zucker thanked CBS News president David Rhodes for "graciously offering their assistance" in covering the story, which he said was "really nice to see from our fellow journalists."