The story

Blackout in the US - History

Hurricane Maria caused the worst blackout in US history — here's how one company survived the outages

These are pasteles Puerto Riqueños. Made from meat and guineo and wrapped in banana leaves, pasteles are typically eaten during the holidays.

For three generations, Tere Foods in Isabela, Puerto Rico has specialized in making pasteles.

But in September 2017, just as Tere Foods had finishing preparing inventory for its busy holiday season, Hurricane Maria hit.

Situated in the northwest corner of Puerto Rico, Tere Food's municipality of Isabela experienced peak gusts of 95 mph and power outages to most of its 44,000 residents. Without electricity, the factory lost about $35,000 worth of raw materials and pasteles.

President of Tere Foods, Yeidy Cruz: The hurricane did a lot of damage to our company because we start our season in August, raising inventory to deliver to supermarkets, and because of the hurricane, we lost all of the inventory we had prepared because of a lack of electricity and ingredients.

Narrator: Along with its inventory, almost half of Tere Foods' employees left because of Maria. Some took time to rebuild and help family, others moved to the continental US.

Cruz couldn't afford to pay $400 a day to keep the generator running, so the factory closed. It led to more than $90,000 in production losses in just over two months.

But Cruz had a goal: to reopen the factory before Christmas time.

Cruz: There was a need for pasteles and pasteles symbolize for Puerto Rican families the happiness of Christmas. And for me, it was important that in a moment so critically emotional, for me, my employees, and for all my community, to bring this type of hope and that we're going to find a way to return to normal.

Narrator: It took 62 days for Tere Food's electricity to come back on. And five days later, the factory reopened on November 22.

Cruz: After the hurricane, we had to import ingredients to fulfill agreements with clients. The cost of ingredients has changed due to the fact that logistics are more complicated, and the ingredients are scare, and the price has increased.

Narrator: Cruz imported meat, masa, yuca and guineo from Costa Rica, Ecuador, and the United States.

Meanwhile, her 14 employees worked overtime to replenish the inventory. Each step of the process is done by hand: slicing banana leaves, cooking the meat, mashing the filling, wrapping up the mixture and packaging them by the dozen.

In December 2017, even short-staffed, Tere Foods produced a record 126,144 pasteles just in time for the holidays.

Cruz: After we opened the doors, our production from the first day was sold out. The whole world wanted pasteles and by buying wholesale, we had the capacity to find the ingredients. The families that traditionally do the production in their houses, they don't have the ability to get the ingredients.

Tere Foods was able to double its production rate, producing 7,000 pasteles a day in its four flavors - guineo and chicken, guineo and pork, yuca and chicken, and yuca and pork.

Cruz: We did a lot more production in a lot less time. Our efficiency had to get better because of the obligation. The conditions demanded it and we did it.

Narrator: A year after the hurrican,e and the factory is still operating with 14 employees, making about 57,600 pasteles a month.

Cruz plans to hire more employees to gear up for the holiday season once again.

Cruaz: Without the community, we wouldn't be where we are. The same employees, we have supported each other. There are some days that are emotionally difficult for them and I "cheer them up." And equally, them to me.

Blackout… Then World War III

I was immersed in writing my recent American Consequences story on Venezuela and the threat of socialism to the U.S., occasionally glancing at the windows as the sky grew more ominous.

Finally, the loud wind and rain won my attention. Several trees crashed across the road, splitting the neighbor’s fence in half. Then, the lights went off… the TV entertaining my three children powered down… and my computer Wi-Fi was gone.

Usually, I’m better prepared for these things.

In my early days as a network news correspondent, I would “parachute” into many a hurricane. I knew the drill… I’d load up on fuel, water, snacks, cash, candles, a cooler, flashlights, and extra battery-powered chargers for my cellphone and computer. I’d make sure I was in a protected location where our live truck could still send a signal from high enough ground. And I knew to seek shelter during the worst of the storm…

It’s the reason why during Hurricane Sandy, when we lived in lower Manhattan, I insisted my husband and I book a set of hotel rooms for us and the kids uptown – on the high ground of Manhattan’s upper east side. “Just in case,” I told him. (He thought I was overreacting.)

We wound up at that hotel for more than a month. Clearly, my hurricane training comes in handy.

But not this time… I was unprepared for Isaias’ aftermath. I knew the storm was heading our way, but I hadn’t anticipated its full wrath.

A full 98% of our little New England community had no power for days. No one could make calls, gas up their car, get money from the ATM, or even buy food from the store.

Which got me thinking… and researching…

What if it was 98% of the country?

It’s much more possible than you think. It could happen tomorrow. And the result would be catastrophic. There would be no ability to connect with each other. No ability to get money from a bank. No ability for food to be distributed. Water access would be limited… and this is why a congressional report from 2016 predicts that if the lights went out – we risk losing 90% of the American population within a year.

In modern times, we take electricity and connectivity for granted. But as I saw on the ground in New Orleans, where I reported for six weeks during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we must be better prepared.

In fact, when you finish reading this piece, I think you’ll agree… When it comes to our power grid, we need to be on the offense.

Full disclosure, as I began my research for this story… I didn’t quite grasp how terrifying this possibility really was.

Editor’s note: As I researched, I wanted to turn away from writing this piece. And yet, I knew this needed to be written, because we must discuss this. Americans need to understand our own vulnerabilities. And we absolutely must address them. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. This is real. The naysayers allege that an EMP attack would never happen because no country would actually do that to another. However, in war… all bets are off. And, as we increasingly see new technology emerging to help developing worlds in their quest for dominance and world power, some countries might indeed decide they have every reason to do this… especially if they secure first strike advantage, thereby immobilizing the U.S. and, perhaps our allies.

And while we’ve known about this threat for some time… We’ve. Done. Nothing.

America’s Greatest Vulnerability

I had heard concerns about America’s greatest vulnerability from some of my military contacts throughout the years…

But somehow it always gets lost in the midst of the other day-to-day headlines.

For example, did President Donald Trump have a mini stroke that weekend a year ago when he went to the hospital? (I spoke to him by phone the Monday following the incident and he swore it was all routine.)

Meanwhile, did Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi really not wear a mask when she took an illegal trip to a local San Francisco hair salon… or was it a “setup”? (The hypocrisy is certainly frustrating, given she’s insisting everyone else wear a mask, but does it really matter?)

With these he-said, she-said stories taking up pundits’ time, who in the media can focus on a potential attack that could destroy America? Apparently, no one. And that needs to change.

America’s power grid is our greatest vulnerability.

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Four years ago, Congress was warned by its own Electromagnetic Pulse (“EMP”) Commission (in a 2016 report I referenced above) that an attack could “shut down the U.S. electric power grid for an indefinite period, leading to the death within a year of up to 90% of all Americans” due to looting, a lack of food and water, and desperation attacks.

According to one of the authors of that congressional report and the current head of the presidential EMP task force…

Everything is in blackout and nothing works. The EMP sparks widespread fires, explosions, and all kinds of industrial accidents. Firestorms rage in cities and forests. Toxic clouds pollute the air and chemical spills poison already polluted lakes and rivers. In seven days, the over 100 nuclear power reactors run out of emergency power and go Fukushima, spreading radioactive plumes over the most populous half of the United States. There is not even any drinking water and the national food supply in regional warehouses begins to spoil in three days. There was only enough food to feed 320 million people for 30 days anyway.

And yet, our government has repeatedly failed to address the issue.

An EMP is a short burst of electromagnetic energy. My friend Neil Grossman, mathematician, physicist, constitutional law scholar, global investor, vineyard owner, and former European central banker (yeah, just your all-around basic genius) described it to me like this, “Imagine going to a Rolling Stones concert, standing in front of the speakers and all of a sudden they are turned on for a second at maximum power. Now multiply that by say 100 billion or 100 trillion times, maybe more… It is the shortest, most powerful blast of energy you can imagine.”

He elaborated by saying this, “Imagine standing at ground zero when a thermonuclear detonation occurs… What you need to understand is electromagnetic waves are a form of energy.”

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In addition, Neil says, “the electromagnetic pulse issue is interesting and quite complicated. Sources can be either natural or man-made. Natural sources would include solar flares, which, when powerful, can be disruptive… as well as high energy cosmological sources like supernovae, collisions of black holes and the like… But, in general, natural EMP sources are so distant that the effect is relatively muted.”

The type to really worry about is the non-natural, or man-made EMP.

That EMP would destroy most of our country’s grid almost instantaneously. We’d have no way to get gas, no way to get money out of banks, no computers, no phones, no lights, no electricity… There would be no way to transport food or care for those in hospitals. It would be quite literally lights out. And there would be a massive loss of life as I mentioned before… According to government reports, 90% of Americans would die… and, well, your guess as to what happens then is as good as mine.

According to Grossman, “a high-altitude detonation of a powerful nuclear device would release a powerful EMP.” So powerful that scientists first discovered the EMP fallout of a hydrogen bomb during a test in 1962… Lights were burned out in Honolulu – 1,000 miles from the test location.

Which means what if China, perhaps using Iran or North Korea, ever wanted to use an EMP to take out the United States? Completely doable.

Far Worse Than Pearl Harbor

According to a new report released this summer from the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security, China now has the ability to conduct a massive EMP attack on the United States.

China has created at least three types of weapons designed to attack our electric grid… And these technologies (all stolen from the U.S.) would enable them to employ a “surprise Pearl Harbor” assault that could send Americans into a deadly blackout.

Dr. Peter Pry, the executive director of the EMP task force set up by the president, says China not only has these super-EMP weapons in its arsenal, it knows how to protect itself against an EMP attack from us, and has developed protocols to conduct a first-strike attack – even though it denies it would ever do that.

Just to reiterate… China currently has the capability to conduct a first strike, a massive attack on our power grid, and while China says it wouldn’t dream of it… we’d be naïve to assume China wouldn’t employ such horrific tactics. Gordan Chang, who wrote the book Coming Collapse of China, insists we cannot take China at its word… because the country “lies constantly.”

So if China has first-strike capability and could take out our grid – isn’t this the equivalent of China having a full-on nuclear arsenal and us having none?

Typically in nuclear warfare, there’s deterrence linked to the reality that if they fire on us, we’d fire back… However, according to this new report, we may never have that opportunity.

The EMP Task Force’s June report reveals that China has built a network of satellites, high-speed missiles, and super-electromagnetic pulse weapons that could effectively melt down our electric grid, sizzle our critical communications infrastructure, and even take out the ability of our aircraft carrier and military groups to respond.

And China is well aware of the power that it holds. Chinese military documents contain references to making EMP attacks against the United States as a way to succeed in war. Shen Weiguang’s World War, The Third World War – Total Information Warfare, the People’s Liberation Army’s quasi-textbook on information warfare, argues that China should be prepared to exploit an EMP offensively…

With their massive destructiveness, long-range nuclear weapons have combined with highly sophisticated information technology and information warfare under nuclear deterrence… Information war and traditional war have one thing in common, namely that the country which possesses the critical weapons such as atomic bombs will have ‘first strike’ and ‘second-strike retaliation’ capabilities… As soon as its computer networks come under attack and are destroyed, the country will slip into a state of paralysis and the lives of its people will ground to a halt…

Therefore, China should focus on measures to counter computer viruses, nuclear electromagnetic pulse… and quickly achieve breakthroughs in those technologies in order to equip China without delay with equivalent deterrence that will enable it to stand up to the military powers in the information age and neutralize and check the deterrence of Western powers, including the United States.

And according to the new EMP report, China did just that…

Truly, this report should have been the headline in every single news organization this summer, on every show, in every paper… But it wasn’t.

Bottom line: If China has this capability, then we have reason to be extremely cautious and extremely worried. This kind of attack could shut down our country, leaving us in a state of paralysis… and ultimately, whatever is left of our country, would be left hostage to China.

Chang partly blames the power companies, saying, “they’ve fought all sorts of attempts that require them to harden grids.” While true, that’s in part because these utilities are run as monopolies with controlled rates that are set by the government. As such, there’s little profit incentive for them to improve their infrastructure.

At this point, ensuring the safety of our grid should really be placed in the hands of the Department of Defense. Forget private companies… It’s now a matter of national security.

This isn’t the first time our government has been warned.

In 2008, the EMP Commission set up by Congress said a largely digitized U.S. could be left black for up to a year as a result of an EMP disruption.

And yet, apparently little was done to address the potential crisis. Eight years later, in 2016, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) reported that the federal government failed to implement a series of recommendations that had been made to prevent massive outages triggered by an EMP incursion.

Isn’t that always the way? Our government bureaucracy at work…

The GAO noted that the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the Department of Energy (“DOE”) had not “established a coordinated approach to identifying and implementing key risk management activities to address EMP risks” and that the securing of the grid was far from the top priority.

How is this not a top priority if 90% of America’s population could be wiped out within a year?

Can We Protect Ourselves?

We haven’t had the best track record preparing for disasters… Nonetheless, I certainly hope we can find a way to protect ourselves.

We should be working overtime to upgrade our power grid and detection equipment to make sure no country catches us by surprise.

Too often, our government fails to be preemptive. Instead, it overreacts after the fact.

Consider the late response to coronavirus… or the delayed reaction to the terror attack on 9/11… The warning signs are always there. Unfortunately, our society has a tendency to focus on gossipy, inconsequential news of the day… like “palace intrigue” at the White House or Kim Kardashian feuding with Kanye West. The news cycle and most media commentators are engrossed in frivolous moments.

Without pressure from the media and the public, some of these big issues get lost in the midst of everything else. In his most recent book, The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis explores the different ways the U.S. government manages its portfolio of risks. He concludes the government may be filled with too much bureaucracy and complexity to accomplish much in the way of its most critical missions. Our power grid is one such risk Lewis details…

The safety of the electrical grid sat at or near the top of the list of concerns of everyone I spoke with inside the Department of Energy (“DOE”). Life in America has become, increasingly, reliant on it. “Food and water has become food and water and electricity,” as one DOE career staffer put it…

The DOE had begun to gather the executives of the utility companies, to educate them about the threats they face. “They all sort of said, ‘But is this really real?’” said [the DOE’s Chief Risk Officer] MacWilliams. “You get them security clearance for a day and tell them about the attacks and all of a sudden you see their eyes go really wide.”

Kinda like mine were one-quarter of the way into my reporting for this story! Perhaps kinda like yours are, right now?

To President Trump’s credit, he signed an executive order in March 2019 instructing federal agencies to strengthen America’s infrastructure against EMP attacks…

It was the first order of its kind to establish a comprehensive policy to improve resilience to EMPs. Trump said at the time, “The vulnerability of U.S. critical infrastructure to cyber, physical, and electromagnetic attacks means that adversaries could disrupt military command and control, banking and financial operations, the electrical grid, and means of communication.”

He’s right. But the media largely ignored it that day, instead focusing on the Russia-Mueller saga… and we all know how that turned out.

I remember when I was new to this business and would want to talk about the Federal Reserve or tax policy… or even the incoming socialist policies in Venezuela… and others in my newsroom would wonder why I would so often “wonk out.”

I’ll tell you why… Because someone has to.

We need to understand the risks we face… We need to comprehend the challenges of an economically successful China and the military implications that brings. We need to understand the threat that is North Korea.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. We know, for example, there were warnings about pandemics before coronavirus hit… The challenge is that the government is too slow on the draw. Government waits until the last possible moment to do something… anything…

But in the case of an EMP attack, it will be too late. A lack of necessities like food and water, an ability to access money, a national communications cut-off… We are NOT prepared for any of these things. Too often, we take these things for granted. But, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of understanding and preparing for the unexpected.

The beauty of the suburbs is that you can have a fully-stocked cellar. Shortages during coronavirus taught us the importance of being prepared for the unexpected. And, I suppose there’s a certain peace of mind you get knowing that, if totally necessary, you could go totally off the grid… for a while anyway.

For four days after Isaias hit and we lost power at my house, I was recording my podcast in my home studio, then running my computer to the local library where there was a cellular truck outside. I’d sit in the parking lot uploading my reports and making phone calls.

By Friday night, I’d had it. We packed up the kids and took off for my folk’s home in New Hampshire. I was hosting a week of radio shows… three hours a day… and knew I needed access to a decent Internet connection.

Just as I went on the second show that week… the power went out at my parent’s house, despite sunny skies and no storm in sight.

I had no connection to the radio station. Dead air was about to hit nationwide. The producers scrambled to recover a recording of the show I’d taped the day before and ran that…

It turned out, there was a local crew working on the Internet down the street… Within 30 minutes, I was back up… and managed to get back live on air. But I’ll tell you, our grid’s technology is far more fragile than you realize. And the amount we rely on it is scary.

Our government needs to step it up when it comes to protecting our much-needed infrastructure. We cannot live in a world in which our enemies could so easily take us out. As a country, we need to make this a priority.

Trish Regan is one of America’s brightest and most recognized conservative economic thought leaders. An award-winning journalist, Trish is the host of “Trish Regan’s American Consequences Podcast,” a weekly radio show dedicated to economic and political truth, as well as a columnist for several publications.

Hurricane Maria Caused The Largest Blackout In US History

And another 2017 storm — Hurricane Irma — triggered the nation’s fourth biggest power outage.

Posted on October 26, 2017, at 7:32 a.m. ET

As most Puerto Ricans face their 36th day without power, a new analysis suggests Hurricane Maria’s damage there and in the nearby US Virgin Islands has officially triggered the biggest blackout in US history.

New research published Thursday by the policy and analysis firm Rhodium Group reveals Maria has so far resulted in an estimated record-high 1.25 billion hours of lost electricity to Americans since September 20, the date when the storm made landfall in Puerto Rico with strong winds and rain that knocked out the US territory’s entire power grid.

The researchers tallied the customer-hours of lost electricity linked to Maria, based on daily reports by utilities to the Department of Energy through Wednesday, October 25. That allowed for a comparison to past blackouts over the last 17 years. Going back more than 60 years, they used media reports, academic studies, government and industry resources to identify other top causes of US blackouts.

Overall, they found that hurricanes were responsible for 9 of the top 10 major US power outages in modern history.

“Nothing destroys electrical grids like hurricanes do,” Trevor Houser, who leads Rhodium’s energy and natural resources work, told BuzzFeed News.

Following Maria’s continuing impact in the US territories in the Caribbean, the second-largest blackout occurred in 1998 when Hurricane Georges struck Puerto Rico and elsewhere.

The third-biggest one was caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and another 2017 storm — Hurricane Irma — triggered the nation’s fourth biggest loss of power due to its September destruction, mostly in Florida.

Before the recent hurricane, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the island’s government-owned utility, was wrestling with $9 billion in debt and had filed for bankruptcy in July. Now the island is facing a costly grid overhaul and it’s unclear how long that will take, especially as questions from Congress and others arise about how PREPA is selecting contractors to help rebuild in the wake of a $300 million contract awarded to a small Montana utility.

Currently about 75% of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents lack electricity following Maria’s strike, according to federal estimates.

Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rosselló earlier this month set a series of bold electricity targets: restoring 30% of the island’s power by the end of October, 50% by November 15, and 95% by December 15. "This is an aggressive agenda, but we cannot be sort of passive in the face of Puerto Rico's challenges," Rosselló said at a press conference at the goals. "We are going to need all hands on deck."

Even if these aggressive targets are met, Rhodium’s experts say Maria will have resulted in more than 2 billion hours of lost electricity. “It’s more than all US outages between January 1, 2013 and August 31, 2017 combined,” they wrote in their report.

According to Houser, Puerto Rico shouldn’t just rebuild its grid back the same way — it should make it more “resilient to future storms.” There’s already some signs that this is happening: Renewable energy company Tesla this week set up a solar panel and battery project to help power San Juan's Hospital del Niño.

Blackout: the largest power failure in North American history has many people asking: could the lights go out again?

Billy Thomas, 11, was watching television the afternoon of August 14, when, suddenly, the screen went dark. "I thought it was because we were using too much power," Billy said from his home in Detroit, Michigan. "I asked my dad to go in the basement and check the circuit breaker. He said there was nothing wrong with it."

Outside, Billy and his dad encountered several neighbors. "Everyone was asking us if we had power and water," Billy recalls. "The water was out, too. It was a sunny day, but the houses looked dark."

Like many people, Billy feared that the blackout was the work of terrorists. U.S. officials quickly ruled out that possibility. But they did not immediately know the exact cause of the power outage, which affected an estimated 50 million people in eight U.S. states and much of Eastern Canada.

A joint task force, led by the U.S. Department of Energy and its Canadian counterpart, is now leading an investigation.

"The electric transmission grid [network] is quite possibly the most vital piece of infrastructure that we have," said Spencer Abraham, the Secretary of Energy. "We owe ourselves an explanation of this incident and an assurance that steps will be taken to address the cause."

President George W. Bush currently has an energy bill before the U.S. Congress that calls for stricter safety standards for all of the nation's electrical utilities. These requirements would help to ensure that such a blackout does not happen again.

The outage started in the complex grid of electric lines and switches, called the Eastern Interconnection, which links regional power systems throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Just after 4 p.m. ET, a sudden, massive jolt of power mysteriously surged through the grid.

The overloaded lines automatically went out of service, and generators shut down one after another. In a matter of about nine seconds, power was gone in cities and towns across the Eastern U.S. and Canada (see map).

The blackout did not surprise many energy experts in the U.S. They have been warning that the nation's aging power grid cannot handle increasing demand. The average American uses nearly 12,900 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, compared with the world average of 2,200. At the same time, few power plants have been built to meet this demand, and there has been relatively little investment to upgrade the power grid.

For millions of people the blackout--which could cost the U.S. economy as much as $1 billion--was about inconvenience, irritation, and frustration. Commuters were stuck for hours in subways or trains travelers were left stranded at airports and many people spent the night in their offices. Restaurants and supermarkets had to discard spoiled food, and some parts of the Midwest did not have power and water restored for several days.

But for the most part the blackout was remarkable for what it did not trigger: widespread panic. In New York City, tens of thousands of people poured out of office buildings and calmly walked home in sweltering heat. Policemen dispatched to one busy intersection to direct traffic found two homeless men efficiently handling the matter. And, unlike in blackouts past, there was very little looting.

Elisabeth Rosenfeld, 10, even enjoyed some aspects of the blackout--like seeing shooting stars above her Cleveland, Ohio, home. "I never noticed [them] before," she said. "I think maybe it's a good thing to have the lights out every once in a while to notice nature."

Elisabeth's mother, Sherry, also saw a silver lining in the experience. "It was a wonderful lesson for them," she said of her children, who spent a weekend without television and other electronic diversions. "Why do we have to run around like crazy people all the time? We took more walks together over the weekend. We talked. We want it to last." JS

Students should understand:

* Areas of the Northeastern U.S. and Canada suffered from a massive blackout last month. The blackout demonstrated the urgent need to expand and modernize the power grids that link huge regions of the U.S.

Just before class, turn off all classroom lights, computers, and other electronics. When students arrive, explain that a power outage has just occurred. Ask students to discuss the blackout's impact on the school and community.

Investigators suspect that a chain of power failures in the Midwest caused last month's blackout. Three transmission lines in Ohio failed, producing a jolt of electricity that shut down large parts of the electrical transmission grid linking most of the Midwest, Northeast, and Eastern Canada.

MAIN IDEA: What might have caused last month's massive power outage? (For answer, see "Background").

CAUSE AND EFFECT: What problems did the blackout cause? (It created delays for millions of commuters and travelers. Restaurants and stores were forced to close and discard spoiled food. Some areas went without water and power for days. Authorities estimate the blackout could cause as much as $1 billion in damages.)

ENERGY DEBATE: Many people agree that electric power grids and lines are inadequate to meet today's needs. But what if an electric power company wanted to build a new plant in your community? What objections might be raised? Hold a debate presenting opposing opinions.

* Science, technology, and society: How a massive blackout struck areas of the Eastern U.S. and Canada and caused millions of dollars in damages.

* People, places, and environment: How people throughout the blackout-affected areas united to endure the inconvenience and frustrations that resulted from the power outage.

* Challoner, Jack, Eyewitness: Energy (DK Publishing, 2000). Grades 5-8.

* Snedden, Robert, Energy Alternatives (Heinemann Library, 2001). Grades 5-8.


Prior to 1973, all games were blacked out in the home city of origin and on any TV stations located within 75 miles of the team's home city, regardless of whether they were sold out. This policy, dating back to the NFL's emerging television years, resulted in home-city blackouts even during sold-out regular-season games and championship games. For instance, the 1958 "Greatest Game Ever Played" between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants was unavailable to viewers in the New York City market despite the sellout at Yankee Stadium (many fans rented hotel rooms or visited friends in areas of Connecticut or Pennsylvania where signals of TV stations carrying the game were available to watch the game on television, a practice that continued for Giants games through 1972). Similarly, all Super Bowl games prior to Super Bowl VII in January 1973 were not televised in the host city's market.

A November 1, 1970 game between the Giants and New York Jets at Shea Stadium was broadcast in New York by WCBS-TV when the Jets agreed to lift the blackout to allow Giants fans to view the game live. Later that season, when the San Francisco 49ers visited the Oakland Raiders, Raiders owner Al Davis enforced the blackout in the Bay Area to the considerable anger of the 49ers and their fans.

The policy was in effect when, in 1972, the Washington Redskins made the playoffs for only the second time in 27 seasons. Because all home games were blacked-out, politicians – including President Richard Nixon, a devout football fan – were not able to watch their favorite team's home games, as the primary carrier for such games, CBS affiliate WTOP-TV (now WUSA) was forced to black out the games and carry alternate programming. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle refused to lift the blackout for the NFC Championship Game, despite a plea from United States Attorney General Richard Kleindienst (Nixon watched the playoff games vs. the Packers and Cowboys from the Florida White House on Key Biscayne and from Camp David, respectively, [1] and Super Bowl VII from his friend Bebe Rebozo's Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida [2] ). Kleindienst went on to suggest that the United States Congress re-evaluate the NFL's antitrust exemption.

Rozelle agreed to lift the blackout for Super Bowl VII on an "experimental basis", if the game sold-out ten or more days in advance. With the game a sellout, viewers in the Los Angeles area were able to see the NBC telecast of the game. Nonetheless, Congress intervened before the 1973 season anyway, passing Public Law 93-107, sponsored by Democratic U.S. Representative Torbert MacDonald of Massachusetts (signed by Nixon on September 14, 1973, two days before the start of the regular season), which eliminated the blackout of games in the home market so long as the game was sold out by 72 hours before game time. [3] The league will sometimes change this deadline to 48 hours if there are only a few thousand tickets left to be sold much more rarely, the NFL will occasionally reduce the deadline to 24 hours in special cases, such as a very low number of tickets (less than 1,000) remaining with 48 hours left, or the intervention of holidays during the 72 and/or 48 hour deadlines. [4]

Tickets in premium club sections and luxury suites have been excluded from the blackout rule (indeed modern NFL stadiums have reduced general seating in favor of club seating and luxury suites, as this makes it easier to sell out the stadium and avoid blackouts, and this revenue does not have to be shared with other franchises), as have unused tickets allocated to the visiting team. Alternatively, some NFL teams have arrangements with local television stations or businesses (often sponsors of the team and/or its local broadcasts) to purchase unsold tickets. Teams themselves are allowed to purchase remaining non-premium tickets at 34¢ on the dollar (the portion subject to revenue sharing) to prevent a blackout. [5] [6] Teams can also lift the blackout on their own this has occasionally been done in cases of stormy weather on game days.

The NFL requires that closing off sections be done uniformly for every home game, including playoff games, in a given season. This prevents teams from trying to sell out the entire stadium only when they expect to be able to do so. For instance, the Jacksonville Jaguars closed off a number of sections at their home stadium, EverBank Field, to reduce the number of tickets they would need to sell. EverBank Field is one of the largest venues in the NFL, as it was built to also accommodate the annual Florida-Georgia game and Gator Bowl in college football, and was expanded for Super Bowl XXXIX, even though it draws from one of the smallest markets in the league.

The NFL authorized a new rule loosening the league's blackout restrictions during the 2012 offseason. Under the new rule, for the first time in NFL history, the ticket sales provision no longer requires a stadium to be sold out in order for a game to be televised instead, teams are allowed to set a benchmark of anywhere from 85% to 100% of the stadium's non-premium seats. Any seats sold beyond that benchmark will be subject to heavier revenue sharing. [7] While most teams participate in the new blackout rules, four teams – the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers – continue to follow the previous blackout rule, as under the 2012 rule modification, the teams would be required to pay a higher percentage of gate fees to the NFL's revenue fund. [8]

End of FCC enforcement, temporary suspension Edit

Until September 2014, the NFL blackout rules were sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which enforced rules requiring cable and satellite providers to not distribute any sports telecast that had been blacked out by a broadcast television station within their market of service. On September 9, 2014, USA Today published an editorial from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, which stated that he was submitting a proposal to "get rid of the FCC's blackout rules once and for all", to be voted on by the agency's members on September 30 of that year, declaring such policies to be "obsolete". [9] On September 30, 2014, the Commission voted unanimously to repeal the FCC's blackout rules. However, the removal of these rules are, to an extent, purely symbolic the NFL can still enforce its blackout policies on a contractual basis with television networks, stations, and service providers – a process made feasible by the large amount of leverage the league places on its media partners. [10] [11]

Ultimately, no games would be blacked out at all during the 2014 season. [12] On March 23, 2015, the NFL's owners voted to suspend the blackout rules for the 2015 NFL season, meaning that all games would be televised in their home markets, regardless of ticket sales. [12] The suspension continued into the 2016 season commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the league needed to further investigate the impact of removing the blackout rules before such a change is made permanent. [13] While the league never explicitly stated such, the blackout suspension continued into 2017. [14]

The NFL defines a team's market area as "local" if it is within a 75-mile (121 km) radius of the team's home stadium. Therefore, a blackout affects any market where the terrestrial broadcast signal of an affiliate station, under normal conditions, penetrates into the 75-mile radius. These affiliates are determined before the season, and do not change as the season progresses. Some remote primary media markets, such as Denver and Phoenix, may cover that entire radius, so that the blackout would not affect any other affiliates. However, in some instances, a very tiny portion of a distant city's market area can be within the 75-mile radius of a different city, therefore leading to blackouts well beyond the targeted area.

The most notable example is the blackout of Buffalo Bills games within the Syracuse, New York market because a small section of the town of Italy in Yates County, containing a handful of people, lies within the 75-mile radius of New Era Field (a stadium that has failed to sell out numerous times, mainly due to the harsh winter weather the area receives on the shores of Lake Erie) while the entirety of the remainder of the Syracuse market lies outside of it. Yates County was previously part of the Syracuse DMA (Designated Market Area), but it was later transferred into the Rochester DMA because of exurb expansion with an increasing number of employees working in the immediate Rochester area living in Yates County and traveling to Rochester for events. Despite this, the league still enforced Bills blackouts for Syracuse and, because the Mohawk Valley did not have a CBS affiliate of its own and relied on Syracuse CBS affiliate WTVH to cover that area, the Mohawk Valley DMA as well (despite the fact that no part of that area comes remotely close to the 75-mile threshold) because of this, the Bills' blackout radius extended hundreds of miles beyond the actual stadium, well into Herkimer County. (In 2015, the DT2 subchannel of Utica's NBC affiliate WKTV affiliated with CBS, ending the Mohawk Valley's blackouts should the blackout rule be reimposed, that market will no longer face blackouts.)

The NFL does allow in some cases for secondary markets to extend beyond the 75 mile radius in part to help draw fans to attend the game. Some of these exceptions are in Charlotte, North Carolina, where many of its secondary markets lie outside the 75 mile radius (Greensboro and Raleigh). Others include Los Angeles, primarily due to San Diego (116 miles (187 km) from Los Angeles) not having had an NFL team since the 2017 move of the Chargers to Los Angeles.

An exception to the 75-mile rule is the Green Bay Packers' market area, which stretches out to both the Green Bay and Milwaukee television markets (the team's radio flagship station WTMJ is in Milwaukee, and select Packer home games were played in that city until 1994). Unofficially, and to a smaller extent, it also reaches the Escanaba–Marquette, Michigan market due to the presence of translator and satellite stations as well as extended cable coverage of stations from the Green Bay market north into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. However, blackouts at the Packers have never occurred the Packers' home stadium, Lambeau Field, boasts a five-decade-long streak of sellouts. The Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Football Team also have sellout streaks that predate the current blackout rules, and therefore have not had any of their home games blacked out since 1972 (each of these teams also have long waiting lists for season tickets).

Similarly, no Super Bowl has ever been unavailable in the market of origin since Super Bowl VII in 1973. Every Super Bowl except the first has been a sellout, and, with the game's high-profile status, a television blackout is highly unlikely.

Another policy to encourage sellouts has been that no other NFL game can air opposite the local franchise's broadcast on the primary market's affiliate due to NFL rules or due to a blackout, with the exception of Week 17. The NFL relaxed this restriction beginning in 2019, allowing a station to air a game opposite the local home team up to two times. The following year, the NFL doubled the number to four, owing largely to the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the number of fans in attendance but also difficulty for viewers in New York City and Los Angeles to see many games outside of the two teams in each market (Giants/Jets and Chargers/Rams respectively) as one would be in town most weeks. [15]

  • If a local franchise is playing at home, and the broadcast is part of a doubleheader, the other network (which shows the single game) may only show a game in the opposite time slot
  • If a local franchise is playing at home, and the broadcast is shown by the network carrying only one game, the other network (which shows the doubleheader) may only show a game in the opposite time slot
  • If a local franchise is playing an away game, and the broadcast is shown by the network on which it is the only NFL game airing that week, the other network (which shows the doubleheader) may air both of their games
  • If a local franchise is playing on the road on the network carrying a doubleheader, the other network can air its single game in the same timeslot opposite the local franchise's game. However, affiliates in the local franchise's primary market almost always opt against it because such an action usually ensures low ratings. The "no opposing game" policy is a key reason why single game fixtures on the East Coast are occasionally scheduled for the late time slot.

Special exemptions are in effect when other events (such as the US Open Tennis Championships Final through 2014, the Major League Baseball playoffs, golf's Ryder Cup in 1991 and 1995, or the 2022 FIFA World Cup final) air on one of the two networks broadcasting Sunday games, which typically have a 4:30 p.m. start time (tennis or baseball), or will run through 1:00 p.m. (soccer and golf). The network airing the event is given the single game at 1:00 or 4:00 p.m. that week, and can broadcast games opposite the team that has a home game on their network at the same time during the affected weeks. This was most notably used by CBS for tennis, NBC for golf, and all three networks that have aired Sunday games (CBS, NBC and Fox) have used the exemption for baseball. CBS will use the exemption for the 2020 Masters Tournament, which airs November 15 during the early slot followed by the NFL at 4:05 p.m. EST. The golf tournament was moved from its traditional April date due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [16] Fox is also expected to use the exemption in 2022 because of an eight-hour time difference between the Eastern time zone and Qatar, and the World Cup Final would start no later than 1 PM EST.

As of the 2014 season, these rules do not apply in Week 17, where playoff or draft implications are affected by many games. Because of the nature of Week 17 games with playoff implications, all restrictions except the blackout for failure to sell out games rule are waived, giving Fox and CBS doubleheaders for Week 17 in all markets, regardless of whether the local team is at home. [17]

Each television market, including one hosting a game that is not sold out, is assured of at least one televised game in the early and late time slots, one game on each network, but no network doubleheader in the home market of a game that is not sold out.

  • If a blackout is in the early game of a doubleheader, the network may not air a game in the late game slot
  • If a blackout is in the late game of a doubleheader, the network may not air a game in the early game slot
  • If a blackout is in the early game slot and shown by the network scheduled to carry a single game, the network must show another game in the early or late game slot
  • If a blackout is in the late game slot, shown by the network scheduled to carry a single game and is the only game in the late game slot, the network must show a game during the early game slot.

This policy affects only the franchise's primary market, not others with signals that penetrate inside the 75-mile radius. It also does not affect viewers of NFL Sunday Ticket in the primary market all other games remain available.

In the case of the New York and Los Angeles markets, the NFL often schedules both local teams at the same time to circumvent the restriction (i.e. a Jets home game airs on WCBS-TV at 1 p.m., while the Giants have a road game on WNYW).

Some markets, like those in Southwest Georgia, can see up to five (or even six) NFL games a week, with different network affiliates offering games involving the Falcons and Jaguars, and doubleheaders for the other conference's affiliate in the same market. Central New Jersey offers similar access to the New York and Philadelphia markets.

If a home game is unavailable locally because it is not sold out before the 72-hour deadline, one of the following situations will occur:

  • If the blacked out home game is a nationally televised game on a broadcast network (such as on NBC for its Sunday Night Football telecast), where no other NFL games are played at the same time, all local stations inside the 75-mile radius must broadcast alternative programming (the stations have to program the time themselves, since other affiliates are showing the game). This scenario is unlikely to happen since the 2006 NFL rule changes regarding reassigning game start times for Sunday games, known as "flexible scheduling." As a result of the rule change, Sunday night games are scheduled to have highly anticipated contests featuring teams in good form. As a result, the chances of a home game not selling out during the first quarter of the season, when there is still hope for a team to rebound after a poor start, are remote, and the only possible situations where this is likely to happen are on Thanksgiving or Christmas (Thanksgiving Day games for all three rightsholder networks are assigned in advance, and in years when Christmas Eve falls during the weekend (if on a Saturday, most NFL Sunday games, except the one Christmas Day game on Sunday night, are assigned to Saturday, and if on a Sunday, NBC's game is assigned to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Christmas Day – if observed on a Monday, so that game is assigned in advance).

The 2006 NFL rule change allows NBC and the NFL to reassign game start times for Sunday games only, beginning in Week 11, although the NFL changed this clause to Week 5 in 2014 (with the rule that only two of the six possible Sunday night games could have reassigned start times). Therefore, if a late-season match features a game with no playoff implications (both teams have been eliminated, or the game has no seeding implications), often with the home team already eliminated, and thus would be unlikely to sell out, it will be moved to Sunday afternoon in favor of a better game (a prime example being in 2010 when a game between the Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals was moved to the afternoon in favor of one involving the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles, which ended up being played on Tuesday due to severe winter weather in the Philadelphia area the Bengals game ended up being blacked out, and thus WKRC-TV and two other nearby CBS affiliates – WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio and WKYT-TV in Lexington, Kentucky – could not carry it).

  • If the blacked-out nationally televised game is being shown on a cable network (such as ESPN or the NFL Network), all cable and satellite television providers in markets that are within the 75-mile radius, in addition already to the primary market of the home team (which is already blacked out), must black out the cable broadcaster's feed to customers in affected markets during the game (this is a condition of the channels' agreements with both the league and the providers). In addition, the game is not simulcast on a local broadcast station in the blacked-out markets. Local stations would still be able to show highlights during their newscasts after the game has concluded. In areas where the game is blacked out, ESPN and the NFL Network would generally offer alternate programming (ESPN traditionally switches to a simulcast of ESPNews). As ESPN and NFL Network games featuring the local teams are syndicated in the local markets under the NFL's anti-siphoning policies, the station that holds local rights to the cable broadcasts but cannot show the games originally scheduled to be carried would either run their own alternate programming or, if affiliated with a major network, show the regularly scheduled network programming for that night. During the pre-season, blacked out games can be aired in their entirety, but only on tape delay (generally after late-evening newscasts).
  • If the blacked-out home game is played on a Sunday afternoon, all local stations inside the 75-mile radius must show a different NFL game during that time slot – the network typically chooses the game (typically a #1 game for that slot). In addition, NFL Sunday Ticket cannot telecast the game within that area. As already stated, the network scheduled to run a doubleheader can broadcast only one game into that team's primary market (usually the #1 game), which is designed to prevent viewers from opting to watch the other televised NFL games instead of attending that involving their local team. Again, the secondary markets would still carry a doubleheader. In some cases, the network-affiliated stations will switch time slots so that the network running the doubleheader can still show its featured 4:25 p.m. (Eastern Time) game.
  • The NFL Mobile app for mobile devices periodically checks the user's location in order to enforce blackouts, and will not show a blacked-out game if the device is being used in the game's home market. Transmissions are also blacked out if the mobile device utilizes cell towers or wifi signals within or near the home stadium.

In 2005, for the first time in its history, the NFL lifted the blackout policies for a team: the New Orleans Saints. Due to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Saints split their home games between Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Tiger Stadium at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and the Alamodome in San Antonio, with most home games being played in Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge is a secondary market for the Saints and is subject to blackouts when games held at the Superdome carried by over-the-air networks do not sell out, since CBS affiliate WAFB, Fox affiliate WGMB and NBC affiliate WVLA reach within 75 miles (121 km) of the Superdome (in Ascension Parish, which contains approximately 15 percent of the Baton Rouge metropolitan area's population), even though the city limits of Baton Rouge are more than 75 miles from the stadium (the Baton Rouge DMA is not subjected to a blackout when Saints games televised by ESPN or the NFL Network do not sell out, since no community in the metropolitan area is within 40 miles of the Superdome).

San Antonio is an unofficial secondary market for the Dallas Cowboys (in that the Cowboys games are routinely televised in that area, but the area is not within the 75 mile blackout radius), and two of three Saints games in 2005 played at the Alamodome were not broadcast anywhere in Texas, as the start times for the Cowboys and Saints games conflicted on those dates. The only game of the San Antonio dates not to sell out, in Week 4 against Buffalo, was televised locally by CBS (on KENS-TV) as the Cowboys had a late game that day against the Oakland Raiders at McAfee Coliseum (Fox affiliate KABB, therefore, never broadcast a Saints home game in the San Antonio market, as the Cowboys and Saints are in the National Football Conference, and the Cowboys have a larger following in Texas). [18]

The blackout policies extend even to the Pro Bowl if that game is not sold out, it is not televised in the home media market. From 1980 to 2009, and again from 2011 to 2014, the game was played in Halawa, making the applicable market the entire state of Hawaii. [4] The 2010 game was played in the Miami area (at Sun Life Stadium).

Due to decreasing ticket sales, the league significantly softened its blackout policy in 2009. Though the traditional rules still apply, the league is using some of its new media features to provide access to untelecasted games. For instance, the league will not subject its "RedZone" channel to any blackouts. In addition, complete live games will be made available for free online on the Monday (except Monday Night Football), Tuesday and Wednesday following the game, if the game is blacked out, using the league's Game Rewind package. [19]

Critics claim that these blackout policies are largely ineffective in creating sold out, filled stadiums. They contend that there are other factors that prevent sellouts, such as high ticket prices and low enthusiasm for a losing team. Furthermore, it has been argued that blackouts hurt the league without the television exposure, it becomes more difficult for those teams with low attendance and few sellouts to increase their popularity and following as the exposure decreases. [20]

Conversely, the NFL has sold out well over 90% of games in recent seasons. Additionally, many teams sell out their entire regular season schedule before it begins (usually through season-ticket sales at least half of all NFL teams have a season-ticket waiting list), and so there is no threat of a blackout in those markets.

    (1968 before 1973 rules) (1969 in AFL, before 1973 rules) (1972 before 1973 rules) (1977) 1 (1981) (1983 1982 playoff game) (1984) (1990) (1993) (1994) (1995) 3 (1996) 2 (1997) [21] (1997) (1998) (1998) (1999) (2002) (2003) (2003) (2004) (2005) (2007) (2009) (2009) (2010 2009 season) (2010) (2012) (2012) (2012) (2013) (2013)
  • 1 The last blackout for the New York Giants was in 1975, and the Jets in 1977 in both seasons, the teams played in New York City's Shea Stadium. In the Giants' case, Shea was a temporary home, since Giants Stadium was still under construction. Both have sold out all of their games since relocating to North New Jersey in 1976 and 1984, respectively.
  • 2 The last blackout in Houston was when the Oilers resided there in their last season in the city in 1996. The Texans have always sold out in the city since their inception.
  • 3 Three of the final four home games of the 1995 season failed to sell out after the team's ownership announced the team's move to Baltimore.

The league also designates "secondary markets", usually adjoining primary markets (generally areas within 75 miles of a stadium, but not having their own team) that are also required to show the local NFL franchise. Generally, these secondary markets must show the away games but are not obligated to telecast the designated team's sold-out home games.

Their decision on whether to show home games typically depends on whether the NFL-designated local team is perceived to be the most popular in the market. For example, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is a secondary market to the Baltimore Ravens therefore the Harrisburg market's CBS affiliate, WHP-TV, must show all Ravens away games (unless a Ravens away game is switched to Sunday Night Football, or is cross-flexed to FOX). However, since there are many Pittsburgh Steelers fans in the region, when the Ravens are home at the same time the Steelers are playing, that station shows the latter game. Harrisburg is thus considered a battleground territory for the Steelers–Ravens rivalry.

The same applies for the Orlando, Florida metropolitan area, as its local CBS affiliate WKMG-TV broadcasts both Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars games. In some cases, the NFL has the two teams play at different times to accommodate the entire state of Florida (but only when CBS has the doubleheader, or if one of the teams is on Fox). WKMG lobbied to carry a Dolphins game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2005, but the NFL refused this request – as Orlando is officially a Jaguars secondary market (despite downtown Orlando being 141 miles from the Jaguars' home stadium, TIAA Bank Field, compared to 88 miles from the Buccaneers' home, Raymond James Stadium) the station had to carry the Jaguars game at Pittsburgh. This issue again came up in 2013, during Week 2, when CBS' late game window featured two games: the Denver Broncos at the New York Giants (which was a much-hyped matchup between brothers Peyton and Eli Manning) and the Jaguars at the Oakland Raiders (a matchup of two teams that were not expected to contend for the playoffs). Again, since Orlando is a secondary market of the Jaguars, WKMG was required to carry the latter game the station notoriously apologized for having to show the Jaguars game. [22] [23] [24] There have been exceptions, however in the last week of the 2016 season, the Jaguars played their regular season finale on the road at the Indianapolis Colts, while the Dolphins played their regular season finale against the New England Patriots at home. Since the Jaguars were on the road, this should have meant WKMG would be required to carry the Jaguars-Colts game. However, the Jaguars granted a one-time waiver of the secondary markets rule requirement for the Orlando market, thus allowing WKMG to air the Patriots-Dolphins game this is most likely because the Dolphins had clinched a playoff spot the previous week and the Patriots were going for home-field advantage in the AFC, while both the Jaguars and Colts had both been eliminated from playoff contention.

Two-team secondary markets Edit

There are rare instances where a market will have two teams claiming their territory. For instance, Youngstown, Ohio lies roughly halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, is within the 75-mile radius for both cities and is considered a battleground territory in the Browns–Steelers rivalry. Therefore, local CBS affiliate WKBN-TV must show whichever team is playing an away game. If one game is on CBS while the other is on Fox, both games will air (WKBN's parent company also owns low-powered Fox affiliate WYFX-LD, which is simulcast on WKBN's second digital subchannel). On Cable and Satellite providers on the Pennsylvania side of the Youngstown Market, like Mercer County and Lawrence County, those areas also carry CBS O&O KDKA-TV and Pittsburgh FOX Affiliate WPGH-TV in Standard-definition television as an alternate station.

If both the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers are scheduled to play at the same time on CBS or Fox and the location of the game does not matter, WKBN/WYFX will usually air the Browns game. However, on December 2, 2012, when the Browns played at the Raiders and the Steelers played at the Ravens in the late window of a CBS doubleheader, WKBN aired the Steelers game as the former was between two teams that were out of playoff contention, while the latter was between two teams that were in playoff contention (as well as the AFC North title), and was also the main game of the late CBS window. The fan base is evenly split between those two teams, with the San Francisco 49ers also having a small following due to team owners John and Denise DeBartolo York being based out of the Youngstown suburb of Canfield, Ohio.

Similar issues concerning the same market teams occurred with CBS affiliate WTRF in Wheeling, West Virginia, which formerly carried Fox programming on its 7.2 subchannel (Fox Ohio Valley) until 2014, when WTOV-TV took over the affiliation on one of its subchannels. At times, WTRF would run a game broadcast by Fox on the subchannel opposite a Browns or Steelers home game that aired on the main CBS feed regardless, and vice versa.

"Unofficial" and "temporary" secondary markets Edit

Many markets serve as "unofficial" secondary markets for the league's various teams due to rooting interest in those markets. As they are not designated by the NFL as official secondary markets, they technically are not required to air any games, but will do so to please the fanbases.

For example, in Texas, virtually all CBS and Fox stations respectively carry the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys when games involving those teams are on different networks. However until 2010, CBS owned-and-operated station KTVT in Dallas rarely aired Texans games unless it had no other option but for the 2011 season, it carried most Texans games, except for a handful of conflicts. Fox owned-and-operated station KRIV in Houston always airs Cowboys games if it is not prohibited from doing so by NFL rules. In another example, Seattle Seahawks games are usually aired on Fox (and occasionally CBS) stations across the entire Pacific Northwest as the team is the only NFL franchise in the area.

The New England Patriots, especially since Tom Brady became quarterback, also have almost all of New England as unofficial secondary markets (Providence, Rhode Island is an official secondary market). Not only do all or almost all CBS or Fox (depending on the game carrier) affiliates in New England carry Patriots games, but the team's syndicated preseason broadcasts cover the entire region. Hartford, Connecticut is within proximity to New York, and stations in that market have sometimes aired a New York Jets game instead however, this rarely occurs.

The New York Giants have most of the markets in upstate New York (with the exception of Western New York, which belongs to the Buffalo Bills) as unofficial secondary markets. Albany is considered an official secondary market of the Giants. In addition, Burlington, Vermont (whose Fox affiliate, WFFF-TV, has a coverage area that includes Plattsburgh in the eastern corner of New York) has become an unofficial market for the Giants, preventing the Patriots from having full control over all New England markets (the Patriots, as an American Football Conference team, still receive copious coverage on the local CBS affiliate, WCAX-TV). An example of this occurred on September 27, 2009, when the Giants hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Patriots hosted the Atlanta Falcons, both at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. WFFF-TV, which covers most of the state of Vermont and also extreme northern New York, broadcast the Giants game, as it is used to airing the team's games as a Fox affiliate. More recently, however, WFFF-TV has aired Patriots games over those involving the Giants when the former is featured on the network. Boston affiliate WFXT generally (but not always) carries Fox's Sunday-afternoon Giants games other than those that cannot be carried on the station because the New England Patriots are playing a home game at the same time. Providence affiliate WNAC-TV carries Fox's Giants' games unless the network is broadcasting a Patriots' home game at the same time the Giants are playing.

Specifically due to the issues with requirements for Hartford, Connecticut CBS affiliate WFSB to carry mainly New York Jets games as a secondary market most weeks (and to a much lesser extent, the Buffalo Bills), Meredith Corporation established a new CBS affiliate in the Springfield, Massachusetts market in 2003, WSHM-LD, in order to allow that market to become a Patriots secondary market previously, Meredith's WFSB served as the default CBS affiliate for the Springfield market, which otherwise contains only two other full-power commercial stations. This became a liability as the Patriots dynasty began, as viewers north of the Connecticut/Massachusetts line could not watch their home state's team most weeks. Four years later, ABC affiliate WGGB-TV established their own Fox DT2 subchannel, taking over from Hartford's WTIC-TV as Springfield's default Fox affiliate and allowing that market access to the remainder of Patriots Sunday home games with an NFC opponent (WGGB-DT2 otherwise carries mainly Giants home games like the remainder of New England's other stations). Over time however with the sustained success of the Patriots, WFSB has mainly moved towards carrying their games, with the Jets losing games on that station as time has gone on.

Since 1995, the San Francisco 49ers have had most of California from the Oregon-California border south to Los Angeles as an unofficial secondary market, although the Los Angeles area was a secondary market for the Chargers until the Rams' return to Los Angeles in 2016 and the Chargers own move there in 2017 (Sacramento is an official secondary market to both the 49ers and the Raiders).

An oddity of "temporary" secondary markets have occurred in Wisconsin, Washington and South Carolina as a result of a rooting interest in one particular player. After the 2007 season, quarterback Brett Favre departed the Green Bay Packers for the New York Jets. As a result, CBS affiliates WFRV in Green Bay (which was formerly owned by CBS) and WDJT-TV in Milwaukee were able to ask for as many Jets games as CBS and the NFL could offer to their viewers. [25] In 2009, when Favre moved to an NFC North division rival, the Minnesota Vikings, Fox affiliates WLUK-TV in Green Bay and WITI in Milwaukee requested as many Vikings games on their stations as possible. This also occurred in 2011 in Seattle, where the market was able to broadcast Tennessee Titans games because former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was a Titans starter, and local native and former University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Titans. Given these two fan favorites, local CBS affiliate KIRO-TV requested to air as many of these games as possible. [26] In 2014, CBS affiliate WLTX in Columbia, South Carolina requested to change game assignments for Week 17 from the San Diego Chargers–Kansas City Chiefs game to the Cleveland Browns–Baltimore Ravens game WLTX requested the change when the Browns had undrafted rookie quarterback Connor Shaw, a fan favorite from the University of South Carolina, start the game. [27]

Wichita is not an official secondary market for any team, but all Chiefs games are televised in the market, which covers more than half of Kansas. Stations KWCH and KSAS almost always show the Cowboys and/or Broncos when they do not conflict with the Chiefs.

In 2018, stations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa started requesting as many Cleveland Browns games as possible when 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, who starred for the University of Oklahoma, became the team's starting quarterback. The networks complied, except in cases when the Browns and Dallas Cowboys were playing at the same time on the same network the Cowboys have enjoyed a large base of support in neighboring Oklahoma since their founding in 1960. Previously, the Minnesota Vikings were requested as much as possible by Oklahoma stations due to the presence of former OU star running back Adrian Peterson.

When 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota from the University of Oregon was drafted by the Titans, stations in Oregon carried most Tennessee games when they did not conflict with broadcasts of the Seattle Seahawks during Mariota's tenure with the Titans. Other instances of markets carrying contests featuring alumnus of the local college include Philadelphia Eagles games in Fargo, North Dakota (former North Dakota State player Carson Wentz was the Eagles' starting quarterback), the Chiefs in Lubbock, Texas, where Patrick Mahomes attended Texas Tech. and the Ravens in Louisville, Kentucky, where Lamar Jackson attended Louisville.

Other information Edit

In all other markets, the networks are the sole arbiters of the telecast matches. However, they usually make their decisions after consulting with all of their local affiliates. On rarer occasions, some affiliates are offered a choice of a few games for a given time slot, if there is no game that stands out as appropriate. In those cases, some stations have allowed the viewers to vote online for their preferred game. In the early 1990s, New Orleans NBC affiliate WDSU conducted a poll via telephone during several weeks to select which game would be broadcast [ citation needed ]

For example, during Week 3 of the 2010 season, Fox affiliate KMSS-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana conducted an online viewer poll in which fans could choose between the Dallas Cowboys–Houston Texans game and the Atlanta Falcons–New Orleans Saints game. The station is situated in the Ark-La-Tex region, where both the Saints and Cowboys have significant fan bases, due to the Shreveport market being situated on the northern border between Louisiana and Texas, including Texarkana, and the southwest corner of Arkansas. The poll concluded with viewers choosing the Falcons-Saints game, even though Shreveport is closer to Dallas than New Orleans. [28] Earlier, during at least part of the 1991 season NBC affiliate WAVY-TV in Portsmouth, Virginia had call-in contests in which viewers of their newscasts could call in to request one of two games being offered opposite a game involving the Washington Redskins that aired on local CBS affiliate WTKR-TV, though if NBC had the doubleheader the game not airing opposite the Redskins game would have to be the one NBC assigned to the station. [29]

On one rare instance during Week 16 of the 2016 season, KCBS-TV in Los Angeles was granted special permission to air a Colts–Raiders game in the 1:05 p.m. PT late slot while the Los Angeles Rams hosted the 49ers at the same time at home on Fox. Although KCBS had the single game and was contractually obligated to carry the San Diego Chargers game at the Cleveland Browns in the early 10 a.m. PT slot since Los Angeles is an official secondary market of the Chargers, the Colts–Raiders game had playoff implications as well as Los Angeles having a large Raiders fan base due to the fact that the team played in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994. [30]

Networks, however, have the ability to override a station's request WIVB-TV in Buffalo, for instance, requested a New England Patriots–Denver Broncos game in December 2011, due to the fact that the hometown Buffalo Bills faced both teams in the upcoming weeks and because of the high-profile showdown between Tim Tebow and Tom Brady the station instead received a game between the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles. [31]

1970s Edit

As previously mentioned, 1973 was the first year that the NFL aired games that were sold out 72 hours in advance. On Fridays, the Associated Press (AP) often printed an NFL press release stating which games were sold out. Newspapers across the country would pick up this little 2- or 3-paragraph article. In 1973, this happened every week up to the week of the games of Sunday November 25.

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman was a good hater, and he hated few things more than newspapermen. His encounter with the correspondent Floras B. Plympton of the Cincinnati Commercial in September 1861, five months into the Civil War, was typical. Plympton approached the general on a railroad platform in Kentucky and asked him for an interview. He handed over letters of introduction, including one from Sherman’s brother-in-law. Sherman’s response was a fierce glare and the demand that Plympton take the next train back to Louisville and out of the war zone. “Be sure you take it don’t let me see you around here after it’s gone!”

“But, General!” Plympton protested. “The people are anxious. I’m only after the truth.”

“We don’t want the truth told about things here—that’s what we don’t want! Truth, eh? No, sir! We don’t want the enemy any better informed than he is. Make no mistake about that train!”

As the war progressed, Sherman warmed to his theme that the press was a “set of dirty newspaper scribblers who have the impudence of Satan”—defamers of the army and publishers of military secrets for which they deserved punishment as spies. While Sherman was admittedly an extreme case, his tirades pointed up the problems facing a free press in wartime. Most basic issues in the debate over the role of journalists in Vietnam—a debate given more recent currency by the Grenada invasion—first were aired in the Civil War. Not all the answers were at hand by 1865, but the important questions had been asked and certain precedents established.

At the time of Fort Sumter the American press was entering lusty manhood (it was preponderantly a male institution), brash and contentious, confident of its power to sway the public. It had a virtual monopoly on the dissemination of news, information, and opinion. The celebrated war correspondent William Howard Russell, sent by the Times of London to cover the American conflict, concluded that the press ruled the land, if not always wisely. The citizenry, he wrote in his diary, regarded the “chiefs of the most notorious journals very much as people in Italian cities of past time might have talked of the most infamous bravo or the chief of some band of assassins.” Of the nation’s 3,000 or so newspapers, the leading New York journals were the most influential. James Gordon Bennett’s Herald , Horace Greeley’s Tribune , Henry J. Raymond’s Times , and William Cullen Bryant’s Evening Post had an impact far beyond their circulations. (The Herald’s 80,000 led the dailies in early 1861 the weekly edition of the Tribune exceeded 200,000.) Countless papers across the country picked up copy verbatim from the New York journals, spreading the messages of these early press lords far and wide.

And messages they were. Where editorial opinion left off and objective reporting began was often difficult to discern. Correspondents were largely anonymous if dispatches were signed at all, it was with initials or pseudonyms. As a rule, it was plain enough when one read any story in their papers where Mr. Bennett or Mr. Greeley stood on the matter. Nor was it necessary to read all the papers to learn the various positions of their publishers editors devoted much space to extracts from their competitors, which they then attacked with great vigor. Indeed, attack was their favorite tactic in all things, and the thin-skinned —in the military, in the government, in the political arena—were to face rough times during the war years. Plympton’s Cincinnati Commercial , for example, soon took its revenge on General Sherman, announcing that his transfer from command in Kentucky in November 1861 was due to mental aberration. He was “stark mad,” said the Commercial , a canard that Sherman was to be a long time living down and one that did little to soften his opinion of the press.

As the newspapers mobilized to cover the war, it became obvious to both Washington and Richmond that, in the interests of military security, some measure of censorship was necessary. Neither press nor government had much in the way of precedent or policy to guide them. A civil war was a people’s war, the press insisted, and (as Plympton told Sherman) the people were eager for the truth. But how much truth were they entitled to, and was the press the best judge of it? It seemed clear that the right to know did not extend to troop strengths or movements or campaign plans, but what of army morale and arms-supply mismanagement and inept generalship? What would be the effect on enlistments and on civilian support of the war effort if defeat were portrayed with stark reality? When did patriotism overrule candor? And since newspapers passed through the lines with comparative ease, when did the public’s right to know conflict with the need to prevent the enemy from learning? Would reporters competing to be first in print act responsibly for the greater good? Would they slant news from the field to reflect their papers’ politics? Would the generals and the civilians responsible for managing the war respect the freedom to report if it came down to covering the tracks of their own ineptitude? Fundamental questions all what answers were discovered came through frequently contentious trial and error.

The first move toward censorship involved control of the telegraph, which was revolutionizing both military and newspaper communications. Initially this was sporadic and local, but on July 8, 1861, less than three months after Fort Sumter, General-in-Chief Winfield Scott announced that henceforth the Washington telegraph office would carry “no dispatches concerning the operations of the Army not permitted by the Commanding General.” This was softened somewhat by a subsequent disclaimer: “This is not intended to stop telegraphic accounts of encounters or battles or other general information,” but only “to secure correctness in sending forward news. …” Yet it was clear enough that the army and the government would be determining that “correctness.” Richmond took a similar step at about the same time. No controls were placed on reporters directly or on their mail.

A corps of newsmen attached itself to the Federal army that advanced from Washington a few days later to meet the Confederates along Bull Run. Irvin McDowell, the Union commander, told William Howard Russell of the Times that he hoped reporters would outfit themselves in white uniforms indicating the “purity of their character.” McDowell was not known for his wit, and possibly he was serious. After the Federals had been checked on July 21 and fled pell-mell back to Washington, however, reporters found the High Command banning all telegraphic dispatches, regardless of their correctness. The New York Times called the effect of the censorship a “wanton and reckless trifling with the feelings of the public. …”

As often happens to bearers of bad tidings, the press came in for criticism after Bull Run. Greeley’s New York Tribune was denounced for pushing the army into action before it was ready with the strident and repeated war cry “Forward to Richmond! Forward to Richmond!” But the sharpest fire was reserved for the man reputed to be the world’s leading war correspondent, William Howard Russell. When the issue of the Times carrying his account of the battle finally reached American shores a month later, the public was in no mood for Russell’s candor in terming the rout a “miserable, causeless panic … scandalous behaviour.” Threatening letters filled his mail, official Washington snubbed him, and someone tagged him “Bull Run” Russell. When the next spring his credentials were revoked, the “hideously outraged” reporter took the next steamer for home.

Samuel Wilkeson, the New York Tribune ’s chief Washington correspondent, was notably adept at cultivating government sources. He boasted to his managing editor that “[I] soon shall fasten my grapples on the necessary influences here. I shall have them….” The measure of his success was a special exemption, signed by Secretary of War Simon Cameron, that allowed his telegraphed dispatches to the Tribune to go unread by censors. Another Tribune man, Adams Hill, had a pipeline to a complaisant assistant secretary in the War Department who let him read all the military telegrams as they arrived. In one instance the Tribune used such telegrams—which now would be labeled “top secret”—to attack General McClellan for failing to feed his troops into the Second Bull Run battle in August 1862, resulting in a Union defeat. And Malcolm Ives of the New York Herald brazenly announced to the War Department that he expected special preference in return for the Herald ’s support of administration actions.

Gen. George B. McClellan, appointed to replace the defeated McDowell, met with correspondents in an attempt to establish ground rules for self-censorship. He promised press facilities and cooperation in return for an agreement to publish nothing that would lend aid or comfort to the enemy. Someone wondered about maps of Washington’s defenses that had appeared in such illustrated papers as Leslie’s and Harper’s Weekly . McClellan professed no concern the maps were so inaccurate they served the cause by confusing the Confederates. (The New York Herald also offered its readers war maps, some of such improbability that a competitor termed them “striking and lifelike pictures of a drunkard’s stomach.”) The more experienced and professional reporters expressed a willingness to exercise self-restraint, but it was seldom honored by the so-called newspaper guerrillas. These outriders on the fringes of journalism sent off to their papers whatever they could get their hands on, whether fact or rumor, without regard to military security. On occasion those in the field, in comfortable safety far to the rear, fabricated eyewitness accounts of battles. Unwilling to wait for the press to rid itself of the guerrillas, Secretary of War Cameron broadened General Scott’s restrictions on the telegraph into a ban on “all correspondence and communication, verbally, or by writing, printing, or telegraphing, respecting operations of the Army or military movements on land or water …,” and put teeth into the regulation with a reminder that the fifty-seventh Article of War imposed the death penalty for furnishing the enemy with such information. The principle of full censorship was thus established how effective it would be remained to be tested.

While the history of the wartime press in the South has its rough parallels to the story of the Northern press, it proved to be much less of a testing ground of basic issues. In part this was simply a matter of size. The Confederacy had fewer newspapers to begin with, and the number soon dwindled under the pressure of Union gains in the Mississippi valley and around the Southern perimeter. In addition, the dailies and weeklies that survived shrank to four or even two pages as the result of shortages of everything from newsprint to reporters. Nor did Southern papers in general assume the adversarial stance that marked a large share of the press in the North. “Be therefore, I suggest, as amiable as consistent with truth,” the editor of the Charleston Mercury wrote his Richmond correspondent in the spring of 1862, urging him in his dispatches to present “as much as possible of the bright side of things.” This unity of support for the Confederate cause continued largely unbroken throughout the war, leaving the real debate over the role of newspapers in wartime to be fought out in the north.

That debate was to be greatly complicated by the institution of the press leak. Leaking inside information to favored reporters and editors was nothing new, but during the war it reached undreamed-of proportions. Every newspaperman had his sources, and now journalists were challenged daily to separate the practice of using sources for news gathering from the malpractice of sources using them for self-promotion.

Although he held no press conferences in a formal sense, President Abraham Lincoln had a generally amiable relationship with newspapermen. Correspondents wandered into the White House at all hours for a chat, on the understanding that what was said was (in today’s journalistic terminology) on “deep background” and not for attribution. The Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, complained in his diary that the President’s affinity for political gossip permitted “little newsmongers to come around him and be intimate,” but in fact, Lincoln usually got as much as he gave in such encounters, pumping reporters for whatever news they had and for insights into the mood of the country. This familiarity with the press was not universally appreciated. At a White House strategy conference in January 1862, McClellan confided to a colleague that he was reluctant to reveal anything to the President: “If I tell him my plans, they will be in the New York Herald tomorrow morning. He can’t keep a secret.” He added that Lincoln would tell everything to Tad, his eight-year-old son.

General McClellan was calling the kettle black. Shortly after this White House conference he wrote to his chief of staff, then in New York, and told him to see James Gordon Bennett, proprietor of the Herald , and find out which of two Herald reporters in Washington was Bennett’s “confidential” man. “I would like to know which one Mr. B. wishes me to communicate fully & unreservedly with,” McClellan continued. “I am anxious to keep Mr. B. well posted & wish to do it fully—ask how far I can go in communicating important matters to either.” The general, a conservative Democrat opposed to the Republican administration, did all he could to drum up newspaper support for his own views, particularly his insistence that slavery not become a war issue. McClellan’s most trusted army confidant, Gen. Fitz-John Porter, wrote poisonous letters to the editor of the New York World , an antiadministration paper, denouncing government policies root and branch and predicting disintegration of the Army of the Potomac if emancipation ever became a reality. Both papers incorporated these leaks from the army’s high councils into their assaults on the Lincoln administration.

It did not take long for the officer corps to become aware of the power of the press. Many West Pointers and regulars distrusted newspapermen. Yet at the same time, any career officer could see the war as his chance for rapid advancement and could see as well that getting his name favorably mentioned in the papers did no harm. The West Pointer Henry M. Naglee was acknowledging this reality when he wrote to a Herald man after one of the Peninsular battles to explain what had really happened. “For God’s sake make no major-generals without knowing all of the truth,” he added. However gingerly, the regulars began to talk to correspondents, at least when the battle was done. “If I have watermelons and whiskey ready when officers come along from a fight,” the Tribune ’s Charles A. Page confided to Greeley, “I get the news without asking questions.” No reporter needed to ply a politically appointed general with anything beyond the promise to spell his name right. Newspaper support did much to keep military incompetents such as Nathaniel Banks, Franz Sigel, John Charles Frémont, and Benjamin Butler in command long after they had failed the test of battle.

If many leaks were more self-serving than harmful, others posed a clear and present danger to military operations. In October 1861 The New York Times prepared a story on a naval expedition, complete with details of its composition and force, and ran it before the ships even set sail. Samuel du Pont, commander of the flotilla, was furious and predicted that the story would be picked up by Southern papers—as, in fact, it was —”and may add some four or five thousand lives to the list of casualties, but what does the Times care for that if it can be in advance of rival sheets!” His fears were groundless, for he seized Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, at a cost of only thirty-one casualties, but the fact remained that a serious security breach had occurred. Early in 1862 a similar leak, this one in the New York World and the Chicago Tribune , appeared to compromise a naval expedition heading for North Carolina. In April the St. Louis Republican published its correspondent’s report on plans for taking Confederate-held Island No. 10 in the Mississippi.

Investigative reporting, too, ruffled official feathers. The detective Allan Pinkerton, in charge of McClellan’s secret service, complained bitterly that a newspaper had blown his cover. He had taken the cover name E. J. Alien and was horrified to find himself revealed to the world as Allan Pinkerton by the Washington Star in its exposé of his arrests of those suspected of disloyalty. (Unfortunately for the Union cause, Pinkerton’s unfrocking did not destroy his alleged usefulness, and he continued to crank out wildly exaggerated estimates of Confederate strengths that would contribute to the failure of McClellan’s 1862 campaigns.)

Inadvertence and inexperience accounted for most press lapses. The reliability of information—and of its source —was not easily judged by men new to the job of war reporting. Experience was needed to separate real news from “chin news,” that is, “somebody hearing something from somebody else, which somebody told him he got from somebody who heard from some reliable source,” as one newsman described it. Editors at the home office often enough showed poor judgment in distinguishing legitimate news from militarily sensitive information. Erratic censorship was another contributing factor to security leaks. A correspondent might find his entire story killed for some minor infraction, and the next day an unwitting breach of security would be passed unnoticed by what the Philadelphia Press called the “ignorant, political fops” who held posts as censors. Reporters were infuriated to find news cut from their own dispatches appearing in a rival paper. Whoever was to blame, the security leaks resulted eventually in an attempt at a total press blackout.

Edwin M. Stanton, who replaced Cameron as Secretary of War in January 1862, moved swiftly to centralize power in his office, including control over press censorship. All telegraph lines, rather than just those radiating from Washington, came under War Department management. Nothing that would allow the enemy even to guess at the position or strength of any forces or at any military movements, past, present, or future, was to be published. Violators would have their telegraphic privileges revoked and their papers banned from shipment by rail. Stanton also empowered police in the major cities to enforce this edict by seizing the press run of any offending paper. During McClellan’s Peninsular campaign against Richmond that spring, every correspondent with the army was required to sign a “parole” so restrictive about what could be reported that only the weather seemed a safe topic. It appeared that the news the government deemed fit to print was what Edwin Stanton elected to release from official sources. The New York Times raged at the “vexatious despotism of the War Department since Mr. Stanton became its chief… to Press and people an intolerable grievance.”

Stanton’s actions confirmed, at least in principle, the broadest construction of censorship, and the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives found that policy to have a chilling effect on press freedom. On March 20, the committee issued a report that included an appendix of suppressed dispatches that had nothing to do with army movements but dealt instead with political and other general topics. Of equal importance, the report noted, correspondents were deterred from writing similar commentaries “because they knew they could not send them to their papers by telegraph.” The committee concluded that to maintain a free press, telegraphic censorship “cannot extend beyond what may be legitimately connected with the military or naval affairs of the nation. …”

Stanton, as it turned out, was employing a tactic he was often to use: staking out an ambitious position and then retreating to safer ground when attacked. Some of his edicts were rescinded, and others became dead letters. When he ordered the suspension of Harper’s Weekly for publishing a bird’s-eye drawing of the siege of Yorktown on the Peninsula, for example, Fletcher Harper of the House of Harper confronted the secretary and pressured him into lifting the suspension by a reminder that Harper’s Weekly was a strong administration supporter. Some exasperated correspondents simply evaded the censorship. Reporters for the New York Herald smuggled dispatches to colleagues in Baltimore for forwarding to New York by special messenger.

In spite of such efforts, press coverage of McClellan’s defeat before Richmond that summer was severely limited by the suppression of both mail and telegraphic dispatches, demonstrating that despite assurances to the contrary, reports of a battle’s unhappy outcome would be treated the same as leaks about army movements. On July 9, a week or so after the campaign had ended, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts rose on the Senate floor to denounce this censorship as “most disastrous to the interests of the country. … It appears to me that we have an organized system of lying in this country that is calculated to degrade and deceive and delude the American people.” As a founder of the Republican party, Senator Wilson could hardly be accused of anti-administration bias.

In the Western theater, meanwhile, the press suffered an even heavier blow at the hands of Gen. Henry W. Halleck. Following the Battle of Shiloh early in April 1862, Halleck set his army in motion toward the Confederate forces that had fallen back to Corinth, Mississippi. The pace was glacial, however, averaging less than a mile a day, and the general grew increasingly irritated with questions from reporters as to why the Federals “were putting up breastworks every hundred yards between Shiloh and Corinth.” Halleck had an old regular’s low tolerance for newspaper criticism to begin with, and on May 13 he retaliated with an order banning all noncombatants from his army, on the ground that Southern spies had infiltrated the ranks of these “unauthorized hangers on.” When newsmen found themselves included in the expulsion notice, they got up a petition of protest, stating that it was nothing but a conspiracy to keep the press— and the people—from learning “the condition of the army, the treatment… of its soldiers, or the management of battles.” Halleck was unmoved and blandly pointed out that the reporters were perfectly welcome to see news summaries prepared by his staff at a base well to the rear. While Secretary Stanton was enlarging the scope of press censorship, General Halleck was establishing the precedent that the army could arbitrarily ban correspondents from the field.

The press grew increasingly restive at the erosion of its role during the early months of Stanton’s regime. No responsible correspondent or editor raised objections to censorship as applied to information vital to the enemy. Nor did they deny there were incompetents in their ranks fully deserving of being banned from the armies—those who “lavish more superlatives, hyperbole, exaggerations and nonsense than they would upon the crash of a dozen worlds butting against each other in space,” as Franc Wilkie of The New York Times described them. They brought the profession into disrepute, “a disrepute which has fallen alike on those who deserve it, and those who do not.” Yet it was obvious that censorship and restrictions on the right to report were also being used to hide incompetence and to suppress legitimate comment on political matters and Washington’s management of the war. The consequence of such suppression, Greeley of the Tribune warned, “will be a fearful one, and it will rest wholly on the Government .” The World , in rare concert with the Tribune , labeled it military despotism: “This is the people’s war…. There must be freedom of information, and freedom of speech. And so there will be, even though it rains interdicts.”

General Halleck brought his jaundiced view of the press with him when he was ordered to Washington in July 1862 to become general-in-chief of the Federal armies. In spite of McClellan’s attempt, “in the best interests of the service and the country,” to ban correspondents following his defeat, several Northern papers carried stories of the Army of the Potomac’s impending evacuation from the Peninsula on the day the withdrawal began. Halleck’s anger at this security leak was raised to a higher pitch by a correspondent’s dispatch (intercepted and suppressed) announcing the retreat of Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia, newly formed to guard Washington, after its beating at the hands of Stonewall Jackson early in August. The general decided drastic measures were required.

Halleck’s first impulse was to ban reporters from all the Union armies. Lincoln overruled that idea as penalizing all for the sins of the few, so Halleck settled for an order removing the correspondents assigned to Pope’s army only official communications were to pass between Pope and Washington, by either mail or telegraph. The blackout order promptly appeared in the newspapers, and Halleck told Pope to plug up the leaks at his headquarters.

General Pope informed the reporters with him that they must leave—an order given reluctantly, for he welcomed the notice he was receiving from portions of the press—and the blackout remained in force throughout the Second Bull Run campaign. The consequences were chaotic. All anyone could learn was that the Confederates under Lee and Jackson were stalking Pope’s army somewhere off to the west of Washington—the cannon fire could be heard in the capital— and reporters were reduced to scurrying around the city and the outlying camps to interview stragglers and wounded and refugees arriving from the front. Each bit of rumor and gossip was more sensational than the last and was soon in print: Washington and Baltimore were about to be overrun the Confederates were two hundred thousand strong (four times their actual numbers) Stonewall Jackson was surrounded one of Pope’s corps was cut to pieces McClellan had rushed heroically to the rescue McClellan was branded a traitor and cashiered. In cities across the North, crowds surrounded the bulletin boards in front of newspaper offices, clamoring for news. In Philadelphia, said the Ledger , “no such excitement has been seen since the time when the news of the firing upon Fort Sumter was given to the public.”

A handful of reporters had evaded the press embargo and remained with Pope’s Army of Virginia to chronicle its defeat at Second Bull Run, but their stories were delayed and did not appear in print for several days. In its own confusion the War Department hoped that no news would be considered good news. Its only release during the fighting was a dispatch from General Pope claiming victory, which ran in the papers at the same time the first outriders of defeat came stumbling back to Washington from the battlefield. It was soon all over the capital that Lee’s victorious army had crossed the Potomac and was invading Maryland. The War Department refused to acknowledge that fact for three days, by which time the Confederates were occupying Frederick, twenty-three miles north of the river. By early September Robert E. Lee’s invading army was pushing a shock wave of panic before it, made all the worse by the inability of the press to find out anything close to the truth of what was happening. “Newspapers tell us little or nothing about the situation in Maryland,” the New York diarist George Templeton Strong protested, and he wondered if the enemy would reach Philadelphia and New York and even Boston. The public mood, suffering from an “epidemic of indigo,” as Strong put it, was not improved by reports leaking through the censorship that other Confederate forces were marching northward through Kentucky for the Ohio River. “Between the tide of rumors and the ebb of facts, your correspondent floats like a craft without a rudder,” the Tribune ’s man in Louisville wrote.

The press gag demonstrated that in a news vacuum rumor will rush in to fill the void. For the North these weeks of late August and early September 1862 marked a major crisis—in retrospect a time of peril greater than the Gettysburg campaign the following year—and at no time during the war was the demand for reliable information greater and the public so ill informed. The meager diet of news from the War Department reflected badly on the administration’s credibility, suggesting to many that if the truth was so unpalatable, there must be a cover-up taking place. The Tribune spoke of “mismanagement everywhere,” from headquarters in the field to the highest councils in Washington. Several papers ran speculations of a national upheaval in the making, of dark plots for “usurping the authority of the government and overthrowing by a violent revolution the President and Cabinet.” Recriminations would have followed the Second Bull Run disaster in any event, but Halleck’s blackout only aggravated the situation.

So far as the correspondents knew, the press ban was still in place when McClellan—in command again after Pope’s failure—marched his army into Maryland to meet Lee’s challenge. In fact, so the New York Evening Post reported, Halleck had given up trying to enforce his blackout, but the reporters took no chances and resorted to subterfuge in order to cover what promised to be a major story. One got himself appointed to a general’s staff, and another reworked an old army pass to avoid the provost marshals. In contrast with Second Bull Run, the Battle of Antietam on September 17, which checked Lee’s invasion, produced some of the finest reporting of the war. The Evening Post ’s William Cullen Bryant, reprinting the account by George Smalley of the Tribune , ranked it with the “best battle pieces in literature,” better than anything by “Bull Run” Russell. The story earned the respect of the men in the ranks, perhaps the reporters’ toughest audience. Not trusting the unpredictability of the censors, Smalley and other newsmen had traveled to their home papers and filed their stories in person.

Paradoxically, the campaigns of 1862 that reached their climax at Antietam marked both the government’s maximum effort to manage the news and a growing professionalism on the part of the press. Greeley’s Tribune was one paper to demonstrate this maturity. The correspondent Samuel Wilkeson wrote a stinging indictment of the administration’s role in the Peninsula failure, in sharp contrast with the paper’s editorial stance on the matter. While pointing out that the dispatch did not represent the paper’s views, the Tribune nevertheless ran it in its entirety. Writing to Wilkeson, Greeley outlined his conversion to objectivity. Henceforth news would be reported dispassionately, he said, and editorials written separately, “to be submitted to criticism and revision here, instead of embodying them in dispatches. …” To be sure, not all newspapers (including the Tribune ) always abided by this distinction, but an important start was made to enlarge the credibility of the news columns.

Another important step in this direction appeared in 1863, although credit for the reform belongs not to the press but to Gen. Joseph Hooker. Taking command of the Army of the Potomac early in the year, Hooker paused in his preparations for the spring campaign to announce that the “publication of injudicious correspondence of an anonymous character, makes it necessary to require all newspaper correspondents to publish their communications over their own signatures.” Once they came out from behind the cloak of anonymity, Hooker wrote, they had “license to abuse or criticize me to their hearts’ content.” Later in the year the requirement was extended to newsmen with the Western armies. At first not all reporters were comfortable with being made so personally responsible for what they wrote —Wilkeson of the Tribune insisted that anonymity “greatly favors freedom and boldness in newspaper correspondence”—but as a rule it produced more careful and accurate reporting. It also enhanced reputations. War correspondents had Joe Hooker to thank for the recognition that came with a by-line.

After 1862 Washington made no further attempt at a total ban on reporters traveling with any of the armies but instead left the matter to the generals in the field. “I expelled them all from our lines in Mississippi,” Halleck pointedly reminded Hooker. “Every general must decide for himself what persons he will permit in his camps.” Henceforth anything ranging from a security violation to an alleged slight inflicted on military amour-propre became grounds for expulsion.

To the surprise of no one in the press corps, it was General Sherman who went the farthest of any field commander to gag battlefield reporting. After reading the New York Herald ’s account of his failure in an early attack on the fortress of Vicksburg on the Mississippi, Sherman determined to make an example of its author, Thomas Knox. Knox would be tried by military court-martial as a spy, Sherman explained, “because I want to establish the principle that such people cannot attend our armies, in violation of orders, and defy us, publishing their garbled statements and defaming officers who are doing their best.” Should Knox be found guilty, wrote the Tribune ’s correspondent, the precedent would utterly hamstring the press. “No one can send intelligence of matters connected with the army,” he predicted, “and especially no one can criticize the conduct of Generals in the field without subjecting himself to a similar charge.”

The trial held in February 1863 acquitted Knox of the most serious charge—of spying and giving information to the enemy—finding him guilty only of defying Sherman’s ban on correspondents’ accompanying the expedition, and he was ordered to leave the army. Although relieved at the outcome, those reporters who remained with Sherman gave him an even wider berth than before. As for the general, Knox’s expulsion did nothing to mollify his views. When later in the Vicksburg campaign it was reported (falsely, as it turned out) that three newsmen had been killed, he exclaimed, “That’s good! We’ll have dispatches now from hell before breakfast.”

Others besides Sherman could have served Joseph Heller as a model for Catch-22 ’s General Dreedle (“Take him out and shoot him!”). During the 1864 Virginia campaign, for example, Gen. Ambrose Burnside became so outraged at the criticisms of William Swinton of The New York Times that he ordered the correspondent before a firing squad. Ulysses S. Grant, the new general-in-chief, reduced the sentence to banishment from the army. Edward Crapsey of the Philadelphia Inquirer , in trying to explain the working relationship between Grant and the Army of the Potomac commander, George Gordon Meade, during the same campaign, made the mistake of arousing the terrible-tempered Meade. Before expelling him from the army, the general had Crapsey mounted on a mule and, to the accompaniment of the “Rogue’s March,” paraded him through the camps bearing placards front and back reading “Libeller of the Press.” “It will be a warning to his Tribe,” Meade’s provost marshal wrote with satisfaction in his diary. This humiliation of the respected Crapsey united his fellow correspondents for the remainder of the campaign they consistently excluded Meade’s name from their dispatches, except in connection with any check the army suffered.

Despite these incidents, enough ground rules were now established to temper somewhat the warfare between press and government. The War Department unbent enough to issue regular summaries of military events that not only helped drive rumor from the news but gave newsmen guidance on what it was safe to report. For their part, editors compromised for the sake of the general good by toning down the accounts they printed of such Union debacles as Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Security leaks remained a problem right to the end of the war, enabling Confederate commanders to continue gathering useful information on Federal strengths and intentions from Northern papers passed through the lines. Nor did irresponsible reporting disappear. In the competition for exclusives, newspapers had Vicksburg captured well before the event, and in the summer of 1864 one of Sherman’s officers wrote home that the correspondents took Atlanta some weeks in advance of the army.

Nevertheless, press corps professionalism grew with experience. “The judgment of our reporters not only becomes better,” the Chicago Tribune thought in 1864, “but their candor improves also.” The spur of competition had something to do with this, for papers were delighted to point out in print their rivals’ mistakes. The daily volume of war news might still be (as a foreign observer noted) “fresh, strong, and rather coarsely flavoured—like new whiskey from a still”—but it was confirmation of an essential principle surviving wartime pressures: the right of the people to know the truth, as best the press could deliver it.

The government’s efforts to manage the news during the Civil War present an equally checkered history. The most stifling of the censorshjp decrees fell through the weight of ineptitude and the enterprise of reporters. General Halleck’s press blackout of 1862 succeeded only in sowing confusion and dissension on the home front.

In remarking on that general’s attempt to ban newsmen from his army, Albert Richardson of the New York Tribune stated perhaps the single most important condition for the preservation of press freedom in wartime. It would never be achieved, he thought, “until it is clearly settled that an accredited Journalist, in the legitimate exercise of his calling, has just as much right in the army as the Commander himself, and is there on just as legitimate a mission. …”

If that ideal was not achieved by 1865, it was a good deal closer to realization than it had been four years earlier.

Italy – 28 September 2003 (57 million people affected)

Italy experienced a blackout on 28 September 2003 after a power line which supplied electricity to the nation from Switzerland was damaged by an uprooted tree during a storm.

The incident occurred at about 3:00AM in the morning, affecting almost the entire 57 million population of Italy. It also brought 110 trains carrying more than 30,000 passengers in Italy to a halt, while trains were held at the Swiss border for more than 3.5 hours.

The Geneva Canton region of Switzerland experienced three hours of black out while Rome was most affected as the outage occurred during Nuit Blanche, an all-night arts festival. About 90 percent of the power was restored after eight hours though some regions were blacked out for as long as 18 hours.

Why the 1977 Blackout Was One of New York’s Darkest Hours

T he blackout that hit New York on this day, July 13, in 1977 was to many a metaphor for the gloom that had already settled on the city. An economic decline, coupled with rising crime rates and the panic-provoking (and paranoia-inducing) Son of Sam murders, had combined to make the late 1970s New York&rsquos Dark Ages.

Then lightning struck, and the city went dark for real. By the time the power came back, 25 hours later, arsonists had set more than 1,000 fires and looters had ransacked 1,600 stores, per the New York Times.

Opportunistic thieves grabbed whatever they could get their hands on, from luxury cars to sink stoppers and clothespins, according to the New York Post. The sweltering streets became a battleground, where, per the Post, &ldquoeven the looters were being mugged.&rdquo

The mayhem of 1977 came as a night-and-day contrast with New York&rsquos previous citywide blackout, in 1965. The earlier outage affected far more people (25 million, spanning New York and seven other states, plus two Canadian provinces, compared to the 9 million people in New York and its northern suburbs who lost power in &rsquo77, per TIME). Yet the effects were dramatically, devastatingly different. As TIME put it, the 1977 blackout left the city powerless in terms of electricity and also powerless to stop the people who seized the opportunity to riot. “They set hundreds of fires and looted thousands of stores,” the magazine noted, “illuminating in a perverse way twelve years of change in the character of the city, and perhaps of the country.”

One TIME editor remarked that the tenor of the blackout had more in common with the 1964 Harlem race riots than with the 1965 blackout, which had been generally seen as an example of the city&rsquos resilience. Now it seemed as if New York had set itself to auto-destruct. TIME noted how news media outside the city characterized the crisis:

Sample headline from the Los Angeles Times: CITY’S PRIDE IN ITSELF GOES DIM IN THE BLACKOUT. Newspapers abroad also focused on the looting. A headline from Tokyo’s Mainichi Shimbun: PANIC GRIPS NEW YORK from West Germany’s Bild Zeitung: NEW YORK’S BLOODIEST NIGHT from London’s Daily Express: THE NAKED CITY.

The blackout ultimately shone a spotlight on some of the city&rsquos long-overlooked shortcomings, from glaring flaws in the power network to the much deeper-rooted issues of racial inequality and the suffering of the &ldquoAmerican underclass,&rdquo as TIME dubbed it. Some saw the worsening circumstances &mdash and institutional neglect &mdash of this group of people as the key to the differences between the two New York blackouts. The &rsquo77 blackout presented a rare opportunity for the powerless minority to suddenly seize power, TIME concluded, quoting the head of the National Urban League as saying, &ldquo[The underclass] in a crisis feels no compulsion to abide by the rules of the game because they find that the normal rules do not apply to them.&rdquo

Read TIME’s cover story about the blackout, here in the archives: Night of Terror

Cities Go Dark

Blackout poster from Oakland, CA ca. 1941

Cities including Seattle adopted rules for a complete citywide blackout as early as March of 1941 Washington and Oregon followed with statewide policies in October. During these drills, cities would go completely dark by 11 PM, making it difficult for potential attackers to spot major population centers. Households were mandated to turn off all lights, and tens of thousands of volunteers—including women and children—worked to make these drills efficient. By the fourth quarter of 1941, coastal cities were prepared for the worst, although they were hopeful that they’d never have to implement these drills.

Then came December 7, 1941. Everything that was once theoretical became reality when Japan launched a strike on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Oahu. Whether Japan would continue the trek across the Pacific to hit the West Coast was on everybody’s mind, and one incident a day after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor showed just how fearful people were.

On the evening of December 8, more than 1,000 residents of Seattle gathered after the 11 PM blackout deadline in front of a downtown clothing store. Unlike many of the buildings in the city, the clothing store’s signage was still lit up and clearly visible. To achieve total darkness, the crowd threw rocks at the sign’s light bulbs hoping to extinguish the glow. This continued for an hour, until a store employee showed up to turn off the lights, though there will other storefronts still illuminating the streets. The mob continued to break into local businesses to turn off any lights, stopping for a moment to sing “God Bless America” before returning to what they felt was justified vandalism.

The Unlikely Story of One of the Biggest Blackouts In US History

Fifty years ago this evening, at roughly 5:15pm, every light connected to New York’s power grid flickered out–along with those of 30 million people throughout the Northeast. Chaos didn’t ensue, oddly enough.

Today, blackouts are scary, for the flashlight prices and cab fares if not the threat of crime. But the great Northeastern Blackout of 1965 was different. While many millions of people were left without power–with as many as 800,000 people trapped in subway cars alone, the New York Times reported –with no explanation of what had caused the outage, there was surprisingly little chaos or panic reported.

The AP–which made its 50-year-old archival report about the blackout available today–wrote that it was the biggest blackout in history. Yet people seemed oddly calm: “The great luminous cities looked as if they had been struck by some awesome tragedy. But reports indicated most people took it all calmly. Restaurants did a thriving business by candlelight.”

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