On TV, a quiet exit for first man on the moon

Associated Press
FILE - In this May 12, 2012 file photo, former astronaut Neil Armstrong testifies before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on NASA's proposed budget and the future of the manned space flight program on Capitol Hill in Washington. The family of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, says he died Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, at age 82. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. He radioed back to Earth the historic news of "one giant leap for mankind." (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
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FILE - In this May 12, 2012 file photo, former astronaut Neil Armstrong testifies before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on NASA's proposed budget and the future of the manned space flight program on Capitol Hill in Washington. The family of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, says he died Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, at age 82. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969. He radioed back to Earth the historic news of "one giant leap for mankind." (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — By the yardstick of history, Neil Armstrong was among the most accomplished men ever to walk on the planet that he looked upon from afar one magical week in July 1969.

Television news didn't seem to fully recognize the importance of the first human to walk on the moon on the weekend he died.

In the hours after Armstrong's death was announced, news networks were airing canned programming — jailhouse documentaries, a rerun interview with Rielle Hunter, Mike Huckabee's weekend show. Menacing satellite pictures of Tropical Storm Isaac had much more air time than Armstrong's dusty hops on the lunar surface. Talk of the upcoming GOP national convention sucked up the air.

A trio of factors played in to the lack of attention.

First, Armstrong died in Cincinnati on a Saturday. Not just any Saturday, when news organizations have a skeletal staff, but a late August weekend. Half the country is at the beach. It's not a stretch to think inexperience on duty might have played a role in NBC News' embarrassing gaffe: a website headline that read: "Astronaut Neil Young, first man to walk on the moon, dies at age 82." (NBC called it a staffer error and said the mistake was taken down after seven minutes.)

His death came as somewhat of a surprise, too. Everyone dies, of course, and most news organizations have prepared material on hand to mark the passing of famous people. In many cases, though, there is advance word that someone is very ill, giving the media a chance to prepare and plan.

Armstrong's determined effort to live a quiet, private life after his astronaut days also left TV at a disadvantage. There was relatively little tape on hand to roll from interviews reminiscing about his experiences, reunions with old astronauts or public appearances. No Armstrong chats with David Letterman. No appearances in music videos. There was the moon walk, and not much else.

Notable deaths often give viewers the chance to reflect, to put into perspective lives of great accomplishment or great notoriety.

Not so with Neil Armstrong. His death was like his life: strangely muted given the magnitude of his achievements.

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