Twenty five years ago this Tuesday, rescuers hoisted Baby Jessica out of the Midland water well where she had been trapped for more than two days. While the baby-in-crisis story is a staple of cable news today, the Baby Jessica case marked CNN’s first major foray into the genre.
Lisa Belkin’s 1995 New York Times Magazine story describes how the nascent cable news network flung itself into round-the-clock coverage:
Millions watched Jessica McClure, and they saw events as they happened. During the last minutes of her rescue, 3.1 million households were tuned to CNN alone. Those millions of people felt they were there. In a way, they were there. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth many times that, and a live moving picture makes an emotional connection that goes deeper than logic and lasts well beyond the actual event. “Everybody in America became godfathers and godmothers of Jessica while this was going on,” Ronald Reagan told Jessica’s parents, Chip and Reba (Cissy) McClure, in a telephone call shortly after the rescue. He placed the call from Nancy Reagan’s hospital room, where she had just told she had breast cancer. She refused to leave her room for her biopsy, she told Chip and Cissy, “until I watched her come up.”
This was before correspondents reported live from the enemy capital while American bombs were falling. Before Saddam Hussein held a surreal press conference with a few of the hundreds of Americans he was holding hostage. Before the nation watched, riveted but powerless, as Los Angeles was looted and burned. Before O. J. Simpson took a slow ride in a white Bronco, and before everyone close to his case had an agent and a book contract. This was uncharted territory just a