Not-so-new news

In my previous post very late last night, I recalled the 1981 walkway collapse at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Kansas City, fitting since I am in KC right now.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of another tragedy, one which I vividly remember, even though I was still three months away from my eighth birthday. It was probably the first tragic event I can recall watching on the news when it happened.

July 18, 1984 marks one of the most tragic days in the history of San Diego, and the most tragic for McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is supposed to be a happy place. Kids look forward to a visit to the Golden Arches, not only for a Happy Meal, but for the opportunity to play outside, even though in 1984, the play areas at McDonald’s were nowhere near as elaborate as they are today. In 1984, I recall the McDonald’s closest to my home had a giant Ronald McDonald standing in front, a Mayor McCheese toy, and a couple of other rides resembling other characters.

However, the McDonald’s on San Ysidrio Boulevard became the ending point for 21 lives that Wednesday afternoon.

That day, a mentally unstable 41-year man named James Oliver Huberty walked into that particular McDonald’s and began shooting. And shooting. And shooting.

When the gruesome 78-minute real-life horror movie was over, 21 people, most of them children, one of those an eight-month old infant, were dead. Thankfully, a San Diego Police SWAT team member took out Huberty with a single shot to the heart, or more carnage would have ensued.

Ironically, Huberty ate at another McDonald’s before going on his rampage. He blamed the monosodium glutamate (MSG) in McDonald’s food for making him mentally unstable. BULL. I’ve eaten too much McDonald’s in my lifetime to know MSG does not make one homicidal.

The shooting began at 3:56 p.m. Pacific Time, or four minutes before ABC, CBS and NBC went off the air in the Eastern and Central Time Zones. The regular anchors, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw were all in San Francisco for the Democratic National Convention, and that was the day Geraldine Ferraro was revealed as Walter Mondale’s running mate. Most of that night was dedicated to the DNC and Ferraro’s background.

Unfortunately, in 1984, there wasn’t the 24-hour news cycle as we have now. CNN came on the air in 1984, but my parents hardly ever watched. Fox News and MSNBC weren’t even pipe dreams.

Cable in 1984 was a far cry from what it is today. I recall we had HBO, Showtime, ESPN, USA,, CNN, The Weather Channel, TBS, WGN and WOR out of New York. Heaven for a kid not yet eight.

The 6 p.m. local newscasts in New Orleans were mostly dedicated that night to the continuing financial problems of the 1984 World’s Fair, officially the Louisiana World Exposition, which opened two months earlier along the Mississippi River, at the opposite end of Poydras Street from the Louisiana Superdome. The sports broadcast focused on the Saints beginning training camp in Vero Beach,, Florida. The weather forecast: hot and humid, but the tropics were dead calm.

I wasn’t old enough to stay up and watch the 10 p.m. news, so I had to wait until the morning news the next day to find out what happened. It was so tragic it bumped the end of the DNC as the lead story on the CBS Evening News.

Had the McDonald’s massacre occurred in 2004 instead of 1984, we would have found out in minutes, due to the presence of Fox News and MSNBC in addition to CNN, plus the Internet and all its outlets. I can’t imagine what it would have been like had there been serious lag time between the 9/11 attacks and the first broadcast reports. Then again, (a) those happened in the morning, and (b) they came in New York City, where all the networks have their news headquarters. I’m sure there might have been a little lag had those occurred in the 1980s, but not much.

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on July 18, 2014, in History, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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