COMMENTS: Michael Phelps Closes in on Gold Mine

We can expect Beijing to be the default Story of the Day for the next two weeks. Whenever there is a split decision in the news agenda, NBC's self-promoting effort, with anchor Brian Williams in attendance, to publicize its sports division's coverage of the Olympic Games will propel Beijing into the top spot. Swimmer Michael Phelps grabbed the day's headlines as he won his fifth gold medal of the current meet. Needless to say, even Phelps was not newsworthy enough to lead off a newscast but the three networks split. NBC chose worsening inflation data; ABC landed the inside story on the emergency on Barack Obama's campaign plane last month. CBS, with substitute anchor Harry Smith, sent mixed messages by choosing the crisis in Georgia as its lead.

CBS' message on Georgia was mixed since it treated the unresolved conflict in the Caucasus as important enough to warrant a pair of lead-off reports--but not important enough to dispatch a correspondent to the scene, unlike its two rival newscasts. Mark Phillips narrated from London, followed by Lara Logan filing from CBS' bureau in Washington DC. Phillips showed continued violence, as gunfire was directed towards a Turkish TV crew. NBC's Jim Maceda showed a Georgian TV reporter getting shot in the arm.

The highway from Tbilisi to Gori remains blockaded by Russian troops even as ABC's Clarissa Ward heard "no reports of violence between Russian and Georgian forces. Instead most of the violence came from Russian-supported militias." She was told by the Russian military that its activity consisted merely of "controled detonations of abandoned weaponry." NBC's Maceda found the Russians "seemingly in no hurry to pull back" while Robert Moore, his British newsgathering partner from ITN, told us that "it is difficult to convey the sheer scale of the Russian military presence" in South Ossetia, Georgia's pro-Russian secession-minded province.

With the United Nations estimating that as many as 100,000 civilians have been displaced by the week of fighting, the US military began humanitarian air relief. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Moscow of a potential adverse effect on relations between the United States and Russia in response to the incursion--at the same time he reassured them that escalation was not in the cards, according to CBS' Logan: "Gates was adamant that sending US troops is not an option," even though the Pentagon already has "elite special operations forces" on the ground in Georgia.


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