There was a split vote on the day's key legal developments. NBC was the only network to assign a reporter to an appeals court panel on suspects in the War on Terrorism. "The Bush Administration had hoped that putting those detainees in Guantanamo Bay would keep them out of US courts," Pete Williams pointed out. "That strategy is working." The 400-or-so inmates held in Cuba for five years and counting "have no legal rights to plead for their freedom in federal courts." Williams speculated that Congress, now under Democratic control, may vote to reverse this ruling.

The other two networks sent correspondents to the Supreme Court to cover a win by Philip Morris. The tobacco firm appealed against an $80m Oregon award to a Marlboro widow back in 1999. The Court objected to the jury considering all those that cigarettes have killed instead of concentrating on just the smoker in question. CBS' Wyatt Andrews called it a victory for "all big business trying to limit punitive damage awards." But ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg cautioned that the Court "refused to hand Philip Morris that sweeping victory it wanted"--a ruling that "big money damages" are unConstitutional.

And only NBC had a reporter cover the closing arguments in the Lewis Libby perjury trial. NBC had to, really, since the lack of credibility of its own DC bureau chief Tim Russert was cited by defense attorney Ted Wells as the key argument for acquittal. Kelly O'Donnell dutifully told us about the lawyer's attack on her boss: "If you say 'I believe Russert beyond a reasonable doubt,' then my client's life is destroyed." And she repeated prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's innuendos: "A cloud still hangs" over Vice President Dick Cheney.


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