Newly-declared Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden granted an interview with The New York Observer to generate publicity to boost his announcement. Biden got the publicity--his gaffe was Story of the Day--but not the boost. In an attempt to praise his rival Barack Obama as a "mainstream" African-American who was "clean" and "bright" and "articulate," he implied that those traits were generally rare in that ethnic group and that Obama's black predecessors on the campaign trail had lacked those qualities. NBC made Biden's blunder its lead.    
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video thumbnailNBC2008 Joe Biden campaign announcedPraise for Barack Obama has racist undertonesDavid GregoryWhite House
video thumbnailCBSEngland terrorism: decapitation propaganda plotPolice arrest nine for plan to kidnap soldierMark PhillipsLondon
video thumbnailCBSMoslems in Europe targeted as terrorist recruitsYouth in English mosques attracted to radicalismElizabeth PalmerLondon
video thumbnailCBSIraq: post-war reconstruction effortsFailures in electricity, oil, quality controlDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailABC
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Iraq: post-war reconstruction effortsImported contractors supplanted local industryJonathan KarlBaghdad
video thumbnailNBCIran military expansion feared in Persian GulfMore allegations than proof over role in IraqAndrea MitchellNew York
video thumbnailABCPresident Bush visits Wall Street, stock exchangeQuestions excess CEO pay, income inequalityBetsy StarkNew York
video thumbnailNBCSleep discomfort dubbed Restless Leg SyndromeCondition coined by Glaxo to market medicineJosh MankiewiczLos Angeles
video thumbnailABC
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Madison Avenue advertising industry trendsUser-generated content is new Super Bowl fadBetsy StarkNew York
video thumbnailABCTV cartoon marketing stunt backfires in BostonLighted signs mistakenly suspected to be bombsDan HarrisNew York
BIDEN BLUNDER Newly-declared Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden granted an interview with The New York Observer to generate publicity to boost his announcement. Biden got the publicity--his gaffe was Story of the Day--but not the boost. In an attempt to praise his rival Barack Obama as a "mainstream" African-American who was "clean" and "bright" and "articulate," he implied that those traits were generally rare in that ethnic group and that Obama's black predecessors on the campaign trail had lacked those qualities. NBC made Biden's blunder its lead.

NBC's David Gregory reminded us that this was not the first time the loquacious Irish-American had lapsed into stereotypes: he was recorded last year on C-SPAN equating 7-11 and Dunkin' Donuts stores with Indian-Americans. As for Obama, he told a senator that he was "not taking the remarks personally," ABC's Jake Tapper reported. But why should he? Biden was complimenting him. The slur, such as it was, was against Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Carole Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton that they were non-mainstream, dirty and dull. Obama came to their defense: "No one would call them inarticulate."

CBS' Gloria Borger worried that such misstatements will dominate coverage of Campaign 2008. "I am afraid we are of course in the day of YouTube. Every movement of every candidate is going to be chronicled for better and for worse. This time we have plenty of candidates and there is unlimited space for them to talk on the Internet."

The only trouble with this theory is that Biden said what he said while talking with a newspaper, printed on dead trees. "It was old media that got him in trouble," stated NBC's Gregory.

CHOP OFF HIS HEAD CBS went to England for its lead as police arrested nine suspects in a so-called terrorist plot against a Moslem soldier home on leave from Afghanistan. The alleged scheme was to produce anti-Iraq-War propaganda by kidnapping the soldier, decapitating him, videotaping the killing and posting it online "apparently inspired by the capture and execution of westerners in Iraq" as Mark Phillips put it. Phillips cautioned us to be careful about all these lurid details: "Police have made high profile arrests of Moslems suspected in ambitious terror plots before only to have let the suspects go when the intelligence proved wrong."

ABC's Jim Sciutto added that the allegations have little credibility among young Moslem men in Birmingham, where the arrests were made. CBS' Elizabeth Palmer reported that English police keep a close eye on Moslem mosques, where they have 1,600 citizens under active surveillance in 30 different suspected schemes: "The British government was too tolerant for too long of radical Moslem preachers." The threat of a terrorist attack is greater in England than in the United States, NBC's Keith Miller generalized.

The modifier "so-called" is added here to the label "terrorist" because "terrorism" usually refers to political attacks on civilians rather than military targets. Furthermore, a kidnap-murder scheme would usually be called a "criminal" plot rather than a "terrorist" one. The only thing that elevates this story to the category "terrorism" is the accusation of a plan to use the execution snuff video as online propaganda--that and the journalistic desire to make a headline as eyecatching as possible.

UNRECONSTRUCTED An audit was published by the Pentagon's Inspector General into the $21bn of US funds spent on reconstruction projects in Iraq. The three networks each chose a separate angle.

NBC used its time-honored Fleecing of America title to concentrate on a single example of botched reconstruction. Lisa Myers told us how US-based Parsons had built the $62m Baghdad Police Academy with "incomplete and substandard designs" and "shoddy construction." The Iraqi government "recently refused to take over the complex, calling the work disgusting." She showed us crooked walls, cracking concrete, faulty wiring and leaky sewage systems: "Human waste rained through light fixtures and ceilings." Parsons claimed things went wrong only after it had been relieved of the project.

CBS assigned the reconstruction report to David Martin at the Pentagon. He ticked off three main problems: inadequate electricity supply despite $4bn spent on the grid, a $16bn shortfall in oil revenues, missing Pentagon quality control in construction projects. His anchor Katie Couric wondered whether Congress would resist authorizing another $1bn to go along with the troop build-up. Responded Martin: "Without reconstruction, there is no point in sending the troops."

ABC sent Jonathan Karl (subscription required) to Baghdad for A Closer Look. He made the general point that the reconstruction was flawed because it relied too much on imported materials from foreign contractors rather than local industry that would hire local labor. Karl suggested there are now attempts to revive Iraqi industry, taking us on a tour of a bus assembly line. Every time the factory boss "puts somebody to work he is taking a potential terrorist off the street." Karl called it "good news" but he could not tell us where the factory is located, he apologized, because he did not want to tip off saboteurs.

But the idea that guerrillas would be unaware of the location of an operating bus plant seems incredible.

HYPE VENTILATION After three days of vague speculation about Iran's military intentions in Iraq, NBC produced an In Depth report to clear the air. Andrea Mitchell insisted that as much as 90% of all attacks on the US military inside Iraq are committed by Sunni Arab insurgents or al-Qaeda, not Iran. Her sources told her that there is no proof that Teheran is supplying munitions directly to the Shiite militias. She ran this soundbite from former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski: "A lot of the stories we hear are in fact prefaced by the word 'allegedly.' In some ways it is reminiscent of the hype that was being developed before the war with Iraq."

WARM WALL STREET Yesterday, ABC's Betsy Stark (subscription required) filed her Exclusive with the President on Air Force One. Stark continued in the same vein as George Bush visited "friendly territory" on Wall Street: "It is hard to imagine a warmer reception." Neither of the other two newscasts assigned a reporter to cover his "tough love" criticism of corporations for overpaying their executives and his worries about growing inequality in income. Meanwhile the wealthy continue to get wealthier: the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at yet another record high.

BREATHE IN While Bush was near Ground Zero, he visited Ceasar Borja, the 21-year-old bereaved son of a lung-damaged World Trade Center rubble worker. ABC assigned David Muir (subscription required) to report on the belated federal response to the healthcare needs of the recovery workers who had toiled in the toxic air and dust from the debris. Yet one does not have to be in such extreme toxic conditions to suffer. CBS' Jon LaPook covered research conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine that found that poor air quality increases a woman's risk of heart disease. "Air that looks clean may not be safe because these particles are microscopic."

SELL, SELL, SELL This was a fascinating day for coverage of marketing. Just as CBS' Wyatt Andrews did last Tuesday, NBC's Josh Mankiewicz filed one of those delicious biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you features that debunks the Big Pharma ads that pay the bills for the nightly newscasts. What is Restless Leg Syndrome anyway? "Until recently most people, even many doctors, had never heard of it. The drug company GlaxoSmithKline changed that." The medical condition is now publicized relentlessly in ads for prescription Requip. It is nothing new to coin a term in order to raise awareness of a problem in order to market a product to treat it, a marketing expert commented. Halitosis never existed until the 1930s when Listerine invented the term.

Marketing trend #2 was "user generated content." ABC's Betsy Stark (subcription required) gave plenty of free publicity to Frito-Lay. Instead of hiring a Madison Avenue agency to produce its Doritos ad for the NFL Super Bowl telecast, the chipmaker staged a contest for its customers to submit spots. "The quality ranges from surprisingly funny to, well, not so much." Stark showed us a highlight reel from the 1,000 video entries.

Marketing trend #3 was so-called guerrilla tactics. The highways and bridges and underpasses of Boston, and nine other cities, were seeded with signs to publicize Aqua Teen Hunger Force animated TV show on the Cartoon Network. Some suspicious New Englanders thought they might be bombs, not lights, and authorities closed down city infrastructure for fear of a terrorist attack.

ABC, which assigned Dan Harris on Monday to lead with the soft news of the race horse Barbaro's death, led again with trivia. Harris detailed "a day of chaos and concern…and no threat to public safety." No one in the other nine cities thought anything of the signs.

MENTIONED IN PASSING The network newscasts do not assign correspondents to all of the news of the day. If Tyndall Report readers come across videostreamed reports online of stories that were mentioned only in passing, post the link in comments for us to check out

Today's examples: short-term interest rates were left unchanged at 5.25% by the Federal Reserve…the economy grew at a 3.5% annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2006…an obituary for novelist--and Oscar-Emmy-Tony winner--Sidney Sheldon, aged 89…an obituary for Texas newspaper columnist Molly Ivins, aged 62.