A horrible carbomb attack on a Shiite market in Baghdad was the lead on both CBS and NBC. ABC led with nuclear diplomacy with North Korea. Yet neither of these developments was the networks' Story of the Day. The Pentagon's anonymous accusations against Iran for fomenting violence in Iraq attracted most time on all three newscasts combined. Each network chose a radically different angle.    
click to playstoryanglereporterdateline
video thumbnailCBSIran military expansion feared in Persian GulfPentagon asserts that Teheran weapons killed GIsDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailNBCIran military expansion feared in Persian GulfUS motives for accusations over Iraq examinedAndrea MitchellWashington DC
video thumbnailABC
sub req
Iran military expansion feared in Persian GulfPresident Ahmadinejad denies Iraq interferenceDiane SawyerTeheran
video thumbnailCBSIraq: terrorist carbombs attack civilian targetsCarbombs kill dozens in Baghdad's Shorjah MarketLara LoganBaghdad
video thumbnailABC
sub req
Iraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesPM al-Maliki announces start of troop build-upMiguel MarquezBaghdad
video thumbnailNBCIraq: sectarian Sunni vs Shiite violence escalatesUSArmy patrol discovers murders at Shiite bakeryRichard EngelBaghdad
video thumbnailABC2008 Barack Obama campaignFaces scrutiny on opposition to Iraq WarJake TapperChicago
video thumbnailABCNorth Korea develops nuclear weapons programBeijing diplomacy reaches halt-for-energy dealMartha RaddatzWhite House
video thumbnailNBCElderly reside in assisted living facilitiesFirm provides support systems in lieu of kinBrian WilliamsNew Jersey
video thumbnailCBSProfessional women advance by networking, mentoringWall Street millionairess sets up online supportKatie CouricNew York
AHMADINEJAD OFFERS ANSWERS A horrible carbomb attack on a Shiite market in Baghdad was the lead on both CBS and NBC. ABC led with nuclear diplomacy with North Korea. Yet neither of these developments was the networks' Story of the Day. The Pentagon's anonymous accusations against Iran for fomenting violence in Iraq attracted most time on all three newscasts combined. Each network chose a radically different angle.

ABC bagged its Exclusive as Good Morning America anchor Diane Sawyer (subscription required) traveled to Teheran for a one-on-one with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He answered the Pentagon's accusations about exported Iranian weaponry killing as many as 170 GIs: "You are showing us pieces of paper and calling them documents…there should be a court to prove the case." He explained why Iranian troops would not get involved: "We are opposed to the presence of foreign forces in Iraq." And he promised not to fuel the conflict there: "Insecurity in Iraq is to our disadvantage."

From the Pentagon. CBS' David Martin detailed the specifics of the involvement in Iraq that Ahmadinejad refused to confirm. He showed us animation that depicts how the "sophisticated killing device" works: an explosion pushes out the concave lids of the bombs, transforming them in midair into an armor-piercing "molten slug." His network's in-house Iran expert Reza Aslan told him that exporting the bombs is Teheran's technique of initiating diplomacy: "If you want us to stop, let's talk."

NBC's Andrea Mitchell called it a "highly unusual step" that the US military officials in Baghdad who made the accusations against Iran "would not give their names." She reminded us of the National Intelligence Estimate finding that "Iran's influence was not a major driver of violence" in Iraq. "Is the administration trying to provoke a confrontation with Iran?" Mitchell mused. Her unnamed sources "acknowledged that the evidence is at best circumstantial."

MISS A BEAT The Baghdad bombs killed as many as 80 civilians at Shorjah Market, setting buildings ablaze and sending out plumes of thick black smoke. "A version of hell," NBC's Jane Arraf called it. "You would have to shut down the city to stop carbombs." The attack coincided precisely with the announcement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the new security operation to halt violence in Baghdad was under way. CBS' Lara Logan called the explosion "catastrophic" yet saw al-Maliki continuing his Green Zone press conference: "He does not miss a beat." Hundreds of wounded were taken to hospitals where the shortage of medical care "means more will die."

SMELLS & SOUNDS ABC's Miguel Marquez (subscription required) called the bombings a deadly reminder "of just how big the challenge will be to establish the new Baghdad security plan." The build-up envisages 90,000 soldiers patrolling the city's neighborhoods. So far only 50,000 are deployed. NBC's Richard Engel is already embedded with the First Cavalry Division as it embarks on its neighborhood patrols in west Baghdad.

Engel followed troops into a Shiite bakery: "There are bodies everywhere. In the kitchen, the smell of freshly-baked cakes. A dead man's cell phone keeps ringing. This is what the reality of the civil war looks like: killing families one at a time." The police eventually arrived to take the corpses away "in a truck already caked in blood from eight earlier pick-ups."

CAST THAT VOTE ABC's anchor Charles Gibson traveled to Chicago to update us on how Iraq is playing on the campaign trail. ABC's Jake Tapper followed newly announced candidate Barack Obama of Illinois as he spelled out his opposition to the war. His plan to pull out troops "was even assailed by the Prime Minister of Australia," Tapper pointed out. Tapper decided that the senator "stumbled" when he implied that soldiers killed in Iraq had died in vain.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos explained why Hillary Rodham Clinton, the suburban Chicago native, alone among Democratic Presidential candidates, is holding out against retracting her Senate vote to give President George Bush his go-ahead for war. "It is a matter of conviction. She does not believe it was a mistake." Stephanopoulos repeated the theory by some political operatives that Rodham Clinton is "trapped by her gender--that she has a special burden to appear strong."

HALT FOR OIL Only NBC had a correspondent on the scene in Beijing for the six-nation diplomacy over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Mark Mullen's proximity, however, delivered no extra detail as he offered a rudimentary stand-up report. CBS and ABC both covered the talks from the White House. CBS' Jim Axelrod, too, offered a brief stand-up.

Martha Raddatz filed the most rounded report as ABC's lead item. She reported that the offer of oil and electricity from South Korea would lead to an eventual shutdown of North Korea's nuclear program: first its reactors would be sealed, then IAEA inspections would resume, then weapons production would be halted. Pyongyang would not give up the nuclear arsenal it has already manufactured. "The Clinton Administration made a similar deal in 1994. North Korea broke that."

BRIAN’S FATHER ABC and CBS both have anchors whose background is in morning television--so it was odd that NBC should be the network to run an ayem-style feature entitled Trading Places. The human interest piece gave us a glimpse of anchor Brian Williams' family life as he used his own relationship with his 89-year-old father Gordon to illustrate a demographic trend as society ages. Many elderly residents of assisted living facilities do not have family members as neighbors. So anchor Williams hires the firm Visiting Angels to deliver the supplementary support services to his father that kin would normally provide.

What is wrong with this type of journalism?

First, it has mixed motives. Its desire to inform us is tangled with a marketing impulse, namely to boost identification with the just-folks personality of the anchor.

This leads to a second, bigger problem. In its desire to make us identify with Williams crucial components of the story that would be reported if the coverage concerned a stranger are omitted in the quest for anchor-viewer bonding.

Specifically, how much does Williams personally pay to provide his father this extra treatment? How difficult is it for Williams to afford this amount? If those questions were answered truthfully, viewers would find out the opposite of the feature's intentions: not how like them Williams is but, financially, how unalike.

There is no journalistic virtue in this type of personalized coverage. In fact, to be a marketing success it has to cut journalistic corners.

KEEP HER SPIRITS UP Last week CBS launched its series The American Spirit about community leaders organizing programs to solve social problems. Anchor Katie Couric filed three of those reports: on a public health activist, a superintendent of schools and a billionaire education activist.

Couric rubbed shoulders with the wealthy again, or at least the formerly wealthy, profiling Janet Hanson of Hanson is a one-time Wall Street millionaire who quit her job at Goldman Sachs and set up an online networking and mentoring support group for professional women. It organizes 1,600 women worldwide to combat gender discrimination in job placement and workplace promotion. Hanson has spent "her entire net worth, almost $7m, to create and maintain" the network. Couric offered no clue as to what all that money was spent on.

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: another winter storm is forming in the midwest and heading east…the House of Representatives has taken the initiative away from the Senate in the debate over the wisdom of Bush's troop build-up…the FBI continues to fail to secure its inventory of guns and laptop computers.