The internal investigation by the Department of Justice that exposed the FBI's abuse of power was Story of the Day. ABC treated the feds' warrantless searches most seriously, leading its newscast with the legal angle and following up with the political one. Overall it was a heavy day of law enforcement news. CBS and NBC led with different crime stories. However, NBC did not assign a separate reporter to the FBI's violations.    
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Patriot Act permits intrusion of personal privacyJustice Department finds improper FBI searchesPierre ThomasWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCGuns: firearms control regulations debateWashington DC handgun ban found unConstitutionalPete WilliamsWashington DC
video thumbnailABCPolice: Washington DC appoints female top copHS dropout, single mother rose through ranksElizabeth VargasNew York
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SD deaf woman accused of kidnap-dismembermentIs her disability valid death penalty defense?Jim AvilaNew York
video thumbnailCBSPipebomb extortion threats sent to brokerage housesCalls himself Bishop, believed based in ChicagoBob OrrChicago
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesInsurgents' video shows improved IED tacticsAllen PizzeyBaghdad
video thumbnailABCPresident Bush on five-nation tour of Latin AmericaBush trip protested by Venezuela's Hugo ChavezJessica YellinBrazil
video thumbnailNBCEnergy conservation and alternate fuel useEthanol boosts corn agribiz, sold at few pumpsAnne ThompsonNew York
video thumbnailCBS2008 Newt Gingrich mulls candidacyPre-emptively admits adultery to clear the airJim AxelrodWhite House
video thumbnailNBCPrescription drug anemia treatment safety problemsFDA warns against off-label use for chemotherapyRobert BazellNew York
UNPATRIOTIC The internal investigation by the Department of Justice that exposed the FBI's abuse of power was Story of the Day. ABC treated the feds' warrantless searches most seriously, leading its newscast with the legal angle and following up with the political one. Overall it was a heavy day of law enforcement news. CBS and NBC led with different crime stories. However, NBC did not assign a separate reporter to the FBI's violations.

ABC's Pierre Thomas (subscription required) summed up the FBI's three main flaws: according to the "blistering" report by the Inspector General at DoJ, some searches were improper, even illegal; some were on mistaken targets; some invoked an emergency when none existed. Thomas reminded us that last year when the Patriot Act, which authorizes such searches, was debated, the Justice Department offered assurances that "safeguards were in place." The FBI made over 100,000 different searches without warrants in 2004 and 2005, noted CBS' Thalia Assuras, targeting telephone logs, library records and financial transactions. ABC's George Stephanopoulos predicted that the FBI's actions would undercut the Patriot Act itself: "It really could end up changing the law."

POLICE BLOTTER NBC's crime lead was the decision by a federal appeals court to strike down as unConstitutional Washington DC's 30-year-old requirement for permits for handguns and rifles. Pete Williams called it "the most important gun control ruling in 70 years" because it relied on the Second Amendment. The court bypassed the wording about a "well-regulated militia" in order to zero in on the right to "keep and bear arms." If upheld by the Supreme Court, Williams anticipated that strict firearms bans in New York City and Chicago would be repealed too.

Neither ABC nor CBS even mentioned NBC's lead story. Williams mentioned the FBI Patriot Act controversy as a footnote to his firearms package.

CBS' crime lead, too, was unique to that network. Neither ABC nor NBC found Bob Orr's coverage of extortion threats newsworthy. In a Monty Pythonesque plot, a self-styled Bishop is threatening brokerage houses. He has sent 15 letters demanding that they manipulate the stock market so that prices close at $6.66. The Bishop backed up those threats by sending a pair of unassembled pipebombs through the mail. The feds believe he is based in Chicago. Orr called the Bishop a "complex character…his demands seem nonsensical but he has proven he can build a real explosive that is very worrisome."

WOMEN’S JUSTICE ABC continued with a couple more crime stories. Substitute anchor Elizabeth Vargas made Police Chief Cathy Lanier of Washington DC the network's Person of the Week. "She is not shy about sharing her past struggles," Vargas observed, retelling the inspirational upward journey through misogynist ranks of the high school dropout and teenage single mother who won a lawsuit against her own department for sexual harassment. Vargas did not inquire whether a court-mandated legalization of firearms might make her new job easier or more difficult.

Jim Avila (subscription required) chose the case of a kidnap-murder-dismemberment of a deaf woman in South Dakota. The controversy surrounds Daphne White, the accused killer, who is also deaf. Her defense lawyers claim that, because American Sign Language has a cruder vocabulary for legal jargon than spoken English, White is unable to participate in her own defense as fully as a hearing person--so it would be unfair to make her eligible for the death penalty. The deaf community rejects this legal argument since it implies that the deaf, as Avila put it, are "dumb."

LACK OF FANFARE The Baghdad Summit of regional powers in which US diplomats will meet openly with those from Iran and Syria continues to be undercovered by the networks. ABC and CBS mentioned it only in passing. NBC, whose anchor Brian Williams had been in Iraq this week, did not refer to it at all.

Williams aired parts of the Exclusive interview he conducted with Gen David Petraeus while he was in Baghdad--although he implicitly conceded that the general's words hardly represented much of a scoop now Petraeus has held an open press conference. NBC had promoted the interview prominently yesterday but today aired it sans fanfare some 20 minutes into the newscast. Williams did not even tease it during his intro.

Williams pointed out that it is no surprise that Baghdadis should attack the US military presence when their lives consist of electricity blackouts and raw sewage running through neighborhoods. Petraeus acknowledged that it is "fair to ask" why living conditions are so much worse under US occupation than under Saddam Hussein's regime. Interestingly Petraeus, who is a Pentagon expert in counterinsurgency, did not refer to the guerrillas who sabotage Iraq's infrastructure as "insurgents." He called them "pretty savvy terrorists" instead.

ABC offered no report from Iraq. CBS' Allen Pizzey filed a feature on "how fast the insurgents have improved their capabilities." In February alone, the Pentagon spent $210m on newly-designed mineproof vehicles, Pizzey pointed out, while he showed the guerrilla response. Propaganda videotape demonstrated the next generation of roadside bomb--Improvised Explosive Devices costing $30 a pop--exploding new USArmy minesweepers.

NO LATIN LOVE Only ABC had a reporter file from Latin America, where President George Bush is on a five-nation tour. Jessica Yellin contrasted Bush's meeting with President Lula da Silva of Brazil with the protests in next-door Buenos Aires where President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is dogging Bush's itinerary with a rival continental tour. Oil-rich Venezuela has extended aid to Bolivia, Nicaragua and Argentina. Yellin called Chavez Bush's "nemesis," who has "made a cottage industry of bashing the US President."

All three networks mentioned the US-Brazil pact to boost ethanol production, which Bush and Lula signed, in passing. NBC assigned Anne Thompson to explain the domestic ethanol industry, which has "turned corn into gold" for midwest farmers as the price of a bushel has doubled in two years. Only five million cars are FlexFuel-equipped, most of them in Minnesota. Because ethanol cannot be shipped through pipelines, it is hard to find the fuel elsewhere. Thompson called it "a slow road to a greener future."

SELF-HUMILIATION The day's Campaign 2008 story did not concern the campaign proper--but a straw in the wind that Newt Gingrich is gearing up to run for the Republican nomination. ABC's Jake Tapper (subscription required) rehashed past hypocrisy: "As House Speaker, Gingrich denigrated what he called the 'moral decay of the left' and celebrated his second wife--while cheating on her." The secret love affair with a Congressional aide coincided with Gingrich's leadership in the campaign to have Bill Clinton impeached for lying about his sexual liaison with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The aide eventually became Gingrich's third wife.

What makes these salacious details newsworthy? Oddly, no one dug up this gossip. Gingrich voluntarily appeared on the conservative talkradio show Focus on the Family to dish dirt against himself, confessing his past infidelity to born-again political activist James Dobson. "As long as two years ago Gingrich was plotting his return but, then, refused to talk about his personal life," NBC's Andrea Mitchell recalled. So why the change? Trying to "offload some baggage," CBS' Jim Axelrod called it.

DO NOT TAKE THIS MEDICINE When the Food & Drug Administration announced intensified warnings against the widely-advertised Procrit prescription drug, and two of its rivals, ABC and NBC both did the right thing and assigned a reporter to publicize the dangers of the $10bn-a-year medicines. "The drugs have been only approved to keep patients from needing blood transfusions and should be used as little as possible," NBC's Robert Bazell explained.

The networks are duty bound to devote extra attention to adverse stories about their advertising sponsors. First, it is information patients in its audience need to know, since many, presumably, heard of the drug while watching newscasts. Second, even though there is a formal separation between editorial content and advertising content, that line blurs easily in a viewer's mind--so a newscast must be transparent about publicizing its advertiser's flaws in order to maintain its own credibility.

In this instance, the FDA found that the drugs can be dangerous in higher-than-approved doses and found no proof that they help with chemotherapy generally. Yet Procrit, a medicine specifically for anemia, had been "heavily promoted to cancer patients," ABC's Lisa Stark observed, as she played a clip from Johnson & Johnson's often-seen spot. The company agreed to pull its ads.

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 examples include a couple alluded to earlier: the US-Brazil ethanol pact is signed…the Baghdad Summit on regional security convenes…also in Iraq, millions of Shiite Moslems braved violence to complete their pilgrimage to Karbala…unemployment statistics for February found 97,000 new hires and a jobless rate of 4.5%.