The confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the Story of the Day. The Pentagon released its censored and redacted version of his secret testimony at a closed military tribunal at the naval prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In it Mohammed, who has been in CIA and then Pentagon custody for four years, bragged of his triumphs. ABC led with the confession. CBS and NBC both chose continuing coverage of the ouster of those eight federal prosecutors.    
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video thumbnailABCSuspected al-Qaeda leaders manhunt continuesCaptive Khalid Mohammed confesses to his plotsBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailNBCSuspected al-Qaeda leaders manhunt continuesCaptive Khalid Mohammed confesses to his plotsJim MiklaszewskiPentagon
video thumbnailCBSSuspected al-Qaeda leaders manhunt continuesNext generation regroups in Pakistan campsArmen KeteyianNew York
video thumbnailNBCJustice Department fires eight US AttorneysWhite House memos reveal Karl Rove's involvementPete WilliamsWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSAttorney General Alberto Gonzales under fireWiretap, torture, executive power controversiesBob OrrWashington DC
video thumbnailNBC2008 John McCain campaign announcedRevives Straight Talk Express bus from 2000Chip ReidIowa
video thumbnailABC
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2008 John McCain campaign announcedRevives Straight Talk Express bus from 2000Jake TapperIowa
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesUSMC sergeant describes Haditha massacre roleScott PelleyNo Dateline
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Iraq: sectarian Sunni vs Shiite violence escalatesRefugees offered generous asylum in SwedenDavid WrightStockholm
video thumbnailCBSAlcohol: excessive drinking on college campusesBinges compounded by drugs, prescription abuseMark StrassmannDallas
I CONFESS The confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the Story of the Day. The Pentagon released its censored and redacted version of his secret testimony at a closed military tribunal at the naval prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In it Mohammed, who has been in CIA and then Pentagon custody for four years, bragged of his triumphs. ABC led with the confession. CBS and NBC both chose continuing coverage of the ouster of those eight federal prosecutors.

According to the Pentagon, Mohammed took responsibility for several outrageous successes: the jetliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the earlier truckbomb in the basement of the World Trade Center, the decapitation of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the nightclub massacre on the Indonesian island of Bali.

The 26-page confession also detailed a number of failures: jetliner attacks on Chicago's Sears Tower and New York's Empire State Building, assassination plots against Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Pope John Paul II, the demolition of the Brooklyn Bridge, an attack on Heathrow Airport. CBS' computer graphics department produced an animation of the waterboarding torture that David Martin's sources told him the CIA used to make Mohammed "talk freely." CBS' legal analyst Andrew Cohen judged the information sufficient to warrant the death penalty.

Evoking insider credentials, CBS' Martin and NBC's Jim Miklaszewski both used Mohammed's spook-style nickname "KSM." Since they were banned from first hand reporting on Mohammed, the networks had to deploy a posse of in-house terrorism experts to read between the lines in the confession to decipher its credibility and its completeness. By boasting that he was in charge of every plot, he may be covering up the role of accomplices still at large, ABC's Jack Cloonan suggested: he may still be in "battle mode keeping some of this close to the vest." CBS' Paul Kurtz called the so-called enemy combatant "a warrior-- this is the language of war" while NBC's Roger Cressey issued a caution about "bravado. KSM fancies himself as a terrorist mastermind."

ABC's Brian Ross characterized "KSM" as being on a "jihad against America" yet his own in-house expert Richard Clarke called him "not a religious fanatic, in fact he is not a religious man at all." Clarke claimed Mohammed is a known drinker and procurer of women.

VOCABULARY UPDATE: Sources for ABC's Ross used this euphemism: "the most extreme CIA interrogation techniques"…Sources for CBS' Martin called it "harsh interrogation in secret CIA prisons including something called waterboarding"…Sources for NBC's Miklaszewski were most plainspoken: "In an effort to quickly get information about any pending attacks, he was subjected to some torture."

CHAIN OF COMMAND For all KSM's claims of leadership of al-Qaeda, CBS' in-house terrorism expert John Brennan told Armen Keteyian that the organization has regrouped "with a new band of leaders" in western Pakistan. Forget about Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Keteyian advised, and remember the name of Egyptian national Khalid Habib, "the operations leader of al-Qaeda." Unfortunately CBS did not have a mugshot or biography to go with the name.

EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE More e-mail memoranda surfaced in the case of those eight US Attorneys and they shifted the focus away from the Justice Department to the White House. The plan to replace federal prosecutors at the start of George Bush's second term was hatched, according to the e-mails that NBC's Pete Williams showed us, by the President's political operative Karl Rove. Rove discussed the firings with Alberto Gonzales while Gonzales was still White House counsel, before he was confirmed as Attorney General.

A pair of storylines arise from these new e-mails: first Rove may become the object of Congressional investigation. "Many people on the Hill--Democrats and Republicans--believe they were misled," NBC's Tim Russert (at the tail of the Williams videostream) reported, "and they are quite angry about it." CBS' Jim Axelrod reported that Rove and Harriet Miers, Gonzales' successor as White House counsel, may both receive a sub-poena to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. Axelrod's unnamed source at the White House assured him that Rove is "adamant" that replacing all those prosecutors was never his idea. ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg (no link) argued that the committee will be answered by claims of executive privilege: "Rove is unlikely to testify."

Second, the revelation is "potentially more troubling" for Gonzales, noted NBC's Williams. He may have been caught in a lie at his Tuesday press conference about the firings of the prosecutors. CBS' Bob Orr followed up with a different list of reasons, civil libertarian ones, why Gonzales is "tangled in controversy" reminding us of his advocacy for warrantless wiretaps, imprisonment without trial and abusive interrogation.

GET ON THE BUS This was the first full day of campaign coverage for John McCain. All three networks sent reporters to Iowa to ride on his Straight Talk Express. McCain himself conceded that this was a dusted-off version of his Campaign 2000 bus: "Deja vu all over again," he told CBS' Sharyn Alfonsi even as unnamed campaign insiders confessed to her privately they are worried that "the magic of 2000 may be gone."

Back then, NBC's Chip Reid remembered, the bus was "freewheeling and unpredictable." Now McCain's campaign faces this question: "Can a man who has spent the intervening years courting the Republican establishment run again as an outsider?" NBC's Reid suggested McCain will have trouble generating excitement. This time round most of his "straight talk" is about the war in Iraq--and that leaves his audience far from energized, "mostly silent." ABC's Jake Tapper (subscription required), too, found the mood on the bus "less joyful, more severe." McCain told Tapper: "I would rather lose the campaign than lose the war."

This time eight years ago, CBS' Alfonsi reminded us, Elizabeth Dole and Dan Quayle were ahead of McCain in the polls. But back in 2000, the entire primary season did not effectively end in the first week in February. That will now happen because California has moved its 2008 primary forward, paving the way for a nearly-national Super Tuesday. Only ABC followed up with analysis. This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos repeated the conventional wisdom that this will help "well-funded frontrunners--on the other hand, the law of unintended consequences could kick in." It may be that whoever wins in Iowa and New Hampshire will emerge with "momentum that is unstoppable."

DOES NOT SIT WELL The latest developments concerning the war in Iraq were mentioned only in passing: four more US military dead and a Senate vote rejecting the Democrats' troops out plan. CBS looked back to the massacre of 24 civilians, including three women and six children, by a USMC patrol in the town of Haditha. A court martial is hearing war crimes charges against squad leader Sgt Frank Wuterich. He gave an interview to 60 Minutes to explain his defense: "Everyone visualizes me as a monster, a babykiller, cold-blooded. That is not accurate."

Scott Pelley asked Wuterich: "They were running away from you?" "Yes." "You shot them in the back?" "Yes…I would make those same decisions today." Oh! You cannot mean that Frank. All those dead children." "What I am talking about is the tactical decisions. It does not sit well with me that women and children died that day."

LONELY SCANDINAVIA There was only one report filed from a foreign dateline on all three networks combined. That assignment went to ABC's David Wright (subscription required) who traveled to snowy Stockholm, the unlikely asylum for 20,000 Iraqi war refugees, fleeing death threats and sectarian violence. More refugees enjoy Sweden's "cold comforts" than any other western country. The United States, by contrast, offered asylum to 200 in 2006.

GOING WILD GOES STALE Just in time for spring break, the substance abuse researchers at Columbia University released a report about how messed up college students are: more binge drinking, more drunkenness, more alcoholism, more mixing booze with prescription pills and illegal drugs. CBS and NBC both gave it publicity. NBC's in-house physician Nancy Snyderman described how the University of Rhode Island, once the nation's "#1 party school" had gone on the wagon: no more two-for-one nights, no ladies-drink-free nights, three drunken offenses lead to expulsion.

CBS assigned the story to Mark Strassmann in Dallas, who narrated footage from Florida of young men--"I am drinking every night. My liver is going to hate me"--carrying coolers onto the sand on South Beach in Miami. The newsworthiness of the statistics had more to do with those pictures of beach parties than with their currency. The data Strassmann cited were as stale as a morning-after pitcher of beer. They tracked an increase in the volume of drinking from 1993 to 2001, six years ago.

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: as mentioned, the Senate voted not to authorize a troop withdrawal from Iraq…a new species of leopard has been discovered in Borneo…autism may be linked to uninherited genetic damage…former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn dies, aged 80.