Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards returned to the headlines--not because of his campaign but because of his wife's ill health. The recurrence of Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer led all three newscasts and was the Story of the Day. It was covered as a personal story first, a healthcare story second and only third as a political one.    
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video thumbnailNBCFormer Sen John Edwards' wife has breast cancerSuffers recurrence as tumor spreads to boneCampbell BrownNorth Carolina
video thumbnailABCFormer Sen John Edwards' wife has breast cancerBestselling memoir author and cancer activistKate SnowNew York
video thumbnailCBSFormer Sen John Edwards' wife has breast cancerTreatment, mortality rates for recurring tumorJon LaPookNew York
video thumbnailCBSAttorney General Alberto Gonzales under fireTakes road trip to boost prosecutors' moraleBob OrrSt Louis
video thumbnailNBCSudan civil war: ethnic cleansing in DarfurNetwork of 700 camps houses yet more refugeesAnn CurrySudan
video thumbnailABC
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Iraq: post-war reconstruction effortsSecurity in south allows economy to expandTerry McCarthyIraq
video thumbnailCBSIraq: post-war reconstruction effortsOil industry beset by black market corruptionAllen PizzeyBaghdad
video thumbnailNBCInternet encyclopedia is open to user-contributorsSome colleges bar wikipedia as citable sourceLisa DanielsVermont
video thumbnailABCGrizzly bear conservation efforts succeedNo longer endangered in Yellowstone ParkNed PotterNew York
video thumbnailCBSPolar bear cub raised by Berlin ZooExtreme animal rights call to let critter perishRichard SchlesingerNew York
PERSONAL IS POLITICAL Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards returned to the headlines--not because of his campaign but because of his wife's ill health. The recurrence of Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer led all three newscasts and was the Story of the Day. It was covered as a personal story first, a healthcare story second and only third as a political one.

Both ABC and NBC sent a reporter to Chapel Hill NC to cover the couple's announcement that the breast cancer she discovered in 2004 has now spread to her bone. ABC's David Muir (subscription required) reported that her oncologist had assured them that continuing his candidacy would not "affect her treatment or change her prognosis" so the former senator decided: "The campaign goes on." NBC's Campbell Brown called the wife's condition "very serious" and found the couple "very hopeful" and "very committed to staying in this campaign."

CBS led from Washington with Gloria Borger, who reminded us that Edwards, now 57, had undergone fertility treatment while in her late forties. Borger did not state outright that those hormones might have been a risk factor for the initial tumor--but seemed to be making that implication. A follow-up in clarification would be a good idea.

No disrespect to Mrs Edwards, but it is odd that her health should be such big news. A search of network coverage since her husband announced his candidacy shows that the Edwards campaign has hardly been a headline-grabber: just one report for that announcement against eleven for Barack Obama and three for Hillary Rodham Clinton. ABC's Kate Snow suggested that Elizabeth was newsworthy in her own right because of her bestselling memoir Saving Graces and her activism on behalf of cancer patients.

As for the impact on the continuing campaign, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, who covered Edwards' unsuccessful Vice Presidential bid in 2004, described Elizabeth's central political role: "He will often refer to her as his conscience." ABC's George Stephanopoulos asserted that there was "never any discussion" of suspending Edwards' campaign "at the top levels." His unidentified insider sources confessed: "Politically, we are in uncharted territory."

CHRONIC CANCER All three networks sought advice from their in-house physicians about Edwards' prognosis. The take-home message for NBC's Nancy Snyderman was to see cancer not as a disease to be cured but a condition to be lived with: "Perhaps it is time to change the national dialogue…this is now a chronic illness, manageable not curable." There are 150,000 women nationwide in Edwards' shoes, CBS' Jon LaPook pointed out, coping with a breast cancer that has spread elsewhere in the body: metastasis happens in 20% of all cases. On ABC, Timothy Johnson (no link) offered the statistic that the average life expectancy for a woman in this condition is less than five years. "That means that some women will survive longer, some much longer," Johnson pointed out. Unspoken was the fact that it also means the contrary.

STILL ON THE JOB CBS, whose Jim Axelrod went out on a limb last Friday by assuring us that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was soon to be fired, was the only network to continue assigning reporters to the diminishing returns of the US Attorneys story. Bob Orr followed Gonzales on his national tour to pump up the morale of all those federal prosecutors he did not fire: Gonzales is "digging in for a long fight." Axelrod himself, from the White House, covered the Senate Judiciary Committee's vote to authorize, but not to issue, sub-poenas for George Bush's aides. Instead Axelrod called them "a bargaining chip" in negotiations over how to stage hearings. ABC mentioned that vote in passing. NBC did not cover it at all.

OFF TO CAMP Ann Curry was so proud that her tenacity had paid off. Having reported on the Darfur crisis from neighboring Chad and from the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, she finally received a permit to fly to the region itself. She called it "a personal victory" after three years of lobbying. For NBC's In Depth, Curry visited the al-Salaam camp outside Nyala, one of 700 in the region, and discovered that the depopulation of farming villages by the janjaweed militias is proceeding apace. The camp she visited has tripled in size to 10,000 refugees in the past two months.

COMMERCE & CORRUPTION In Iraq, ABC's Terry McCarthy (subscription required) completed his three-part Where Things Stand survey. Tuesday he was in Kurdistan (subscription required) and Wednesday he was in Baghdad. The final report was from Basra where commerce is turning away from the wartorn capital to the prosperous Persian Gulf to the south. The docks are running 24-hours-a-day importing food, electronics and automobiles. "To the north all they see, for the time being, is graveyards." The impressive aspect of McCarthy's three-parter has been its visual sweep: Basra's sweltering waterways contrast vividly with Kurdistan's stark mountains.

On CBS, Allen Pizzey told a tangled tale of what is wrong with Iraq's $5bn-a-year oil industry. Refineries have been infiltrated by criminal gangs and sectarian militias. They have corrupt patrons in government who are protected from prosecution by political immunity. The refinery gangs shake down truck drivers, demanding bribes in order to distribute gasoline. The truckers use false papers to divert the fuel to a network of illegal depots on the black market. "The world's fourth largest oil reserve is being stolen."

NOT A ROCK STAR A couple of weeks ago ABC's Dan Harris criticized the accuracy of without citing a single extant error in the online encyclopedia. Now it is NBC's turn for Lisa Daniels told us that several universities prohibit students from citing the online encyclopedia as a primary source in papers. She found a history professor at Middlebury College in Vermont who was prompted by students' shared mistakes to impose the ban. She demonstrated how easy it is to fabricate information--she called herself a rock star instead of a journalist in her own entry.

But did she offer an example of an actual wiki-falsehood? Nope.

BEAR FACTS A little animal news goes a long way. NBC anchor Brian Williams got the tone right when he offered a brief voiceover on Tuesday of videotape of Knut, the cute polar bear cub at Berlin Zoo. The non-story was that an oddball German animal rights militant had pointed out that when wild animals abandon their offspring they do not survive--so the cub's natural fate should have been death, not nurture by human zookeepers, once its mother refused to suckle it.

Richard Schlesinger was assigned to turn that tidbit into a full report as CBS' closer--while simultaneously Ned Potter was closing ABC's newscast with a different bear tale, on the no-longer-endangered "icons of nature," the grizzlies of Yellowstone National Park. ABC had no excuse to close with animals, having already assigned David Kerley (subscription required) to an update on tainted pet food. No single newscast should ever air two animal stories. That is a rule.

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: a rocket attack on Baghdad's Green Zone scares, but fails to kill, visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon…a trio of arrests was made in London for conspiracy in the mass transit suicide bombs two years ago…and NBC publicized its own network's formation of an entertainment videostreaming resource in partnership with FOX.