When White House spokesman Tony Snow suffered a relapse of his colon cancer, CBS used that as the hook to turn almost its entire newscast into a cancer special Cures, Costs & Controversies. Both CBS and ABC led with the grave news that the tumor had spread to Snow's liver but CBS' efforts made the generic War on Cancer into the Story of the Day. NBC chose instead to lead with the vote in the Senate to require a US troop pullout from Iraq by next year as a condition for current funding of the continuing fighting.    
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video thumbnailABCWhite Houses spokesman Tony Snow has colon cancerTumor recurs, spreads to his liverJonathan KarlWhite House
video thumbnailCBSWar on Cancer research effortsPromising new medicines use targeted therapyJon LaPookNew York
video thumbnailCBSWar on Cancer research effortsMedication is fastest growing cost categoryAnthony MasonNew York
video thumbnailCBSWar on Cancer research effortsPersonal behavior, screening can reduce risksKelly WallaceNew York
video thumbnailABCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesSenate OKs extra funds with troops-out conditionJake TapperCapitol Hill
video thumbnailNBCIran military expansion feared in Persian GulfUSNavy Fifth Fleet stages carrier maneuversAndrea MitchellWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCPentagon night-vision technology secrets outsourcedContractor ITT fined for China, Singapore dealsPete WilliamsWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCChina economy: boom in urban constructionLone homeowner in Xian Ching blocks developerJon RayChina
video thumbnailNBCReal estate home mortgage foreclosures increaseCities in Illinois, Ohio set up crisis hotlinesJanet ShamlianCleveland
video thumbnailABCBaboons confront humans on Cape of Good HopeHabitat encroached, invade homes for foodMike LeeSouth Africa
CANCER SPREADS When White House spokesman Tony Snow suffered a relapse of his colon cancer, CBS used that as the hook to turn almost its entire newscast into a cancer special Cures, Costs & Controversies. Both CBS and ABC led with the grave news that the tumor had spread to Snow's liver but CBS' efforts made the generic War on Cancer into the Story of the Day. NBC chose instead to lead with the vote in the Senate to require a US troop pullout from Iraq by next year as a condition for current funding of the continuing fighting.

The decision to lead with Snow, like the one to lead with Elizabeth Edwards' recurring cancer last week, is not merited as hard news. Granted he is a highly visible face for the Bush Administration with a close working relationship with the networks' own White House correspondents: "In just ten months on the job Snow has earned the reputation as a combative and effective advocate for an embattled President," as ABC's Jonathan Karl put it, "a job he does with a sense of humor." Granted he was a high-profile TV journalist himself: "He became a commentator and program host for FOX News," CBS' Bill Plante recalled, "but he says the White House job is the best one he ever had--a Communications Disneyland." Granted it was jarring news for the former cancer patient: "extremely serious," NBC's David Gregory called it, pointing out that just this month, Snow had been honored by the Great Comebacks Foundation for his advocacy on behalf of cancer survivors.

But all in all, NBC exercised the correct judgment in deciding that Snow was not the appropriate lead story.

CONTROVERSIAL CANCER What were the arguments that CBS advanced to justify paying so much attention to the War on Cancer? Katie Couric told us that 1.4m patients are diagnosed with cancer each year nationwide; fewer than one quarter of patients are under the age of 55; over the course of a lifetime a third of all women and half of all men will receive such a diagnosis; it costs $206bn annually to treat them all--although that number was contradicted later by Anthony Mason, citing $78bn.

For background features, in-house physician Jon LaPook brought us up to date on the latest pharmaceutical research, "targeted drug therapies instead of blasting the entire body with chemotherapy and radiation…leaving normal cells relatively unharmed." There are 600 such medicines currently in development. Business correspondent Mason told us that all that medicine "can cost a fortune." A prescription for Avastin, the colon cancer drug, for example, costs $4,400 each month. Cancer medicine now accounts for 22% of all pharmaceutical revenues but Mason did not examine whether spending on drugs is balanced by savings on other healthcare expenses.

What makes people get cancer? Kelly Wallace checked off the risks: family history, cigarette smoking, a high-fat diet, lack of exercise. Wallace concluded scarily with that mealy-mouthed word "could." Waiting "even three months" for a mammogram or colonoscopy "could mean the difference between life and death." Seriously, how many people actually die from a three-month delay in a screening appointment?

CBS' Couric also interviewed Dr Steven Rosenberg of the National Cancer Institute. She asked him about the major environmental factors--pollution, toxic waste sites, urbanized society--that cause cancer. Tobacco and asbestos, was his short reply: "We do not have good evidence that there are other major pollutants involved." So Couric's series told us in detail about Cures and Costs but, apart from the role of those two industries, the only cancer Controversies raised by CBS was the controversial decision to find the Big C so newsworthy.

By the way, ABC too, chose to follow up on the Snow story with a War on Cancer feature. John McKenzie profiled patients who suffer a recurrence when cells from an apparently cured tumor metastasize to other organs of the body.

UPDATE: a post at TVNewser (text link) contrasts CBS' Cures, Costs & Controversies series with NBC's The State of our Unions and speculates that this may represent evidence that "NBC is going softer as CBS tries to get harder."

Without defending NBC's lackluster marriage features, especially Carl Quintanilla's fact-free entry on marital finances, caution is required here. CBS may have concentrated on cancer, but they still found time for Lara Logan's tigers feature, Bill Whitaker's story on children's TV ads and junk food and Katie Couric's clips of Karl Rove acting silly.

A couple of days does not a trend make.

FURTHER UPDATE: There is an exchange at CBS' Public Eye about the virtue of saturation feature coverage on a single topic during the nightly newscasts. The site's editor Brian Montopoli (text link) is in favor; contributor John Kreiser (text link) of is opposed. Both tend to address the decision in principle rather than the quality of the actual journalism involved, although Kreiser was disappointed by Jon LaPook on metastasis and intrigued by Anthony Mason on cancer costs.

At the conservative Media Research Center's, Michael Balan (text link) objected to Wyatt Andrews advocacy journalism for implying that the federal government should be the sole source of primary medical research through the National Cancer Institute. Andrews should have portrayed that burden as being shared with not-for-profits like St Jude's Children's Research Hospital and for-profit Big Pharma, Balan insists.

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE One of the problems with CBS' decision to go whole hog on its cancer special was that it skipped assigning a reporter to major developments over both Iran and Iraq. The Iraq story came from the Senate, where Democrats eked out a 50-48 win to attach that troops-out condition to its funding bill. ABC's Jake Tapper called it a "significant change" compared with two weeks ago, when the Senate voted against a pull-out timetable. Just two Senators, Republican Chuck Hagel and Democrat Ben Nelson, both from Nebraska, made the difference. NBC's Chip Reid noted that the vote is "hugely important" because now both house of Congress have voted for withdrawal. He predicted "a gigantic game of chicken" over George Bush's veto threat. "Which side will blink first?"

WAR GAMES ABC's Martha Raddatz (subscription required) was on hand in Bahrain to observe a pair of aircraft carriers from the USNavy Fifth Fleet begin war games in the Persian Gulf. She saw "F-15 fighter jets roaring from the deck of both carriers." The games were "hastily planned" Raddatz' unnamed naval sources told her, in response to the capture of 15 British sailors and marines by Iran last week, however "today's US saber rattling goes well beyond the seizure of the British sailors to the overall tensions with Iran." On NBC, Andrea Mitchell noted that the maneuvers are "the largest in the Gulf by the US" since 2003, with 15 warships and more than 100 aircraft. She called Iran's arrest of the British, following the US arrest of Iranians in January, "a dangerous game of tit-for-tat."

Incidentally, Mitchell's reporting from NBC's Washington DC studio was framed in a wide screen format, following NBC's addition of HDTV yesterday. No other reporter appeared on wide screen.

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT Only NBC assigned a reporter to the $100m fine the Pentagon levied against its contractor ITT Industries for sending hi-tech secrets about night-vision goggles to firms in Singapore and China. ITT's reason, reported Pete Williams, was to cut costs by outsourcing manufacture. The secrets included technology to protect wearers of night vision gear from being blinded by laser beams. As part of its punishment, ITT will now have to develop the next generation of night vision on its own dime.

IT’S NOT A HOUSE, IT’S A HOME ABC ran the videotape of that lone house in downtown Xian Ching sitting defiantly in the middle of a real estate development. NBC ran a report from Jon Ray of its British broadcast partner ITN. Ray called the homeowner Yang Wu, who is asserting his property rights under Chinese law, "one angry man" in a city of 30m people. Yang "has come to sum up the struggle of an entire nation. Everyone, it seems, has a hard luck story about greedy builders or corrupt officials."

As for real estate back in this country, both ABC and NBC checked the impact of home mortgage foreclosures on urban neighborhoods. When too many neighbors are evicted, boarded up and derelict homes force down the value of all other properties on the block. NBC's Janet Shamlian looked at the crisis hotline Cleveland authorities set up to try to halt the erosion in Cuyahoga County. Barbara Pinto (subscription required), for ABC's The Homewreckers series, covered Chicago's credit-counseling efforts to halt the "snowball effect" in Cook County.

WE ARE GOING TO AFRICA Both ABC and CBS closed with animal stories. Both chose South Africa. Pictures of big cats are always dynamic so CBS' Lara Logan gets good grades for choosing the "drastic" rule-breaking animal conservation tactics of removing South China tigers from a zoo to train them to hunt in the wild on an entirely different continent. From the Laohu Valley Reserve, Logan showed how the Asian predators now have a taste for African springbok.

Good grades, but second place to the baboons of the Cape of Good Hope. ABC's Mike Lee showed us how the sprawling suburbs of Cape Town have encroached on their woodland habitat--and in the process humans now provide an abundant food source. See monkey climb garden fence, see monkey sift through trash, see monkey open door, see monkey ransack kitchen counter top, see monkey raid refrigerator, see monkey go upstairs.

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: the mother of Pat Tillman, the slain USArmy Ranger and former NFL player, called for Congressional hearings into the circumstances of his death. By the way ABC corrected its misidentification yesterday of the generals criticized for covering up the facts of the case…twin truckbombs killed dozens in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar.