CONTAINING LINKS TO 35725 STORIES FROM THE NETWORKS' NIGHTLY NEWSCASTS
     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM APRIL 23, 2007
The aftermath of the Virginia Tech campus killings was Story of the Day, chosen as the lead by both ABC and NBC. The choice was uninspired, more like a hangover from last week's binge of reporting than the consequence of any newsworthy development. CBS' instincts were correct in looking for another lead but its choice--the flaws in the FDA's food safety inspections--was just as bland. The day's most eyecatching coverage consisted of obituaries as all three networks tried to make sense of the life of Boris Yeltsin, dead at the age of 76.    
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TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
BYE BYE BORIS The aftermath of the Virginia Tech campus killings was Story of the Day, chosen as the lead by both ABC and NBC. The choice was uninspired, more like a hangover from last week's binge of reporting than the consequence of any newsworthy development. CBS' instincts were correct in looking for another lead but its choice--the flaws in the FDA's food safety inspections--was just as bland. The day's most eyecatching coverage consisted of obituaries as all three networks tried to make sense of the life of Boris Yeltsin, dead at the age of 76.

Yeltsin, the first president of post-Communist Russia, was so colorful and contradictory that the three obits, taken together, raise more questions than they answer. NBC assigned the task to its diplomatic correspondent Andrea Mitchell. She included reminiscences from Bill Clinton, Yeltsin's contemporary as President of the United States, and Tom Brokaw, who covered Yeltsin as NBC Nightly News anchor. CBS and ABC both chose correspondents who had been based in Moscow during Yeltsin's time in office, Elizabeth Palmer and John Donvan (subscription required) respectively.

Consider how unresolved Yeltsin's legacy is. His background was either a Communist Party "boss" (Palmer) or "hack" (Donvan). He stood on that tank against "a Communist coup" (Mitchell) or "a coup threatening then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev" (Palmer). His political ideology was "a champion of freedoms that have since been eroded" (Mitchell) or "at least for a while could be called democratic" (Donvan) or was "reinvented as a democrat, that is, until democracy got in his way" (Palmer). In his economics he "allowed a group of corrupt cronies to steal the nation's wealth" (Donvan) or he "dismantled" the Communist "economic system. It was shock therapy forcing millions out of work" (Mitchell).

Yet there were two aspects all agreed on. Standing on that tank he was "an heroic figure" (Mitchell); he "changed history, a pivot point in the collapse of the Soviet Empire" (Donvan); he "cast himself as a fearless defender of Russia against tyranny" (Palmer). And he was "erratic, often visibly drunk" (Mitchell), "frequently embarrassingly inappropriate or just drunk" (Donvan), "his weakness and increasing confusion made every public appearance a spectacle" (Palmer). As Palmer pointed out: Yeltsin "loved power as much as he loved a drink or three" and left power with "vast wealth."


BACK TO SCHOOL The gist of the reporting from Blacksburg Va was the contrast between today's normalcy--students returned to class with an attendance that approached 80%--and the carnage exactly one week previously. "Gunshots," mused ABC's Mike von Fremd (subscription required), "were today replaced by peaceful chimes." Professor Susanna Rinehart told him of her nightmare that she would be teaching to an empty class of theater students. She burst into tears when her fearful dream did not come true. CBS' Sharyn Alfonsi saw "students reclaim their campus" after eleven minutes of solemnities. "The university took time to pause, remember and then get back to work," as NBC's Tom Costello put it.

ABC News conducted an opinion poll over the weekend on gun control and found 83% support for tightening the ban on sales of firearms to mental patients with diagnoses similar to that of the student killer Seung-Hui Cho. ABC's George Stephanopoulos expected passage of such a measure, since the National Rifle Association supports it, "but no new laws beyond this." NBC had Pete Williams look In Depth into the mental health provision of gun control laws. Virginia, far from having lax laws that allowed Cho to buy his guns legally through a loophole, actually has stricter laws than any other state: the FBI calls the commonwealth's system "the best in the country." At least half of the states--including Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia--do not report any mental health data whatsoever to the federal background-check database. The Supreme Court has ruled that reporting such background information is "voluntary."


HAUNTING Another sad story of mental illness was filed by Bob Woodruff for ABC. This is a Monday in April so ABC again sold limited commercials and expanded its newshole to 24 minutes. Instead of using the extra time to increase its story count, ABC kept its regular daily seven assignments, but extended two of them.

The first was Woodruff's tale of Sgt James Coons. Coons was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after he became fixated on the face of a dead comrade he had seen in an Iraqi morgue. He was treated for depression in Kuwait and at Landstuhl Hospital in Germany, but was assessed as having a low risk for suicide.

Coons was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2003 as an out-patient but his parents were worried by his apathetic mood and wanted him to come home to Texas. They described asking a chaplain and a night manager to check on their son but heard nothing until a clerk finally went to his room after five days of inattention. He had hanged himself with his bed sheets. Accused of neglecting the patient, the army denied any wrongdoing yet refused to talk to Woodruff.

This bleak tale took Woodruff seven minutes to relate.


WHAT HAPPENS IN DUBAI STAYS IN DUBAI ABC's second long-form feature was the third entry in Bill Weir's Key to the World series. This one took him to Dubai, one of the world's buildingest cities.

Dubai is the Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf in two ways. It is an extravagant tourist attraction--with an indoor ski slope, artificial landfilled islands in the shape of a palm tree, opulent hotels--built in the middle of the desert. And it is licentious in its tolerance of alcohol and public exposure of women's skin. Bars close at 3am, just before the mosque's first call to prayer. "It is like England without the rain," smiled a British drinker.

The dream of creating a port, a financial center and a tourist resort in Dubai started only a decade ago with the father of the current ruler Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum. Weir's explanation for the dynamism of the city's expansion was counter-intuitive: unlike most of its neighbors in the Persian Gulf region, Dubai has "a relative dollop of crude" reserves. Because there is no oil wealth, Dubai had to be creative, not lazy, to be wealthy.


STALEMATES Contrast the commerce and optimism of Dubai with the stalemate that is Iraq. President George Bush met at the White House with Gen David Petraeus and other military leaders. The brass told their Commander in Chief of their "serious concern about security and the political situation," ABC's Martha Raddatz (no link) reported. The progress that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made is "not a lot." Congressional Democrats agreed to make April 2008 their target for the withdrawal of all US combat forces from Iraq, a date that the President again promised to veto. NBC's in-house political analyst Chuck Todd told Kelly O'Donnell that the Democrats do not seem to have the votes either "to support cutting off funds" or to "keep this fight going." O'Donnell assumed that the funding will get passed "after another round of negotiations."

In Baghdad itself NBC's Stephanie Gosk followed up on the plan for the so-called "gated communities" that ABC's Hilary Brown (subscription required) told us about last Friday. Chanting the slogans No to Isolation! No to America! residents of Adhamiyah took to the streets to protest the 12-foot-high concrete wall built by the US military around their neighborhood. "Checkpoints and identity cards would also be used to restrict movements of most in and out," Gosk added. Then Gosk offered this confusing soundbite from Ryan Crocker, the US Ambassador to Baghdad: "The intention…is clearly not to segregate communities." Prime Minister al-Maliki ordered construction stopped in this neighborhood, but the walls may go ahead in four others.


BUREAUCRACY CBS' lead was one of a trio of inside-the-Beltway updates. ABC's Lisa Stark (subscription required) told us that the Justice Department's proposals to prevent identity theft is being criticized as "vague on details." CBS' Wyatt Andrews reported that even the health insurance lobby protests the Food & Drug Administration's regulation of pharmaceuticals after they have been approved. And for CBS' lead, Nancy Cordes said that the FDA has so few resources for inspecting the safety of fresh produce that the lettuce and spinach growers of California imposed regulations on themselves. The USDA has 7,600 inspectors checking 20% of the food supply; the FDA has 1,600 to check the other 80%, including produce, seafood and grains.


WRAPUP In the week before the Virginia Tech shooting, both ABC's Deborah Roberts and NBC's Rehema Ellis had contrasted the seemingly acceptable misogynist vocabulary of the gangster rap school of hip-hop music with the outrageous use of some of the same words on commercial radio by Don Imus.

The Imus angle is over now, but CBS had Bill Whitaker look at trends in hip-hop music generally. He called it "young America's soundtrack" that has become a multi-billion-dollar industry by packaging "hardcore language and softcore images" and selling them to a majority white demographic: "It has grown from urban to suburban." Now, the genre is in decline, without a single representative in last year's top ten pop music bestsellers and a 21% drop in sales in 2006. Whitaker predicted that rap will return to non-misogynist origins: "Its roots are all about making a joyful noise."


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: journalist and author David Halberstam is killed in a car crash in California at the age of 73…the presidential election in France will be a left-right runoff between Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy…an F-18 jet in the USNavy's Blue Angels aeronautics squad crashed and killed the pilot in South Carolina over the weekend.