The fever has finally broken. The campus killings at Virginia Tech no longer preoccupy the nightly newscasts. As attention turned to wider issues of war only CBS filed a follow-up from Blacksburg. Instead, the lead on all three networks and the Story of the Day concerned Capitol Hill hearings into flaws--actually downright fictions--in the Pentagon's war propaganda effort. A pair of false stories were investigated: how Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan and how Jessica Lynch was captured in Iraq.     
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video thumbnailNBCNFL former player Pat Tillman killed in combatHouse hearings into Pentagon's propaganda liesJim MiklaszewskiPentagon
video thumbnailCBSNFL former player Pat Tillman killed in combatWhite House knowledge of friendly fire probedJim AxelrodWhite House
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesTruck attacks kill nine paratroopers in DiyalaMark StrassmannBaghdad
video thumbnailNBCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesLargest one-day loss for Fort Bragg since 1969Bob FawNorth Carolina
video thumbnailNBCRussia economy expands: growing middle classWealth increases even as population shrinksJim MacedaMoscow
video thumbnailABC
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Automobile industry in financial troubleDetroit loses ground to Toyota domesticallyDean ReynoldsChicago
video thumbnailABC
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Workplace wages, salaries gender gap: women v menMotherhood penalty is only partly responsibleBetsy StarkPittsburgh
video thumbnailABCWall Street hedge fund managers earn billionsMegarich incomes are impossible to spendJohn BermanNew York
video thumbnailCBSVegetable proteins are used for food processingFDA will test purity of six widely-used importsNancy CordesNew York
video thumbnailABCAuthor David Halberstam killed in car crash, aged 73ObituaryJim WootenNew York
PENTAGON PROPAGANDA The fever has finally broken. The campus killings at Virginia Tech no longer preoccupy the nightly newscasts. As attention turned to wider issues of war only CBS filed a follow-up from Blacksburg. Instead, the lead on all three networks and the Story of the Day concerned Capitol Hill hearings into flaws--actually downright fictions--in the Pentagon's war propaganda effort. A pair of false stories were investigated: how Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan and how Jessica Lynch was captured in Iraq.

Tillman, the former NFL player turned commando who was killed by his own comrades, received the lion's share of attention. He was given a posthumous Silver Star medal and a high-profile funeral under the pretext that he had died in a battle with Taliban guerrillas. In fact he died by accident under so-called friendly fire. CBS' David Martin repeated Tillman's brother's charges that "false reports were concocted by the military to create a hero" and NBC's Jim Miklaszewski cited the family's suspicion that the army's motive was "to cover up bad news in Iraq" by turning the funeral into a "nationally televised ceremony."

CBS' Jim Axelrod inquired whether the Tillman fable was orchestrated by political operatives at the White House and concluded that "it is unclear who knew what" about the death. Unnamed aides for President George Bush told Axelrod that the President discovered the truth belatedly "from news reports" and not from the military even though he "publicly praised" Tillman two days before the deceptive funeral.

Lynch herself appeared before the House panel to heap scorn on the portrayal of herself as the "little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting." In reality, she testified, her weapon had jammed. ABC's Jake Tapper (subscription required) noted that when the news media published those false reports they were "never disputed by the Pentagon."

While the Pentagon public relations machine looked devious, the news media should not just wriggle off the hook for their role in these deceptions. They were complicit in the hype that turned both Tillman and Lynch into fabricated heroes. It was TV news, not the Pentagon, that publicized the Tillman funeral. Journalists, not flacks, ensured that Lynch became a household word.

Yet none of the reporting on the hearings included a hint of self-criticism.

USE YOUR IMAGINATION All three networks had their Iraq-based correspondents report on the truck attacks on an abandoned school serving as a combat outpost in as-Sadiyah that killed nine paratroopers from the USArmy's 82nd Airborne Division. The correspondents, however, were confined to Baghdad so had to narrate the details. For visuals, all three networks depicted the attack using computer-generated graphics.

We have noted before (text link) how deceptive these graphics can be, offering an inflated appearance of verisimilitude. For example, when Iranian boats captured those British seamen in the Persian Gulf last month, the gunboats were much bigger and scarier in CBS' computer graphic simulation than they were in the actual videotape the Revolutionary Guard issued a few days later.

So with the truck attack in Diyala province: look at any three of the packages filed from Baghdad and the computer graphics purport to show what happened--but when we examine the three side by side we realize that the images owe more to the animator's imagination than to accurate journalism. In Stephanie Gosk's NBC News Animation, a pick-up preceded a truck, turning left through an opening in concrete blast walls, with both vehicles destroying the walls of the schoolhouse. In Mark Strassmann's CBS graphics, a pair of trucks, the first smaller than the second, turned right into the blast walls. The first truck exploded to create an opening in the walls while the second exploded outside the schoolhouse. ABC's Miguel Marquez showed a Virtual View in which a pair of large trucks headed straight for the school; the first had already passed through a gap in the blast wall before the second crashed into the wall behind it and exploded; the first truck exploded before it reached the building.

NBC's Bob Faw traveled to Fort Bragg, the 82nd Airborne's home base, where "support for the war has been unswerving." Faw found the troops-out sentiment grow "louder and angrier, even here." This was the division's single deadliest day since 1969. Meanwhile in the halls of the Capitol, a "ticked-off" Vice President Dick Cheney "did something he almost never does," according to CBS' Sharyl Attkisson--he talked to reporters. He blasted troops-out champion Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: "It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because it gives you political advantage."

GROWING WHILE SHRINKING As a follow-up to yesterday's obituaries for Boris Yeltsin, NBC assigned Jim Maceda to an In Depth examination of the state of the Russian economy in the wake of the transformation that Yeltsin introduced. Moscow is the "capital of glitz." A Muscovite couple from the "booming middle class" can be 15 times as affluent as their Soviet parents. As for Russia's elite, the country boasts more billionaires than any other nation except for the United States. Yet this economic health does not translate to the general population: male life expectancy is shorter than in Bangladesh; alcoholism, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are spreading; and the population is shrinking at the annual rate of 700,000 people.

ALL AMERICAN Domestic economic trends were covered by ABC and NBC. All three networks mentioned the continuing woes of the real estate market in passing but only NBC assigned a reporter to them. CNBC's Diana Olick found that "home sales fell off a cliff" as prices declined and mortgage loans were harder to obtain. General Motors noted that shrinking real estate assets mean fewer home equity loans, which in turn mean slowing purchases of big-ticket items such as sports utility vehicles. Speaking of which, all three networks also mentioned in passing the global automobile sales statistics for the first three months of 2007: for the first time since Herbert Hoover was President of the United States, General Motors is no longer with worldwide leader. That mantle now belongs to Toyota. ABC had Dean Reynolds (subscription required) examine whether Toyota, "gaining ground and satisfied customers for years," would surpass Detroit in domestic sales too. Toyota's sales pitch includes "stressing how American it is" with its latest pick-up truck designed in Newport Beach, engineered in Ann Arbor, built in San Antonio. "By contrast, Detroit keeps shooting itself in the tire."

NOT EQUAL ABC continued on the economic tack with a pair of reports on wages and salaries. Today is dubbed Equal Pay Day, to dramatize the disparity between women and men: it marks the extra 16 weeks each year that the average woman would have to work to pocket the same pay as the average man. Betsy Stark (subscription required) took A Closer Look at the gender gap and found that the so-called motherhood penalty--a career disruption caused by taking years off for childrearing--was only a partial explanation. Freshly graduating female students, for example, entering their first job are paid 5c on the dollar less than their male colleagues in the same occupation: one explanation is that young men are tougher negotiators whereas young women settle for the salary on offer.

Stark's report did not examine those vast portions of the workforce that never graduated from college and whose wages are not subject to negotiation, either aggressive or passive. Surely Stark does not suggest that for those workers the gender gap does not apply.

Alpha magazine gave John Berman the idea for a story on really disparate wages. Last year hedge fund manager James Simons was paid a salary of $1.7bn. Berman went to a supermarket to wonder how any worker could deplete such a wage packet. "How much for everything?" "What do you mean? How much for everything?" "Everything." "For the entire store?" Sorry, just $2.6m. "A billion dollars is hard to spend."

PROTEIN PACKED Yesterday, CBS led with Nancy Cordes' preview of House hearings into the safety of the food supply and the adequacy of Food & Drug Administration inspections. Only ABC sent a reporter to the actual hearings. Lisa Stark found that the FDA lacks the authority to order recalls and to overcome corporate stonewalling. Cordes, meanwhile, moved on to the widening FDA investigation that was sparked by last month's tainted pet food recall. That probe opened a new line of inquiry into the imported vegetable protein ingredients that are used by the human food processing industry "to keep foods intact and give them texture." If wheat gluten for pets can be spiked with fertilizer to appear richer in protein than it is, what about all the proteins that people eat? Cordes announced that the FDA will start a "massive undertaking" to test glutens, meals and brans made from soy, corn and rice.

BEST & BRIGHT CBS and NBC both mentioned the death of journalist and author David Halberstam in passing yesterday. Now ABC has assigned Jim Wooten to file an obituary of his colleague: "Few reporters are remembered, as he is, for permanently inserting a phrase into the language, like The Best and the Brightest," the ironic title of his Vietnam War history. Wooten added, poignantly, that Halberstam "is also remembered now among those who knew him as having had an enormous talent--for friendship."

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: inmates riot at a privately-run prison in New Castle Ind…an outbreak of tornados swept across the southern plains…Boris Yeltsin's body lies in state at a Moscow cathedral…naturalists captured never-before-seen videotape footage of the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia.