The Rev Jerry Falwell died, aged 73. All three networks filed an obituary on the Evangelical Christian leader. Falwell was a pioneering televangelist with his Old Time Gospel Hour, pastor of the first megachurch Thomas Road Baptist, founder of Liberty University in Lynchburg Va and organizer of the Moral Majority, the powerful grass roots conservative religious activist group whose voter registration drive in 1980 was key to the election of Ronald Reagan. CBS and NBC led with Falwell, with CBS (12 min v ABC 3, NBC 4) spending by far the most time on the preacher. ABC spent least time, leading its newscast with immigration instead.    
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video thumbnailNBCEvangelical Christian Jerry Falwell dies, aged 73ObituaryBob FawWashington DC
video thumbnailABCEvangelical Christian Jerry Falwell dies, aged 73ObituaryDan HarrisMiami
video thumbnailABCIllegal immigration increases, sparks backlashSenate legislation drafted by bipartisan groupGeorge StephanopoulosWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCNational Security Agency eavesdrops on citizensSenate hearings into White House pressure on DoJPete WilliamsWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesTrio of captured GIs are based at Fort DrumSharyn AlfonsiNew York State
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Automobile industry in financial troubleChrysler's new owner will play labor hardballBetsy StarkNew York
video thumbnailNBCSurgery outsourced overseas to save moneyHealth insurance starts to cover patient travelDawn FratangeloNew York
video thumbnailABCLiteracy programs for childrenFavoritism, cronyism in Reading First allegedBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailCBSVideogames titles, design, development trendsAdvergames for children use product placementJohn BlackstoneCalifornia
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American pika rodent endangered in Colo RockiesGlobal warming shrinks chilly ecosystem at peaksBill BlakemoreColorado
MINISTER FALWELL MEETS HIS MAKER The Rev Jerry Falwell died, aged 73. All three networks filed an obituary on the Evangelical Christian leader. Falwell was a pioneering televangelist with his Old Time Gospel Hour, pastor of the first megachurch Thomas Road Baptist, founder of Liberty University in Lynchburg Va and organizer of the Moral Majority, the powerful grass roots conservative religious activist group whose voter registration drive in 1980 was key to the election of Ronald Reagan. CBS and NBC led with Falwell, with CBS (12 min v ABC 3, NBC 4) spending by far the most time on the preacher. ABC spent least time, leading its newscast with immigration instead.

In his obituary, CBS' Richard Schlesinger (no link) called Falwell "one of the first to combine the fire and brimstone of the pulpit with the rough and tumble of politics." He raised "hackles on the left and millions on the right" inspiring the bumper sticker slogan The Moral Majority is Neither. NBC's Bob Faw called him a "crusader and organizer." His hot button issues were pornography, abortion, homosexuality and prayer in public schools, making him "one of the commanding generals in the culture wars," as ABC's Dan Harris put it. The debate for Christians is whether he "elevated the faith or unnecessarily politicized it."

Falwell left the Moral Majority 20 years ago to focus on his university and his political influence waned somewhat. All three obituaries noted one silly and one outrageous soundbite from his later career. The former was that Tinky Winky, the purple character from PBS' Teletubbies children's show, is a "gay role model." CBS' Schlesinger quoted the latter as "perhaps his biggest gaffe" in a TV interview with the Rev Pat Robertson on his 700 Club in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001: "I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, the People for the American Way, all of them who tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say: 'You helped this happen.'" Added Schlesinger: "He apologized for that one."

CBS anchor Katie Couric had in-house analyst Douglas Brinkley provide an historical perspective. Brinkley called him a "vibrant political force" in the 1980s, "kind of comedy fodder" by 2001. "Feminists never liked him…he was always warring with the women's movement." His rhetoric of "family values" amounted to wanting women "in the kitchen in many ways." As for his political legacy, NBC's Tim Russert (at the tail if the Faw videostream) noted that Falwell was a trendsetter in forming an interdenominational coalition of religious conservatives. In later years a visit to Lynchburg was "a necessary step on the road to the Republican nomination" even as Republican Presidential candidates gathered in Columbia SC for a FOX News Channel's debate. If the GOP's first debate on MSNBC "was framed by the spirit of Ronald Reagan," mused CBS' Jim Axelrod (no link), "tonight's gathering in the heart of the Bible Belt will take place in the shadow of Falwell's death."

Z IS FOR AMNESTY ABC's Charles Gibson anchored from Washington DC. His newscast led with a stand-up by George Stephanopoulos that elaborated on last week's Exclusive by CBS' Sharyl Attkisson about the secret bipartisan talks in the Senate on immigration legislation. Stephanopoulos checked off the participants--Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Kenneth Salazar of Colorado, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania--and concluded that "right, left and center are represented in the room." The key to the deal, said Stephanopoulos, is a new category called a Z Visa. It would grant residency to anyone who is already in the country illegally. Under a Z Visa, residents would be assessed a $5,000 fine, be given eight years to return to their country of origin, apply there for a new visa and then "would be on the road to permanent residency and citizenship."

SHOULDERS AND STRONG ARMS NBC concentrated on the War on Terrorism. Justice Department correspondent Pete Williams reported on the behind-the-scenes power struggle over the National Security Agency's program to conduct warrantless wiretaps on US citizens. Anchor Brian Williams jetted to London for an Exclusive interview with Britain's departing prime minister on his foreign policy. Tony Blair conceded that in all his dealings with President George Bush "it is September 11th that governed…I have never had any doubt that since September 11th our place was, as I said at the time, shoulder to shoulder with America." Anchor Williams pressed Blair: "What did Iraq have to do with 9/11?" Blair was non-responsive: "We were brought face to face with a terrorism that was completely different and therefore the attitude that I took after September 11th was that everything had to change."

The NSA story was described at Senate Judiciary Committee hearings by James Comey, who served as acting Attorney General while his then boss, John Ashcroft, was hospitalized, seriously ill with an inflamed pancreas. A pair of White House aides, then Chief of Staff Andrew Card and then Counsel Alberto Gonzales, stood at his hospital bedside and pressured the sick Ashcroft to approve an extension of the secret eavesdropping. "The scene started a crisis that nearly brought mass resignations from the Justice Department," Williams recounted from Comey's testimony. Ashcroft resisted the pressure so an "agitated" Card summoned Comey. Williams quoted the witness: "I responded that after the conduct I had just witnessed I would not meet with him without a witness present."

VERBAL IMPRECISION ABC and CBS both followed up on the trio of soldiers captured near Yusufiyah in Iraq. CBS anchor Katie Couric, introducing Sharyn Alfonsi's report, persisted with her poor choice of words when she told us that "the search continues for three American soldiers who were kidnapped by terrorists Saturday south of Baghdad when their convoy was ambushed by insurgents." First, Couric gave the confusing impression that the attack and the capture were done by two distinct groups; second, in Mark Strassmann's computer graphic representation of the attack on CBS yesterday, the ambushed HumVees were parked on lookout not in a convoy; third, to reiterate, soldiers taken prisoners are not "kidnapped" and attacks on military targets are not "terrorist." The Pentagon announced that the ambushed unit was part of the Tenth Mountain Division based at Fort Drum. CBS' Alfonsi traveled to upstate New York where she found the base "collectively holding its breath" while ABC's David Muir (subscription required) called its wait for news "agonizing."

NBC's coverage of Iraq consisted only of a portion of Brian Williams' interview with Tony Blair in which he characterized the Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan as being at one with the insurgency in Iraq, "part of a broader global struggle and if we back away, if we give up on it, if we show any signs of retreat at all, then the enemy that we face worldwide will be strengthened." Blair contradicted the formulation NBC uses to describe the violence in Iraq: "It is not really in a civil war." Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs and Kurds "basically want to live together," Blair asserted.

CUTTING HEALTH COSTS Only ABC followed up on yesterday's lead. Betsy Stark (subscription required) took A Closer Look at the privatization of Chrysler by Cerberus, "named after the mythological three-headed dog that guards the Gates of Hell." Businesses like Cerberus, so-called private equity firms, are "notorious for using hardball tactics to make a buck," Stark warned workers and retirees. In the case of Chrysler she predicted that would mean threatening bankruptcy in order to extract "concessions on healthcare benefits."

For NBC, cutting healthcare costs means taking a trip. Dawn Fratangelo launched its series Your Health Taking Control by following a trend that started with affordable plastic surgery and has now spread to medically necessary procedures such as heart bypasses and hip replacements. Patients save money by outsourcing, undergoing surgery in foreign hospitals. A new hip in Belgium, for example, costs $16K, travel included, compared with $47K in the United States.

BOOKS & GAMES Part of the federal No Child Left Behind program consists of a $5bn five-year literacy plan called Reading First. ABC's Brian Ross filed one of his Investigates reports into allegations that state-by-state contracts are based on "politics and financial ties not merit." When contracts were awarded to the Voyager Passport series run by Randy Best "an old Texas friend of George Bush" a critic called it "cronyism." When Edward Kameenui, the evaluator for Reading First in western states, received $400,000 from a publisher whose program he approved, he told the House Education Committee that he had not been "informed of conflict of interest criteria."

There are two caveats to Ross' report. First, where is the harm? He cited the Department of Education that "reading scores across the country are way up." Second is Ross' complaint about cronyism. His source was Robert Slavin, a Johns Hopkins University educator whose program was rejected, and "whose brother is an ABC News executive."

John Blackstone looked into the games children play for the CBS series Gotta Have It. Marketers of consumer products face limits on advertising to children on television and anyway face a demographic that is "exposed to so much advertising that they learn to ignore it." Their solution is dubbed Advergames, online interactive games larded with product placements. Blackstone explained why a product placement is better on the Internet than in other media: games "demand attention."

PIKAS’ PEAKS Bill Blakemore (subscription required), who reports regularly on global warming for ABC, took a welcome break from that polar-bear-on-the-shrinking-ice-floe animal closer. This time he traveled above the clouds in the Colorado Rockies, the habitat of the American pika "the tiniest member of the bunny family." As the globe heats up, the height at which it gets too warm for them--"pikas in their thick fur can overheat and quickly die"--gets higher and higher on a mountainside. Eventually even the peak is too warm, and field biologists find species "falling off the tops of mountains." So before the Rockies lose their cool, check out the cute "eek" of the pika.

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 lone example was the appointment of Gen Douglas Lute as the White House's coordinator of the US military effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, the so-called War Czar.