When the Centers for Disease Control call on the national news media to publicize a public health emergency, their cause gets that extra boost when it features scary supergerms, the perils of transAtlantic travel and a mystery patient locked up in quarantine in Atlanta after being whisked there in a government jet. Sure enough, all three networks led with XDR-TB, the science-fiction-style initials for Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis. It would have been Story of the Day, too, had not the GI death toll in Iraq continued to mount during the month of May.    
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video thumbnailNBCTuberculosis: drug-resistant strain isolatedCDC quarantines transAtlantic airline passengerTom CostelloWashington DC
video thumbnailABC
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Prescription drug FDA approval process under fireSafety monitoring falls short after sales OKJohn McKenzieNew York
video thumbnailNBCHealthcare reform: universal and managed careProgress report on Mass compulsory coverage lawRehema EllisBoston
video thumbnailNBCWorkplace wages, salaries gender gap: women v menSupreme Court limits rules for sex-bias lawsuitsPete WilliamsSupreme Court
video thumbnailABCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesKiowa helicopter downed in Diyala, IED ambushJonathan KarlPentagon
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesPM al-Maliki claims US has prevented civil warLara LoganBaghdad
video thumbnailCBSMilitary combat casualties suffer disabilitiesSuffer amputations, infections, bone spur painKimberly DozierNew York
video thumbnailABC
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Sudan civil war: ethnic cleansing in DarfurPresident Bush imposes sanctions on assetsJim SciuttoDarfur
video thumbnailNBCHumpback whales stranded in Sacramento RiverHumans love to root for troubled marine mammalsGeorge LewisCalifornia
video thumbnailCBSCicada swarm infests Illinois in 17-year cycleNoisy mating ritual fascinates insect watchersMichelle MillerChicago
SUPERGERMS ON A PLANE When the Centers for Disease Control call on the national news media to publicize a public health emergency, their cause gets that extra boost when it features scary supergerms, the perils of transAtlantic travel and a mystery patient locked up in quarantine in Atlanta after being whisked there in a government jet. Sure enough, all three networks led with XDR-TB, the science-fiction-style initials for Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis. It would have been Story of the Day, too, had not the GI death toll in Iraq continued to mount during the month of May.

"The word has gone out to health agencies around the world," announced CBS' Nancy Cordes. "Find those passengers and make sure they get tested." Those at immediate risk are airline travelers in five rows--immediately in front, side-by-side, or immediately behind the supergerm-infected patient--on two jumbo jets, one that flew from Atlanta to Paris, a second from Prague to Montreal. It is a huge amount of airtime devoted to a search for so few people, particularly since, presumably, Air France and Czech Air already know their identities. ABC's Lisa Stark (subscription required) was surely exaggerating when she claimed: "Health officials on two continents are frantically trying to determine who else was on the two flights."

So the story has more value as a thriller than as public health service journalism: CBS' in-house physician Jon LaPook estimated that the likelihood of a ripple effect of infection into the population at large is "pretty low;" ABC's medic Timothy Johnson (no link) reassured us that "it is no easier" to be infected by the resistant strain than regular tuberculosis; and NBC's Tom Costello told us calmly that only 10% of those infected with tuberculosis ever get sick--before adding the kicker that XDR-TB can have "a 50% mortality rate."

UNTESTED & UNINSURED NBC and ABC both offered follow-up healthcare features. For ABC, John McKenzie (subscription required) took A Closer Look at the Food & Drug Administration's approval process for prescription drugs in the wake of last week's revelation that the side effects of Avandia (text link), GlaxoSmithKline's diabetes medicine, may be killing tens of thousands of patients. McKenzie cited a GAO study that 51% of all FDA-approved medicines require label changes after they are already in use and at least 3% are pulled off the market altogether. The problem is that many drugs nowadays "are meant to be taken for a lifetime" yet the clinical trials cannot test for long-term risks. Pharmaceutical companies often use healthier patients in their trials, use too small a sample size and too short a test period. Plus "there are no follow-up studies. The FDA often asks for more data once the drug is on the market but companies usually ignore the request."

NBC anchor Brian Williams was on the road in Boston so he took the opportunity to assign Rehema Ellis to file an In Depth report on the universal healthcare plan that Republican Presidential contender Mitt Romney ushered in when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Romney's scheme made it compulsory for all of the commonwealth's 400,000 uninsured to buy coverage. Ellis' progress report after one year found that just "120,000 of them have signed up. Those who do not will face penalties." The reason for the shortfall, she explained, is that tens of thousands of workers are offered insurance by their employers and are therefore ineligible for state subsidies--but earn too little to afford their boss' coverage.

A WOMAN’S WORK It is illegal for an employer to pay a woman less than a man for equal work because of her gender. Only NBC assigned a reporter to cover the Supreme Court decision about the rules under which a female worker can file a lawsuit for equity. ABC mentioned the ruling in passing, CBS not at all.

Pete Williams explained the Court's definition of the 180-day window of eligibility. The crux was when does the discrimination happen: "That clock starts ticking when an employer decides how much to pay" not "each time a paycheck is written." The vote was a close one, 5-4, and Williams decided to give more prominence to the losing side than the winning one because Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "took the unusual step of announcing her dissent in the courtroom." Bader Ginsburg urged Congress to amend the law. She argued that 180 days is often too little time for a woman to be aware that she has been shafted: "Employers often keep salaries secret and it can take years for workers to realize that discrimination is keeping their pay lower."

NO SURGE YET At the Pentagon, Jonathan Karl used ABC's Virtual View computer graphics to depict a "trademark" al-Qaeda attack in Iraq's Diyala Province. It began when a two-man USArmy Kiowa reconnaissance helicopter was shot down by heavy machine gun fire then "the fallen helicopter would be used as bait" as a quick-reaction unit was sent to the crash site. Its Bradley Fighting Vehicle was attacked in turn by roadside bombs, known in Pentagonese as Improvised Explosive Devices. The single coordinated attack left eight GIs dead. Karl noted that the monthly death toll from IEDs has increased from 39 in January to 81 so far in May. NBC only covered the helicopter ambush with a brief stand-up by Ian Williams. Its Iraq War coverage concentrated on a montage tribute with thumbnail profiles of the month's fallen, narrated by Martin Savidge in Atlanta.

CBS also used its News Animation computer graphics to depict the downed Kiowa and then Lara Logan turned to the US military's so-called surge. She claimed an Exclusive for her questioning of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki concerning its success. He gave it the thumbs-up on the grounds that things could be much worse: "If the Baghdad security plan had not been implemented we would have had a true civil war in Iraq." Logan's colleague David Martin followed up from the Pentagon, pointing out that the surge, so far, had consisted purely of logistics, sending the troops to the front: "Operations hit full throttle the second week in June," he announced. Then they will really be in harm's way, "moving into parts of Baghdad and surrounding countryside where they have never been before."

KIMBERLY’S SILVER HAMMER ABC celebrated a happy anniversary, Charles Gibson's first year as permanent anchor at World News and CBS observed a sad one: it is one year since correspondent Kimberly Dozier was maimed by a carbomb in Baghdad and her two crewmen, soundman James Brolan and camerman Paul Douglas, were killed.

Dozier marked her return to reporting with a preview of Flashpoint her primetime special documentary on medical care for disabled Iraq War veterans, as seen through the empathetic eyes of her own convalescence. Military medicine is encountering new types or wounds and illnesses, "problems doctors do not always know how to solve," because casualties were so much more likely to die in previous wars. Dozier rattled off survival statistics for those wounded in Iraq (90%) compared with Vietnam (75%), Korea (76%), WWII (70%). The reporter has turned activist, testifying before a Senate committee in favor of stepped-up research into injuries of the extremities.

There is a new kind of infection, acinetobacter, whose agonies she shared with a fellow patient, Sgt Nathan Reed, who was wounded in the same blast as Dozier. Acinetobacter forced Reed to have one leg amputated while Dozier kept both of hers after a total of 25 surgeries--and suffered the excruciating pain of her legs' convoluted regeneration. Dozier showed us X-rays of the jagged spikes and knobs of bone growth, "healing gone haywire." She then showed how her legs were treated--a surgeon smoothed them down with a metal hammer and chisel. We kid you not.

CHINESE WALL When President George Bush announced a package of financial sanctions against the Sudanese government, both NBC and ABC relied on their own reporters who have recently logged extra time covering the crisis in Darfur. ABC's Jim Sciutto (subscription required) reminded us of his recent visit to Khartoum, where the China-Sudan oil trade is booming. The People's Republic offers so much financial support for Sudan that Bush's measures--essentially "making it harder for Sudan to access the US banking system," as Sciutto put it--seemed ineffectual. From the United Nations, NBC's Ann Curry reminded us of her Exclusive interview with President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum in March. Curry, too, saw China "pushing back." Bush wants the Security Council to expand the arms embargo on Sudan and to impose a ban on government military flights over Darfur, but Curry predicted that he is "going to face opposition."

WHALE TALES CBS has made the plight of that pair of humpback whales an almost daily story since their migration got sidetracked by a fresh water trip to Sacramento. Sandra Hughes filed her fourth report on the saga as the pair returned to the salt water of San Pablo Bay while her colleague John Blackstone has offered a further three. ABC, to its credit, has treated it with the disdain it deserved, mentioning the animals only in passing. NBC's George Lewis chose a refreshing angle, covering the human mammals watching along the shoreline rather than the marine mammals in distress. "Perhaps the most wayward whale was the humpback named Humphrey," he reminisced, who spent almost a month near Sacramento back in 1985. Lewis showed a clip of himself on NBC Nightly News pursuing that same old wayward whale beat in 1990. "There is something about these animals that tugs at our heartstrings," he mused--or, if not there, at least quickens the pulse at the TV news assignment desk.

With the end of the whale tale seemingly in sight, CBS sought elsewhere in the animal kingdom for its closer and settled on the 17-year cicadas emerging in Illinois. "The bugs are back by the billions," announced CBS' Michelle Miller, as the 100-decibel mating drone has forced the Ravinia Festival outdoor music hall to "reschedule an entire month of concerts." These insects are animals with "a single mission in life--to dig themselves out of a hole, shed their skin, climb a tree and let nature take its course." Yet most fail to mate since cicadas are tasty and tend to get eaten en route. Entomologist Mike Raupp of the University of Maryland popped a live bug in his mouth to show what the rest of us is missing: "They are delicious!"

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: Democratic Presidential contender Barack Obama unveiled his universal healthcare blueprint…the Los Angeles Police Department conceded errors when it attacked protesters at the May Day immigration rally in MacArthur Park…the nominee for the next president of the World Bank will be diplomat Robert Zoellick…a British consultant helping banking reconstruction at the Finance Ministry of Iraq was kidnapped…the three imprisoned Iranian-Americans held in Teheran have been formally charged with espionage.