The mysterious increase in the incidence of autism vied with the legality of the President's War on Terrorism for top spot on the news agenda. NBC led with autism, which was the Story of the Day. CBS and ABC led with the ruling by a federal appeals court in Virginia that no resident of the United States, citizen or not, may be imprisoned without trial, even if the government has designated its suspect an "enemy combatant."    
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Qatari-American imprisoned as unlawful combatantDetention for terrorism without trial prohibitedPierre ThomasWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCAttorney General Alberto Gonzales under fireSenate vote blocks no-confidence resolutionTim RussertWashington DC
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Iraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesFormer Sunni guerrillas armed by US forcesJonathan KarlPentagon
video thumbnailCBSAfghanistan's Taliban regime aftermath, fightingUS troops block guerrillas at Pakistan borderLara LoganAfghanistan
video thumbnailABCUSNavy DP-2 vertical liftoff plane prototype failsFunding persists despite Pentagon rejectionBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailNBCAutism coverageVaccine court hears lawsuit on mercury toxinPete WilliamsWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSAlzheimer's Disease coverageImproved research into drugs, vaccine, diagnosisJon LaPookNew York
video thumbnailNBCWindmill farms generate electricityLake Erie winds rundown NYS steel townMike TaibbiNew York State
video thumbnailCBSPhotographs of urban street scenes posted onlineSearch of buildings, pedestrians invades privacyDaniel SiebergNew York
video thumbnailNBCFast food restaurant industry trendsBehind-scenes McFocus group of blogging mothersPhilip LeBeauChicago
NO CIVILIANS IN THE BRIG The mysterious increase in the incidence of autism vied with the legality of the President's War on Terrorism for top spot on the news agenda. NBC led with autism, which was the Story of the Day. CBS and ABC led with the ruling by a federal appeals court in Virginia that no resident of the United States, citizen or not, may be imprisoned without trial, even if the government has designated its suspect an "enemy combatant."

The ruling was a victory for Ali al-Marri, a Qatari-American, who has been held "in solitary confinement in a South Carolina navy brig for four years," according to ABC's Pierre Thomas (subscription required). It was not clear what he is suspected of: ABC's Thomas characterized him as "an al-Qaeda sleeper agent who was preparing to launch a second-wave attack after 9/11" whereas CBS' Wyatt Andrews quoted FBI claims that he had been sent to the this country by Osama bin Laden "to disrupt the American financial system through computer hacking."

Whatever al-Marri's mission might or might not have been, detention without trial "would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution," according to the court's ruling, as quoted by ABC's Thomas. ABC's Jan Crawford-Greenburg (no link) called the wording "almost indignant…a sharp rebuke." CBS' Andrews heard the court "bluntly" tell George Bush "he has gone too far." ABC's Thomas called the language "piercing." As for the implications for the inmates at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, CBS' Andrews said it has "no legal bearing" on them while ABC's Crawford-Greenburg speculated that it "could strengthen their argument" against their incarceration.

Meanwhile the Senate debated whether to register a vote of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, one of the legal architects of Bush's War on Terrorism. Even though 53 members went on the record against Gonzales, "Republicans sought to stop that debate. They succeeded in doing just that," noted NBC's Tim Russert. The vote "will probably strengthen his position," ABC's George Stephanopoulos concluded, even though "it is hard to find anyone in Washington--the President aside--who thinks the Attorney General has done a good job."

TACTICAL ALLIANCES On Friday, CBS' Lara Logan reported on Sunni guerrillas in the Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah who have turned on their erstwhile insurgent allies from al-Qaeda and are now fighting with US troops. Now ABC's Jonathan Karl (subscription required) follows up from the Pentagon with the same counterinsurgency technique outside the capital. He called it "a classic example of the enemy of the enemy is my friend." Karl reported that former insurgents have already been armed by the United States in al-Anbar province; now guerrilla groups in Diyala and Salahaddin provinces, including the Baathist 1920s Revolution Brigade, will get weapons too. From Baghdad, NBC's Jim Maceda quoted critics of the scheme calling it "very dangerous" since the guerrillas could turn US weapons on US troops. Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations added a second concern for ABC's Karl: the Sunni militants could use their US-supplied arsenal against the government of Iraq "in a continuation of the civil war."

As for Logan herself, she moved on to join the USArmy's 82nd Airborne Division as it patrols the mountain border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. She showed videotape of 500 Taliban militants rallying at a Pakistani base, "mostly Pakistani and Arabic bombers for suicide missions inside Afghanistan" and then in the Afghan city of Ghazni she found one of the Pakistani would-be bombers "his vest already laden with explosives and ready to go." Gen David Rodriguez told Logan that al-Qaeda militants are also regrouping inside Pakistan and that their objectives coincide with those of the Taliban "about 70% or 80% of the time." Pakistan has forbidden US troops from crossing the border. "Can you defeat the insurgency here if you do not and cannot get at its support bases?" "No. I think that is all part of the solution."

NOT OFF THE GROUND ABC's Brian Ross barely suppressed a giggle as he showed us "the laughing stock of the aviation world." That is the moniker for the $63m prototype of the USNavy's DP-2 replacement for helicopter transports. In his Your Money report, Ross contrasted the "slick animation" from contractor Anthony DuPont that shows the plane "taking off straight up and then flying at 700mph right into Iran carrying 50 troops" with actual footage of the prototype in San Diego "that can barely get off the ground." It turns out that the local congressman is Republican Presidential candidate Duncan Hunter: "We need to put more money in it not less." Hunter has received $36,000 in campaign contributions from DuPont and insists that those funds have "nothing to do with" his support for the project.

NOT PART OF A PATTERN It turns out that NBC cannot be accused of sucking up to its boss because it alone led with the autism court case. Even though network executive Robert Wright is a major advocate for the disease, since the start of 2006 NBC has actually covered autism less (13 min v ABC 26, CBS 21) than its rivals. So NBC's decision to assign justice correspondent Pete Williams to the Federal Vaccine Court rather than the enemy combatant case was an aberration not part of a pattern.

The trial is a test case, the first in some 4,800 filed, seeking compensation for a claimed side-effect from the pediatric measles-mumps-rubella vaccine that may have damaged the infant brain of Michelle Cedillo, now aged twelve. CBS' Sharyl Attkisson explained the theory that a mercury preservative called thimerosal "weakened her immune system and kept her from fighting off the measles virus in the MMR shot." If the parents establish probable cause they are entitled to payment from a compensation fund. ABC's Lisa Stark (subscription required) outlined the downside: "If families prevail many worry it may convince other parents to forgo crucial childhood vaccinations." NBC's Williams noted that the drug companies halted using the mercury five years ago yet "the number of reported cases of autism in children continues to grow." NBC's in-house physician Nancy Snyderman delivered the bottom line for her activist boss at General Electric: "There really is no science to support it. It has really pitted advocates, in some ways, against the scientists."

Brain damage at the opposite end of the age scale attracted the attention of the in-house physicians at both CBS and NBC. A convention of Alzheimer's Disease researchers offered the news hook for a progress report on treatments and cures for the 5m demented elderly nationwide. NBC's Snyderman concentrated on the risk factors. Those most vulnerable are the elderly, first and foremost, and then diabetes patients, heart disease patients, "very skinny" people and teetotalers. CBS' Jon LaPook concentrated on the beta-amyloid protein that forms in the brain of patients. Clumps of the protein may cause the disease or may be its symptom--but scientists are developing drugs to treat it anyway. LaPook listed three approaches: stop the protein from forming, stop it from clumping, or boost the immune system to remove it. Eventually Alzheimer's may be treated as heart disease is, LaPook added, by "identifying those at risk and prescribing drugs and lifestyle changes to keep them healthy."

UPDATE: one week later, ABC covered the split within the founding family of the activist group Autism Speaks, which has raised $15m for research. John McKenzie noted that Robert Wright does not support the challenge to pediatric vaccines. His daughter Katie, whose son is autistic, publicized her disagreement with her father on the TV daytime talkshow Oprah. NBC did not mention its former executive's family feud, neither did CBS.

WINDS OF CHANGE In NBC's environment series America Goes Green Mike Taibbi offered a hymn of praise to the windmill farm on the shores of Lake Erie that is helping revitalize the rundown rustbelt town of Lackawanna NY with its disused Bethlehem Steel mills. The windmills are "a symbol of change from old ways to the new." They are "manna from heaven" offering "greater energy independence" to "this hardscrabble town." What made Taibbi's effusion about the virtues of wind-generated electricity unsettling was that NBC's corporate parent, General Electric, is a wind industry leader. Taibbi did not mention whether Lackawanna's turbines were manufactured by his parent company or not. But amid his general praise for the technology he should have mentioned his bosses' corporate interest.

LOOKING BEHIND THE SCENES Online initiatives by corporate giants McDonalds and Google won free publicity. CBS' Daniel Sieberg showed us the neighborhood photographs of New York City, Miami, Denver, Las Vegas and San Francisco that Google has unveiled on its Street View feature. The urban snapshots were taken by a 360-degree camera mounted on top of a van as it roamed through communities. Sieberg called it "a great tool for tourists or homesick transplants." It also offers slightly rude "virtual voyeurism," looking into bedroom windows, or staring at pedestrians, catching "a glimpse of undergarments and sunbathers, all frozen in time." McDonald's has recruited a focus group of so-called "quality correspondents," six mothers of school-age children who have been given "unprecedented access behind the counter, in test kitchens, even storage coolers," as CNBC's Scott LeBeau put it, so that they can blog about McDonald's all summer long. Corporations nowadays "are not only using mothers for feedback," LeBeau explained, "but also to get word out about their products."

WATER COOLER GOES OFFLINE All three networks closed their newscasts with the final episode of HBO's The Sopranos that ended not with a climax but--just ended. However, presumably because of copyright issues, neither Bill Weir's essay on ABC--"Nothing. Blackness. Silence"--nor Richard Schlesinger's on CBS--not "a lot of people got whacked" just "a wacky ending"--is posted online. NBC did not assign a reporter to "Tony and family waiting for daughter Meadow to enter a Bloomfield NJ restaurant" as anchor Brian Williams put it. But NBC, at least, offered a snippet in a videostream.

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: President Bush was greeted by adulatory crowds during his visit to Albania…a trio of GIs guarding a highway bridge in Iraq were killed when it was bombed…the USArmy failed to achieve its monthly recruiting goals…a spacewalk installed a solar electricity panel on the International Space Station.