For the second time this week a medical report was treated as Story of the Day. Monday saw the American Academy of Pediatrics grab headlines on autism. Now the American Institute for Cancer Research has released its compilation of 7,000 different studies from all over the world. Its report came to the conclusion that being fat can kill a person. CBS and ABC both led with the cancer study. NBC chose the economy, as the Federal Reserve Board cut short term interest rates to 4.5%.    
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video thumbnailCBSWar on Cancer research effortsObesity, nutrition identified as risk factorsJon LaPookNew York
video thumbnailNBCInterest rates set by Federal Reserve BoardCut to 4.5% to ease stress on housing marketCarl QuintanillaNew York
video thumbnailABC
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Economy expansion continues: 3Q07 GDP up 3.9%May start to slow down from housing, oil pricesBarbara PintoChicago
video thumbnailCBS2008 debate for Democrats in PhiladelphiaObama-Edawrds combo criticizes Rodham ClintonJim AxelrodWhite House
video thumbnailNBCDeath Penalty controversiesSupreme Court puts lethal injections on holdPete WilliamsSupreme Court
video thumbnailABCTropical Storm Noel blasts Dominican RepublicHeavy rains kill more than 60 on HispaniolaJeffrey KofmanBahamas
video thumbnailCBSIraq: State Department lacks embassy personnelForeign service protests compulsory assignmentsDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailNBCTV talkshow host Oprah Winfrey founds African schoolElite academy accused of physical, sexual abuseDawn FratangeloNew York
video thumbnailABCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesUSArmy MP recounts surviving knife stab in brainBob WoodruffNorth Carolina
video thumbnailABCHalloween holiday celebratedAdults use costumes to express secret fantasiesJohn BermanNew York
FAT PEOPLE CAN GROW TUMORS For the second time this week a medical report was treated as Story of the Day. Monday saw the American Academy of Pediatrics grab headlines on autism. Now the American Institute for Cancer Research has released its compilation of 7,000 different studies from all over the world. Its report came to the conclusion that being fat can kill a person. CBS and ABC both led with the cancer study. NBC chose the economy, as the Federal Reserve Board cut short term interest rates to 4.5%.

CBS' in-house physician Jon LaPook explained why belly fat is especially dangerous: "It can change hormone levels and this can end up damaging cells and triggering cancer." He called the evidence "overwhelming" that the risks of contracting six different forms of cancer increase if one is overweight: tumors in the breast, the colon, the pancreas, the kidney, the uterus and the esophagus. NBC's Robert Bazell cited the statistic that being obese or overweight "leads to"--he did not claim a causal link--20% of all female deaths from cancer, 15% of all male deaths. Cigarette smoking accounts for another 30% of all cancer deaths. So that means that more than half of all cancer deaths have nothing to do with either smoking or being fat.

Not content with concentrating on fat people, the coverage on all three networks continued with an entire menu of ingredients that increase our risk of growing a tumor, even if we happen to be trim. ABC's John McKenzie (subscription required) ticked off red meats like beef, lamb and pork; processed meats like bacon, ham and hot dogs; excessive salt; immoderate alcohol. Instead, McKenzie suggested we take half an hour a day of strenuous physical activity and adopt a diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This lead ABC's in-house doctor to demur: "To do all these things is really quite complicated," Timothy Johnson (no link) observed. "It is very difficult for a single person to do them all." Johnson suggested we should just concentrate on stopping smoking and losing those extra pounds.

As is usual for such medical coverage, the reports on this study lacked statistical perspective. No reporter translated these percentage estimates of increased risk into real numbers. What is the number of dead people who are killed each year by a cancer they contracted because they are overweight? How does that number compare with deaths from other diseases triggered by being overweight? How many overweight people die from causes that have nothing to do with their being fat?

LOWER COST OF MONEY NBC had Carl Quintanilla of CNBC, its sibling financial cable news channel, lead off its newscast with the Federal Reserve's interest rate cut. He reported that the move was designed to help the real estate market. Nowhere was it "more welcome than Las Vegas, Ground Zero for the housing crisis, with 30,000 homes on the market unsold." Nevertheless "we do not know the effect it will have on the housing market--and will not know for months." CBS' Anthony Mason added that while Fed's lower rates translate to lower rates on mortgages "with the meltdown in sub-prime mortgages many buyers are still having trouble getting loans."

Quintanilla's colleague at CNBC Maria Bartiromo pointed out the line in the Federal Reserve Board's statement that the risk of inflation is now equal with the risk of recession: "Maybe the Fed will not cut interest rates again," she suggested. ABC's Barbara Pinto (subscription required) reported on Gross Domestic Product growth statistics for the year's third quarter that were "surprisingly good…the biggest jump in a year and a half." Weakness in the value of the dollar helped keep the economy growing by boosting exports. Economists warned however that "the flurry of foreclosures and credit troubles have yet to fully hit consumers in the wallet." And the downside of the falling dollar is that "surging oil prices will also hurt."

EXTREME POLITICS MSNBC may have hosted the debate in Philadelphia for the Democratic Presidential candidates on Tuesday night but it produced enough sparks for all three networks to assign a correspondent to cover its aftermath. ABC's David Wright got so excited that he mixed his sporting metaphors, characterizing Barack Obama and John Edwards as "a formidable tag team" in their assault on frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, but then calling her "their punching bag…their jabs were so relentless." NBC's Andrea Mitchell summed up their point of attack as characterizing Rodham Clinton as "evasive, not trustworthy" and "ducking questions." CBS' Jim Axelrod concluded that her "sure-footed campaign stumbled for the first time."

All three reporters focused on her answer to a question about New York State's plan to issue a driver's license to all immigrants, even those without a legal visa for residency. Her answer appeared both to endorse her governor's plan and to disavow it. NBC's Mitchell called it "her muddled position" and CBS' Axelrod saw her conveying an image of "Slick Hillary, who will play both sides of any issue." ABC's Wright read her campaign's post-debate statement that "she supports governors--like Gov Eliot Spitzer--who feel they need such a measure." Concluded Wright: "Apparently she is for it, sort of…Any clearer?"

Both ABC's Wright and NBC's Mitchell pointed to where the Rodham Clinton campaign tried to make a joke of all the criticism she received by setting a montage of attacks to music: the Politics of Pile-on, as Mitchell put it. CBS' Jeff Greenfield picked up on a second problem for Rodham Clinton in the debate, her excuse for not publishing White House papers on her time as First Lady until "well after this election." In the debate she promised "certainly we shall move as quickly as our circumstances in the processes of the National Archives permit." Greenfield envisaged what those papers might contain: her "factually false" role in the White House travel office; her brothers' receipt of "hundreds of thousands of dollars" when a pair of felons were pardoned; "how did she raise $100,000 trading cattle futures?" Noted Greenfield: "This stuff has not come up in the campaign but you can almost hear the opponents beginning to chomp at the bit."

THE WINTER’S TALE Yesterday, ABC broke into its newscast with Jan Crawford Greenburg's (no link) live stand-up from the Supreme Court on its decision to stay the lethal injection execution of a Mississippi murderer. A day later, NBC's Pete Williams put together a taped package. He explained that the effect of the ruling was to put all executions using that method on hold until the Court decides "in the late spring" whether such punishments are cruel and unusual, and should therefore be banned as unConstitutional. Williams estimated that 14 inmates on Death Rows around the nation will now at least live through another winter.

SPANNING THE GLOBE Overseas coverage was filed from the Bahamas, on Iraq and about a school in South Africa. ABC's Jeffrey Kofman was waiting for Tropical Storm Noel to arrive in Nassau after it dropped 20 inches of rain over two days on the island of Hispaniola. More than 60 people were killed in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, 12,000 homes damaged and 50,000 people displaced: "Authorities are having trouble reaching those in peril because so many bridges have been washed away." NBC contacted its Weather Plus meteorologist Jeff Ranieri (no link) by telephone. Ranieri forecast that Noel is such a stationary storm that it will likely linger over the Bahamas for 24 hours, depositing another five or ten inches of rain.

All three networks ran an audiotape soundbite of a State Department briefing of foreign service officers in which they were informed that jobs at the Baghdad Embassy would no longer be assigned to volunteers. "It is a diplomatic call-up," reported CBS' David Martin. Amb Ryan Crocker had cabled Foggy Bottom seeking "more and better qualified officers." On the audiotape, the foreign service complaints about compulsory tours were voiced by Jack Croddy: "I am sorry but basically that is a potential death sentence." Martin found that, of the 1,200 officers who have worked at the embassy in the Green Zone, three have been killed. NBC's Andrea Mitchell (at the tail of her Campaign 2008 videostream) noted that the last time diplomats were compelled to serve in a war zone was in Saigon. She found the diplomats' protest so "extraordinary" that her tongue slipped twice, locating Baghdad as the capital of Vietnam.

The South African story was covered In Depth by NBC's Dawn Fratangelo. It concerned the Leadership Academy for Girls, an elite school founded by TV talkshow host Oprah Winfrey and opened amid ribbon-cutting fanfare in January. At the time Winfrey grandiloquently asserted: "When you educate a girl you begin to change the face of a nation." When parents complained that discipline was excessive, she told them: "If you feel that the school is too strict you are welcome--I bless you--in removing your child from the school." Now police allege that some of that discipline amounted to abuse, both physical and sexual. Fratangelo reported that two employees have been fired and the principal is on leave. The publicist for Oprah announced "no plans to release any statement, or talk about the issue on her show, until the investigation is complete."

NOT LOGICAL Home from Iraq at Fort Bragg is military police sergeant Dan Powers. He told ABC's Bob Woodruff the story of an injury that now prevents him from raising his right eyebrow: "So I am kind of like Mr Spock."

The incident happened on a Baghdad street last July. A teenager crept up behind Powers with a nine-inch knife and plunged it deep into his brain. Powers could not feel anything. He arrived at the hospital with the blade sticking out of his head but "amazingly" both conscious and alert. Col Richard Teff, the neurosurgeon, "had a choice," Woodruff narrated, "clamp an artery and risk a stroke--or pull the knife straight out and hope for the best." Teff did the latter but as it exited the blade nicked an artery and blood, two liters in all, came streaming out. Powers lost 40% of the blood in his body before he recovered with speech, memory and coordination intact--except for that single eyebrow.

FANTASY ISLAND Both CBS and ABC had Halloween close their newscasts. ABC's John Berman observed that the holiday is switching its appeal from children to grown-ups. Adults get to experiment with a fantasy role one night a year: "It has become the Las Vegas of holidays. What happens on Halloween stays on Halloween." He consulted psychologist Ann Demarais, author of First Impressions, to illustrate the secret desires revealed by costume choices. A hedge fund manager becomes a hippie. A children's nanny becomes a witch. A physician becomes a cow? Stumped, Demarais suggested that "there might be other animals that--you know--want to hang out with a cow." Muttered Berman: "Sometimes psychology only goes so far."

Expressing forbidden fantasies in costume may be fine for adults but CBS' Michelle Miller drew the line at pre-teens. She prudishly protested the popularity of slutty outfits for prepubescent girls. "Little ghouls gone wild," she called them as they exposed belly buttons and donned fishnet stockings. Miller is entitled to her own opinion, even a bluenosed one. What she is not entitled to do as a reporter is misrepresent the soundbites she uses. "The trick is on the parents," she exclaimed. "Even five-year-olds are creeping out their moms." Yet each of the three mothers she interviewed contradicted Miller's thesis, endorsing her daughter's risque costume as "cute"…"stylish"…"sexy."

Dear reader, you will have to take our word on Miller's sloppy journalism. CBS decided not to post her story online. Probably the wise choice. In Miller's case what was broadcast on Halloween stays on Halloween.

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: a split verdict in the Madrid trial following 2004's railroad bomb attacks that killed almost 200 commuters led to the acquittal of the accused mastermind…a Richter 5.6 earthquake hit San Jose in Silicon Valley but hurt no one…Broadway baritone Robert Goulet died, aged 72.