The celebrity public relations machine took advantage of an extremely light news environment to induce the network news to turn an unaccustomed eye on Africa. Rock-'n'-roll's Bono persuaded NBC to publicize his Red fundraising. TV's daytime superstar Oprah Winfrey worked to end abuses at the girls' boarding school she founded in South Africa. Glamour magazine helped ABC make Uganda civil war activists its Persons of the Week. None of these stories was the Story of the Day. None was the lead on any newscast: ABC led with torture, NBC with weather, CBS with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.    
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video thumbnailCBSTV talkshow host Oprah Winfrey founds African schoolDormitory matron arrested for abusing girlsByron PittsNew York
video thumbnailNBCAfrica poverty relief, development initiativesRock star Bono's Campaign Red raises $47mBrian WilliamsNew York
video thumbnailABCUganda civil war: rebel army abuses childrenGirls kidnapped, raped, enslaved as bush wivesCharles GibsonNew York
video thumbnailNBCFloods along Mexico's southern Gulf CoastHundreds of thousands dislocated in TabascoMark PotterMiami
video thumbnailABC
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Pakistan politics: President Musharraf under firePrepares to seize dictatorial emergency powersMartha RaddatzPakistan
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesPresident Bush praises diminished violenceJim AxelrodWhite House
video thumbnailABCCIA accused of rendition, torture of suspectsDoJ official volunteered to be waterboardedJan Crawford GreenburgWashington DC
video thumbnailABC
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2008 Hillary Rodham Clinton campaignEmphasizes gender of rivals who criticize herKate SnowNew Hampshire
video thumbnailNBC2008 Hillary Rodham Clinton campaignPapers from First Lady tenure published slowlyLisa MyersWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSConsumer Product Safety Commission expansion planRegulated industries pay for leaders' travelsNancy CordesNew York
OUT OF AFRICA The celebrity public relations machine took advantage of an extremely light news environment to induce the network news to turn an unaccustomed eye on Africa. Rock-'n'-roll's Bono persuaded NBC to publicize his Red fundraising. TV's daytime superstar Oprah Winfrey worked to end abuses at the girls' boarding school she founded in South Africa. Glamour magazine helped ABC make Uganda civil war activists its Persons of the Week. None of these stories was the Story of the Day. None was the lead on any newscast: ABC led with torture, NBC with weather, CBS with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Both CBS and NBC followed up on Wednesday's coverage by NBC's Dawn Fratangelo of the Leadership Academy for Girls, the African boarding school founded in January with "great fanfare and $40m" of Oprah Winfrey's money, as CBS' Byron Pitts put it. NBC's Ron Allen recalled how the daytime TV host staked her reputation on the school's success: "This is a supreme moment of destiny for me." Allegations of abuse by seven students led to the arrest of a dormitory matron on charges of assault and sexual solicitation. The principal Winfrey hired and two colleagues were fired, Allen added, "apparently for ignoring the girls' complaints." Winfrey explained that "it is our duty as adults to listen and take immediate action" when a child alleges mistreatment. Yet the coverage was more concerned about possible trouble for Winfrey than about the abuse itself. NBC's Allen turned to Access Hollywood's Shaun Robinson. She reported that police told her that "Oprah and her staff got to the heart of the matter." CBS' Pitts consulted Jess Cagle of People magazine. "There is no damage to her brand," he assured us.

NBC anchor Brian Williams took time away from his Saturday Night Live hosting rehearsals to sit down with U2's Bono and praise him for Making a Difference. Bono announced that the first year of his Red Campaign--branding consumer products such as T-shirts, iPods and cell phones with the color to signify that a portion of revenues would go to African philanthropy--had raised $47m. That money has been used to treat 1m Africans with HIV/AIDS, 2m with tuberculosis and 20m with malaria. When Williams showed footage of a pregnant AIDS patient in Swaziland whose life had been saved by two pills a day, Bono asserted that a Third World activist shares roles with a television journalist: "Our job, partly, and your job is to turn statistics into flesh and blood, into people."

Of course the converse is also the job of a television journalist--to use "flesh and blood…people" to illustrate statistics and wider abstractions. That is why ABC's Persons of the Week was so disappointing. Anchor Charles Gibson profiled the anti-war activists Empowering Hands, a group of five former so-called "bush wives" of rebel forces in Uganda's civil war. The quintet was in New York City to be honored by Glamour and to lobby the United Nations. Gibson explained that bush wives were kidnapped as girls from local villages, raped by guerrilla soldiers and forced to bear children. Boys, when kidnapped, are turned into soldiers, forced to "torture and murder."

Yet Gibson presented these atrocities as mere anecdotes, bereft of information. What is the name of the rebel forces? What is their complaint against the Ugandan government? Is the civil war based on ethnic faultlines or religious or ideological ones or is it mere warlordism? Which forces are prevailing? Or, just the simplest information, where is Uganda on a map of Africa?

STORMS IN THE TROPICS Only NBC covered the severe storms battering the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Its lead story, from Martin Savidge in North Carolina, used the hook that Tropical Storm Noel had strengthened to become a hurricane and was threatening to damage coastal property from the outer banks to Cape Cod. The major news made by Noel, however, was before it became a hurricane: with 118 dead and 65,000 homeless in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Noel was the "deadliest storm of the 2007 Atlantic season." NBC had Mark Potter in Miami show us the impact of heavy rains along the southern Gulf Coast. Floods in the Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco rendered "hundreds of thousands" homeless. Check out Potter's vivid pix of Mexicans "neck deep in their escape."

NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION The brewing challenge to the nomination of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General that NBC's David Gregory covered yesterday was nipped in the bud. A pair of Democrats announced their support, despite his stonewalling about waterboarding, so the all three networks mentioned his assured confirmation only in passing without assigning a reporter. ABC, for its lead, offered Jan Crawford Greenburg's Exclusive backgrounder on the torture technique known as waterboarding, in which interrogators pour water over a prisoner's head to create the sensation of drowning.

Crawford Greenburg revealed that Daniel Levin, the Justice Department official in charge of designating what constitutes torture, volunteered to be waterboarded in 2004. His report to the White House was that "even though he knew he would not die he found his experience terrifying." Crawford Greenburg reported that Levin was working on a memo to require waterboarders to work under close supervision, with time limits and accompanied by medical personnel when he was "forced out" by incoming Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Her unidentified sources told her that Levin "was just viewed as too independent" by the White House.

ABC's Brian Ross (at the tail of the Crawford Greenburg videostream) reported that the CIA has tortured three prisoners using waterboarding: suspected al-Qaeda commanders Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, abu-Zubaydah and abu-Faraj al-Libi. Actually Ross did not flat out call it "torture." He just implied it by indicating that the inquisitors are aware of their guilt. He explained that the reason why the CIA refuses to say that it has discontinued the practice is that to do so would be to admit its prior existence. "They are afraid of opening up criminal prosecution of those who administered the waterboarding." Despite last year's ban on waterboarding by Director Michael Hayden, Ross added that "there are many in the CIA who think it was a very effective technique" and want to leave the option open to torture again in "a national emergency."

EMERGENCY There was a flurry of interest in Pakistani politics last month when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's homecoming was greeted by a failed assassination attempt. That interest was not sustained. Only ABC had a correspondent on hand to warn us the President Pervez Musharraf is about to declare a state of emergency. From Islamabad, Martha Raddatz (subscription required) told us that Pakistan is "spiraling into violence"--this despite more than $11bn in aid from the United States to "root out terrorists." Despite…or perhaps as a result of that aid. Raddatz consulted the vox pop and found opposition to Musharraf mounting because of his alliance with the United States, an "enemy of the Moslem." A shocked Raddatz warned: "Horrifying videos are being distributed on the streets showing boys as young as 14 beheading soldiers who cooperate with the Americans."

SURGE ENDS SOON Yesterday, Jonathan Karl covered the Pentagon's talking points on the diminished violence in Iraq for ABC. Now President George Bush is publicizing the same downward trend since its peak in June. CBS' Jim Axelrod quoted the Commander in Chief hail the reduction in attacks by roadside bombs "since the surge of operations began in June" without noting that the so-called surge began in January. Axelrod concluded with a similar foreboding to Karl's: "The President uses the words 'progress' and 'success' but next month the United States begins to draw down the troops that made this reduction in violence possible." So Axelrod hears no one at the White House utter Mission Accomplished.

MORE DEBATE AFTERSHOCKS On the campaign trail, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton continued to attract attention in the aftermath of questions raised (text link) by Tuesday night's MSNBC debate. ABC's Kate Snow (subscription required) inquired whether the Rodham Clinton campaign's complaint about her rivals Politics of Pile-on was an example of her "playing the victim." On the one hand the candidate herself "insists she is not looking for any special treatment," Snow argued, using this soundbite: "I do not think they are piling on because I am a woman. I think they are piling on because I am winning." Yet Rodham Clinton also emphasizes her own gender in contrast to her rivals'. Snow aired this soundbite: "If you cannot stand the heat get out of the kitchen--and I am very much at home in the kitchen." And this one about her alma mater: "This all women's college prepared me to compete in the all boys club of Presidential politics."

NBC's Lisa Myers turned to the question of whether the Clinton Presidential Library is dragging its feet in releasing documents from Rodham Clinton's tenure as First Lady. "The archives says 3m pages of documents from her healthcare efforts still have not been made public." Myers cited a letter by Bill Clinton that asked for certain documents to be withheld until 2012. She called the papers "now relevant to the campaign, including communications between him and the First Lady on sensitive political and policy matters." For his part, the former President insisted that he is making records available "more quickly than any previous President."

PETTY CASH The Story of the Day would hardly have been worthy of passing mention had not the Consumer Product Safety Commission been in the spotlight with Tuesday's flap (text link) over its expanded powers and continued coverage of the safety of imported toys. On the latter issue, by the way, CBS had Sandra Hughes file The Truth About Toys feature on $15 home testing kits for lead paint, whose sales have skyrocketed, despite their designation by the CPSC as "unreliable."

Anyway CBS chose as its overblown lead the revelations, first published in the Washington Post, that $60,000 had been paid by businesses regulated by the CPSC for 30 trips by its acting chairwoman Nancy Nord and her predecessor Hal Stratton. The amount of money--from the toy industry, the fireworks industry and appliance makers--is small and NBC's Tom Costello (no link) pointed out that "there is no suggestion anything illegal occurred." Still CBS' Nancy Cordes found unidentified "critics" to assert that "it is a sign this agency has lost its way--protecting industries, not consumers."

It seems to be more of a sign that CBS is making a mountain out of a molehill.

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: unemployment data for October found the jobless rate hold steady at 4.7% with 166,000 new hires…a tractor trailer pileup killed three and halted traffic on Connecticut's busy I-95…the cost of crude oil continues to climb, now more than $96 a barrel…the screenwriters union in Hollywood has scheduled a strike for Monday.