Pakistani politics were the Story of the Day for the third time this week as police placed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto under temporary house arrest. Surrounding her compound in Rawalpindi with barbed wire, ranks of police prevented her from leading her promised mass demonstration against the martial law imposed by President Pervez Musharraf and his State of Emergency. The demonstrators she summoned to protest with her were blocked as buses closed roads and riot police made mass arrests. CBS and NBC led their newscasts from Pakistan. ABC chose a $4.85bn lawsuit settlement by the makers of the painkiller pill Vioxx instead.    
click to playstoryanglereporterdateline
video thumbnailNBCPakistan politics: state of emergency declaredHouse arrest stymies ex-PM Bhutto's mass rallyRichard EngelPakistan
video thumbnailABC
sub req
Prescription drug Vioxx safety worriesMerck agrees to settle lawsuits for $4.85bnLisa StarkWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCHealthcare reform: universal and managed careInsurance loophole rescinds coverage of sicknessChris JansingCalifornia
video thumbnailABC
sub req
NYSE-NASDAQ closing pricesWeeklong selloff reduces values by 4%John BermanNew York
video thumbnailABC
sub req
Real estate home mortgage foreclosures increaseEmpty properties ruin urban neighborhoodsDan HarrisCleveland
video thumbnailABCHomelessness: street people's duets on fundraising CDOrganized by singer-songwriter Natalie MerchantCharles GibsonNo Dateline
video thumbnailCBS2008 Rudolph Giuliani campaignProtege Bernard Kerik denies corruption chargesByron PittsNew York
video thumbnailCBSIraq: civilian contractors provide logistics supportBaghdad parliament may cancel legal immunityDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailNBCNuclear power plant industry expansion proposedResistance to emulating France's huge networkMartin FletcherFrance
video thumbnailCBSMuseum of Salt & Pepper Shakers planned in IowaLocal collection given $13K subsidized homeSteve HartmanIowa
WHITE SUV PHOTO-OP ESCAPE BID FROM HOUSE ARREST Pakistani politics were the Story of the Day for the third time this week as police placed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto under temporary house arrest. Surrounding her compound in Rawalpindi with barbed wire, ranks of police prevented her from leading her promised mass demonstration against the martial law imposed by President Pervez Musharraf and his State of Emergency. The demonstrators she summoned to protest with her were blocked as buses closed roads and riot police made mass arrests. CBS and NBC led their newscasts from Pakistan. ABC chose a $4.85bn lawsuit settlement by the makers of the painkiller pill Vioxx instead.

CBS' Sheila MacVicar saw police paddywagons fill with "young, old, parliamentarians, party officials, men and women…Talking to the camera was enough to have the police descend." For ABC, Dan Harris (in the Martha Raddatz videostream) described the feel of the "tear gas in your eyes and in your nostrils." As part of NBC's report, Jim Maceda (in the Richard Engel videostream) showed us the deserted streets of Rawalpindi: "This is the total crackdown that Musharraf has promised." The climactic photo-op that crowned the day's stand-off had Bhutto's white SUV, loudspeaker blaring from its roof, careen towards the police's barbed wire line. "Brothers in the police stand back," Bhutto urged through a bullhorn. The police stood firm so she "turned back and surrendered to house arrest," narrated NBC's Richard Engel.

ABC's Raddatz was on hand to shout questions at Bhutto's surrounded car: "Would you like Musharraf to step down completely?" "Either accede to the people's demands or step down." Those demands are an end to the State of Emergency, his resignation from the military and adherence to the schedule for parliamentary elections. Raddatz was not convinced of the urgency behind Bhutto's bluster: "She is going slow. She does not want mass riots. She does not want to push Musharraf too far. They want to be gentle and go toward democracy slowly." At the same time when Musharraf agreed to February elections, Raddatz' unidentified diplomatic sources called that "a ruse, just a stalling tactic." CBS' MacVicar identified November 15th as a crucial deadline, the date on which Musharraf is required to resign from the army, to dissolve parliament and to call elections formally. "There is no indication that the general thinks November 15th is so important."

AMBULANCE CHASERS There were two healthcare stories that were covered by correspondents on all three networks. ABC led with Vioxx. Lisa Stark (subscription required) observed that Merck "had vowed to fight every Vioxx lawsuit to the bitter end"--before offering its settlement to as many as 50,000 plaintiffs. To qualify for damages, patients would have to prove they "used Vioxx within two weeks of having a heart attack or stroke." The painkiller Vioxx "burst on the market" in 1999. "It quickly became a blockbuster, heavily marketed and advertised" before being pulled from sale in 2004, Stark recalled. In total, 20m patients used Vioxx of whom 30,000 may have been killed by it, NBC's Tom Costello told us, citing Food & Drug Administration estimates. The billions in payouts amount to "less than one year's profits," CBS' Nancy Cordes pointed out. However, settling the civil lawsuits does not mean Merck is in the clear: "It is still facing criminal inquiries into charges it knew about Vioxx' deadly side effects and tried to cover them up."

The second healthcare story also arose from lawsuits--this time challenges to the insurance industry in California for finding pretexts to rescind coverage of individual policyholders once they become sick. For NBC's In Depth, Chris Jansing quoted the explanation of lawyer William Shernoff, who is representing hundreds of patients who were accused by insurers of deceit about pre-existing conditions: "They make you fill out these really detailed, confusing applications, which they know you are going to make a mistake on--because everybody will." The poster woman for these lawsuits was Patsy Bates, a hairdresser from Gardena Cal, who was in the middle of breast cancer chemotherapy when HealthNet, her insurer, canceled her coverage and stopped payments. Bates' bills now total $200,000. All three networks followed up on the coverage of Bates' lawsuit by The Los Angeles Times. Pre-trial discovery had uncovered HealthNet memos about Barbara Fowler, the analyst who canceled Bates. ABC's Brian Rooney quoted HealthNet as praising Fowler for the "successful execution of her job responsibilities." She was "vital to the profitability of the Individual Family Product policy line." CBS' Bill Whitaker noted that 2003, when Bates' coverage was axed, was "a banner year for Fowler." It earned her a $20,000 annual bonus.

UPDATE: George in Comments calls me a "dumbass" for the reference to Fowler's bonus and he is correct. ABC's Rooney made no reference to a timeframe for the $20,000--that was the total amount Fowler received in bonuses not the annual amount. My apologies. Posting corrected.

HOUSING LOSSES ABC offered a trio of economy stories to round off a bearish week during which the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 4% of its value. John Berman (subscription required) blamed Friday's 224-point selloff on bad news from banking and cellular telephones. On NBC, anchor Brian Williams consulted Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's Mad Money. Cramer ticked off housing, retail sales and technology: "The only thing that was strong was oil." ABC had Dan Harris (subscription required) stay on the housing beat for its Mortgage Mess series. He illustrated the woes caused by foreclosures by touring a once "thriving working class racially mixed neighborhood" in Cleveland. There are now 1,000 empty homes in a single ZIP code. They are "systematically stripped and looted and also become crack houses and hideouts for criminals." ABC had Elizabeth Vargas substitute as anchor for Charles Gibson while Gibson pre-taped his Person of the Week profile of singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant. She has become an activist on behalf of the homeless, organizing Give US Your Poor, a fundraising CD of duets featuring established artists--herself, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Keb' Mo' and so on--with musicians living on the street. Gibson played portions from Merchant's rendition of There Is No Good Reason, written by a 15-year-old homeless girl, with Mighty Sam McClain, a Grammy-nominated bluesman, who has lived 20 years without a roof over his head.

KERIK FALLOUT NBC had John Yang quote Republican Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani's explanation yesterday as to why he appointed Bernard Kerik as his police commissioner in New York City and recommended him as federal Homeland Security Secretary when he was suspected of organized-crime-related graft: "When you are Mayor of New York, you make 100,000 decisions. Some of them you make wrong. Then the question is what happened to the city as a result of those decisions." Now CBS' Byron Pitts followed Kerik's plea of not guilty to corruption charges with the possibility of "political problems" for his mentor. Specifically Giuliani's rival John McCain added another piece of evidence about Giuliani's lack of judgment in his protege: "Supposedly his mission was to help train Iraqi police. He stayed a couple of months, got up and left!"

IMMUNE RESPONSE As usual, CBS is the network that is pursuing the aftermath of the Blackwater USA killings of Baghdad civilians in September (16 reports v ABC 4, NBC 10) most diligently. Now it claims an Exclusive for David Martin's report from the Pentagon on a letter drafted by Iraq's Ministry of the Interior seeking parliamentary approval for the repeal of legal immunity granted to civilian contractors working in Iraq. If ratified, Martin predicted, all private security firms, with 8,500 personnel guarding "diplomats, convoys and reconstruction sites" would leave Iraq, personnel who are "indispensable to US operations in Iraq." Martin quoted Carter Andress, boss of the American-Iraqi Solutions Group, explaining that he would never agree to liability under the Iraqi legal system because its police force is "riddled with corruption and infiltrated by enemy fighters." The parliament is notoriously unable to pass any legislation yet the lifting of immunity may be one law "they can agree upon," Andress shrugged.

PARENT COMPANY NBC concluded its weeklong corporatewide Green is Universal project with Martin Fletcher surveying the nuclear power industry for the Our Planet series. As Dawna Friesen did on Monday with wind turbines, Fletcher found himself in the delicate position of covering a technology that makes millions for his employer, General Electric. Fletcher went to Flamanville in Normandy to show us the newest design in nuclear reactor--"like those made by GE, NBC/Universal's parent company"--that have hardened exteriors to withstand terrorist attacks and deepened foundations to withstand earthquakes. Since France decided 25 years ago to become energy independent, it has built 59 nuclear power plants, enough to provide 80% of its electricity. "In America, the jury is still out."

CONDIMENTS In the spirit of Bill Geist, highways and byways correspondent for CBS' Sunday Morning, CBS' evening newscast, too, likes to profile an occasional offbeat tourist attraction. Sharyl Attkisson, of late, has taken an unfortunate sanctimonious tone against porkbarrel spending for the Museum of Teapots in North Carolina and the Museum of Prisons in Kansas. So it was refreshing to see Steve Hartman revert to a folksier touch on Assignment America as the Iowa town of Traer has decided to invest $13,000 in 84-year-old Ruth Rasmussen's shaker collection, started in 1949, for its Museum of Salt & Pepper. "The bar for what makes a tourist attraction is set pretty low around her," mused Hartman. Traer's shakers are up against "Brandon's giant frying pan."

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: the Senate voted 53-40 to confirm the nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey as Attorney General…President George Bush visited the Center for the Intrepid, the rehabilitation wing for disabled combat casualties at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio…Arthur Bremer, the would-be assassin who paralyzed Presidential candidate George Wallace on the stump in 1972, was paroled from federal prison…Pickets in the screenwriters strike in Hollywood targeted the studios of Fox in Century City.