For only the third time in the past two months, President George Bush shucked off his lame duck status to set the news agenda. Just once in October his actions were Story of the Day, when he vetoed an extension of children's healthcare funding; once again, earlier this month, he made headlines when he opened military airspace to facilitate Thanksgiving travel. Now the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis makes three, as Bush snared the lead spot on ABC's and CBS' newscasts. NBC chose to start with a brief live stand-up on the economy before its first taped package--also on the President's peace initiative.    
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video thumbnailCBSIsrael-Arab regional Middle East peace processPresident Bush opens Annapolis conferenceBill PlanteMaryland
video thumbnailABCIsrael-Arab regional Middle East peace processAnnapolis confab protested in Palestine, IsraelSimon McGregor-WoodJerusalem
video thumbnailCBSPalestine politics: Fatah-Hamas feud continuesFatah accused of opponents' human rights abusesElizabeth PalmerWest Bank
video thumbnailNBCIraq: war refugees form humanitarian crisisHard times in Damascus force return to BaghdadTom AspellBaghdad
video thumbnailABC
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Real estate home mortgage foreclosures increaseNeighborhoods blighted, banks fear big lossesBetsy StarkNew York
video thumbnailNBC2008 Iowa caucuses previewedCelebrity surrogates Clinton, Winfrey involvedAndrea MitchellWashington DC
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Energy conservation and alternate fuel useGoogle sponsors mirrors, kites, steam researchNeal KarlinskyCalifornia
video thumbnailABCGuns: assault weapons grow more popularCitizens, criminals, police in street arms raceJeffrey KofmanFlorida
video thumbnailCBSWar on Drugs: prescription medicine abuseLax Florida laws exploited by doctors, pushersKatie CouricFlorida
video thumbnailNBCMiniature Key deer conservation efforts in FloridaFlirted with extinction, hunting banned in 1939Kerry SandersFlorida
LAME DUCK MOUNTS PEACE DRIVE For only the third time in the past two months, President George Bush shucked off his lame duck status to set the news agenda. Just once in October his actions were Story of the Day, when he vetoed an extension of children's healthcare funding; once again, earlier this month, he made headlines when he opened military airspace to facilitate Thanksgiving travel. Now the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis makes three, as Bush snared the lead spot on ABC's and CBS' newscasts. NBC chose to start with a brief live stand-up on the economy before its first taped package--also on the President's peace initiative.

CBS' Bill Plante reported that the President almost failed to get his headline. The conference still did not have an agenda even as he arrived in Maryland. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to put pressure on Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader "to come up with something to avoid the appearance of failure." NBC's David Gregory called it the "Hurry-up Summit on the Chesapeake Bay--just three hours on the ground."

Involving himself in mideastern diplomacy is "a big change" for this President, ABC's Jonathan Karl observed, quoting Bush's assertion back in 2002 that if a summit fails "then the follow-up is worse than the status quo." Furthermore, in contrast to Bill Clinton's four trips to Jerusalem while in office, Bush has "not set foot in Israel since he became President." A two-state peace for Israel and Palestine, negotiated before the end of his term in January 2009, would likely involve "a lot more direct engagement by this President than he has so far been willing to give," CBS' Plante pointed out.

The encouraging sign, ABC's Karl argued, was that "never before have Israeli-Palestinian peace talks been supported by so many Arab states." NBC's Gregory pointed to Iran as the motivation for such a gathering. Teheran's involvement, with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, "has galvanized Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Syria." However, ABC's man in Jerusalem Simon McGregor-Wood saw Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as "both unpopular and weak" with the reputation of being "ill-equipped…to make the tough decisions that lie ahead." He cited pessimistic opinion polls on the likelihood of the Annapolis conference producing progress towards peace: 78% of Israelis predict failure; 67% of Palestinians.

OUT OF CONTROL CBS switched Elizabeth Palmer from the Gaza Strip yesterday to the West Bank. She showed us the security forces of Fatah--"the side the United States has chosen to support" in Palestine's political feuding--"breaking the law every day." She cited Amnesty International statistics about "thousands of cases of illegal arrests and torture" of Hamas supporters. TV journalists from al-Jazeera had their satellite truck firebombed for reporting on Fatah abuses. Palmer asked Saeb Erakat, the PLO peace negotiator, whether the police were acting in an official capacity. "I do not think they have had any orders." "You are supposed to be in control of them." "That is what I am saying. I am not in control of many things. I am not in control."

PLASTIC SUITCASES Elsewhere in the region, NBC's Tom Aspell covered the return of war refugees from Damascus to Baghdad, illustrated by one family's "plastic suitcases, a tattered soccer ball and their precious pet pigeons." In part, this homecoming was the latest in a series of encouraging reports on improved security--five of the nine stories on Iraq in the past two weeks reflect such optimism. Aspell showed us, for example, an Iraqi government commercial running on regional satellite TV that depicts "a family returning to clean and quiet streets." Then he cautioned that Baghdad is "still a dangerous city--there are kidnappings, shootings and bomb blasts every day." The other side of the coin, according to United Nations monitors, is that most Iraqis are returning home "because they are running out of money and Syria is clamping down on visas."

MORTGAGE MESS NBC's had its sibling financial network CNBC lead off its newscast on the economy before turning to the Middle East: home prices continue to fall…Citigroup, the financial conglomerate, received an infusion of $7bn in capital from the government of abu-Dhabi…the stock market rebounded after yesterday's fall, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 215 points. CNBC's Carl Quintanilla cautioned that this fall's 4% drop in the value of residential real estate is hardly the whole story. Unidentified economists he consulted told him "from top to bottom we might see housing values fall 15%." The bursting of the housing bubble is blighting neighborhoods, ABC's Betsy Stark (subscription required) added: "The foreclosure crisis was Topic A" as the nation's mayors convened in Detroit, where Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick bemoaned "the biggest loss of property values since the Great Depression." Stark cited the mayors' projection that the "mortgage mess" would lead to the loss of 524,000 jobs.

DEMOCRATIC FRONTRUNNERS NBC and CBS both examined the Campaign 2008 rivalry between Democratic frontrunners Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. CBS looked at their competition for support from black voters. Dean Reynolds observed that "Obama's racial identity gives pause to some." He is not the descendent of African slaves but the multiracial child of a Caucasian mother and a Kenyan father. "I self-identify as African-American. That is how I am treated and that is how I am viewed and I am proud of that," was how Reynolds quoted him. Put another way: "The big city cab drivers who once refused to pick him up had no doubt about his blackness back then." Nevertheless, Jim Axelrod pointed out, Obama trails Rodham Clinton among African-Americans in Democratic opinion polls: "This highly complicated choice comes down to record trumping race," Axelrod concluded--plus the Bill factor: "Her husband is highly popular among blacks."

On NBC, Andrea Mitchell, too, looked at husband Bill's role in drumming up support for his wife, not among blacks but among women, who represent two-thirds of Iowa's Democratic caucusgoers. Obama counters with his own "celebrity surrogate super weapon," fellow African-American Chicagoan Oprah Winfrey, whose daytime ratings in the state surpass "most primetime television." Mitchell summed up the match up: "She is one of the world's most admired women and the among the richest…he, according to some polls, is the second-most admired man in the world." Late in the day Rodham Clinton countered with another superstar endorsement. "Barbra Streisand, a Funny Girl," Mitchell acknowledged, "but no match for Oprah."

The third Democratic frontrunner in Iowa is John Edwards. He sat down with anchor Brian Williams for an interview in NBC's Making of a President series. Williams followed up on a couple of CBS stories from yesterday, when Chip Reid covered Edwards' departure from his sunny image of Campaign 2004. "No more Mr Nice Guy?" Williams inquired, crediting Newsweek with the insight. "I think it is a mistake to equate strength and passion with some big change in who I am." Williams also referred--without crediting his rival anchor by name--to yesterday's CBS interview by Katie Couric in which Rodham Clinton declared "she was certain she would be the nominee." "If she is certain, she is living in a fantasy world," Edwards snorted. As for issues, Edwards tried to recast the values debate. He referred to "the huge moral things that need to be done in this country--to lift people out of poverty; strengthen the middle class; insure the uninsured…I have spent my entire life fighting against very powerful interests on behalf of ordinary Americans. I am proud of that."

SEARCH FOR ENGINES For A Closer Look, ABC offered free publicity for the ten-year commitment by Google, the $200bn Internet search engine, to invest tens of millions of dollars--"a drop in the bucket really," as Neal Karlinsky (subscription required) put it--in the energy business. Google's goal is to invent three separate renewable systems for generating electricity that will be cleaner than coal and just as cheap. Method one is solar: not panels but "vast arrays of mirrors" that reflect the sun's rays intensely enough to produce steam. Method two is the wind: not windmills on the ground but tethered kites flying at high altitude where the prevailing wind does not gust but is consistently strong. Method three is deep inside the Earth: injecting water underground so geothermal energy produces steam.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT FLORIDA? For some inexplicable reason, all three networks chose to round out their newscasts from Florida. It was not enough, apparently, that the day's most sensational crime happened in the Sunshine State--both ABC's Pierre Thomas (subscription required) and CBS' Kelly Cobiella (no link) covered the shooting murder in his Palmetto Bay home of NFL player Sean Taylor. All three newscasts chose Florida for their features too.

ABC filed the conclusion of its Officer Down two-parter on cops' on-duty deaths from Palm Beach County where "the arms race is on" according to Jeffrey Kofman: both the sheriff's department and local gang members have been equipping themselves with semi-automatic assault weapons since Congress decided not to renew a federal ban on those firearms in 2004. CBS anchor Katie Couric filed the second instalment of her Generation RX series about the non-medicinal abuse of prescription drugs by the twentysomething cohort. Florida is a state with no centralized monitoring of prescriptions "and that has led to the opening and the brazen advertising of dozens of pain management clinics," she stated. Recreational users of painkillers like OxyContin descend on towns like Fort Lauderdale from all over the country to get just the right prescription, no questions asked: "Patients know exactly what is required on their end to close the deal." And NBC closed with Kerry Sanders on the Florida Keys where a campaign to preserve the local miniature deer species has paid dividends. The population was as low as 30 animals some 50 years ago; now it approaches 7,000. At 60lb to 90lb they are "no bigger than a large dog and sometimes just as friendly."

Check Sanders' closing image of a girl and her minideer.

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: NASA satellite photography has produced a map of Antarctica…sales of Winnebago recreational vehicles are in decline…warning labels for children will be added to Tamiflu, the prescription influenza medicine…former President George Bush has installed wind power at his Kennebunkport estate in Maine…Vice President Dick Cheney returned to work after treatment for his irregular heart beat…Sen Edward Kennedy intends to write a memoir…Mark Everson has resigned as CEO of the American Red Cross…thoroughbred horse racing jockey Bill Hartack dies, aged 74…Gatorade sports drink inventor Robert Cade dies, aged 80.