A trivial local crime story in a small New Hampshire town which hurt nobody led all three networks. A suspect identified as Leeland Eisenburg was arrested for holding four adults and a baby hostage in a downtown storefront office in Rochester NH, population 31,000. A police SWAT unit was called after the man claimed he had armed himself as a suicide bomber. The stand-off lasted five hours before being resolved peacefully. His so-called bomb was a set of flares bought from a hardware store. So why was this defused confrontation elevated to Story of the Day status? The office was staffed with New Hampshire primary campaign workers and their kidnapper's demand was to talk to their boss, Democratic frontrunner and Senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton.    
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video thumbnailABCNH hostage siege at political campaign officeBomb threat to Rodham Clinton staffers defusedKate SnowNew York
video thumbnailNBC2008 South Carolina primary previewedBlack women are crucial bloc for DemocratsRon AllenSouth Carolina
video thumbnailNBCReal estate home mortgage foreclosures increaseBanks' rate freeze may prevent subprime defaultsErin BurnettCNBC
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesShiite militias, al-Qaeda less deadly for GIsDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailCBSIraq: orphans abandoned, neglected, need careBoys rescued by GIs revisited, three deadLara LoganBaghdad
video thumbnailCBSFederal porkbarrel spending from earmarked projectsCongressional leaders are biggest appropriatorsSharyl AttkissonWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCChristian modernizers form Emergent ChurchNC twentysomething preaches tolerant gospelTom BrokawNorth Carolina
video thumbnailNBCAIDS: epidemic devastates sub-Saharan AfricaArizona teenage fundraiser helps Zambia orphansJohn LarsonZambia
video thumbnailCBSCollege scholarship programs offer student aidSF Bay Area gardeners fundraise from clientsSteve HartmanCalifornia
video thumbnailABCDog mauls construction worker in NJ suburbsWorker's illegal status sparks racist backlashDan HarrisNew Jersey
MINOR NH FLARE-UP ATTRACTS GLARING NATIONAL ATTENTION A trivial local crime story in a small New Hampshire town which hurt nobody led all three networks. A suspect identified as Leeland Eisenburg was arrested for holding four adults and a baby hostage in a downtown storefront office in Rochester NH, population 31,000. A police SWAT unit was called after the man claimed he had armed himself as a suicide bomber. The stand-off lasted five hours before being resolved peacefully. His so-called bomb was a set of flares bought from a hardware store. So why was this defused confrontation elevated to Story of the Day status? The office was staffed with New Hampshire primary campaign workers and their kidnapper's demand was to talk to their boss, Democratic frontrunner and Senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It was not just the broadcast networks that had their news judgment distorted by Rodham Clinton's involvement in the story. "This is something that the whole country was watching unfold early this afternoon," exaggerated Paul Burton of Boston's WBZ-TV, filing for CBS. "It has been the subject of non-stop cable news coverage all afternoon and evening," declared NBC anchor Brian Williams before he introduced Andrea Mitchell's live stand-up from Washington DC.

The candidate herself was not even in New Hampshire. "The last time she was in the town of Rochester was back in early August," ABC's Kate Snow recalled. Rodham Clinton was in Washington DC where she was scheduled to make a speech to the Democratic National Committee. It was canceled. "Police wrestle with whether to meet the demands of a hostage taker to talk to a third party," ABC's Pierre Thomas (no link) generalized, citing previous stand-offs involving Jimmy Carter in 1977 and Ronald Reagan in 1993. "The former First Lady is not a trained hostage negotiator."

On the three newscasts, only NBC's Mitchell tried to draw a larger lesson from this inconsequential event. She wondered: "Will this incident, even harmless as it was, affect the retail door-to-door open quality of New Hampshire politics?"

RACE & GENDER The only other campaign-related coverage assigned to a correspondent on any of the three newscasts was Ron Allen's feature for NBC on the key statewide staffers in the Democratic primary in South Carolina. It was the culmination of the network's weeklong five-parter African-American Women: Where They Stand. South Carolina was the apt place for the topic and politics to intersect because half of the Democratic electorate there is black, and a majority of black Democratic voters are female. The chief operatives for both leading campaigns belong to that demographic: Stacey Brayboy for Barack Obama and Kelly Adams for Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Both campaigns got endorsements from prominent African-American women," Allen added, poetess Maya Angelou for her and TV talkshow host Oprah Winfrey for him.

Of the other four parts of NBC's series, two were on racial disparities in women's healthcare by in-house physician Nancy Snyderman--breast cancer on Tuesday and heart disease on Thursday. The other two, filed by Rehema Ellis, were sociological. Monday, Ellis described the gender gap in the African-American middle class: 64% of all black college students are female; women control 62% of African-American spending power; and it is women who are "responsible for the dramatic growth in black businesses." Wednesday, Ellis--who shared with us that she became the black single mother of an adopted son after her divorce--illustrated the absence of married heterosexual parents for most black children with clips from the movie Why Did I Get Married? and the documentary Soulmate. Some 40% of black women stay single all their lives, compared with 16% of white women; and when they are born, fully 70% of African-American babies have an unwed mother.

FROZEN NOT BAILED OUT All three networks assigned a reporter to cover the Treasury Department's plan for the FDIC to prevent the current dislocation in the housing market from escalating into a full-fledged crisis. Already 1.6m mortgages are either in arrears or in foreclosure; another 1.5m homeowners, CBS' Anthony Mason estimated, face increases in their housing costs by the end of 2008 as interest rates are adjusted upwards. On NBC, CNBC's Erin Burnett calculated a typical hike at 26%, from around $1,000 each month to $1,260 or so. The plan would coordinate big lenders-- Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual, Countrywide Financial--to foreswear those hikes, freezing interest rates indefinitely at the low starter rates. CBS' Mason called such a plan "the most significant federal intervention in a credit crisis since the Depression" while ABC's Betsy Stark (no link) quoted Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as insisting "this is not a bailout--no government money is changing hands." Clearly work still needs to be done. CNBC's Burnett was confident that the details will be ironed out: "The three hardest hit states on foreclosures are key election states--we are talking about Ohio, Florida and California."

ONCE WILD CBS filed a couple of updates on Iraq. From the Pentagon, David Martin looked into the reasons why November's US military death toll fell as low as 28 from a monthly high of 120 in May. "The threat posed by Improvised Explosive Devices is nowhere near what it was just this summer," was one answer. A second was the lull in fighting in al-Anbar Province "the once wild west." A third is that the Mahdi Army, the militia controled by Shiite opposition leader Muqtada al-Sadr, has declared a ceasefire: "But that is only temporary." Martin predicted that December will be the month when the military tests whether the so-called surge of extra troops was also a factor because that is when "the drawdown begins in earnest." In Baghdad, Lara Logan followed up on the 24 orphan boys she discovered "naked, bound and starving to death" in June. Since then three of the boys have died and government officials told her "they had just begun an investigation" into abuse and neglect by orphanage authorities.

IF THIS IS FRIDAY… It is the end of the week, so as usual, all three newscasts loaded up on features. ABC sent Good Morning America's Chris Cuomo (no link) to Islamabad for an Exclusive with Pervez Musharraf. He asked the Pakistani president to justify his State of Emergency: "We do not want agitational politics. Agitation means breaking down everything and burning things…That cannot be allowed"

On Capitol Hill, CBS' Sharyl Attkisson used research from Taxpayers for Common Sense--an organization she dubbed a "watchdog group"--to survey the authors of the $67bn in annual earmarked spending, "pet projects that get special funding from individual members of Congress." Her Follow the Money found that the leading earmarkers in each chamber turn out to be southern Republicans: $161m from Rep Bill Young (R-FL) and "a whopping" $773m from Sen Thad Cochran (R-MS). Attkisson also threw in a mention of a couple of her favorites: improving the fine wine of the Finger Lakes and North Carolina's Museum of Teapots. That $67bn number though seems out of kilter--it was cited by anchor Katie Couric in her introduction to Attkisson's piece. If true, the 535 members of Congress would have to average $125m in earmarks each. Since the most spendthrift member of the House only gets as high as $161m such an average looks implausible.

NBC invited former anchor Tom Brokaw to survey trends in evangelical Christianity, the so-called Emerging Church. He profiled a twentysomething former congregant of the Rev Jerry Falwell who has just opened the Pine Ridge Church in a converted North Carolina supermarket. The Rev Ted Grandstaff uses contemporary media to spread the word--Christian rock, Weblogs,, podcast sermons--and his gospel is "not as doctrinaire" as that of his Southern Baptist elders in their megachurches: "Let us focus on what we are about. And that is loving people."

For NBC's Making a Difference closer, John Larson accompanied teenager Austin Gutwein to Zambia for the opening of a high school for AIDS orphans. Larson had profiled Gutwein's Hoops of Hope basketball shooting fundraiser last December. This 1,000-student boarding school was the payoff.

ABC's Person of the Week was Evel Knievel. Bill Blakemore (no link) dug through clips from his network's Wide World of Sports to find vintage footage of the 1970s motorcycle daredevil to mark his death at age 69. Knievel "invented a whole new artform, the spectacle possible when an artist is addicted to high octane adrenaline," was Blakemore's obituary tribute.

PITY THE POOR IMMIGRANT Yesterday both NBC's David Gregory and ABC's John Berman observed that immigration is becoming the hot button on the Republican side of Campaign 2008. Each network chose this week to illustrate the human interest side of the issue. NBC went first on Wednesday with George Lewis' tale of Jesus Manuel Cordova, who allowed himself to be captured by the Border Patrol in the Arizona desert in order to save the life of a nine-year-old orphan boy. Now CBS' Assignment America introduces us to Catalino Tapia, "a gardener with a sixth grade education who came to America to make his dreams come true," as Steve Hartman called him, who has formed the Bay Area Gardeners' Foundation to raise funds from their homeowner clients to help put students through college, including non citizens, who are ineligible for state aid. On ABC Dan Harris profiled Giovanni Rivera, a Honduran construction laborer without legal working papers, who was hospitalized for four days after Congo, the pet dog at the Princeton NJ home where he was working, mauled him. A judge ordered that Congo be put down as part of a $250,000 lawsuit settlement. Harris told us about "a deluge of criticisms" online against that order, praising the dog, calling Rivera "illegal scum" and misidentifying him as Mexican.

Harris called the postings "a symbol of how venomous the American debate over immigration has now become." Yet he allowed those racist rants to remain anonymous, not even offering the name of the site where they were posted so we could judge them for ourselves. It is poor journalism to recycle decontextualized, anonymous, inaccurate hate speech without attribution. Harris should know better.

ABC CUTS OFF ITS LONG TAIL In a sudden change in its online policy, ABC has cut off access to half of its World News archive. Paul Slavin, vice president of digital media, made the announcement Thursday. As of Saturday, more than 800 ABC World News videostreams dating back to last November in the Tyndall Report database are not accessible--more than 26 hours of news programing. Wherever you see "subscription required" next to a link, that link has been broken by ABC. The break may not be permanent. ABC spokeswoman Natalia Labenskyj told Tyndall Report: "We are working on making more of that material available to all users."

Regular Tyndall Report readers know that ABC World News has always had a bifurcated method for offering its stories to online viewers. Unlike CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, which offer all their newscast content free with advertising support, ABC has posted half of its stories free with ads, the other half behind a subscription wall. For the excellent value of about 80c each week, subscribers used to get to see about half of ABC's nightly content without the inconvenience of sitting through commercials. Used to.

The reason for the split was that ABC News' online business model was divided. Partly the network streams news directly to its own audience: and, in addition to World News broadcast stories that Tyndall Report links to, it also produces a standalone Webcast. Partly it provides content as an online video wire service to broadband and wireless portals. The value of the latter content is undergirded by its exclusivity--thus ABC's does not compete with its own corporate customers, it calls them "partner services," by offering the material it feeds to them simultaneously on its own site for free. That latter material was the content that used to be made available to its individual subscribers.

At a time when most online sources of journalism are lowering barriers, expanding content, removing subscription fees--think The New York Times' Select, AOL, even, perhaps, the Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch--ABC is moving in the opposite direction. It has not only decided to discontinue its individual subscriber service going forward, but also retroactively it has blocked access to its once-linkable archive.

ABC's announcement can be found here. So far, published objections in its comments sections have come from ex-patriates, who are unable to avail themselves of the option of continuing to get the service at second hand from ABC's corporate customers. Slavin recommends those partners: "Thank you for your support and we hope you continue to enjoy the great programming ABC News Now has to offer." Writes one expatriate: "I am truly furious at your lack of consideration for European subscribers." Another: "I am truly shocked and angry at the lack of consideration and seriousness towards the rest of the world."

In New York City, the Tyndall Report subscribes to one of these "partner services," Verizon's News Center. We logged in to its ABC World News channel looking for the content from Friday that would, until then, have been available under ABC's subscriber service. Not even close. Its content had not been updated since November 16th. As soon as we work out a way to collect the links for subscriber-only stories from World News, we will post them in our daily Picks and Rundown grids so "partner services" subscribers will be able to go straight to those videostreams.

As television news negotiates the minefield of switching its content from broadcasting as newscasts to a multi-platform online world of streamable, addressable video, ABC World News has made two retrograde steps. It has placed control of half of its nightly content in the hands of third party portals instead of its own viewers. And it has treated half of its own archive as unsearchable and valueless by destroying links to past content--cutting off its own, potentially valuable, long tail.

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: an Amtrak passenger train collided with a freight train in Chicago, injuring 30…street rallies continue in the run-up to Venezuela's referendum to amend its constitution…videotape has surfaced of hostages in captivity alive and well, three CIA contractors and a politician held by narcoguerrillas in Colombia…police have arrested four suspects in the shooting death of NFL player Sean Taylor…Roger Smith, the General Motors executive made famous by Michael Moore's Roger & Me documentary dies, aged 82.