Lawyers in suits and ties confronting martial law on the streets of Islamabad provided the riveting visuals that led all three network newscasts. The State of Emergency in Pakistan was Story of the Day as President Pervez Musharraf suspended constitutional rights, imprisoned political opponents, closed down television stations and dismissed the independent judiciary. All three networks had correspondents on the scene. Even though NBC--courtesy of its single sponsor Toyota--had a bigger newshole than its rivals (22 min v ABC 18, CBS 19), CBS (8 min v ABC 5, NBC 4) decided to devote most time to the Pakistani crisis.    
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video thumbnailABCPakistan politics: state of emergency declaredLawyers protest President Musharraf martial lawMartha RaddatzPakistan
video thumbnailNBCPakistan politics: state of emergency declaredLawyers protest President Musharraf martial lawRichard EngelPakistan
video thumbnailCBSPakistan politics: state of emergency declaredInstability increases global security worriesBob OrrWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSOil, natural gas, gasoline pricesCrude nears $100/barrel, hikes motorists' costsAnthony MasonNew York
video thumbnailNBCWindmill farms generate electricitySubsidies help Denmark, Texas take leading roleDawna FriesenDenmark
video thumbnailNBCAntarctica polar ecology research at McMurdo StationOzone, marine studies include female scientistsAnn CurryAntarctica
video thumbnailABC2008 Fred Thompson campaignFundraiser resigns, had narcotics, tax problemsBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailNBCSleep disorders, deprivation and insomniaLack of sleep can make children put on weightNancy SnydermanNew York
video thumbnailABC
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TV talkshow host Oprah Winfrey founds African schoolAdmits failure to prevent abuse of studentsDavid MuirJohannesburg
video thumbnailCBSHollywood screenwriters' union declares strikeOnline fee dispute halts late night TV comedyBill WhitakerHollywood
EMERGENCY IN ISLAMABAD Lawyers in suits and ties confronting martial law on the streets of Islamabad provided the riveting visuals that led all three network newscasts. The State of Emergency in Pakistan was Story of the Day as President Pervez Musharraf suspended constitutional rights, imprisoned political opponents, closed down television stations and dismissed the independent judiciary. All three networks had correspondents on the scene. Even though NBC--courtesy of its single sponsor Toyota--had a bigger newshole than its rivals (22 min v ABC 18, CBS 19), CBS (8 min v ABC 5, NBC 4) decided to devote most time to the Pakistani crisis.

NBC's Richard Engel reported that "Musharraf says the crackdown is necessary to fight Islamic militants" and then proceeded to quote the contradictory complaints of the dictator's critics that "he is targeting moderates and liberals." CBS' Sheila MacVicar, too, saw the State of Emergency as a measure against democrats not against radicals. She quoted Musharraf's spokesman as suggesting that "key elections scheduled for January might be postponed for a year." After protests from the diplomatic corps in Islamabad, MacVicar reported that the postponement had been scrapped. "There will be elections on time." So there is hope, mused Engel, that the crackdown "while harsh, could be short."

CBS' MacVicar reported that when rumors spread through Islamabad that Musharraf himself has suffered a coup "ordinary people came up to us genuinely excited, a measure of just how deeply unpopular he is." ABC's Jim Sciutto (at the tail of the Martha Raddatz videostream) called him a "deeply unpopular president," pointing out that $10bn in aid from the United States over the past six years is condemned for "pumping up" his military regime. ABC's Martha Raddatz commented that "Musharraf's biggest threat may come from his own army generals."

ABC's Sciutto examined Musharraf's spin on the crisis--that he was cracking down in the face of radical Islamist opposition. Yes, Sciutto found a guerrilla stronghold in the Swat Valley just 90 miles from Islamabad; he recalled this summer's siege of Islamists in the Red Mosque in the capital; and then there was the slaughter of supporters of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto upon her return to Karachi last month. But then Sciutto consulted the worries of his unnamed "US official" sources and concluded that the State of Emergency was not a consequence of al-Qaeda's strength--but might be its cause instead: "The government is no longer focusing on battling Islamic militants, making the country an even safer haven for terrorists." From Washington, CBS' Bob Orr came to the same conclusion: "al-Qaeda is a reinvigorated enemy that is poised to take advantage of the turmoil."

NBC's State Department correspondent Andrea Mitchell concluded that George Bush's administration "really is stuck." It has "so little leverage because for years it has compromised democratic principles in exchange for having what they hoped would be a critical ally. Now they have neither--not democracy nor an ally." All this in a country with "some 30 nuclear weapons."

SUMMER IS NOT OVER The weekly energy statistics calculated the average cost at the pump of a gallon of gasoline and both ABC and CBS assigned a reporter to cover its rebound to more than $3 for the first time since midsummer, a 25c hike in three weeks. "Normally after the summer driving season prices drop," ABC's David Kerley (subscription required) complained. Instead motorists face "a steady climb" to $4, if the Automobile Association of America's warnings are realized. CBS' Anthony Mason toured the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange and concluded that with the cost of a barrel of crude oil nearing $100, the spike at the pump was not sudden at all: "Gas prices are finally playing catch up with soaring crude."

UNIVERSAL CROSS-PROMOTION NBC used its extra time from its limited commercials to file a couple of Our Planet features, part of NBC/Universal's weeklong Green Is Universal initiative. In keeping with corporate synergy, Dawna Friesen publicized the energy supply that "emits no pollution or carbon dioxide." She went to Samso Island in Denmark, part of the world's largest windmill farm, and to windswept southwestern ranchland where windmills "have altered the landscape" and now generate enough electricity for a million homes. In Texas, "companies like General Electric, the parent of NBC/Universal, have been monitoring the performance of their turbines." Friesen offered an indirect plea for taxpayer subsidies for her employer by pointing out that both sets of farms relied on government grants and incentives to get started. And the temptation of cliche was too great to resist for her signoff: "Ask them where the future lies, and in west Texas and Denmark, they will tell you the answer is Blowin' in the Wind."

The other Our Planet feature was a tie in with the efforts of NBC's Today to go to all corners of the globe. Morning newscaster Ann Curry introduced her report with a live stand-up from the wind chill of McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The green tie-in was only a passing reference to possible icemelt. Most of Curry's report was on the "increasingly woman's world" of polar research--a hyped claim, it turned out, since the station's team is about two-thirds male. Nevertheless Curry found Jennifer Mercer sending balloons aloft to study the ozone layer and marine biologist Amy Moran in scuba gear diving through a hole in the ice. Yes, she jumped right in.

PRIVATE JET SET In campaign news, ABC patted itself on the back--along with the Washington Post--for their expose of a major fundraiser for Republican Fred Thompson, who has since resigned from the campaign. Brian Ross claimed in his Investigates feature that the two organizations discovered that Philip Martin was "a convicted drug trafficker" who had "a long train of unpaid taxes in his business dealings." ABC uncovered almost $1m in current arrears in Hamilton County in Thompson's home state of Tennessee. The drug case was long forgotten, a conspiracy conviction in 1983. Martin had been chairman of the First Day Founders group that raised $6m to kick-start Thompson's campaign and made his private jet, a Cessna Citation, available for Thompson's cross-country travels. Ross saw a parallel in the Thompson-Martin liaison with Hillary Rodham Clinton's ties to fundraiser and fugitive felon Norman Hsu. He quoted longtime good-government campaigner Fred Wertheimer of Democracy21: "When you are desperate for bundlers to raise large amounts of money, the vetting system disappears and you wind up with people who should not be involved." Last night, Ross concluded, Thompson "flew commercial."

THE SANDMAN COMETH The task of persuading eight-year-old children to get a full night's sleep was reinforced by reports on NBC and CBS. Both publicized a study in the journal Pediatrics that found increased odds of unhealthy weight gain three years later for third-graders who skimped on the recommended nine-and-a-half hours of nightly shuteye. CBS' Sandra Hughes offered the statistics: 22% of those with too little sleep would grow up fat compared with 13% of those with more than enough. NBC's in-house physician Nancy Snyderman offered the explanation--hormones. "The hormones that are released while our children sleep are disrupted. That alters not only their metabolism, but also their appetites and the foods they crave. And it does not take long for the combination of poor sleep, altered metabolism, weight gain and couch potato lifestyle to all fall into place."

INSIDE JOB Oprah Winfrey found herself "in an unusual position--on stage, alone, answering not asking questions," observed CBS' Dean Reynolds. All three networks assigned a reporter to cover her press conference about the alleged abuse of boarding school students at the Leadership Academy for Girls she founded in South Africa. "Devastating," she called it. ABC sent David Muir (subscription required) to Soweto for A Closer Look as a dormitory matron pled not guilty to charges of assault and sexual abuse. The daytime television talkshow host, who had "spoken of the sexual abuse she endured as a child" had taken "great strides to protect the children from outsiders," Muir pointed out. That insulation was so strict, CBS' Reynolds noted, that parents complained that their daughters "were being treated like virtual prisoners, permitted little or no means to communicate beyond its walls." The upshot was that complaints of abuse against an employee went unheard. NBC's Ron Allen repeated Winfrey's own reminder: most abused children "are victims of people they know and trust."

LATE NIGHT GOES UNFUNNY A second show business story was also covered by reporters on all three newscasts. This one was closer to home since the dispute involved their own employers. The networks and studios are facing a screenwriters' strike over what happens when dramas they write for television or movie theaters are distributed as DVDs, podcasts, downloads and videostreams. "Right now they get nothing. They want 2.5% of the profits," reported CBS' Bill Whitaker. The coverage did not concentrate on the power struggle inside the entertainment-industrial complex. Instead it focused simply on how the strike will change the TV we watch. "Late night TV viewers will be the first to notice any change," NBC's Peter Alexander told us. Their comedy monologues depend on topical references so no scripts can be prepared in advance. "The soap operas could feel writers' block within a few weeks," Alexander punned. Primetime television will be next and finally theatrical movies. "You will see more reality shows," promised ABC's Brian Rooney (subscription required). "For the writers to really hurt the industry they have to be out for months."

Late night comedian Jay Leno, host of NBC's Tonight, made a showing on all three newscasts. CBS' Whitaker showed him distributing doughnuts in solidarity. "They are not giving me anything. I mean I am a dead man," he complained to ABC's Rooney about his lack of scripted jokes. "See how unfunny I am now? Exactly! I am not saying anything humorous because they are all on strike," was the soundbite NBC's Alexander used.

Perhaps it was the blackout of competition from Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel et al that inspired CBS anchor Katie Couric to end her newscast with this King Tutankhamun punchline.

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: Citigroup, the financial conglomerate, fired its boss Charles Prince after losing $11bn…the Space Shuttle Discovery is preparing to return to Earth from the International Space Station…the USAF fleet of aging F-15 fighter jets has been grounded for a safety check…President George Bush awarded the Medal of Freedom to eight honorees at the White House…delays in the domestic airline system improved in September after a recordsetting summer of disruption.