The red and green of the seasonal decorations at the Von Maur department store in Omaha turned pure gore red in mid afternoon. The Story of the Day--and the lead item on all three newscasts--featured a suicidal young man who sprayed bullets at Christmas shoppers from a third floor balcony before turning the gun on himself. At the end of the carnage nine people were dead.    
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video thumbnailNBCOmaha department store shooting leaves nine deadRifleman kills shoppers then commits suicideJanet ShamlianChicago
video thumbnailABCOmaha department store shooting leaves nine deadShopping malls are ripe gun rampage targetsPierre ThomasWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSMilitary detains terrorist suspects in Cuban campSupreme Court case on habeas corpus suspensionWyatt AndrewsSupreme Court
video thumbnailCBSReal estate home mortgage foreclosures increasePrevention plan features five-year rate freezeAnthony MasonNew York
video thumbnailNBCAir safety: airport runway collision dangersGAO warns of lax FAA management, increased riskTom CostelloWashington DC
video thumbnailCBS2008 Presidential General Election field overviewTop ten candidates quizzed on their mistakesKatie CouricNo Dateline
video thumbnailABC2008 Mike Huckabee campaignRole as governor in rapist's parole scrutinizedBrian RossWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCIran nuclear weapons program investigatedPresident Bush urges end to uranium enrichmentDavid GregoryWhite House
video thumbnailNBCIran nuclear weapons program investigatedPresident Ahmadinejad claims vindication by NIEAli ArouziTeheran
video thumbnailABCChina's Three Gorges Dam on Yangtze RiverMassive hydroproject traps upstream pollutionTerry McCarthyChina
XMAS SHOPPING BLOODBATH The red and green of the seasonal decorations at the Von Maur department store in Omaha turned pure gore red in mid afternoon. The Story of the Day--and the lead item on all three newscasts--featured a suicidal young man who sprayed bullets at Christmas shoppers from a third floor balcony before turning the gun on himself. At the end of the carnage nine people were dead.

In the trade-off between covering such a local story with its own correspondents or with on-the-scene reporters, ABC prompted for the former, CBS the latter and NBC a mix. Both ABC and NBC kicked off with their own Chicago-based staffers. ABC's Chris Bury narrated a "chilling scene" with "holiday shoppers streaming out, hands up." NBC's Janet Shamlian relayed word that the killer was a 19-year-old man who "left a suicide note saying he was going out in style." Only ABC tried to put the shooting in a broader context. Pierre Thomas in Washington ran down a series of recent similar shopping shootings in Georgia, Texas and Kansas City: "Police have long worried that malls are the perfect target for the deranged or the terrorist."

For CBS, using Michelle Bandur of its KMTV affiliate represents something of a trend. Last Friday, CBS used WBZ-TV's Paul Burton for the hostage siege in New Hampshire; in October KFMB-TV's Phil Blauer reported for the network on the wildfires in San Diego. Bandur recounted the sense of crisis at the three-level Westroads Mall--"so many shots so fast that by the time police arrived, only six minutes after the call, it was too late." NBC anchor Brian Williams turned to Brian Mastre of affiliate WOWT only for color commentary (at the tail of the Shamlian videostream). Mastre told us that Westroads is an "upscale mall in the center of the city." Among the gunman's targets, he added, was a teddy bear.

GITMO HABEAS OR TEASER FREEZER? There were two other stories that warranted attention from reporters on all three newscasts. Each could have easily qualified as Story of the Day in the absence of gun violence. The first was the legal status of suspects detained as enemy combatants in the Global War on Terrorism at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. The Supreme Court heard arguments over the legality of denying them an appeal against their captivity. ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg (no link) pointed out that instead they get "a limited hearing, before military officers not judges; they do not have lawyers, or access to much evidence." CBS' Wyatt Andrews pointed out that both of the other branches of government have asserted that the courts have no jurisdiction: "So just by taking this case the Supreme Court is confronting, some would say defying, both President and Congress." And NBC's Pete Williams offered encouragement to the detainees: "The Bush Administration has lost here twice before on Guantanamo rights and after today's arguments appears likely to lose again."

The second was progress towards the financial plan floated last Friday (text link) to prevent wholesale foreclosure and eviction of homeowners. CNBC's real estate correspondent Diana Olick on NBC dubbed the scheme the Teaser Freezer since it would keep payments on adjustable subprime mortgages at the low starting rate, the so-called teaser, for five more years longer before resetting. CBS' Anthony Mason reckoned that the plan was so narrowly drawn that only about 12% of all subprime borrowers would qualify and Olick warned that intricate eligibility rules might produce "a bureaucratic nightmare." ABC's Betsy Stark worried that the effort may be insufficient "to avoid the kind of foreclosure crisis that economists"--including Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson--"have been worried will hurt the broader economy."

DUELING BUREAUCRATS The Government Accountability Office was the origin of one other inside-the-Beltway story. ABC's Lisa Stark (no link) and NBC's Tom Costello both covered its worries about the increasing risk of collisions on airport runways. Stark repeated GAO's warning of "a high risk of a catastrophic runway collision" while observing that the Federal Aviation Administration "has made some progress." Costello rehearsed the dueling statistics: GAO found 12% more incursions compared with last year; the FAA claimed 55% fewer since 2001. The GAO discovered fatigued air traffic controllers, dysfunctional ground radar and unsafe taxiways; FAA boasted of improved runway markings and stepped up training for pilots.

COURIC FINALLY FINDS HER VOICE It is now 15 months since Katie Couric took over as anchor of CBS Evening News. The success of the project to translate her renowned talents as morning anchor into the straitened format of a half-hour evening newscasts has been patchy to say the least. Couric's interviewing skills consist of a blend of forthrightness and empathy that have little chance to flourish in the rigid formality of a tightly edited newscast, a form that prizes concision over curiosity. So far Couric's ventures into human interest and feature reporting during her tenure as anchor have failed to find a formula to capitalize on those assets.

So I am pleased to report how successful I found the premiere of her ten-part series of Presidential candidate interviews. Each report in the Primary Questions series is designed to edit together the soundbites of the ten leading contenders, each answering the same Couric question. If the first example is representative--"What is the biggest mistake you have ever made? How did you recognize it? And what did you do to change course?"--the interview topics are closer to a Today style morning show than to Meet the Press' Sunday morning wonkishness.

Couric puts her imprint on the encounters by having the clout to persuade all ten to cooperate, having the moxie to ask for potentially embarrassing details, and having the empathy to pay respectful attention. What was impressive was, having laid down the rules of the game, how little she intruded thereafter. This feature was not all about her--she gave these politicians air to reveal themselves, not only in the way they spoke, but also in how they were edited, how one answer was intercut with the next.

Thus two candidates construed the question as touching on moral failings in their personal past…two selected policy errors they had made in their public positions…one confessed to ethical shortcomings while in office…one acknowledged a snafu in personnel management…two regretted failures in implementing programs…and two reflected on the temperamental misjudgments of youth. These different answers made Mitt Romney seem like John Edwards, Barack Obama like Fred Thompson, Hillary Rodham Clinton like Rudolph Giuliani. Check out the answers and see if you agree with these pairings.

The upshot was the sort of insight into contrasting personalities that viewers find in the best of reality gameshows. Hats off to Couric for getting these proud politicians to sit still for her experiment. The type of questions she chose makes her a legitimate heir to the pre-celebrity role of Barbara Walters, asking earnest good government questions yet treating political leaders as human beings not position papers. For the first time since she took over the CBS anchor chair, I found myself actively curious about what the next in the series would reveal.

LITTLE ROCK INTRIGUE The day's only other Campaign 2008 story was by ABC's Brian Ross for his Investigates feature. It concerned Wayne Dumond, a convicted rapist who was paroled by Arkansas only to rape again and murder in Missouri shortly after securing his freedom. What makes this gruesome tale a political issue is that a member of that Board of Parole, Prof Charles Chastain of the University of Arkansas, told Ross that "a rare personal appeal" by then Gov Michael Huckabee had been persuasive. Republican candidate Huckabee replied: "I did not pressure the board. Frankly it is ludicrous to think that I could." Ross explained why some in Arkansas find it credible that Huckabee was involved. The high school cheerleader Dumond was convicted of raping happened to be a distant cousin of Bill Clinton. "Many Republicans in Arkansas felt her attacker got unfair treatment--including Huckabee."

NOSE GROWS After Iran and its nuclear designs were Story of the Day Monday (text link) and Tuesday (text link), only NBC followed up, filing a pair of brief stand-ups from the White House and Iran. David Gregory put George Bush's policy defeat as politely as possible: he appears "to have been not backed by the reaction to this new intelligence." As a consequence the President is switching from talking about nuclear weapons to enriched uranium--which can be used both for electricity and for bombs: "That is the message that is also the thrust of the diplomacy now." Ali Arouzi relayed the mood in Teheran, where "in a fiery speech" President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the US National Intelligence Estimate "as a victory and a final shot to those who have spread lies." A state-sponsored newspaper is running a cartoon of Bush as Pinocchio.

MOUNTAINS AND WATER Yesterday we were unable to link to Terry McCarthy's feature for ABC on peasant poverty along the Yangtze River. Better luck today. Check out McCarthy's A Closer Look at "mountains and water--the classical images of Chinese art" in the Yangtze's spectacular Three Gorges. He walked over "the biggest hydroelectric project in the world" whose reservoir has displaced 1.5m people, inspecting its giant ship locks. The dam has so slowed down the Yangtze's current that pollutants are accumulating: "Phosphorus and nitrogen levels are ten times higher than a decade ago; sewage has doubled since 2000." Yet still a local uses the water to practice his backstroke.

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 pair of examples: the death toll from the floods in the Pacific Northwest has reached seven…the US military may need to send reinforcements to quell violence in Mosul in northern Iraq.