Another helicopter was shot down in Iraq, the fifth--four military, one civilian--in the last three weeks. All three networks led with the crash of the USMC Sea Knight outside Fallujah that killed all seven on board: CBS and ABC from Baghdad, NBC from the Pentagon. Curiously, CBS decided to label its report an Exclusive, without spelling out why.    
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Iraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesSpate of shootdowns of helicopters continuesMartha RaddatzBaghdad
video thumbnailNBCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesSpate of shootdowns of helicopters continuesJohn YangPentagon
video thumbnailNBCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesFirst Cavalry unit begins embedded urban patrolsRichard EngelBaghdad
video thumbnailCBSProstitution red light district thrives in DamascusFemale Iraqi war refugees forced into dishonorElizabeth PalmerDamascus
video thumbnailABCIraq: civilian contractors provide logistics supportHouse panel probes poor security by BlackwaterBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailCBSHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi seeks larger official jetRoomy 757 needed for transcontinental travelSharyl AttkissonCapitol Hill
video thumbnailCBSCIA undercover agent's name leaked: perjury trialTrial reveals VP Cheney's damage control effortsGloria BorgerWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCCIA undercover agent's name leaked: perjury trialNBC News' Russert testifies for prosecutionKelly O'DonnellWashington DC
video thumbnailABCNASA astronaut love triangle stalking arrestSpace agency to revamp psychological screeningMike von FremdHouston
SEA KNIGHT DOWN Another helicopter was shot down in Iraq, the fifth--four military, one civilian--in the last three weeks. All three networks led with the crash of the USMC Sea Knight outside Fallujah that killed all seven on board: CBS and ABC from Baghdad, NBC from the Pentagon. Curiously, CBS decided to label its report an Exclusive, without spelling out why.

The sole unique content that CBS' Lara Logan (no link) included was some video from the Website of the Islamic State of Iraq claiming responsibility for the shootdown (NBC's John Yang also reported the group's claim). The Website Logan showed, however, erroneously referred to the Sea Knight as a Chinook, a similar helicopter used by the army. Furthermore, the video purported to be of a previous shootdown at the weekend.

Both Logan and ABC's Martha Raddatz (subscription required) seemed appropriately rattled by the spate of helicopter crashes. "It is considered so dangerous to travel by road that troops and cargo move mostly by air. Last week we were flown on an eight minute chopper ride just to get from one part of Baghdad to another," Logan recounted. "For the past two days we have flown extensively throughout al-Anbar province in Marine Corp helicopters," added Raddatz. "The pilots were keenly aware of the increased threat all over Iraq."

NBC's Yang got this explanation from his unnamed Pentagon sources: both insurgent forces and Shiite militias are now using new shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles; they are manufactured in North Korea or China and are being shipped into Iraq via Iran; they are more accurate and have longer ranges. Accordingly, military helicopters "often fly at lower altitudes just above the treetops where it is harder for those missiles to lock in on them--that makes them more vulnerable to smaller weapons."

UPDATE: Lara Logan's colleague Allen Pizzey reported five months later that, according to US military authorities, the Islamic State of Iraq does not exist. ISI was a fabricated organization with a fictional leader named abu-Omar al-Baghdadi, played by an actor, created for propaganda purposes, existing only in cyberspace.

PLAYING HOOKAH NBC handled the helicopter story from the Pentagon to free up Richard Engel to cover the beginning of George Bush's vaunted new security operation in Baghdad. Engel covered the first night of a First Cavalry Division unit in their 24-hour-a-day base in a former wedding hall in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad. The GIs are in a joint patrol with Iraqi soldiers: the Americans sleep upstairs, the Iraqis on the ground floor. To build camaraderie the Americans go downstairs to show off tattoos and smoke hookah. "I do not trust them. I want them to trust me," a private explained, unrealistically.

MEAN STREETS CBS' Elizabeth Palmer continues her eye-opening reporting from Damascus. Last week, she told us about Syria's regional diplomacy and the anti-US, anti-Shiite satellite TV channel al-Zawraa that beams propaganda into Iraq. Next Palmer took us to Damascus' red light district, which attracts "a growing stream of men from all over the Middle East." Female war refugees from Iraq, some as young as 15, have to prostitute themselves because Syria denies them legal work. Palmer pointed out that "prostitution is a measure of their desperation" since, in the Arab World, "a woman's honor means everything." Many will commit suicide or be killed by their kinfolk when their trade is discovered. One anonymous sex worker calling herself Farah shrugged: "We are practically dead already."

MERCENARY The civilian underbelly of the US military effort in Iraq was the topic of more House hearings. Blackwater USA is one of the leading contracting firms that provide logistics and security. NBC filed an In Depth report into the poor protection it offered its own workers. The case in point at the hearings was the massacre, mutilation and hanging of four contact workers in Fallujah in March 2004. The firm is accused of sending the men out "without armored vehicles, without heavy machine guns, even without a map," Lisa Myers related.

Under this "sub-contracting of the war with very limited government oversight," ABC's Brian Ross added, these firms make a massive mark-up, billing the Pentagon double what they pay their workers. ABC's Charles Gibson suggested that the key question is whether Blackwater had improved its security since that 2004 incident. Not necessarily. The key question is whether this outsourcing is cheaper, safer, more efficient or more accountable than having the work done in uniform.

MINE IS BIGGER THAN YOURS Also on Capitol Hill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, from California, wants a bigger official plane than the small military jet her Illinois predecessor Dennis Hastert had. Arrogance of power? Boondoggle to grant favors to fat-cat donors? CBS' Sharyl Attkisson investigated and suggested an innocent explanation: only a 50-seat Boeing 757 can fly the Speaker home without having to stop to refuel. "Size does not really matter," Attkisson paraphrased. Still, before she gets her wings the Pentagon is quickly writing rules--"everything from size to who can go along for the ride."

INSIDE THE SPIN ZONE For the first time on the Evening News, CBS assigned a reporter to the Lewis Libby perjury trial. Gloria Borger gave us a recap of the convoluted case with its squabbling advisors, leaked secrets and faulty memories. She concluded that "it is not pretty…a full-blown damage-control operation apparently led by the Vice President himself." She characterized Dick Cheney, who was Libby's boss, as "rattled" and made "furious" by the original op-ed by former diplomat Joseph Wilson that started the spin cycle. The Vice President may "need to answer questions about himself and whether he directly controled a White House effort to discredit a political enemy."

NBC has offered more detailed coverage as the trial has proceeded and promised even more. Its own DC bureau chief Tim Russert, anchor of Meet the Press, was on the stand testifying for the prosecution. As soon as his cross-examination is over, Brian Williams promised, Russert will give us an insider's look. In the meantime Kelly O'Donnell was assigned to report on what her boss said in open court. She gave us the background--"prosecutors say Libby deliberately lied and used Tim Russert as an alibi"--and then gave Russert's version of his telephone call with Libby: "He treated the call as more of a complaint," about MSNBC's Hardball "and not as a conversation with a high-level government source."

SCREENING FOR STALKERS A single day of coverage of the astronaut love triangle case was really enough. All three networks filed a follow-up but there were no juicy details to warrant it. Instead we heard a boring bureaucratic press conference about how NASA management is going to revamp is psychological screening. ABC's Mike von Fremd stated the obvious: "The incident has embarrassed the top levels of NASA," quoting this administrator's sorry soundbite: "In terms of NASA being the butt of jokes…I think that is very unfortunate." CBS' Sharyn Alfonsi resorted to no-gravity spacewalking video to quip: NASA is wrestling with "weighty issues." NBC's in-house analyst Jim Oberg told Tom Costello why astronauts would hardly tell management they had turned from having the Right Stuff into jealous, sex-obsessed, stalkers: "It could end your entire career."

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: prosecutors filed charges against a trio of reservist officers in a $1m kickback scheme to assign contracts in Iraq…President Bush unveiled a plan to improve maintenance and make renovations across the National Parks system…US military deaths in Iraq over the past four months have increased to unprecedented levels...the FDA approves Xenical as an over-the-counter diet pill, brand name Alli.

UPDATE: A reader points out that the CBS rundown contains not a single male correspondent: female anchor, female reporters.