For the second time this winter, a springlike storm in the southeast was Story of the Day. In early February tornadoes plowed through central Florida. Now, on the first day of March, Alabama was hard hit. A super-cell twister wiped out Enterprise High School while its students were still inside. All three networks led with the storm, but it happened so late in the day that none had its own correspondents on the spot.    
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video thumbnailABC
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Tornado seasonSuper cell twister wipes out Alabama high schoolDean ReynoldsChicago
video thumbnailNBCTornado seasonSuper cell twister wipes out Alabama high schoolKerry SandersGeorgia
video thumbnailCBSMilitary combat casualties suffer disabilitiesDC's Walter Reed hospital general replacedDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailNBCMilitary combat casualties suffer disabilitiesDC's Walter Reed hospital general replacedJim MiklaszewskiPentagon
video thumbnailNBC2008 John McCain campaign announcedLaunches candidacy amid conservative suspicionDavid GregoryNew York
video thumbnailCBSNYSE-NASDAQ closing pricesWhipsaw day of trading opens with panic plungeAnthony MasonNew York
video thumbnailCBSFederal porkbarrel spending special projectsTrivial boondoggles added at Homeland SecurityArmen KeteyianWashington DC
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Hurricane Katrina aftermath along Gulf CoastNew Orleans courts wiped out, jails cloggedSteve OsunsamiNew Orleans
video thumbnailABCTeenage addiction to alcohol-narcotics hard to kickSpecial Minnesota high schools teach sobrietyBarbara PintoMinnesota
video thumbnailCBSBluegrass fiddles made by whittling in OzarksNinetysomething woman still in productionSharyn AlfonsiArkansas
SPRING STRIKES EARLY For the second time this winter, a springlike storm in the southeast was Story of the Day. In early February tornadoes plowed through central Florida. Now, on the first day of March, Alabama was hard hit. A super-cell twister wiped out Enterprise High School while its students were still inside. All three networks led with the storm, but it happened so late in the day that none had its own correspondents on the spot.

NBC obtained a stand-up from Bryan Henry (at the tail of the Sanders videostream) of WSFA-TV, its local affiliate based in Montgomery: "The football stadium does not exist any more," he showed us. ABC's Charles Gibson (no link) got on the telephone with Coffee County's emergency manager Larry Walker. "I am curious why the kids were not sent home." "The building is fairly secure and stable as opposed to having hundreds of children in buses out on the roads."

Otherwise storm footage was narrated from a distance. "The school's walls toppled. Its roof flew off," CBS' Mark Strassmann voiced over from Atlanta. Students "huddled together in interior hallways while their school and surrounding neighborhood were pulverized," ABC's Dean Reynolds (subscription required) told us from Chicago. "The warnings were heeded. The sirens were sounded--and people were killed anyway." From Lagrange Ga, NBC's Kerry Sanders added that "victims, still alive, could be trapped in the rubble." The known death toll in Enterprise was eight and another five died at a trailer park elsewhere in the state.

Both CBS and NBC got input from in-house meteorologists. Bill Karins (at the tail of the Sanders videostream) of NBC Weather Plus warned of more storm damage in the south, snows in the north and floods in the east. CBS' Bryan Norcross (no link) called the storm unusually early: "We expect to see super-cell thunderstorms in April and May." CBS' Katie Couric asked whether global warming had exacerbated conditions: "No, I do not think so. This is just part of this extreme situation we have had this winter. Very warm, very cold and so this extreme weather continues."

SHOE DROPS Only one other story was covered by all three networks. It was the follow-up to last week's scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. A Washington Post expose had revealed the squalid out-patient quarters housing disabled combat casualties and "the bureaucratic nightmare at Walter Reed for wounded warriors trying to get care," as ABC's David Kerley put it. Patients "have been told not to speak to reporters until they get the OK from superiors."

Now the hospital's commanding officer, Gen George Weightman, has been fired after only six months on the job. He will be replaced, for the time being, by Kevin Kiley, Surgeon General of the Army. CBS' David Martin observed that Kiley, the former commander of Walter Reed, had said that "he does not believe conditions in the building to be substandard." Unnamed sources at the Pentagon told NBC's Jim Miklaszewski that Kiley's appointment "upset" Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "Kiley could also get the ax."

SEARCHING FOR SOULS Republican Presidential contender John McCain did not exactly announce his candidacy to CBS' David Letterman on his Late Show. He announced that he would make an announcement. So ABC was correct in deciding not to grant the senator full coverage and only mention his declaration in passing. NBC's David Gregory called this "a time of soul searching" for the GOP's conservative base. "It is yet to pick a favorite." Partisans have published a pamphlet entitled He's No Ronald Reagan slamming McCain's positions on abortion, guns, immigration, global warming, stem cells, gays, judges, torture, taxes and campaign finance.

CBS' Bob Schieffer weighed up the pros and cons of McCain and his leading rival for the nomination Rudolph Giuliani, who is "running under the radar…not holding many news conferences, not on national television very much." Schieffer speculated that the early negative start of the campaign may result in disaffection with the frontrunners and an opening for a later entry by Newt Gingrich--and Al Gore on the Democratic side.

NO-PHOTO OP President George Bush traveled to Biloxi and New Orleans to inspect the slow progress of recovery from Hurricane Katrina--but failed to persuade any network to assign a reporter to cover the trip. CBS did not even mention it in passing. Instead Armen Keteyian publicized the lampooning of Homeland Security's porkbarrel by a bipartisan pair of Congressmen, Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). The list "puts the boon in boondoggle," Keteyian played along: bulletproof vests for dogs, clown and puppet safety shows, mushroom festival trailers and lawn mower drag races

Usually NBC takes the lead on the New Orleans beat. In 2006, for example, NBC outcovered its rivals on the Katrina aftermath (190 min v ABC 102, CBS 75). So it was unusual that ABC's Steve Osunsami (subscription required) filed the day's lone New Orleans feature. It was on the criminal state of the city's jails. Inmates have been held without trial for up to 18 months without access to lawyers, judge or jury. Arrest records have been washed away. Evidence is lost, The courts are not even accepting guilty pleas.

SETTLING DOWN A couple of loose ends were tied from big stories earlier this week. ABC's Brian Ross reminded us that on Monday Vice President Dick Cheney had put pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to get tough on Taliban guerrillas training in Pakistan. On that very day, Ross (no link) now revealed, Pakistani authorities were in the process of arresting Mullah Obaidullah in the northwestern city of Quetta. Obaidullah is the reputed third in command to Taliban leader Mullah Omar and "very close" to Osama bin Laden himself. "He may well know the locations of both of those very much wanted men," Ross speculated. "The arrangements they may have thought they had with Pakistan are off and there are major operations under way as we speak."

And CBS was the only network to follow-up on the third day of fluctuations on Wall Street. The upshot of the day's trading left prices modestly lower, Anthony Mason admitted, but they closed that way after "a whipsaw day" opened with "a panicked plunge."

ADOLESCENT ANXIETY Parental anxiety about teenage recklessness is a recurring theme on the nightly news. On Tuesday, for example, teenage promiscuity was the worry cited by NBC's Nancy Snyderman: could it lead to cervical cancer? Yesterday, ABC's Lisa Stark told us about the dangers of teenage drivers. Next ABC turned to teenage boozers and dopers. Minnesota has set up a chain of eight teetotal magnet schools dubbed Sobriety HS for former teenage addicts who are now on the wagon. Going back to a mainstream school "is like going back to a bar, going back to your dealer," the principal explained to Barbara Pinto.

NBC's Kevin Tibbles told us about the same plan by American Family Insurance that ABC's Stark covered yesterday: the offer of free rearview mirror drivecams to monitor dangerous moves by teenage drivers and then to download the near-miss video to their parents' computers. Traffic accidents are the leading single cause of teenage deaths, killing 5,700 annually nationwide. Yet, Tibbles pointed out, the drivecams are being offered in just three states.

So that is plenty of positive national public relations enjoyed by the insurance firm for a local effort. Near-miss accident video certainly helps create buzz.

RECYCLED At the other end of the age spectrum, CBS offered a return profile of the Whittlin' Fiddler 34 years after she was first visited by Charles Kuralt. Back then the barefooted Violet Hensley was a sprightly 56. Now the 90-year-old has just completed her 73th handmade violin. Sharyn Alfonsi traveled to the Ozarks to see her clog dance, see her sing, see her play her fiddle on top of her head. "What do you do in your free time?" "Talk." "Well you are just good at that too aren't you?"

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: as mentioned, President Bush toured Katrina damage in the Gulf Coast…an Australian inmate at Guantanamo Bay will be prosecuted at a military tribunal for terrorist conspiracy…liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger died, aged 89…the aircraft carrier USS John F Kennedy will be decommissioned.