For the second straight day the firing of those eight federal prosecutors was Story of the Day. The networks finally paid attention to George Bush on his Latin American tour--sort of. They paid no mind to the fact the President was in Mexico. Instead they covered his acknowledgement in a press conference there that his Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was right to concede error. CBS and ABC led with the US Attorneys story. NBC, oddly, chose the dangers of sleeping pills instead.     
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video thumbnailCBSJustice Department fires eight US AttorneysPresident Bush concedes Atty Gnl's mistakesJim AxelrodWhite House
video thumbnailABCJustice Department fires eight US AttorneysSan Diego prosecutor dismissal may be improperPierre ThomasWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSJustice Department fires eight US AttorneysSeattle prosecutor alleges partisan retaliationSandra HughesLos Angeles
video thumbnailABC
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Iraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesSenate begins debate on troop pullout next yearJake TapperCapitol Hill
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesSunni tribes in al-Anbar turn against jihadistsAllen PizzeyBaghdad
video thumbnailNBCPrescription drug sleeping pills safety warningsFDA label on dangers of extreme sleepwalkingTom CostelloWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSColon cancer coverageScreening is key to diagnosis, early treatmentKatie CouricNew York
video thumbnailNBCLight bulb energy conservation ends incandescentsUrge light switch to conserve energyRoger O'NeilNew Jersey
video thumbnailNBCBiotechnology basic DNA research goes to seaMarine biologists study microorganism proteinsBob FawMaryland
video thumbnailABC
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Mathematicians celebrate pi on March 14th: 3.14Memorizers recite infinite irrational sequenceBill BlakemoreNew York
MORE ATTENTION ON ATTORNEYS For the second straight day the firing of those eight federal prosecutors was Story of the Day. The networks finally paid attention to George Bush on his Latin American tour--sort of. They paid no mind to the fact the President was in Mexico. Instead they covered his acknowledgement in a press conference there that his Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was right to concede error. CBS and ABC led with the US Attorneys story. NBC, oddly, chose the dangers of sleeping pills instead.

When the President announced that he had sent his Attorney General to Capitol Hill to set matters straight, it was clear that a political showdown is looming. At the Justice Department, NBC's Pete Williams observed that the President was "obviously irritated." From the White House, CBS' Jim Axelrod surveyed Gonzales' morning with a four-way split screen, receiving a "rough reception" on CNN, Good Morning America, Today and The Early Show. "It will only get rougher when he heads to the Hill." ABC turned to This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos (no link). He related that GOPer Sen John Sununu told him that there was a "widespread" feeling among his Republican colleagues that Gonzales is "neither credible nor competent."

CBS and ABC fleshed out the political controversy with a couple of the specific cases. ABC's Pierre Thomas looked at prosecutor Carol Lam of San Diego: she won the bribery conviction of one local Republican congressman, Randy Cunningham and was revealed by The Los Angeles Times to be investigating a second. The day the Times story broke, the Justice Department e-mailed the White House that they had a "real problem" with Lam. She was let go, without cause as is the President's prerogative, seven months later. CBS' Sandra Hughes profiled fired Seattle prosecutor John McKay. McKay claimed he was targeted by the Republican White House and the Justice Department because he refused to investigate alleged voting fraud when the Democrats won the 2004 Washington Governor's race by a whisker thin margin.

NBC DOWNPLAYS ITS VINDICATION For the third day this week, the War in Iraq was on the back burner. NBC, the network that attracted such fanfare by its decision to characterize the fighting there as a civil war, had substitute anchor Campbell Brown mention its vindication only in passing: now the Pentagon, in its official quarterly report, concurs that the "civil war" phrase is apt. Neither of NBC's rivals assigned a reporter to that Pentagon finding either. ABC did not even mention it.

Only ABC had its Capitol Hill correspondent cover the Senate debate over the Democrats' troops out plan--although CBS did air a couple of soundbites. Jake Tapper (subscription required) was bemused at why he was assigned to the story since the Democrats do not have the votes to prevail: "Is all this not just an exercise in futility?" He replied with the Democrats' rationale: "They are trying to rally the American people to pressure the President to end the war."

Only CBS filed from Iraq itself: Allen Pizzey examined the shift in alliances in al-Anbar Province in the Sunni heartland. Local Iraqi tribal chiefs have switched sides and are now being armed by US occupation forces in order to fight infiltrating foreign jihadist supporters of al-Qaeda. Pizzey inquired of Gen David Petraeus, the commander of occupation forces, whether the al-Anbar tribes might not turn those same weapons on US forces once they had disposed of the jihadist threat. Petraeus conceded "there is inherent risk."

CLANCY CALLING Maybe one reason why Pentagon correspondents did not cover that Iraq Civil War report was because the building was buzzing with the overnight false alarm that the nuclear submarine USS San Juan had sunk with 134 on board. The families of the crew were awakened with the erroneous alert that their loved ones were dead. ABC appropriately only mentioned it in passing--anchor Charles Gibson said "it could have been the plot of a Tom Clancy thriller"--but NBC and CBS assigned reporters to relate what had not happened. CBS anchor Katie Couric introduced David Martin's report as, you guessed it, something "that sounds like a chapter out of a Tom Clancy novel." The submarine's failure to check in "could be something as simple as a typo in a message," Martin mused. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski explained the deep sea maneuvers the San Juan was performing when the USNavy could not trace it for eight hours: "For the exercise the submerged sub was in full evasive mode." Looks like the San Juan succeeded.

A more interesting deep sea story was filed for NBC by Bob Faw. The oceans are swarming with invisible microorganisms built from undiscovered proteins, genes, enzymes and viruses. Faw used a clip from a Jules Verne movie to describe a two-year 32,000 mile collection voyage by a biotech sailboat. Researchers scooped up this primordial ooze to deconstruct its DNA in a Maryland laboratory.

LAND OF NOD Last Friday (text link), when the FDA publicized risks associated with Procrit and similar medicines, we argued that the network newscasts have an obligation to go out of their way to report on potential problems with the prescription drugs that are heavily advertised during their timeslot. Back then ABC and NBC did the right thing, CBS only mentioned the warnings in passing. Now the FDA has turned to Ambien, Lunesta and eleven other sleeping pills. Again, CBS failed to assign a reporter to the warnings. But NBC went overboard in the other direction. Surely, the risks of extreme sleepwalking do not warrant lead status!

NBC's Tom Costello sat behind the wheel of his car to alert a few of the patients who take these pills that "sleep driving, cooking while asleep, even making phone calls while asleep" may occur. Costello quoted Ambien as arguing that the side effect is rare, found in fewer than one patient in 1,000--which seems reassuring until the volume of prescriptions is factored in, 42m annually. ABC's Lisa Stark passed on the drugmakers' instructions: pill poppers should "stick to the recommended dose and avoid alcohol."

IS COURIC’S MATH CORRECT? The widowed Couric has plenty of personal motivation to continue the public health activism she began on NBC's Today to try to prevent colon cancer deaths. Now at CBS, she persisted with her Conquering Colon Cancer series urging every fiftysomething to undergo colonoscopy screening.

Couric cited Centers for Disease Control statistics that 154,000 patients are diagnosed with colon cancer each year. She said that early diagnosis costs $30,000 per patient but late diagnosis costs $120,000. Early diagnosis is achieved via colonoscopy, which costs $1,200 per screening.

Couric claimed that colonoscopies not only save lives but they save money too. According to our calculations, in order for Couric's "money saving" claim to be true, every $90,000 in colonoscopy screening (75 patients) would have to render one early diagnosis. But at a one-in-75 incidence, the 154,000 each year who contract the disease would be found in a population no larger than 11.5m.

Did Couric's zeal lead to her overstate her case? Surely Couric's activism for universal screening is targeted at many more than 11.5m potential colonoscopies? At $1,200 per colon how can these procedures possibly save money? If there are any public health epidemiologists reading this, could you please check Couric's math?

HOW MANY REPORTERS DOES IT TAKE? When a coalition of energy utilities, environmental activists and a consumer electronics giant--"talk about strange bedfellows," joked ABC's David Kerley--announced a campaign for households to switch their lighting from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents to improve electricity efficiency, the response from ABC and NBC was delicious.

Why? Because the consumer electronics giant is Philips, manufacturer of compact fluorescents. Its chief rival is General Electric, incandescent bulb maker--and owner of NBC. ABC's Kerley characterized Philips as "the world's largest bulb maker" without allowing GE's name to pass his lips.

Did the report by NBC's Roger O'Neil represent special pleading for his corporate bosses? He suggested that not just compact fluorescents, but also halogens and LEDs, can replace the incandescent. He too cited the electricity cost savings--$55 for the life of a bulb--but he also offered the less flattering purchase side of the equation--four incandescent bulbs sell for 96c while a single fluorescent costs $5.97 (on CBS, Daniel Sieberg found fluorescents for only $2.52 each). O'Neil quoted the incandescent lover's complaint that the fluorescent light "is just too harsh" next to the other's "warm, soft glow." General Electric, "the world's biggest bulb maker," in O'Neil's words, is not part of the coalition, since it supports "consumer choice."

HUMBLE PI ABC's closing feature was a labor of love for Bill Blakemore (subscription required). The day is March 14th, otherwise written as 3.14, the first three digits of the irrational number pi. Blakemore has a party trick to recite pi to 50 places but he conceded his skill is strictly "amateur night." Check out the English brain researcher who remembers the number by imagining Britney Spears in a bathtub with Albert Einstein and the two little girls in The Shining "cartwheeling towards Bruce Lee." YouTube has a special section devoted to pi memorizers. The current world champion in Japan recited the number to 100,000 places in sixteen hours.

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 include, as mentioned, the Pentagon's report that the fighting in Iraq includes a civil war and President Bush's diplomacy in Mexico…also two automotive stories: General Motors has stopped making losses and the federal government will increase automobile fuel efficiency standards…vaccines against the sexually-transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer may be no longer be compulsory in Texas.