CONTAINING LINKS TO 51991 STORIES FROM THE NETWORKS' NIGHTLY NEWSCASTS
     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM APRIL 11, 2007
By the strangest of coincidences, the spotlight shifted from Rutgers University's women's basketball team to Duke University men's lacrosse team. The former are not whores; the latter are not rapists. The Attorney General of North Carolina organized a press conference for the official announcement of the exoneration of a trio of Duke athletes who had been falsely accused of rape. Both ABC and CBS led with the ceremony but CBS went the whole hog. Katie Couric anchored the newscast from North Carolina and turned the case into the Story of the Day by backing up her news item with a three-part feature series and her in-depth interview with the parents of one of the athletes.    
     TYNDALL PICKS FOR APRIL 11, 2007: CLICK ON GRID ELEMENTS TO SEARCH FOR MATCHING ITEMS
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video thumbnailNBCCollege sports: Duke lacrosse team rape case endsAttorney General of NC formally drops chargesMartin SavidgeNorth Carolina
video thumbnailABCCollege sports: Duke lacrosse team rape case endsAttorney General of NC formally drops chargesJim AvilaNorth Carolina
video thumbnailCBSCollege sports: Duke lacrosse team rape case endsDurham DA Michael Nifong accused of misconductBob OrrNorth Carolina
video thumbnailCBSCollege sports: Duke lacrosse team rape case endsReputation of exonerated trio remains scarredByron PittsNorth Carolina
video thumbnailCBSCollege sports: Duke lacrosse team rape case endsUniversity's reputation unchanged by scrutinyKelly WallaceNorth Carolina
video thumbnailABC
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Radio morning show host Don Imus under fireRadio show loses sponsors, MSNBC axes simulcastDan HarrisNew York
video thumbnailNBCUSArmy is almost fully deployed, needs extra forcesSecy Gates lengthens combat tours to 15 monthsJim MiklaszewskiPentagon
video thumbnailABCMilitary combat casualties suffer disabilitiesMaimed sergeant was forced to serve by stop-lossBob WoodruffOregon
video thumbnailNBCKorean War rememberedRemains of six GIs killed in action returnedAndrea MitchellSouth Korea
video thumbnailNBC2008 Fred Thompson mulls candidacyFormer Senator has non-life-threatening lymphomaKelly O'DonnellWashington DC
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
DUKE’S TURN NEXT By the strangest of coincidences, the spotlight shifted from Rutgers University's women's basketball team to Duke University men's lacrosse team. The former are not whores; the latter are not rapists. The Attorney General of North Carolina organized a press conference for the official announcement of the exoneration of a trio of Duke athletes who had been falsely accused of rape. Both ABC and CBS led with the ceremony but CBS went the whole hog. Katie Couric anchored the newscast from North Carolina and turned the case into the Story of the Day by backing up her news item with a three-part feature series and her in-depth interview with the parents of one of the athletes.

There was little breaking news to provide the hook for CBS' Decision at Duke marathon. The rape charges themselves had already been dropped last December. This announcement merely made it official that the entire case was closed. All three networks reported the facts of Attorney General Roy Cooper's press conference. He called the formerly accused "victims of a tragic rush to judgment," according to CBS' Couric. Cooper went out of his way to assert that the three athletes were "not just legally not guilty," as ABC's Jim Avila put it, but "labeled, in no uncertain terms, innocent." He also went out of his way to repudiate Michael Nifong, the District Attorney in Durham, for his tactics in bringing the prosecution. The three young men learned how "innocent people can be prosecuted," as NBC's Martin Savidge put it.

Would the three athletes--David Evans, aged 24, Collin Finnerty, aged 20, Reade Seligmann, aged 21--survive the stigma of having been accused rapists, even if wrongfully? ABC's David Muir (subscription required) pointed out that Evans, a graduate, lost a job on Wall Street; Finnerty and Seligmann, both undergraduates, have not returned to the university. "Moving on, scarfree, will be almost impossible given all the media attention when the case broke," mused Muir, even though that attention included Evans' categorical insistence on his innocence: "You have all been told some fantastic lies." CBS' Couric said they had been "presumed guilty"--but she did not say by whom--and found it "stunning" when the current Duke lacrosse team demonstrated in support of the trio.

The upshot of the year-long saga may well be Nifong's ruin, "branded a rogue prosecutor," according to NBC's Savidge: he rigged a photo-ID lineup; he withheld DNA evidence from defense lawyers; he publicly branded the team as "a bunch of hooligans." CBS' Bob Orr pointed out that at the time when Nifong, a white man, "openly proclaimed the players' guilt" and "played up the racial overtones of the case" he was running for reelection in a "heavily black district." Nifong is being investigated by the state bar and could lose his license to practice law. ABC's Avila quoted Nifong's lawyer: "Sometimes those who accuse lie. A prosecutor should not be held responsible for that." As for the woman who filed the charges, none of the networks even mentioned her name.


STORY IDEAS So what was it about this case that compelled Couric and her team to treat it as headline fare? Part of the explanation is institutional pride: CBS had played a key role in discrediting the prosecution case. The false charge of rape had been leveled by one of a pair of black students from North Carolina Central University who had been hired by Duke's players to perform a striptease for them at their off-campus party. CBS' 60 Minutes obtained the exclusive interview with Kim Roberts, the second stripper, who insisted that her fellow dancer had not been attacked during the night's debauchery: "She obviously was not hurt. She was fine. She would not have gone back into the house if she was hurt."

Apart from pride, CBS' Byron Pitts had Duke law professor James Coleman, who happens to be African-American, explain all the other reasons why the controversy made headlines: it was a "Southern novel, it involved an elite university in the South with a storied history but also with a dark side to that history. It had race. It had sex. It had wealthy white students. It had a prosecutor who claimed that he was the white knight for the black community…that is a pretty big story." Pitts called Coleman "a voice of reason from the beginning." As for life on campus at Duke, CBS' Kelly Wallace found "no obvious signs that the university's reputation has been tarnished" with fundraising and applications as strong as ever.

CBS concluded its coverage with Couric's extended interview with Seligmann's parents, Kathy and Philip. The father stated that his son's life had been "ruined" by a woman who "perpetrated a hoax." The mother was "shocked" that people shut their eyes to "hardcore facts…we had everything going against us except the truth." CBS' Pitts estimated that legal fees paid by the trio's families exceed $3m.

In general, CBS' extended coverage was overblown and uninformative. Here are three story ideas that were not addressed that would have made Decision at Duke more worth the effort.

What about those other falsely-accused defendants that the young Seligmann referred to? CBS' Couric quoted him thus: "This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed. If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I cannot imagine what they would do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves." Is he right? How many innocents are convicted by the North Carolina criminal justice system? What is Attorney General Cooper doing on their behalf?

What about that original striptease party? How do the exonerated athletes feel about it? Even if it was not illegal, was it crass and boorish? Did they indeed act like hooligans? Or was it good clean fun? Is striptease-for-hire a common practice on college campuses? Is it usually white men paying to see black women naked?

If it is true that DA Nifong pursued the case as vigorously and improperly as he did in order to curry favor among African-American voters resentful at Duke's elitism, is the citizens' resentment justified? How does Duke, as an institution and as a student body, interact with the general population? Which group is more prejudiced: town or gown?

UPDATE: at her Couric & Co blog, CBS' Couric, too, has some ideas of storylines that she did not cover in her Decision at Duke series. Hers are different from ours. She asks: "Why and how did such a rush to accuse take place?"


CANCELED Instead of Duke, NBC led with in-house business. Rehema Ellis (no link) read portions of an announcement by NBC News that its cable channel MSNBC will no longer simulcast Don Imus' morning radio show following his insults about those Rutgers hoopsters. It was such late-breaking news that even the insiders at NBC were unable to prepare a proper taped package. Ellis quoted the explanation in her live stand-up: "We are the guardians of the good name of NBC News, each and every one of us. There has been a trust placed in us. We must honor and respect this trust."

The cable TV cancellation followed a hemorrhage of support by advertisers, not only from Imus in the Morning but from MSNBC in general. NBC's Ellis ticked off the defectors: General Motors, Procter & Gamble, American Express, Staples. CBS' Anthony Mason said his network's radio syndicators had not pulled the plug yet, "still sticking to this two-week suspension" even though one board member has publicly called for outright cancellation.

ABC's Dan Harris (subscription required) saw Imus being "hit squarely in the wallet." Harris cited the conventional wisdom that Imus cannot survive even on radio without corporate sponsors and big-name guests. His is one of the "few shows on commercial radio that interviews politicians and journalists, including those from ABC News." Presidential candidate Barack Obama, for example, had appeared with Imus to pitch a book but now wants him off the air for feeding into "some of the worst stereotypes."


FIVE QUARTERS On a more serious note, all three Pentagon correspondents covered the decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to lengthen soldiers' tours of combat duty from 12 months to 15. It means soldiers may now miss being home for two Christmases, birthdays or anniversaries instead of one, a military wife told ABC's Jonathan Karl. Karl called it a demand for "sacrifice." Hyperbolically, NBC's Jim Miklaszewski called Gates' announcement a "bombshell." He noted that because the army is "stretched dangerously thin," the extension was the only way to maintain 20 combat brigades, some 160,000 troops, in Iraq. The extension applies not just to Iraq but to Afghanistan and Kuwait as well, CBS' David Martin reported: "It is only way the army can guarantee troops a full 12 months at home before sending them back."


HALF EMPTY ABC's Bob Woodruff, brain-injured while covering the war in Iraq, continued his commitment to soldiers who suffered similar injuries by filing A Closer Look profile of a disabled sergeant. His feature followed Will Glass, who had ambitions to attend college and build custom cars as a civilian, before a roadside bomb in Taji blew part of his brains out. Amelia Glass, his wife of one year, protested his presence in Iraq: he had been scheduled to leave the army but had been forced to reenlist beyond his discharge date with a stop-loss order. She bitterly called stop-loss a "backdoor draft." Some 75,000 soldiers are currently serving under the compulsory provision.

Sloppily, Woodruff failed to include a soundbite from the Pentagon in justification of its policy. His human-interest feature was designed to stir our emotions--but emotions are no excuse for one-sided journalism.


IN A PLASTIC BOX On NBC, Andrea Mitchell continued her trip to the Korean peninsula with a report from the Demilitarized Zone between North and South. Monday, Mitchell had covered the diplomacy by Democratic Presidential hopeful Bill Richardson as he ironed out some kinks in the agreement to bring an end to North Korea's manufacture of nuclear weapons. Now she covered the ostensible motive for Richardson's trip, the recovery of American soldiers' remains from the 50-year-old battlefields of the Korean War. Mitchell was on hand as six suitcase-sized plastic boxes were handed over. The bodies of 8,100 others are still unlocated.


DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB And NBC covered a potential Presidential candidate too. Kelly O'Donnell examined the announcement by Fred Thompson, the onetime Republican senator from Tennessee, that he had been diagnosed with a slow-growing lymphoma. O'Donnell played Thompson's soundbite from Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto Live Your World with Neil Cavuto: "I have had no sickness, no symptoms. I would not know I had it if the doctor had not told me." O'Donnell observed that Thompson "would not have gone public with his cancer if he were not thinking about the White House." If Thompson does not return to politics he can keep his day job, as an actor on NBC's Law & Order. NBC was the only network to assign a reporter to Thompson--the other two newscasts mentioned his health in passing.


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: Republican Presidential candidate Sen John McCain made a major campaign address in support of the war in Iraq at Virginia Military Institute…a pair of bombs in Algiers killed two dozen people but failed to assassinate the Prime Minister…the Senate approved federal research funds for biotechnology into human embryonic stem cells, but not by a wide enough margin to override an anticipated Presidential veto…the Citigroup financial conglomerate plans to lay off 17,000 workers.