CONTAINING LINKS TO 35725 STORIES FROM THE NETWORKS' NIGHTLY NEWSCASTS
     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM APRIL 19, 2007
The intensity of the coverage of the Virginia Tech campus killings is diminishing in orderly, but extremely gradual, fashion. From Monday's high of 62 minutes, the day-by-day decline has gone from 54 to 38 and it is now 26. For the second straight day, a headline-worthy event inside-the-Beltway had to take second place. Yesterday, coverage of the killings elbowed the Supreme Court's abortion ruling to one side; today it was the grilling of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over his firing of those eight US Attorneys by the Senate Judiciary Committee. By rights, today's developments in the Virginia Tech story should have less newsworthy than they turned out to be. A prominent angle that sustained it was a self-referential one: the controversy over the airing by TV news organizations of the killer's self-made videotape.    
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video thumbnailNBCVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadKiller's arsenal, gun training investigatedPete WilliamsNew York
video thumbnailCBSVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadKiller's video revealed little new evidenceBob OrrVirginia
video thumbnailABCVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadKiller bought guns using mental health loopholeJake TapperWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadKiller's video widely aired, sparks backlashMike TaibbiVirginia
video thumbnailABC
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Virginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadJournalistic ethics of airing video debatedDean ReynoldsChicago
video thumbnailNBCJustice Department fires eight US AttorneysAtty Gnl Gonzales grilled at Senate hearingsChip ReidCapitol Hill
video thumbnailABCIraq: political coalition government under fireDefense Secretary Gates decries lack of progressJonathan KarlBaghdad
video thumbnailCBSAbortion: restrictions upheld by Supreme CourtMore limits expected after partial birth rulingWyatt AndrewsSupreme Court
video thumbnailCBSBreast cancer coveragePlummeting HRT estrogen use reduces incidenceJon LaPookNew York
video thumbnailNBCCrocodiles of Florida swamps make comebackDesignated as endangered in 1975, now off listMark PotterFlorida
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
SLOWLY DIMINISHING RETURNS The intensity of the coverage of the Virginia Tech campus killings is diminishing in orderly, but extremely gradual, fashion. From Monday's high of 62 minutes, the day-by-day decline has gone from 54 to 38 and it is now 26. For the second straight day, a headline-worthy event inside-the-Beltway had to take second place. Yesterday, coverage of the killings elbowed the Supreme Court's abortion ruling to one side; today it was the grilling of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over his firing of those eight US Attorneys by the Senate Judiciary Committee. By rights, today's developments in the Virginia Tech story should have less newsworthy than they turned out to be. A prominent angle that sustained it was a self-referential one: the controversy over the airing by TV news organizations of the killer's self-made videotape.

The concrete news developments in the Virginia Tech story consisted of tying up loose ends about how the killer armed himself. On NBC, which uses Cho Seung-Hui to identify the suicidal gunman, Pete Williams examined the extent of his arsenal: police found 17 discarded bullet magazines at the crime scene, meaning that at least 200 shots were fired in his spree. His bullets were hollow pointed, "generally considered more lethal" and he practiced his marksmanship at a range in Roanoke Va last month. On CBS, which uses Seung-Hui Cho, the killer's dormitory neighbor Karan Grewal talked to Sharyn Alfonsi. He described how Cho's plot seemed to begin in February, when he started working out at the gym and sitting in the common room "silently watching his roommates."

On ABC, which also goes by Seung-Hui Cho, Jake Tapper examined how Cho could legally buy his guns despite a court-ordered diagnosis of mental illness. Tapper pointed out that federal law prevents the sale of firearms to anyone found "mentally defective" but leaves it to each state to define the term. Virginia has one of the narrowest definitions in the nation: refusing sales to those who have been committed as in-patients but permitting guns for out-patients. Advocates for the mentally ill oppose broadening the ban as creating "a greater stigma."


NAVEL GAZING NBC's led yesterday with Pete Williams' excerpts from the video that Cho sent to the network. After it slapped an NBC News logo on the footage it distributed the material to its competitors. NBC News' president Steve Capus explained his rationale in today's Pete Williams' report. All week people had been wondering: "What was inside the mind of this killer?" Capus felt he was obliged to supply the video to help answer. In his introduction to Mike Taibbi's report, NBC anchor Brian Williams, accurately, described the content of the video as news "by any conceivable standard."

CBS, which scaled back on its Virginia Tech coverage the most (6 min v ABC 10, NBC 10), assigned Bob Orr to its lead. He took a literal approach to the Cho video suicide note, scrutinizing it as evidence for clues as to how the crime was planned and pulled off and whether he had accomplices. He could not find much. "It only reinforces what investigators already knew," he shrugged, but he did mention two hypotheses from the video about Cho's inspiration: the date was close to the anniversary of the Columbine HS killings; and two poses may have been inspired by Oldboy, a violent Korean movie.

More attention went to the reaction to the airing of the video than to its actual contents. ABC's Dan Harris (no link) quoted Steve Flaherty, the colonel of the Commonwealth of Virginia's police force: "I just hate that a lot of folks who are not used to seeing that type of image had to see it." NBC's Mike Taibbi summarized the reaction on the campus at Blacksburg as "disappointment and anger" with some refusing "to be manipulated by a killer seeking infamy from the grave through the release of his confounding manifesto." A pair of bereaved parents canceled scheduled interviews on NBC's Today morning program to register their protest at the network's decision to air it. "What many here want is for the media to go home."

ABC's Dean Reynolds (subscription required) studied the journalistic ethics of disseminating the production of a murderer. He cited two objections to airing any part of the tape: that it might damage those already traumatized by the shooting; and that it glorified the killer, turning him into a "posthumous celebrity." However Reynolds reckoned that it was not the tape's availability that was the problem but its ubiquity. On the cable TV news channels, "the diatribe was available and practically unavoidable for hours." An ABC News executive called its repetition "almost pornographic." The upshot was that by midday most TV news executives were limiting its use.

To close ABC's newscast, ABC's anchor Charles Gibson contrasted the overexposure the airing of the tape had afforded to Cho's visage with the faces of the 32 he killed. Gibson introduced a montage of their still photographs, names, ages and hometowns, accompanied not by a reporter's voiceover but by the hymn Amazing Grace. It was interesting to notice how varied their backgrounds were. Most were not Virginians and many were not Americans. Among the dead was not just the Korean-born killer, but citizens of Canada, Egypt, Israel, India, Peru, Indonesia. "Those are the faces to remember."


I CANNOT RECALL The three networks made contrasting assignment decisions to cover the Judiciary Committee hearings: NBC's Congressional correspondent, ABC's man at the Justice Department, CBS from the White House. Whatever the beat the reporter came from, the angle was the same: the failure of Gonzales to answer questions about why he fired those eight prosecutors.

Gonzales apologized sincerely for the manner in which he let them go and conceded that he had misspoken previously when he claimed a lack of involvement. But why did he fire them? "He denied that politics played any role," NBC's Chip Reid reported, but could not recall much else. Reid made a Jon-Stewart-style montage of that repeated line and showed a scorekeeper marking off the number of times the Gonzales' memory failed him. He testified "I don't recall" more than 70 times. When he was unable to recall a date, ABC's Pierre Thomas (subscription required) told us, "Democrats were livid." Thomas also used that montage technique, but with less rapid fire than Reid. "This was the day on which the Attorney General looked like he was the one being prosecuted," Thomas concluded.

CBS assigned the Attorney General to Jim Axelrod, who famously reported last month that it was "inevitable" that Gonzales would resign. Now, Axelrod found that Gonzales "is not indicating that he is any closer to making that decision." When anchor Katie Couric asked about that very inevitability, Axelrod backtracked: "It is not entirely clear that it is inevitable yet." For President George Bush, "it is a loyalty thing." On ABC, George Stephanopoulos (no link), anchor of This Week, too saw Gonzales as secure--"no wavering at all" at the White House. Yet Stephanopoulos damned Gonzales with faint praise: at the hearings he had not performed "so poorly" that he is going to lose his job "immediately."


ALMOST NO WORLD NEWS Only one report on all three networks was filed from an overseas dateline. ABC's Pentagon correspondent Jonathan Karl traveled with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Baghdad. Gates checked on the progress of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki towards political reconciliation, with three key objectives: oil revenue sharing, local elections, and partial amnesty for former Baath Party members. "None of it happened," declared Karl. He reported that the US military in Iraq believes that the trio of reforms is essential for the government "to win the support of the Iraqi people."

Karl did not inquire whether that American assessment is accurate. Perhaps some of those proposals are anathema to al-Maliki's base of support and would bring down his administration.


AFTER PARTIAL BIRTH Both CBS and NBC followed up on yesterday's abortion ruling. For NBC's In Depth Dawn Fratangelo visited a clinic in New York City where staff were chafing at the decision's "paternalistic" characterization of women's ignorance. Fratangelo quoted Justice Anthony Kennedy speculate that if pregnant women had more knowledge of the fate of an aborted fetus they might be encouraged to "carry the infant to full term." Pro-life activists hailed that part of the ruling. CBS' Wyatt Andrews reiterated their belief that "more graphic information will discourage abortions." However, Andrews argued that the Court's approval of the ban on that one particular procedure may not produce more babies--instead women who seek a termination late in their pregnancy will undergo a more hazardous procedure, "requiring the dismemberment of the fetus inside the womb" rather than partially outside.


HORMONAL Breast cancer made big news last December when all three networks covered a sharp decline in diagnoses that occurred in 2003, one year after post-menopausal women were advised to cease using estrogen as Hormone Replacement Therapy. Since estrogen is a fuel for cancers of the breast, there seemed to be a causal relationship between the two.

Now the New England Journal of Medicine has published data for 2004, which show a 9% consistent decline in diagnoses: 16,000 fewer cases nationwide. ABC's John McKenzie (subscription required) mentioned a couple of outstanding caveats to concluding definitively that HRT withdrawal was the cause: fewer women are using mammogram screenings so existing cancers may be undiagnosed; and other supplements, such as aspirin, calcium and vitamins, may have a preventive role.

On CBS, in-house physician Jon LaPook's explanation was a little confusing. He suggested that HRT may not cause cancer but instead estrogen may be the fuel that existing breast cancer uses to grow. But if that were the case, why would the number of diagnoses decline? Would it not just be that smaller tumors were found?

Anyway, last December, Tyndall Report (text link) complained about the positive coverage of this news: "Just because the glass is half full, journalists should not avoid reporting that it is half empty." We posed a set of unasked questions then that still do not have answers now. To repeat: How many post-menopausal women contracted breast cancer because they took HRT before 2002? How many of them died as a result? Why were doctors prescribing a potential killer? What made them think it was safe? What pharmaceutical companies benefited from pushing HRT? What other similar supplements are used nowadays with similar potential safety problems?


SNAPPER SURVIVAL A trio of Florida habitats was conserved some 30 years ago to prevent the native crocodile from extinction. Back in 1975, NBC's Mark Potter told us, there were only 20-or-so breeding female crocs left in the state. The federal Fish & Wildlife Service invoked the Endangered Species Act to preserve swampy areas in Key Largo, in the Everglades and in the warm-water runoff of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant. The crocodiles have so thrived that they are now no longer endangered, just threatened--and the nuclear site was most congenial to their revival.


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 examples: Norway has committed itself to total renewable energy, with zero net greenhouse gas emissions, by 2050…on the campaign trail, Sen John McCain revised the Beach Boys' tune Barbara Ann to joke about bombing Iran…meanwhile Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid believes the United States has already been defeated in Iraq.