It was another very light day for news. So, as usual, the default Story of the Day in the absence of anything substantial was Iraq. Yet again the convoluted route to a compromise between White House and Congress over funding the war was the most heavily covered story on all three networks combined, even though Iraq was the lead only on CBS. NBC kicked off with the latest forecast for the Atlantic Ocean hurricane season. ABC claimed a scoop for its lead on Iran.    
click to playstoryanglereporterdateline
video thumbnailNBCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesCongress will agree to funding without timelinesDavid GregoryWhite House
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesPentagon starts contingency plans for new policyDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailABCIran-US frictions intensifyCIA given go-ahead to start covert subversionBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailNBCIran-US frictions intensifyTeheran accuses DC-based scholar of espionageAndrea MitchellNew York
video thumbnailNBCAtlantic Ocean hurricane season forecast updatedNOAA predicts three-to-five major stormsMark PotterMiami
video thumbnailCBSNew Orleans levee design, repair makes progressImprovements to 220 miles of flood controlHari SreenivasanNew Orleans
video thumbnailNBCChina one-child policy provokes protestsPoor families face high fines for second childMark MullenBeijing
video thumbnailABC
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Contraceptive birth control risks, controversiesNew brand of pill eliminates menstrual bleedingLisa StarkWashington DC
video thumbnailABCSports Utility Vehicles are gas guzzlersHigh fuel costs do not deter upscale purchasersDean ReynoldsChicago
video thumbnailCBSPhiladelphia celebrated as birthplace of nationSurvey of city's sights, sounds, attractionsKatie CouricPhiladelphia
IRAQ, IN THE ABSENCE OF SUBSTANCE It was another very light day for news. So, as usual, the default Story of the Day in the absence of anything substantial was Iraq. Yet again the convoluted route to a compromise between White House and Congress over funding the war was the most heavily covered story on all three networks combined, even though Iraq was the lead only on CBS. NBC kicked off with the latest forecast for the Atlantic Ocean hurricane season. ABC claimed a scoop for its lead on Iran.

The latest on Iraq funding is that a deal is near to pay $120bn for the war through September by attaching "benchmarks" as conditions rather than "timelines." Translated: the benchmarks are 18 measures that the Baghdad government would be obliged to meet under pain of "billions for Iraqi reconstruction" being withheld, according to CBS' Sharyl Attkisson; the timelines were a fixed schedule for the withdrawal of US combat troops that President George Bush refused to accept. The catch, noted NBC's David Gregory, is that "this only buys a few months. The real fight is in September," when the next funding period is debated and Democrats may introduce timelines all over again.

ABC anchor Charles Gibson asked Jake Tapper (no link) why Democrats had not agreed to give up on their timelines months ago when they knew they could not override Bush's veto. The answer was the benchmarks. Republicans approve now of conditions they "never would have supported three months ago," Tapper pointed out. At the Pentagon they are a dead letter, unnamed sources told CBS' David Martin. He reported the conclusion by the military: "The Iraqi government will not meet any of the benchmarks for political reconciliation." Strategists have already begun work on "Plan B"--what follows the so-called surge of troop strength that was designed to enable that unattainable reconciliation.

DESTABILIZATION ABC's lead story by Brian Ross was not good news for the supporters of Haleh Esfandiari, a scholar from Washington DC's Woodrow Wilson International Center, who has been arrested in Iran. Ross claimed an Exclusive for the news that the President had signed a formal finding to authorize the CIA to mount a "black or covert operation to destabilize" the government in Teheran. Simultaneously, NBC's Andrea Mitchell covered a press conference by the Wilson Center to claim that Esfandiari has no role in such an operation. She was accused of "trying to overthrow the regime, espionage, a charge that could mean the death penalty."

Ross described the CIA's plot as "non-lethal" involving journalistic propaganda and currency manipulation. ABC's Martha Raddatz (at the tail of the Ross videostream) characterized the policy debate at the White House as "regime change" versus "change the behavior of the regime." Adm William Fallon, the head of the Pentagon's Central Command, assured Raddatz "on the record" that "he has no plans to bomb Iran."

As for Esfandiari, NBC's Mitchell consulted unnamed experts, who offered two theories about why she is being held as a spy. Neither theory countenanced her guilt. First, hardline supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be trying to foment a crisis in order to sabotage "groundbreaking" US-Iran diplomacy scheduled to begin next week. Second, her arrest could be "retaliation" for the US military's arrest of five Iranian officials in Iraq.

UPDATE: Brian Montopoli (text link) at CBS' Public Eye blog points out the ABC's Ross is being lambasted for spilling secrets, even by Republican Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Tom Tancredo. Brian Stelter (text link) at TV Newser is astonished at the volume of protests on Ross' own blog The Blotter (text link). Contrast these two assessments of Ross' journalism from conservatives: Andrew Sullivan (text link) on The Daily Dish calls the story "no big whoop" and the leak that triggered it "a complete non-event." Lynn Davidson (text link) at saw Ross' journalism as critical of the covert action, portraying it as "just another neo-con adventure in global domination." For its part ABC News claims it gave the CIA six days' notice to respond with a warning as to whether reporting this leak would "jeopardize lives or operations on the ground." None was forthcoming.

The reading of the story at Tyndall Report rests on ABC's decision to pair Ross' Exclusive with Martha Raddatz' stand-up at the White House. Ross used the words "non-lethal" and Raddatz repeated the assurance that the United States would not bomb Iran. So, far from portraying this as an "adventure in global domination," Ross and Raddatz characterized the covert action as a peaceful alternative to war. The gist of the story was how little the CIA was doing not how much. No wonder the CIA did not warn ABC to block the story. This does not seem like spilling secrets. Instead it looks like the Bush Administration using ABC as a conduit to send out peace feelers.

FURTHER UPDATE: Lynn Davidson has asked me to clarify the above reference to her post. To reiterate, her view is in contrast to Sullivan's at The Daily Dish not in concurrence with it. When Tyndall Report used the phrase "portraying the covert action as 'just another neo-con adventure in global domination'" that referred to how Davidson described Ross' journalism about the CIA program not Davidson's own characterization of the program itself.

FOOLED BY GENDER CHANGE To demonstrate what a light day of news this was, NBC chose to lead not with concrete events but with predictions of future ones. Mark Potter covered the update by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of its forecast for this year's hurricane season--even though the same event last year was useless: "Scientists, who used satellites, computers and complex weather calculations, got fooled." In 2006, to their surprise, the waters of the Pacific Ocean were warmed by El Nino and their forecast of a stronger-than-average year was contradicted. For 2007, NOAA again predicts "an above average season," said Potter, arguing that the warm El Nino has been replaced by the cool La Nina.

Just in case, CBS' Hari Sreenivasan took a walk around the edges of New Orleans with Col Richard Wagenaar of the Army Corps of Engineers. He showed us the new flood control pumps--they can "empty out the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool in just 12 seconds"--and some of the $2bn in repairs to 220 miles of levees surrounding the city. And then came the bad news: "The Corps admits that it may be 2011 before completion." Let's hope NOAA gets Nina's gender wrong again.

AND BABY MAKES THREE Video from a cell phone showed the aftermath of riots in a poor region of southern China in protest against the notorious one-child policy that the People's Republic has been enforcing since 1980. NBC's Mark Mullen showed the "burned cars and vandalized government property." It turns out that many families are able to keep a second child by agreeing to pay fines for violating the one-child rule. When those fines were suddenly increased to $1,400, riots ensued.

Mullen explained that the source of the friction is China's new affluence, with its upper-class families paying fines as high as $87,000 for a second child and then having a third child as well. In response to the protests, the government promised a "uniform crackdown," a phrase Mullen decoded for us. When officials say "they have the ability to evaluate every situation on a case by case basis" that means "they can up the fine--and continue to up it on an affluent couple--until they finally get their message across."

CURSES CBS' Michelle Miller got the jump on Lybrel yesterday. That is the brand name of Wyeth's new birth control pill that "not only prevents pregnancy, it eliminates periods. Period." With the approval of the pill by the Food & Drug Administration, both ABC and NBC played catch-up. NBC's Nancy Snyderman noted that the new pill is no big deal: "There is no real medical difference," so while it may relieve symptoms for some--"severe mood swings, pelvic pain, headache"--for most women "it is all about lifestyle…control and convenience." ABC's Lisa Stark (subscription required) offered this historical observation after talking to gynecologists: "In the past women have had more children and breast fed for longer than they do today--which meant they had far fewer periods."

SMART & SUBURBAN The continuing increase in the cost of gasoline led to a pair of contrasting features on ABC and NBC. NBC opted for cute, sending Kevin Tibbles on a test drive of DaimlerChrysler's fuel efficient SmartCar. "On the street," the eight-foot-long two-seater is "a head-turner." After nine years of sales in Europe, the "glorified golf cart" is about to be imported for sale and already 13,000 potential American customers have put down their $99 deposits. At the other end of the spectrum, ABC's Dean Reynolds inquired into why, despite higher fuel costs, sales of the "biggest, most gas guzzling, luxury" Sports Utility Vehicles are increasing. He found an answer in an ABC News poll that uncovered "stark differences between haves and have nots." While a majority of low income earners (54% in under $35K/yr households) regards the price of gasoline as "a serious hardship," most of those in the upper middle class (55% in over $75K/yr households) find it "no hardship at all." So the Suburban skews upscale.

YOU BROTHERS OVER IN AFRICA CBS anchor Katie Couric went on the road to Philadelphia where she filed a couple of reports. Couric's first was serious: the combination of high malpractice insurance premiums for obstetricians and low reimbursement rates for Medicaid pregnancies means that delivering a baby in Philadelphia is a money-losing proposition. In the past decade, hospitals have shuttered 14 of the city's 42 maternity wards.

Couric's second feature was a lighthearted survey of Philly's famous sights and sounds. She reminded us of William Penn and Betsy Ross and Sylvester Stallone's Rocky and the Phillies' play-by-play announcer Harry Kalas and cheesesteak sandwiches and the Reading Terminal Market and Dick Clark's American Bandstand and the "greatest source of Philadelphia's pride" the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

What was peculiar about Couric's survey was how monochromatic it was. Her portrait of the city that brought us, for example, Bill Cosby and Ed Bradley and Teddy Pendergrass and Julius Erving and Joe Frazier, included just a single nod to African-Americans, a brief clip of The O'Jays' Love Train on the soundtrack.

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: Russia refuses to extradite Andrei Lugovoi to London on suspicion of the poisoning murder of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko…New York City will convert its taxi cab fleet to fuel efficient hybrid vehicles…counterterrorism officials claim to have thwarted a plot against the United States hatched in 2005 by an Iraq-based al-Qaeda cell…the funeral for the Rev Jerry Falwell was held at Liberty University in Lynchburg Va.