A trio of medical investigations took the focus away from the G8 Summit in Germany. The Story of the Day--and the lead on both ABC and CBS--was the diabetes drug Avandia. A House panel held hearings into whether the Food & Drug Administration had monitored its safety properly. A second set of hearings on the Hill probed the Centers for Disease Control's handling of last week's tuberculosis supergerm. And NBC's lead was the latest laboratory research into stem cells.    
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Prescription drug Avandia side effect worriesHouse hearings into FDA safety monitoringLisa StarkCapitol Hill
video thumbnailCBSPrescription drug Avandia side effect worriesCleveland Clinic cardiologist questioned safetyNancy CordesCleveland
video thumbnailNBCTuberculosis: drug-resistant strain isolatedPatient testifies at hearings into CDC controlsPete WilliamsWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCHuman embryo stem cell biotechnology researchMIT lab experiment grows cells from mouse skinRobert BazellNew York
video thumbnailNBCG8 Economic Summit held in RostockGermany wanted global warming to top agendaDavid GregoryWhite House
video thumbnailCBSCoal is major source of air pollution in ChinaMajor source of greenhouse gases and sootBarry PetersenBeijing
video thumbnailABCAfghanistan's Taliban regime aftermath, fightingGuerrillas receive arms from Iran's Quds ForceBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailABCPope Benedict XVI personal security threatenedVatican pilgrim tries to jump onto PopemobileDavid WrightNew York
video thumbnailNBCTV network airs US propaganda for Arab WorldLax al-Hurra controls offer outlet to HezbollahAndrea MitchellWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSTV gameshow host Bob Barker retiresStarted run with CBS' The Price Is Right in 1972Bill WhitakerHollywood
MEDICAL MYSTERIES A trio of medical investigations took the focus away from the G8 Summit in Germany. The Story of the Day--and the lead on both ABC and CBS--was the diabetes drug Avandia. A House panel held hearings into whether the Food & Drug Administration had monitored its safety properly. A second set of hearings on the Hill probed the Centers for Disease Control's handling of last week's tuberculosis supergerm. And NBC's lead was the latest laboratory research into stem cells.

Avandia (text link) made headlines two weeks ago when The New England Journal of Medicine published research by Dr Steven Nissen at the Cleveland Clinic. Nissen calculated that the medicine, taken by one million diabetics nationwide to reduce glucose levels in the blood, at the same time increases the risk of a heart attack by 43%. NBC's Tom Costello noted that the FDA has responded to Nissen's study by ordering a stronger warning label while GlaxoSmithKline, Avandia's manufacturer, responded by taking out full-page ads claiming to have found "no increased risk of heart attacks."

Since Avandia has been approved as safe and effective since 1999, the House Oversight Committee asked the FDA who was right. "The FDA still does not know," replied ABC's Lisa Stark (subscription required). "It is still pouring over reams of complicated evidence." CBS' Wyatt Andrews called the hearings "unusually raucous" with Republicans questioning Nissen's "political motives." Rep Chris Cannon (R-UT) accused him of causing a 20% slump in the price of GlaxoSmithKline's stock on financial markets. CBS' Nancy Cordes noted that Nissen, a cardiologist, had already identified heart problems from using another FDA-approved prescription drug, the now-withdrawn pain reliever Vioxx: "It is not that I go looking for trouble," Nissen assured her. "In science, it is always better to have information out in the public domain so that it can be evaluated by everybody."

ABC's in-house physician Timothy Johnson (no link) argued for a dual FDA system for approving medicines: one standard of safety for "desperate patients who, quite literally, have nothing to lose;" and a higher standard for medication like Avandia that competes with already available treatments and "that will be taken by millions of people."

NOT CONTAGIOUS Congress also got in the act on that traveler infected with the XDR-TB supergerm whose globetrotting ended in quarantine. Andrew Speaker, the patient, was called to testify by speakerphone, as officials from the Centers for Disease Control turned up in person. NBC's Pete Williams quoted Speaker's own explanation for why he decided to go ahead and get married in Greece: "I was also told I was not contagious, not a threat to anyone. I was told there was no need to sequester me." As for his decision to return from his Roman honeymoon by airline, Williams noted that the CDC's alternate suggestion was that he charter his own private plane "at a cost of more than $100,000." CBS' Bob Orr detailed the public health and border control failures that this incident exposed--then gave us the good news: "Despite all the mistakes, no one else has caught Speaker's deadly strain."

ABC's Ned Potter (subscription required) took the wider view, citing World Health Organization data that there are 30,000 cases of Speaker's almost untreatable XDR-TB strain worldwide and a further 400,000 cases each year of a TB "labeled resistant to standard drugs." Domestic pharmaceutical research on new medication for these strains totals $79m, Potter noted. An unnamed physician dismissed that investment as "one piece of candy per taxpayer."

SKIN OF A MOUSE "Astounding and elegant" was how Robert Bazell described the research that kicked off NBC's newscast. It has the potential of defusing--or "could be a big step in that direction"--the impasse around stem cells between pro-lifers, who object to using cells from human embryos, and biotech researchers, who claim that harvesting embryos offers the greatest promise. A team of young scientists from Austria and Germany is working on stem cells at MIT, Harvard and UCLA. Using laboratory mice, they claim to have engineered a cell that is identical to an embryo by extracting just four genes from a cell of skin: "That modified skin cell can even grow into sperm and eggs to make an entirely news mouse." Bazell estimated that the team is "years or months" away from trying the same experiment with human skin cells. A major hurdle is that "this gene transfer can cause cancer."

GLOBALIZED WARMING The issues of substance at the G8 Summit were global warming and the NATO-Russia missile dispute. When NBC's David Gregory saw "sharp exchanges" give way to "statesmanship and politeness" he wondered whether "anything will actually get done here." And what do world leaders think about Iraq? "It is no longer discussed really." As for George Bush and Vladimir Putin, CBS' Jim Axelrod saw the presidents "hit a rough spot. They will try to iron things out in their meeting tomorrow." ABC's Martha Raddatz led her report with 70,000 demonstrators surrounding the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm, but offered no more than that they were "protesting globalization." NBC's Gregory found Bush and Bono, the Irish rock singer, "seeing eye to eye on tackling African poverty."

As for global warming, ABC's Raddatz called it "the key issue" while NBC's Gregory heard a "simmering clash." The European powers "do not want goals they want action--strict caps on emissions," Gregory reported. The President, countered Raddatz, "does not want the G8 to dictate hard targets" preferring to let "each nation voluntarily set its own goals." The Chinese economy produces 16% of the globe's greenhouse gas emissions: "The coal keeps electric plants humming," said CBS' Barry Petersen. The United States' inaction on global warming is what "China uses as an excuse" to do nothing itself. Carbon dioxide, however, is not the half of it. Burning coal causes 400,000 deaths annually from lung disease. Of the 20 most polluted cities on the entire globe, 16 are in China. Then the southward spread of the Gobi Desert envelops Beijing in annual blinding sandstorms with "visibility less than a city block."

TALIBAN GOES QUDS ABC's Brian Ross claimed a scoop from secret NATO documents on the guerrilla war in Afghanistan. The papers seem to prove that the Pentagon now believes Iran has switched sides in the war--even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates "stopped short" of formally saying so. "Until recently the Iranian government had considered the Taliban--of a different Islamic sect--to be its sworn enemy. It seems the United States is now the bigger enemy for Iran," Ross asserted in his Investigates feature. The dispute surrounds a pair of arms shipments destined for Taliban fighters that were intercepted near the Afghanistan-Iran border this spring. The arms appeared to be shipped by a militant unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard known as the Quds Force. The question was whether the Quds Force was operating autonomously or at the direction of the government. Ross quoted from the "confidential" NATO analysis that their size "indicates clearly that this is part of a considered policy" rather than "low-level corruption and weapons smuggling."

AUDIENCE MEMBER Only ABC assigned a reporter to cover the pilgrim who jumped over a Vatican railing as the Popemobile passed. CBS and NBC showed the video of him being restrained by Swiss Guards in plain clothes as Benedict XVI, obliviously, continued waving to worshippers. "Had this 27-year-old German leapt just a moment sooner he would have landed right on top of the Pope," David Wright calculated from New York. Wright noted that the Popemobile has a bulletproof bubble when the pontiff goes traveling but at home in the Vatican he rides in the open air.

STANDING OVATION Both CBS and NBC brought us television news about television: NBC's In Depth report by Andrea Mitchell concerned controversy; CBS' closer from Hollywood by Bill Whitaker was heartwarming.

Mitchell told us about al-Hurra TV, the Arab-language network funded by the State Department that is "supposed to make friends for America." Yet last December the channel ran an hour long "unchallenged" anti-Israel speech by Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, the leader of Hezbollah. Then it covered a "rant against the Holocaust" by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran "without real criticism." Mitchell checked who was in charge: the State Department's head of public diplomacy Karen Hughes told her that al-Hurra is "editorially independent;" the network's manager Kenneth Tomlinson--who is "well-connected politically to Karl Rove"--told Mitchell that his own programming was "inexcusable" but that he was unable to obtain videotape copies of what went on air. Mitchell concluded: "Tomlinson has been forced out. His successor takes over next week."

CBS celebrated its own celebrity, Bob Barker, the host of the gameshow The Price is Right, who is hanging up his microphone after giving away stuff, more than $600m in prizes, since 1972. Whitaker wondered what Barker will miss most. The silver haired host answered with a rhetorical question: "How many 83-year-old men get up every morning knowing that that day they are going to have a standing ovation?"

UPDATE: upon reflection, NBC's Mitchell appears to be jumping to conclusions when she implies that a failure to challenge Sheikh Nasrullah's criticism of Israel is an act of anti-American broadcasting. Israel may be an ally of the United States but its interests and US interests are not identical. Surely Mitchell does not think that it is job of the State Department's Arabic TV network, when covering speeches by regional political leaders, to file a "challenge" any time sentiments are aired that are critical of Israel? If so, its programming would consist of little else.

FURTHER UPDATE: Matthew Felling (text link) at the CBS blog Public Eye opines on al-Hurra TV. He downplays the controversy surrounding the two individual broadcasts that NBC's Mitchell mentioned--the Hezbollah speech and the Holocaust conference--noting that "insufficiently skeptical" is a "tough characterization to pin down" and that it is the duty of al-Hurra TV to "reflect the sensibilities and culture of its target audience."

Rather than criticizing al-Hurra's editorial content he zeroes in on its management. "Most importantly," he declares, "require that all supervisors of on-air content speak Arabic." If Mitchell's piece on NBC is to be believed, the station's managers cannot obtain videotape of their own programming. If Felling's post is true, some of the station's supervisors cannot understand what is being broadcast. What sort of operation is this that the State Department is running?

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: Turkish troops clashed with Kurdish guerrillas along the Iraq-Turkey border…Ford Motors outranked Toyota in the latest measures of automobile quality…a young Kansas woman who went missing after shopping at Target was found murdered in Missouri.