A progress report on the 30,000-troop US offensive in the provinces surrounding Baghdad was the Story of the Day. NBC led from Baghdad with the sweep while CBS and ABC covered it later in their newscasts from the Pentagon. For its lead, ABC chose to hype an online service that really does not allow heart patients to compare the quality of cardiac care at various hospitals. The environment was the day's theme on CBS, with stories on air quality, fuel efficiency and changes in the Great Lakes ecosystem.    
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video thumbnailNBCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesUS military targets al-Qaeda in four provincesJim MacedaBaghdad
video thumbnailABC
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Iraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesUS military Baqubah sweep eluded by al-QaedaJonathan KarlPentagon
video thumbnailABCIraq: war refugees create humanitarian crisisBiggest mideast dislocation since PalestiniansBob WoodruffDamascus
video thumbnailCBSClean Air Act pollution fighting regulationsEPA tightens rules on ground-level ozone smogWyatt AndrewsWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSAutomobile fuel efficiency standards, techniquesSenate approves first mileage hike since 1975Kelly WallaceNew York
video thumbnailNBCNatural gas exploration boom in Fort WorthWindfall royalty revenues for urban homeownersDon TeagueTexas
video thumbnailNBCWar on Drugs: marijuana smuggling from MexicoNavajo trackers follow Arizona desert shipmentsPeter AlexanderArizona
video thumbnailABC
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Heart disease and cardiac arrests coverageHospital care quality, mortality ranked onlineKate SnowNew York
video thumbnailCBSParkinson's Disease coverageGenetic therapy experiment calms brain activityMichelle MillerNew York
video thumbnailCBSPolice: forensic teams collect crime scene evidenceFBI squad takes more time than on CSI TV dramaBob OrrNew York
HAS THE PENTAGON CHANGED ITS SURGE STRATEGY? A progress report on the 30,000-troop US offensive in the provinces surrounding Baghdad was the Story of the Day. NBC led from Baghdad with the sweep while CBS and ABC covered it later in their newscasts from the Pentagon. For its lead, ABC chose to hype an online service that really does not allow heart patients to compare the quality of cardiac care at various hospitals. The environment was the day's theme on CBS, with stories on air quality, fuel efficiency and changes in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The US-led offensive is supposedly a big deal, "the most ambitious operation since the fall of Saddam Hussein," according to ABC's Jonathan Karl (subscription required). From Baghdad, NBC's Jim Maceda diagrammed a four-pronged attack: a 10,000-strong siege of Baqubah northeast of the capital; a 2,500-strong blockade of the city's southeastern approaches; a helicopter-led attack on safe houses in the so-called Triangle of Death to the southwest; and the Marine Corps deployed to block western escape routes in al-Anbar Province.

NBC's Maceda said that this operation uses "all of the 30,000 troop surge." At the Pentagon, CBS' David Martin reminded us that "the stated purpose" of the surge was "to protect the Iraqi people." Yet Martin noted that Peter Pace, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has changed that purpose: "It is not about the level of violence," he announced. The new goal of the surge is to make "progress…in the minds of the Iraqi people."

As for the target of the offensive, all three correspondents suggested that the US military is no longer worried about Shiite militias or Sunni insurgents. The entire operation is apparently directed towards al-Qaeda--although no one explained how they are commanded or controled by Osama bin Laden's operation along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. From Baghdad, NBC's Maceda reported success, that the offensive has "trapped al-Qaeda in three neighborhoods in Baqubah." The two Pentagon correspondents found failure. CBS' Martin reported that "most of al-Qaeda's senior leaders managed to escape, leaving behind a maze of deadly boobytraps;" and ABC's Karl quoted an unnamed military spokesman: "It is like jelly in a sandwich. It squirts when you squeeze it."

If the offensive is so important, the networks' coverage has been cursory, confusing and lacking in curiosity. Let us remind ourselves of Commander-in-Chief George Bush's plan for the so-called surge. It was designed to quell Sunni-vs-Shiite sectarian violence in the capital in order to provide sufficient security for politicians representing all political factions to make the necessary concessions for compromise. Now, it looks like the Pentagon has changed its battlefield, its enemy and its strategy. If so, that is huge news. But the audience is left to draw that conclusion by observing omissions and vocabulary changes. We deserve direct reporting instead.

THE NEW PALESTINIANS ABC's Bob Woodruff filed his second A Closer Look into refugees caused by the Iraq War. Yesterday, United Nations' World Refugee Day, he contrasted the policies of Syria and Jordan to the two-million-strong exodus. Now Woodruff looks at the global response to the Middle East's largest refugee crisis "since 1948 when the war over Israel's independence scattered Palestinians across the region." This year, the UN humanitarian fundraising target for displaced Iraqis is just $60m, Woodruff noted, and the United States has issued only 70 asylum visas. Woodruff repeated the rap on the Bush Administration: "To accept refugees would be a tacit admission of failure in Iraq." And sure enough the State Department insists that failure has indeed not occurred: "We are still working very hard trying to create a democracy and a peaceful, stable Iraq," Assistant Secretary Ellen Sauerbrey insisted.

AS THE EARTH TURNS CBS turned to our air, our roads and our waters. Wyatt Andrews led with the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal for "the first mandatory reductions in ten years" in smog. To protect lung health, the EPA's advisory panel had proposed a reduction of current allowable levels of ground-level ozone from 80 parts per billion to as low as 60. The EPA plan was for a range of 70 to 75. Andrews pointed out that "dozens of American cities" and in southern California, worst of all, even that 80 level is not yet met.

CBS' John Blackstone followed up from a hospital in Oakland Cal that has 5,000 child asthma emergency visits each year. Smog is created when sunlight heats up emissions from automobiles and power plants. "A decade of science shows it can aggravate asthma, increase respiratory infections and harm lungs," NBC's Anne Thompson noted. Blackstone cited a study of 95 major urban centers that blamed breathing smog for 3,700 additional deaths each year.

When the Senate passed an automobile fuel efficiency plan to raise averages--from 25 mpg to 35 mpg--for the first time since 1975, CBS' Kelly Wallace used a funny soundbite from industry analyst Rebecca Lindland of Global Insight. Lindland predicted that consumers will resist economical cars and switch to heavy gas guzzlers. "Do you sacrifice the safety of your family and get a small light vehicle in order to save a tree?" she asked rhetorically. But how does improved fuel efficiency pose an obstacle to lumberjacks?

Water in Lake Superior has dropped 30 inches in the last decade to a level lower than it has been for 81 years. Recreational boaters have to move marinas and shipping freighters have to carry lighter loads. For CBS' Saving the World, Cynthia Bowers laid out two factors: an eight-year drought has produced 20% less rain than normal; warmer winters have shrunk the ice pack and allowed more evaporation. "The question is whether man is affecting nature." This could be the low end of a cycle that is about to reverse or the receding waters could have broken from their natural pattern.

BELOW GROUND NBC had Brian Williams anchor again from Texas. En route from El Paso yesterday, he stopped in Killeen for an In Depth profile of war widow Donna Kiernan, whose husband Christopher was killed by a sniper in Iraq. He left her a letter of condolence to be opened only posthumously: "Bury me under a tree where you can be buried next to me. You are the love of my life. I did not become a polished man until I met you." Williams ended in Fort Worth where Don Teague told us about the natural gas field that is being explored under the city. Property owners stand to receive $450bn in royalties over the next 30 years. It is "a transformed landscape as giant drilling rigs pop up in neighborhoods, city parks, even parking lots."

BURLAP ON MESQUITE A theme of NBC's Texan trip has been the impact of Mexican neighbors on life in the southwest. Tuesday Don Teague told us about the Trans-Texas Corridor to transport imports to the heartland; yesterday he described how Juarez and El Paso are joined, rather than separated, by the border. Now Peter Alexander travels to the Arizona desert to introduce us to Ryan Nez, a Navajo scout. Nez works for Customs Enforcement intercepting marijuana smuggling routes from Mexico. He showed Alexander how to follow fresh horse prints, trace broken branches and find strands of burlap snagged in the mesquite. His elite unit of trackers is "nicknamed the Shadow Wolves."

HALF HEARTED ABC's substitute anchor George Stephanopoulos decided to lead with a health story that was not even mentioned by either of the rival newscasts--although CBS' Wyatt Andrews mentioned it yesterday in passing in his story on hospital Websites. The federal government has run a statistical comparison of heart attack survival rates at 4,500 hospitals nationwide. It gave "detailed reports" on how each stacked up with its peers to the institutions themselves, Kate Snow (subscription required) stated, and posted summary information for patients online, with three grades--above, at or below average.

There was a pair of flaws with Snow's report. "Imagine being able to go online and shop for a hospital," she teased--but did not tell us what the address for the study is or even which bureaucracy of the federal government produced it. The only information we were given was to go to for more details. Second, Snow herself admitted that the "average category was overly broad," with only seven of the 4,500 institutions falling below it. In the absence of precise information, her promise of online hospital shopping is hollow.

Parkinson's Disease represented the health story chosen by CBS and NBC. The Lancet published results of a four-year experiment on a dozen patients at New York City's Weill Cornell Medical Center that implanted a gene in the brain in an attempt to block degeneration. Since there are so few patients in the clinical trial, both NBC's Robert Bazell and CBS' Michelle Miller profiled the same success story. See Nathan Klein back on his bicycle.

ENDLESS CROSS PROMOTION As promised on Monday, the cell-phone salesman turned tenor talent traveled from England to New York City to sing on NBC's morning show Today. NBC's Rehema Ellis escorted him to the Top of the Rock, the Big Apple tourist attraction owned by corporate parent General Electric, where Paul Potts pleaded: "You will have to forgive me. I am quite shy and nervous." But NBC decided not to post its shameless self-promotion--or "continued shill" as commenter Joe C (text link) calls it--online as a videostream.

ABC's Jim Avila used the notoriety of HBO's The Sopranos to pump up his coverage of the so-called Family Secrets murder trial of five aging alleged mobsters in Chicago, charged with 18 murders over 37 years. Avila called it "the end of an era of Mafia men with funny names"--except the monickers for Joey The Clown, Frank The German, Tony The Ant and Jimmy The Man are lame.

How could CBS' Bob Orr tart up--to borrow a phrase--his feature on the FBI's Evidence Response Team, the forensic unit that collects lab samples from crime scenes? By dubbng it "the FBI's real-life version of CSI" a primetime TV drama franchise that happens to air on Orr's own network. Except, of course, the feds' time-consuming work "is not quite like television," Orr conceded. "Sometimes I wish it would be that glamorous," concurred team leader Elizabeth Rosato.

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 pair of examples: Egypt is hosting a regional peace summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, inviting Israel, Jordan and Palestine, but not Hamas…Britain's Tony Blair conducted his final Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister…restaurant chain founder Bob Evans died, aged 89…Capitol Hill plans to go green, with an energy conservation program…senators celebrated the summer solstice traditionally, by donning seersucker suits…a lake in the Chilean Andes has disappeared, with its water mysteriously draining away.