The networks took a break from the campaign trail to report on a variety of calamities around the nation. NBC led with a follow-up on Tuesday's devastating tornadoes as President George Bush traveled to Tennessee to inspect the damage. CBS led from the Georgia coast where a refinery operated by Imperial Sugar exploded. ABC chose the Story of the Day, the massacre at the Kirkwood City Council in suburban St Louis that left six dead.    
click to playstoryanglereporterdateline
video thumbnailCBSKirkwood Mo City Council meeting massacreDisgruntled contractor kills five, is killedCynthia BowersMissouri
video thumbnailNBCTornado seasonRural areas lack warning sirensRon MottTennessee
video thumbnailCBSSugar refinery explosion in Georgia kills workersDust ignites, kills four, leaves others trappedKelly CobiellaGeorgia
video thumbnailABCGuns: firearms control regulations debateRights groups prevail; control groups silencedPierre ThomasWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCWar on Drugs: Mexico narcotics gang warsTijuana police chief attacked in his own homeGeorge LewisMexico
video thumbnailNBC2008 John McCain campaignGradually switches from primaries to NovemberKelly O'DonnellKansas
video thumbnailCBS2008 Mike Huckabee campaignEthically suspect televangelist is fundraiserArmen KeteyianNew York
video thumbnailCBS2008 Presidential race Democratic delegates standingsSuperdelegates may play decisive roleJosh Landis & Mitch ButlerNew York
video thumbnailABCReal estate home mortgage foreclosures increaseLoan service firms not equipped to renegotiateBetsy StarkNew York
video thumbnailNBCEnergy conservation and alternate fuel useEthanol biofuel increases greenhouse gas levelsAnne ThompsonNew York
DEATH, DISASTER, DESTRUCTION The networks took a break from the campaign trail to report on a variety of calamities around the nation. NBC led with a follow-up on Tuesday's devastating tornadoes as President George Bush traveled to Tennessee to inspect the damage. CBS led from the Georgia coast where a refinery operated by Imperial Sugar exploded. ABC chose the Story of the Day, the massacre at the Kirkwood City Council in suburban St Louis that left six dead.

Mayor Mike Swoboda was wounded as two city councilors, the public works director and two police officers were murdered by Charles Thornton, a local construction contractor. Thornton, in turn, was killed by a third police officer. All three networks assigned reporters to cover the carnage. ABC's Chris Bury (embargoed link) called Thornton a "disgruntled contractor known for fighting City Hall" and NBC's Michelle Kosinski reported that he had been "cited by the city repeatedly for parking violations" and felt he was "being harassed." Mused CBS' Cynthia Bowers: "It was no secret that some of the council members were afraid of Thornton's temper and even considered banning him from public meetings but in the end decided, as a fellow citizen, he had a right to show up and voice his opinion."

In Tornado Alley, NBC's Ron Mott told us that there are still 200 residents of Macon County alone still unaccounted for: "The hope is that many have simply gone to stay with friends or relatives." In all 217 tornado warnings were issued in a single 24-hour period, however, "sirens are not as common in rural areas as bigger cities because residents are scattered far and wide." The death toll from Tuesday's storm is expected to reach 60.

CBS kicked off with Kelly Cobiella from Fort Wentworth Ga where highly combustible sugar dust probably triggered Thursday night's explosion and fire. There were 120 workers in the plant at the time: four are known to be dead; 32 hospitalized, many "burned so badly that they may not survive." NBC's Martin Savidge called it a "horrible scene" with workers "dazed and badly burned and stumbling through the ruins." Cobiella reported that firefighting crews are coping with "collapsed walls and as mush as eight feet of water because pipes burst during the explosion."

SHOOT’EM UPS The killings in Missouri led ABC's Pierre Thomas to round up vignettes from a week's worth of handgun rampages--a family slain in Maryland, shoppers in Chicago, a SWAT confrontation in Los Angeles, coeds at a Louisiana college--and to inquire into the status of firearms control legislation proposals. "They have been losing ground," he concluded. Opinion polls show that three quarters of the population endorse Second Amendment rights, albeit with restrictions, and "just today 55 Senators and more than 250 Congressmen filed a brief at the Supreme Court opposing Washington DC's handgun ban."

NBC sent George Lewis south of the border to check out the violence in Tijuana. Alberto Capella, the city's Secretary for Public Security--aka Chief of Police--had his home shot up by a gang of 20 gunmen from narcotics cartels. Capella even took Lewis to his clothes closet to show the holes in his shirts where bullets flew. Capella called his fight "really two wars," first against narcoviolence, second against "corrupt police officers who take drug money."

ATTENTION SEEKING DEMOCRATS On the campaign trail, the Democratic primary contest continues. NBC and ABC both followed Barack Obama to Seattle ahead of Washington State's caucuses. "He was playing to a huge crowd," marveled NBC's Lee Cowan, as 21,000 massed in downtown Seattle. ABC's David Wright (embargoed link) called the state "ecofriendly and latte rich" with the city's mayor and the state's governor endorsing Obama, and two senators and two representatives giving the nod to Hillary Rodham Clinton. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell saw the Republican race "begin to make the slow turn into General Election mode" as President George Bush offered an implicit, yet unnamed, endorsement to John McCain as carrying "the conservative banner." ABC's Ron Claiborne (embargoed link) called Bush's speech "not an endorsement but it was a signal." NBC's O'Donnell noted that McCain sees the downside in his near-certain victory in the nomination battle over Mike Huckabee: "He is convinced all the attention and media coverage will shift to the Democrats making it harder for him to stay in the news."

GUILT BY ASSOCIATION On CBS, Armen Keteyian pursued his Investigation of the Rev Kenneth Copeland, a televangelist whose Prosperity Gospel ministry is under fire from a Senate committee. Last week, Keteyian examined Copeland's finances; now he looks at his politics. Specifically, Keteyian implied that Republican Mike Huckabee is a hypocrite--"not practicing what he preaches"--for accepting campaign funds raised by Copeland at a meeting of evangelical ministers at his headquarters in Texas.

Yet Keteyian only gave one example of what Huckabee preaches: "Treat people like you would want to be treated," a precept he showed no evidence of being violated. He produced only one critic of Huckabee, good government activist Melanie Sloan of the inside-the-Beltway Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington. Her criticism of Huckabee amounted to no more than guilt by association: he "has terrible judgment because not only is he being closely associated with someone under this ethical cloud, he is refusing to distance himself."

Besides campaign contributions from Copeland himself and the ministers he organized, what was the nature of the close association? Huckabee was a guest of Copeland's television ministry last November for an apolitical interview on "integrity of character." Copeland offered not to air the interview once news of the investigation into his finances surfaced for fear that it might harm Huckabee's candidacy. Huckabee vociferously stuck by his commitment. "He hollered at me on the phone," Copeland recalled.

Huckabee, on his own behalf, declared: "If it is legal, legitimate, honest contributions I am not sure what the premise would be of giving it back." Neither is it clear what is the premise of the insinuations made by Keteyian and Sloan.

SINCEREST FORM On ABC, Robert Krulwich has developed an idiosyncratic style for filing explainer pieces--his latest on Super Tuesday explained the delegate rules for each party--sporting a chatty, colloquial speaking style illustrated by quirky cartoon drawings. Well, Krulwich is not so idiosyncratic any more. CBS introduced its Fast Draw team of Josh Landis and Mitch Butler to explain how superdelegates work. And guess what? Landis and Butler use a chatty, colloquial speaking style illustrated by quirky cartoon drawings.

On the evidence of their first outing, Fast Draw has the format down but not the explaining part. The image they used to elucidate how superdelegates have a disproportionate and unaccountable influence on the otherwise democratic primary process of selecting a nominee actually contradicted their argument rather than explaining it. They called the superdelegates "wizards" who are "pulling the levers of power in your political party."

But the image they used to illustrate "wizards" was from Oz and the slogan they used was Pay no Attention to the Superdelegates Behind the Curtain.

Wrong! The point of the Oz story was that great and all-powerful wizardry was simply a veneer. The wizard was, in truth, a powerless charlatan, nothing more than a snake oil selling traveling medicine man. The point about the superdelegates is that they have more influence than they appear to, not less--that their public inactivity is a veneer for their active wheelerdealing behind the scenes.

When Krulwich uses a cartoon character and a jokey catchphrase, he uses apparent frivolity to explain something serious. Landis & Butler just left us with a sense of confusing fun.

ELSEWHERE… NBC and ABC each filed follow-up explainer features to elucidate a pair of widely-covered stories. For ABC's Kitchen Table series, Betsy Stark looked into why it is usually hollow advice for homeowners that they should renegotiate mortgage loans to forestall foreclosure. On NBC's In Depth, Anne Thompson debunked the idea that biofuels, such as ethanol, reduce levels of greenhouse carbon in the atmosphere.

NBC's Thompson picked up on studies in the journal Science that clearing land for agriculture to grow crops for biofuels removes "nature's carbon absorbers, soil, trees, shrubs, grasses." In Indonesia and Malaysia, land is cleared so that palms can be planted for biofuels; in Brazil, soybeans and sugar canes; in the midwest of this country, corn.

ABC's Stark called it "mystifying" that homeowners are told to contact their lenders at the first sign of payment trouble: "Mortgage servicers are the front line in the homeowner's quest for help. They are the middleman who sends out monthly bills and processes payments." Yet the servicers are not only "undertrained and overwhelmed," they actually have an incentive not to help, since late fees and default fees are a prime source of revenue.

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: Defense Secretary Roberts Gates worried about the lack of allied support for NATO's military commitment in Afghanistan…investigators from London's Scotland Yard have concluded that Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a bomb blast to the head not a bullet…the $150bn fiscal stimulus package has passed Congress and is ready to be signed into law…the FDA warns that the use of Botox to smooth skin wrinkles can produce toxic side effects…the crew of the International Space Station watches NBC Nightly News on podcast.