The most overcovered malady on the network news agenda was Story of the Day--autism. The decision by a vaccine injury claims fund to pay compensation to Hannah Poling, a nine-year-old Georgia girl, for autistic symptoms she manifested immediately after receiving her shots as a toddler was covered by all three networks. Yet it was the lead on none of the newscasts: CBS and NBC chose worsening foreclosures in the housing market; ABC selected the $10m fine levied on Southwest Airlines for failing to inspect its aging jetliners for metal fatigue.    
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video thumbnailNBCAutism coverageVaccine fund unprecedentedly compensates patientPete WilliamsWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSReal estate home mortgage foreclosures increaseWorst delinquencies, negative equity in decadesAnthony MasonNew York
video thumbnailNBCCollege student loan system credit crisisCost hikes, sometimes unavailable at any priceTom CostelloWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSAir safety: air-traffic-control system problemsRookie controler nearly caused midair Pa crashKelly WallaceNew York
video thumbnailABCJerusalem seminary attacked in shooting spreeLibrary of Jewish students hit, eight deadSimon McGregor-WoodJerusalem
video thumbnailCBSMilitary recruiter vandalized in NYC's Times SquareOvernight explosion broke office windowsJeff GlorNew York
video thumbnailNBCColon cancer coverageScreening guidelines apply only to insuredRobert BazellNew York
video thumbnailCBS2008 Presidential primary schedule previewedLogistics of Fla, Mich do-over debated by DemsNancy CordesNew York
video thumbnailABC2008 Hillary Rodham Clinton campaignReiterates her national security experienceJake TapperWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCWWI: role of Doughboys on western front rememberedSole surviving American veteran is now aged 107John YangWhite House
AUTISM OVERKILL The most overcovered malady on the network news agenda was Story of the Day--autism. The decision by a vaccine injury claims fund to pay compensation to Hannah Poling, a nine-year-old Georgia girl, for autistic symptoms she manifested immediately after receiving her shots as a toddler was covered by all three networks. Yet it was the lead on none of the newscasts: CBS and NBC chose worsening foreclosures in the housing market; ABC selected the $10m fine levied on Southwest Airlines for failing to inspect its aging jetliners for metal fatigue.

How fascinated are the networks by autism? Consider statistics for 2007. Autism (59 minutes on the three networks combined) attracted more coverage than any other single disease except for breast cancer (79 min): more than heart disease (57 min); more than tuberculosis--even though the Atlanta bridegroom Andrew Speaker singlehandedly attracted 58 minutes for flying while infected. HIV/AIDS in the entire year accumulated a mere 15 minutes of coverage.

ABC's John Donvan (embargoed link) stated that the Polings are "the first family ever to get its way in a lawsuit blaming autism on vaccines" while NBC's Pete Williams saw the settlement as "a breakthrough, the first federal payment involving a case of autism symptoms in childhood vaccines." CBS' Sharyl Attkisson disagreed. She called it "the first of its kind to become public" but claimed that nine other awards have been paid since 1990. And Donvan offered the caveat that the compensation would be "a huge victory if it is clear cut" but it is not. The fund denied that the vaccine caused the girl's autism. Instead it said she had a pre-existing condition that the shots aggravated "from which features of autism emerged."

Having spent all this time on this single case, CBS anchor Katie Couric had in-house physician Jon LaPook instruct parents not to worry about it. "There is no suggestion that vaccines cause autism," he asserted, citing the Centers for Disease Control. "Aside from clean water nothing has saved more lives than vaccines."

LOOKING FOR BLOOD The other disease story to be covered was on colon cancer as NBC's Robert Bazell went over American Cancer Society guidelines about screening using colonoscopies and other scans. "They acknowledge that not everyone has the insurance or money to pay for them," Bazell observed. For the uninsured, his best tip was to test for blood in one's stool. Interestingly, Bazell did not cover the colonoscopy story yesterday that the in-house physicians on the two rival newscasts mentioned. ABC's Timothy Johnson (embargoed link) and CBS' Jon LaPook both covered a Journal of the American Medical Association study contrasting the cancer danger from rounded polyps and flat lesions. NBC anchor Brian Williams asked Bazell about NBC's omission. The research was for the benefit of physicians, Bazell shrugged: "There is no public health message in this."

HOUSING DATA A couple of statistics from the housing market was enough for CBS to assign Anthony Mason and NBC to assign George Lewis to each newscast's lead spot. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that 8% of all loans are not current, the highest percentage since 1985. The Federal Reserve Board found that an average homeowner owns 48% of the value of the house and has borrowed against 52%. Fully 10% of all homeowners own nothing at all, owing more than the property is worth. "Foreclosures are spreading like cancer," Mason worried. "The situation just keeps getting worse," Lewis lamented. ABC mentioned the data in passing but did not assign a reporter to cover them.

NBC had Tom Costello follow up with the next sector of the credit market to get into trouble--college student loans. He warned that a dozen capital-strapped lenders have pulled out of the federal program. He called it "worrisome" as more than 200,000 students may be unable to get financing and be forced to drop out.

FLIGHT PLAN All three networks mentioned the troubles at Southwest Airlines but only ABC had a correspondent cover them. Lisa Stark (embargoed link) told us that the airline allowed 46 old Boeing 737s to make 60,000 flights over nine months without undergoing mandatory inspections. When it eventually checked for metal fatigue, six of the planes had cracks categorized as "significant." CBS, too, ran on airline story arising from the "bitter labor dispute between controlers and the FAA over staffing and pay," as Kelly Wallace put it. A rookie controler at a tower in Ohio set a Delta Airlines jetliner and a USAirways Express commuter flight on mistaken courses. The two planes managed to evade one another when cockpit collision alerts sounded. FAA minimum standards dictate that planes be separated by 1,000 feet vertically, five miles horizontally; for these two, the distances were 400 feet and three miles.

STUCK WITH THE TAB As for Campaign 2008, the question of the day was the role Michigan and Florida might play in selecting the Democratic nominee, since the National Committee has decided that the delegates selected in January's contests would have no standing. "The nation's fourth and eighth largest states are fighting furiously for a say in the outcome," CBS' Nancy Cordes commented. NBC's Andrea Mitchell asked Hillary Rodham Clinton whether she would accept a do-over. The candidate was evasive about such a hypothetical. "No one is will to pay for elections," Mitchell pointed out, with a possible pricetag of $25m. "The DNC is not opening its wallet and neither, so far, have the states," Cordes concluded. "Everyone wants a way out of this mess but nobody wants to be stuck with the tab."

ABC's Jake Tapper focused on Rodham Clinton's continued efforts to emphasize Barack Obama's national security inexperience by boasting of her skills at answering scary telephone calls at 3am. "Some Democratic officials fear that Clinton now seems willing to do whatever it takes to defeat Obama regardless of the risk that she may be irreparably harming him if he is the eventual Democratic nominee," Tapper mused non-specifically. It seems unlikely that John McCain needs any encouragement from Rodham Clinton: he seems ready to disdain Obama's experience whether she is nasty or nice.

HUMBLED BARACK ABC anchor Charles Gibson went over the points raised by Hillary Rodham Clinton in a remote interview with a self-described "humbled" Barack Obama. Was her 3am spot the reason he lost in Texas and Ohio on Tuesday? "I think that people started saying: 'Well maybe we want this to continue a little bit farther.' They want me to earn this thing and not feel as if I am just sliding into it." Is he, in truth, inexperienced? "She discounts all the work that I have done as a community organizer, as a civil rights attorney, as somebody who has taught Constitutional law." Is he prepared to fight back against her criticisms? On "issues of transparency and vetting I think it is important for her to release her tax returns."

ELSEWHERE… All three networks assigned reporters to the shooting spree in a library of a Jewish seminary. NBC's Tom Aspell and ABC's Simon McGregor-Wood were in Jerusalem. McGregor-Wood repeated an eyewitness description of "religious students lying on the ground covered in blood, some of them still clutching their Bibles." CBS had Mark Phillips narrate the videotape from London. He said the seminary was "the heart of Israel's hardline religious West Bank settlers' movement"…CBS had Early Show correspondent Jeff Glor go down to Times Square, "one of the most photographed intersections in the world" where a military recruiting office that had been operating there since 1946 was vandalized overnight by a bicyclist bomber. An explosion shattered glass and burned a door: "No one was hurt"…at the White House, President George Bush inaugurated a photographic exhibit of World War I veterans by celebrating Frank Buckles, aged 107, the sold surviving Doughboy, as American GIs in that war were nicknamed. ABC anchor Charles Gibson narrated videotape of the ceremonies while NBC's John Yang sat down with the lucky centenarian: "He arrived in France just as the guns went silent, missing the war."

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: Viktor Bout, the notorious international weapons trafficker, has been arrested in Thailand…a pair of bombs exploded in a market in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad, killing more than 50…the cost of a barrel of crude oil rose once more, now topping $105…a late winter snowstorm blanketed Dallas, disrupting airline traffic at the Texas hub…NFL Packer Brett Favre tearfully said farewell to football at a press conference in Green Bay.