There was no clear direction to the day's news. The war in Iraq was Story of the Day yet none of the three newscasts decided to lead with it. All three newscasts filed from the Pentagon where the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended troop levels in Iraq for the second half of the year while in Iraq itself the Mahdi Army in Basra continued its clashes against government forces. As for each newscast's lead, NBC chose the campaign trail; ABC followed up on a story in The New York Times on conflicts of interest in cancer research. On CBS, substitute anchor Harry Smith kicked off with the rising price of oil.    
click to playstoryanglereporterdateline
video thumbnailNBCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesGovernment forces fight with Mahdi Army in BasraJim MiklaszewskiPentagon
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesPresident Bush briefed by JCS on troop levelsDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailNBC2008 John McCain campaignFormal speech on costs, pains, duties of warKelly O'DonnellLos Angeles
video thumbnailNBC2008 Hillary Rodham Clinton campaignTries damage control after Bosnia misstatementsAndrea MitchellWashington DC
video thumbnailABC2008 Barack Obama campaignReturns from vacation, reacts to negativityJake TapperWashington DC
video thumbnailCBS2008 issues: economyCandidates' platforms on taxes, real estateDean ReynoldsChicago
video thumbnailNBCLung cancer coverageNEJoM study of CT scans funded by Big TobaccoRobert BazellNew York
video thumbnailCBSOil, natural gas, gasoline pricesHigh cost of diesel harms trucking industryNancy CordesNew York
video thumbnailABCSudan civil war: ethnic cleansing in DarfurAquifers under desert sands may ease conflictBob WoodruffSudan
video thumbnailNBCAntarctica polar ecology: ice shelf meltsHuge block floats off western Wilkins peninsulaGeorge LewisLos Angeles
BATTLE OF BASRA BEGINS There was no clear direction to the day's news. The war in Iraq was Story of the Day yet none of the three newscasts decided to lead with it. All three newscasts filed from the Pentagon where the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended troop levels in Iraq for the second half of the year while in Iraq itself the Mahdi Army in Basra continued its clashes against government forces. As for each newscast's lead, NBC chose the campaign trail; ABC followed up on a story in The New York Times on conflicts of interest in cancer research. On CBS, substitute anchor Harry Smith kicked off with the rising price of oil.

ABC was the only network to file from Baghdad. Miguel Marquez (embargoed link) called "the stakes incredibly high for this fragile Shiite government" as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia, 72 hours to disarm itself. Marquez identified Muqtada al-Sadr, the opposition politician who leads the militia, as an "anti-American cleric." Marquez reported that 30,000 Iraqi troops have been committed to Basra in order to enforce al-Maliki's ultimatum. At the Pentagon, NBC's Jim Miklaszewski offered differing details. He characterized the raid on Basra as an attempt "to take back control of the city from renegade Shiite militias" plural. He reckoned the government force was smaller--between 15,000 and 20,000--and made up of a combination of soldiers and police officers.

Neither Marquez nor Miklaszewski examined whatever political disputes there might be between al-Maliki and al-Sadr. Marquez depicted the attack on the Mahdi Army as a law enforcement measure, "to contain the widespread crime and violence that have made Basra, Iraq's second largest city, the most dangerous place in the country."

ABC's Pentagon man Jonathan Karl pointed out that the recent reduction in violence in Iraq "has been attributed to three factors"--US military reinforcements, the so-called surge; the decision by formerly insurgent Sunni tribes to switch sides; and "the Mahdi Army's ceasefire." With five US combat brigades leaving Iraq by July and the Mahdi Army now under military attack "all three of those factors may be in jeopardy."

CBS' David Martin focused on the advice on troop deployments given to the Commander in Chief. The Joint Chiefs of Staff warned George Bush that "more US troops may soon be needed in Afghanistan." Martin reported that they endorsed a plan by Gen David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, not to reduce troop levels there below 140,000. In doing so they are "leaving the President with a stark choice of pulling too many troops out of Iraq or putting too few in Afghanistan."

CONTINUING WHAT I HATE Only NBC assigned a reporter to cover the formal address on the Iraq War and a possible future "McCain Doctrine," as Kelly O'Donnell put it, at the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles. "I hate war and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are," the former prisoner of war and future Republican candidate stated, before arguing that the military deployment in Iraq must continue nonetheless because the United States has "incurred a moral responsibility" there. O'Donnell also outlined three areas where John McCain pledged to depart from the policies of George Bush. He would be more active to prevent climate change; he would forbid torture of prisoners; and he would no longer treat Russia as a fellow democracy.

CONTACT SPORT After Sharyl Attkisson's two days of fun for CBS on Monday and Tuesday at Hillary Rodham Clinton's expense about the former First Lady's fibs about sniper fire in Bosnia, the baton was passed to NBC's Andrea Mitchell. Mitchell too, like Attkisson, had been on that 1996 tour. She replayed a clip of Rodham Clinton's account then demurred: "Those of us on the trip know that did not happen." Then Mitchell played the candidate's explanation for her misrepresentation: "That is what I said when I was sleep deprived. You can read my book and I said something very differently."

"Sleep deprived" is not a fortunate excuse for someone who prides herself on being clearheaded and decisive when the telephone rings at three o'clock in the morning.

As Obama returned to the campaign trail after a brief Virgin Islands vacation, ABC's Jake Tapper heard "real concern among top Democrats" that the acerbic tone of the primary campaign could hurt its eventual candidate in November. NBC's Tim Russert quoted a new opinion poll by his network that found a current statistical dead heat between Republican John McCain and either Democrat. Of course, when Tapper said "top Democrats" he was not referring to the former President. Calling politics "a contact sport" Bill Clinton offered this soundbite: "Let us just saddle up and have an argument. What is the matter with that?"

On CBS, Dean Reynolds observed that debate about a looming recession has been "drowned out" by miscellanea such as that Bosnia trip…and Barack Obama's preacher…and McCain's "Who's a Shiite? gaffe." Doing his civic duty to return to the issues, Reynolds summarized the candidates' contrasting plans to cut taxes. He then offered their key soundbites on the crisis in residential real estate. McCain insists: "It is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly." Obama sees McCain "just sit back and watch it happen" as millions of Americans get evicted. Rodham Clinton reacts: "Well, it sounds remarkably like Herbert Hoover."

SMOKING SCAN ABC followed the lead of The New York Times assigning Sharyn Alfonsi (embargoed link) to start its newscast with the expose that lung cancer research by the Weill Cornell Medical Center published in the New England Journal of Medicine had been financed by the tobacco industry. The Vector Group, owner of Liggett cigarettes, had channeled $3.6m through a charity called the Foundation for Lung Cancer Early Treatment and Prevention to pay for research by Dr Claudia Henschke. Henschke claimed that her study proved that CT scans prevent cancer deaths in smokers by detecting lesions in the lungs when they are still small and therefore treatable. Alfonsi reported that Henschke was a co-owner of patents on the CT technology and was receiving royalties from the increased use of scans as a result of her research.

It turns out that it is not only the tobacco industry that has a vested interest in making spiral CT scans attractive and reassuring to smokers. On NBC's In Depth Robert Bazell pointed out that his corporate bosses, General Electric, had also subsidized Henschke's research. General Electric manufactures scanning machines. NBC News also publicized Henschke's thesis in November 2006 when Mike Taibbi, its correspondent and longtime smoker, underwent one of the CT scans to reassure himself that his lungs were clean when he quit.

To Taibbi's credit, he followed up next day with rival lung cancer experts who claimed that there was no evidence that discovering lesions early led to longer lives, despite the extra biopsies, surgery and radiology that early detection can incur. On CBS, in-house physician Jon LaPook reported on the same counterargument last March, when the NEJoM study was contradicted in the Journal of the American Medical Association. ABC's in-house physician Timothy Johnson followed up on Alfonsi's report by calling Henschke's thesis "not proven…what we really need is the study that is now under way--half the group getting regular screening; a group not getting regular screening--to see if there is any ultimate difference in death rates between those two groups." Dr Tim did not say who is funding that research.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD CBS' curious decision to lead its newscast with a feature on the trucking industry rather than breaking news continued its interest in illustrating the unexpected impact of rising oil prices. On Monday Mark Strassmann visited the city of Oil City in western Pennsylvania where the industry was founded in 1857. He found working oil wells still "using C19th methods--and grit" to extract the black gold. He sampled the crude with a dip on his pinkie: "Never tasted so sweet." Now Nancy Cordes is at the other end of the production line, worrying about the high cost of diesel fuel, "once lowly…now pricier than premium." Global conversion of automobiles from gasoline to diesel and a lack of modifications to domestic refineries have hiked annual fuel costs for a truck to $70K or even $100K: "There is no doubt that freight is in a recession."

IT TAKES A ROCKET SCIENTIST Hats off to Bob Woodruff for his excellent A Closer Look at one aspect of the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region for ABC. "Poverty, war, violence and thirst are crushing facts of life here," Woodruff asserted. So he decided to focus on the thirst, on the assumption that freely available water will diminish ethnic rivalries and dampen the violence. Woodruff tagged along with Farouk el-Baz, a former NASA scientist, now with the Center for Remote Sensing: el-Baz believes he can spot underground aquifers by studying satellite photographs. The taller the sand dunes on the surface, the more likely it is that water can be found underneath. The scientist has told the United Nations that there is an underwater lake "the size of Lake Erie" under the sands of northern Sudan and has secured funding from both Sudan and Egypt to start drilling.

OCEANS RISING Both NBC and CBS focused on the impact of climate change where the oceans reach the land. CBS had Mark Phillips on the North Sea coast of England where sand cliffs are being rapidly eroded. He claimed that the fiercer weather that global warming is causing--Phillips used the "climate change" hook but he offered no evidence that these were no just normal, severe storms--has wiped out 30 seaside properties in just a dozen years. "It is called managed retreat," Phillips remarked, meaning "abject retreat." The town in question was Happisburgh, pronounced "Hayesborough."

NBC had Los Angeles based George Lewis narrate an Our Planet feature of the 25-mile long block that has split from the Wilkins Ice Shelf in western Antarctica. The best part was a clip he ran from Mark Austin, of NBC's British newsgathering partner ITN, 100 miles north of Wilkins last year. Austin was in a speedboat when a wall of ice fell into the sea behind him. See that speedboat turn on the power!

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: President George Bush talked on the telephone with President Hu Jintao of the People's Republic of China about the suppression of protests in Tibet…pickets protested the Federal Reserve Board's $30bn subsidy the facilitated the buyout of the brokerage firm Bear Stearns…in February, when the sales of existing homes showed a slight uptick, the rate of sales of new homes continued to decline…Hollywood actor Richard Widmark dies, aged 93…a parachute has been found in remote Oregon--it may have belonged to the fugitive hijacked-robber DB Cooper.