For the second straight day the fighting in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, between government forces and Shiite militias was Story of the Day. ABC kicked off with a feed from its newsgathering partners of the BBC from Basra itself. CBS, with Harry Smith as substitute anchor, led its newscast from Baghdad. NBC chose medical news as its lead: Singulair, the asthma and allergy medication manufactured by Merck and a frequent advertiser on the nightly newscasts, is being checked by the Food & Drug Administration for its psychiatric safety.    
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video thumbnailABCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesMahdi Army remains in control of Basra suburbsPaul WoodIraq
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesBasra fighting sparks Baghdad protests, curfewLara LoganBaghdad
video thumbnailNBC2008 Barack Obama campaignCalls for financial regulation, housing aidLee CowanNew York
video thumbnailABC2008 issues: economyCandidates' platforms on housing, credit bailoutJake TapperWashington DC
video thumbnailNBC2008 Hillary Rodham Clinton campaignChildhood in Republican Chicago suburbs recalledAndrea MitchellWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCTibet independence protests against PRC ruleMonks disrupt government-run news media tourIan WilliamsBangkok
video thumbnailCBSPrescription drug Singulair side effects worriesFDA probes Merck bestseller for suicide riskKelly WallaceNew York
video thumbnailCBSAir safety: aging jetliner fleet requires inspectionFAA-ordered check of MD-80 wiring is disruptiveNancy CordesNew Jersey
video thumbnailNBCSen Arlen Specter (R-PA) recovers from cancerWrites memoir of his treatment, convalescenceBrian WilliamsNew York
video thumbnailNBCFrance's President Sarkozy marries supermodelCarla Bruni is celebrity of London state visitDawna FriesenLondon
IRAQ POWER STRUGGLE IS MURKY For the second straight day the fighting in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, between government forces and Shiite militias was Story of the Day. ABC kicked off with a feed from its newsgathering partners of the BBC from Basra itself. CBS, with Harry Smith as substitute anchor, led its newscast from Baghdad. NBC chose medical news as its lead: Singulair, the asthma and allergy medication manufactured by Merck and a frequent advertiser on the nightly newscasts, is being checked by the Food & Drug Administration for its psychiatric safety.

On ABC, the BBC's Paul Wood called it "a bloody day in Basra" with the Sadrist Mahdi Army retaining control "of as many as seven suburbs" against a combined military-police force of 30,000. Wood confusingly called it "the biggest ever unilateral Iraqi military operation" without qualification, although he presumably meant since the collapse of the Baath Party regime in 2003, not "ever."

In Baghdad, CBS' Lara Logan had a different story. She sat down with Adm Gregory Smith of the US military occupation, who told her that it was not Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army that was being challenged by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government: "The militia groups that have turned away from al-Sadr have turned to Iran and depended on them for financing, equipping and the manpower necessary." Logan concluded that the Battle of Basra consisted of proxy fighting: "Neither the United States nor Iran is looking for all-out war right now but they do not seem to mind using Iraq as their battleground."

On NBC, Ned Colt was imprecise about the Basra fighters, calling them merely "Shiite militants." He was in no doubt, however, about the political power struggle between al-Sadr and al-Maliki: in Baghdad's Sadr City, "thousands of al-Sadr supporters demonstrated demanding that the prime minister must go." A curfew has been imposed on the capital city as rockets attacked the diplomatic Green Zone. At the Pentagon, ABC's Jonathan Karl (at the tail of the Wood videostream) reported on worry about a rising tide of violence in Baghdad--up from ten daily incidents to 50--yet was skeptical that al-Sadr had yet entered the fray: "He once again told his followers that he wants a peaceful solution but that could change at any time." The mood at the Pentagon is that "if al-Sadr's ceasefire does not hold, all bets are off."

OBAMA COMES TO THE APPLE A tanned Barack Obama, fresh off his Virgin Islands vacation, was in New York City for a formal speech on the woes of the financial markets. He took time to sit down for interviews with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo (part of the Cowan videostream), CBS substitute anchor Harry Smith and ABC anchor Charles Gibson. Obama complained to Smith about "no overarching strategy, no clear definition of success" in Iraq: "When the violence was high John McCain and George Bush said we cannot leave because 'the violence is high.' When we reduced the violence they said we cannot leave because 'we have made progress.'"

Obama reassured ABC's Gibson that his protracted contest with Hillary Rodham Clinton would leave no lasting scars: "There are going to be some bruised feelings whoever the nominee is. We are going to have to come together and remind ourselves that there is a heckuva lot bigger difference" with McCain. Concerning his speech last week about his longtime minister Jeremiah Wright, Obama declared that he has no interest "in wallowing in a lengthy conversation about race…Politicians often use racial divisions as a way of ignoring the common problems."

NBC's Lee Cowan covered Obama's speech about the financial system. Obama decried a failure of regulation that resulted in "a distorted market that creates bubbles." ABC's Jake Tapper picked up on Obama's precedent-setting use of the word "recession" and noted that Obama criticized tolerance for "financial manipulation" not only during George Bush's current administration but also under his predecessor Bill Clinton. Tapper used the speech--as Dean Reynolds did on CBS Wednesday and NBC's Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday--to compare and contrast the candidates' platforms on the economy. "I will not play election year politics with the housing crisis," was his McCain soundbite.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE NBC's Andrea Mitchell rounded off the day's campaign coverage with a Family Ties human interest feature on Hillary Rodham Clinton's childhood in suburban Chicago. To her father Hugh "a Democrat was one step behind being a Communist, explaining why young Hillary started out as a Goldwater Girl." Later, the candidate confessed, "our relationship was increasingly defined by silence…or by arguments, which I often provoked."

HANDLERS AMBUSHED Neither ABC nor NBC was invited by the Chinese government on its journalists' junket to Tibet. From Bangkok, NBC's Ian Williams called it "a carefully stage managed tour for selected foreign journalists." From Beijing, ABC's Stephanie Sy (embargoed link) concurred, seeing a "carefully choreographed tour for only a handful of journalists." Yet when the tour walked into Lhasa's Jokhang Temple, their minders were ambushed by a group of 30 monks who rushed over to the reporters to complain that they were being locked up by authorities and that the monks the journalists were being led to meet were impostors, Communist Party officials in disguise. Sy got her eyewitness quotes from Geoff Dyer of The Financial Times and Williams used Charles Hutzler of Associated Press. Both described handlers physically interrupt their questioning of the monks by pulling them away bodily.

SINGULAIR SENSATION The Singulair investigation by the Food & Drug Administration was more newsworthy because of the drug's widespread use rather than the prevalence of the negative side effects. CBS substitute anchor Harry Smith introduced Kelly Wallace's report by telling us that 31m Singulair prescriptions are written each year in the United States alone. Merck has already updated its label to include warnings about tremors, depression, suicide and anxiety--yet now the FDA has launched a new nine-month probe. NBC's Robert Bazell noted that parents have posted "more than a thousand complaints" about changes in their children's behavior on yet the death toll of possibly related suicides stands at just four.

Yes, NBC led its newscast over four deaths out of 31m prescriptions. ABC did not mention Singulair, even in passing.

JUST CHECKING Embarrassment. That was the explanation by CBS' Nancy Cordes for the disruption of traffic that halted 275 Delta Airlines flights and 450 at American over the last two days. The embarrassment arose when Federal Aviation Administration inspectors were revealed to have turned a blind eye to lax maintenance checks at Southwest Airlines. To compensate FAA ordered an audit of Southwest's rivals. "The airlines started to scramble to make sure their aging fleet was clear to fly," ABC's Sharyn Alfonsi (embargoed link) said. The latest issue was the condition of bundles of wiring outside the wheel wells of MD-80 jetliners: "They are not dangerous. They just need to be checked." NBC ran the same story Wednesday with Don Teague on the concourse at Dallas-Fort Worth. The disruption would not be so severe, he explained, were the airlines not running so close to capacity. With 76% of their seats occupied they have little leeway to handle extra inspections.

ELSEWHERE… NBC anchor Brian Williams offered free publicity to Sen Arlen Specter, now 78 years old, on the publication of his book Never Give In about continuing his work on Capitol Hill through a diagnosis with Hodgkin's Disease and debilitating chemotherapy…in London, Carla Bruni is being acclaimed as "the belle of the ball," celebrated NBC's Dawna Friesen. The supermodel turned First Lady of France joined Nicolas Sarkozy on a two-day state visit, where she turned out to be "her husband's best and most glamorous diplomatic asset." Friesen touted Bruni as, perhaps, the celebrity successor to Jackie O and Princess Di.

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: the Gross Domestic Product grew at the sluggish rate of 0.6% in the fourth quarter of 2007…the Census Bureau reports that Atlanta and Phoenix are the cities with the largest increase in population; Detroit has the biggest decline…sound appears to have been recorded first not by Thomas Edison but by a French inventor in 1860…a mature student was arrested for carrying a gun on campus at the University of Louisville; her two children were found dead at home…the Pentagon ordered a full inventory of the components of its nuclear arsenal after Minuteman missile nose cones were accidentally shipped to Taiwan.