After three days in a row with Pope Benedict XVI as the Story of the Day, Campaign 2008 returned to the top of the networks' agenda heading in to the Democrats' last weekend on the stump before Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary. Although the campaign qualified as top story, none of the newscasts deemed it newsworthy enough for its lead. NBC kicked off with a minor earthquake at dawn in the heartland. ABC chose mounting fears about Bisphenol A, a potential toxin that can leach from plastic bottles. CBS led from Texas, where the legal hearings in the mass child custody case continued.    
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video thumbnailNBC2008 Pennsylvania primary previewedDebate, superdelegates theme of final weekendLee CowanPennsylvania
video thumbnailCBS2008 Pennsylvania primary previewedLehigh Valley is no longer depressed Rust BeltJeff GreenfieldPennsylvania
video thumbnailABCPope Benedict XVI visits DC, NYCAddresses United Nations on human rightsDan HarrisNew York
video thumbnailNBCMormon fundamentalist sect practices polygamyCustody hearings on culture of FLDS communityPete WilliamsTexas
video thumbnailCBSMormon fundamentalist sect practices polygamyFormer FLDS member describes patriarchal lifeKelly WallaceNew York
video thumbnailABCPlastic bottles leach synthetic estrogen hormoneCanada, Wal-Mart ban Bisphenol A for babiesNed PotterNew York
video thumbnailABCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesArmy seals off Sadr City with Berlin-style wallRyan OwensBaghdad
video thumbnailNBCEarthquake in southern Illinois: Richter 5.2Tremor felt from Miss to Wisc, no one hurtKevin TibblesChicago
video thumbnailCBSShedd Aquarium is popular Chicago destinationAffluent institution given $1.8m by CongressSharyl AttkissonWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSMount Kilimanjaro climbing adventuresLos Angeles boy, aged seven, reaches summitSteve HartmanLos Angeles
FINAL WEEKEND IN KEYSTONE KITCHEN After three days in a row with Pope Benedict XVI as the Story of the Day, Campaign 2008 returned to the top of the networks' agenda heading in to the Democrats' last weekend on the stump before Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary. Although the campaign qualified as top story, none of the newscasts deemed it newsworthy enough for its lead. NBC kicked off with a minor earthquake at dawn in the heartland. ABC chose mounting fears about Bisphenol A, a potential toxin that can leach from plastic bottles. CBS led from Texas, where the legal hearings in the mass child custody case continued.

ABC News' Philadelphia debate on Wednesday was grist for the campaign mill--not its substance but the continuing complaints about the substance. After Barack Obama called it a Gotcha Debate Thursday for its issue-free questions, Hillary Rodham Clinton responded by teasing Obama about his whining. NBC's Lee Cowan saw her paint Obama as "being too timid for the White House" because of his complaints. "If you cannot stand the heat get out of the kitchen," she quoted Harry Truman. "I am very comfortable in the kitchen." CBS' Jim Axelrod reminded us of Rodham Clinton's own protests about being constantly put on the spot by MSNBC: "She has done her share of complaining about debate treatment."

CBS' Axelrod noted that each candidate won the endorsement of four previously uncommitted superdelegates this week. The Obama campaign managed to spin that news effectively on ABC, where David Wright (embargoed link) referred to Rodham Clinton's pick-up as "including two former governors of New Jersey," whom he did not name, whereas those supporting Obama--David Boren, Sam Nunn, Robert Reich--were named as "elder statesmen" with head-and-shoulders shots. Wright saw Obama "firing on all cylinders" and even gave Reich, Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor, a soundbite, calling Rodham Clinton's negative tone "old politics as usual."

CBS sent Jeff Greenfield to Allentown to round out its Pennsylvania coverage. He contrasted the stereotype of the Lehigh Valley, "shuttered steel mills, aging citizens, a struggling old economy" with the hi-tech above average incomes he found instead. Some ten or 20 years ago, the Lehigh Valley would have been "ideal terrain" for Rodham Clinton, mused Greenfield, but the new economy explains why her "once enormous lead has dwindled."

GENERAL ASSEMBLY All three networks followed Pope Benedict XVI as he traveled to New York City to address the United Nations. ABC's Dan Harris saw him receive "a standing ovation." His speech was on the general virtues of human rights, CBS' Byron Pitts observed, with "no direct mention of Iraq or the Middle East." On NBC, Natalie Morales offered a follow-up on the pontiff's private meeting at the Vatican Embassy Thursday with five adults from the Boston Archdiocese who had been sexually assaulted, reportedly by pedophile priests when they were children. It turns out that one of the five, Faith Johnson "was raped by a priest when she was just 15," according to Morales. Morales continued to refer to the scandal by the "pedophile priests" label, even though that refers to sex with pre-pubescent children. The rape of an adolescent, while outrageous, falls outside that category.

KEEP SWEET "It looked like a scene from another time, women in C19th prairie dresses inside a hundred-year-old courthouse," narrated ABC's Neal Karlinsky (embargoed link) as the custody case of the 416 children taken from the Yearning for Zion ranch continued in San Angelo Tex. Of the 416, an investigator from Child Protective Services estimated that "over 20" had been born to mothers who were underage girls when they became pregnant. Both ABC's Karlinsky and CBS' Hari Sreenivasan called that "damaging testimony."

On NBC, Pete Williams summed up the "big issue" facing the judge: "Is it fair to take away all 416 children if only a small fraction was abused?" He cited evidence from a child psychiatrist who found "the parents to be loving and supportive" raising "delightful little kids." An expert on the fundamentalist Mormon sect generalized that "underage marriage is rare and that the adult men are not all polygamists." As for the original 911 telephone call that sparked the raid, CBS' Sreenivasan reported that a 33-year-old woman in Colorado is being interviewed by Texas Rangers. Sreenivasan reported that the sect's lawyers believe the call, purportedly from a pregnant teenager being beaten by her polygamous 50-year-old husband, was a fabrication.

A former member of the FLDS sect named Flora Jessop--she "escaped" from the church 22 years ago, according to CBS' Kelly Wallace--offered her hostile recollections of the "secretive world of harsh rules, unsettling relationships and allegations of abuse," as Wallace characterized them. Jessop said that the sect has no female converts; instead all the women are born into it. She asserted that "the majority of marriages" involve teenage brides, arranged by the church's prophet when the girls are 14 to 16. Women's clothes are in a narrow palette of "jewel" colors, symbolizing the wives' status as "jewels in their husband's crown." The wives never cut their hair, since it must be used for washing the husband's feet. The slogan to live by is Keep Sweet, Jessop explained: "Submit in all things…you must smile and accept your punishment because that is how God accepts you."

NUMBER SEVEN BOTTLES Bisphenol A is an ingredient in some plastic bottles--the ones with the number seven in the recycling symbol, NBC's Robert Bazell notified us--that can leach from the plastic and act as a synthetic version of the estrogen hormone. Since babies drink milk from such plastic bottles, the National Institutes of Health have found "some concern" that the synthetic estrogen may cause infantile brain damage, stunting growth and causing hyperactivity, and perhaps leading to an increased risk for breast cancer or prostate cancer later in life. ABC led with those worries: Canada banned such baby bottles; Wal-Mart announced a phaseout; and Nalgene, the sports drink company, will change its plastic, even though, as Ned Potter pointed out, there are no NIH concerns about harm to adults.

THE IRON CURTAIN OF BAGHDAD Earlier this month CBS' Lara Logan told us that the USArmy had no intention of fighting house to house against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad's Sadr City. Instead its attacks are confined to those outskirts from which the militia's mortars could reach the diplomatic Green Zone. Now ABC's Ryan Owens updates us on that effort. He accompanied Gen Jeffrey Hammond to those outskirts, where a line has been drawn as the limit of the mortars' range. Along it a wall is being built, behind which the Mahdi Army can patrol with impunity but from which the Green Zone cannot be reached. Hammond instructed his men to "create an East Berlin-West Berlin sort of effect."

NOT A WHOLE LOT OF SHAKIN’ It is mystifying why NBC decided to lead with the minor earthquake that occurred in Illinois. It registered just 5.2 on the Richter Scale and caused no injuries and minimal damage. Neither of the other two newscasts thought it newsworthy enough for a correspondent. Kevin Tibbles strung together videotape from Louisville and Evansville showing the slightly surprised reactions of early morning local TV news teams. Tibbles was in Chicago and he seemed puzzled, too, about why he was covering such a non-event--he slept right through it.

WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS Sharyl Attkisson on CBS likes to cultivate a mood of outrage for her Follow the Money features about porkbarrel spending. The target for her ire this time was Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, the recipient of $1.8m in earmarked appropriations from local members of Congress. Her complaint on the audio track was that the aquarium is such a "spectacular showplace" with 2m annual visitors and corporate sponsors that it needs no additional federal dollars. Yet the videotape she showed undercut her words: her montage of wondrous marine life was so fascinating to watch that they conveyed an argument of money well spent.

TWIN PEAKS CBS' closing feature by Steve Hartman was a follow-up on his Assignment America from January on Keats Boyd, the seven-year-old boy from Los Angeles, whose ambition was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. "It was clear," asserted Hartman, that he "would probably not make it to the top…at just four feet tall, the kid could barely conquer a fallen log." Yet he persisted "though every climate zone on Earth," confronting wind chills of -30F, to become the youngest person to reach the 19,000 foot summit. But what about the second of the Twin Peaks of Kilimanjaro?

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 cost of a barrel of crude oil rose again, to $116…stock traders ended the week on a buying spree with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 228 points to 12849…Citigroup, the financial conglomerate, lost $5.1bn in the first quarter of 2008 and will lay off 9,000 employees…Republican Presidential candidate John McCain keeps his finances separately from his millionaire wife, reporting income of $405,000…elderly people tend to be happy, well-adjusted and sociable, according to University of Chicago sociologists.