Scott McClellan was all lined up for a second day of maximum publicity for What Happened, his tell-all memoir of his days as White House press secretary, when late breaking news knocked him out of the headlines. All three network newscasts kicked off from Dallas as the fundamentalist Mormon parents of the Yearning for Zion ranch prevailed in the Supreme Court of Texas. The court found no grounds for child welfare authorities to have taken all their children away. McClellan's book tour still claimed Story of the Day status, however, including an interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric.    
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video thumbnailNBCWhite House former aide Scott McClellan writes bookFormer colleagues surprised by his disloyaltyDavid GregoryWashington DC
video thumbnailABCWhite House former aide Scott McClellan writes bookDefends accusations, confesses shortcomingsMartha RaddatzNew York
video thumbnailABCMormon fundamentalist sect practices polygamyTexas Supreme Court strikes down welfare raidMike von FremdDallas
video thumbnailCBSAirline industry in financial troubleAlienated passengers spend $9.4bn less annuallyMark StrassmannAtlanta
video thumbnailCBSMilitary personnel suffer mental health problemsIncrease in active duty suicides in war zoneDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailNBCIraq: sectarian Sunni vs Shiite violence aftermathShortfall in social services for Baghdad widowsNed ColtBaghdad
video thumbnailABCMajor psychological depression coverageElectrodes experiment stimulates deep brainJohn McKenzieOhio
video thumbnailNBCComputer software can be operated by brain wavesMonkey research to build robots for paraplegicsRobert BazellNew York
video thumbnailCBSOlympic swimmer Dara Torres makes comebackNow 41-year-old mother, races against teenagersKelly CobiellaIdaho
video thumbnailABCStonehenge monument in England archeology studyNGTV documentary on dig's findingsNed PotterNew York
MORMON PARENTS STEAL MCCLELLAN’S THUNDER Scott McClellan was all lined up for a second day of maximum publicity for What Happened, his tell-all memoir of his days as White House press secretary, when late breaking news knocked him out of the headlines. All three network newscasts kicked off from Dallas as the fundamentalist Mormon parents of the Yearning for Zion ranch prevailed in the Supreme Court of Texas. The court found no grounds for child welfare authorities to have taken all their children away. McClellan's book tour still claimed Story of the Day status, however, including an interview with CBS anchor Katie Couric.

Both ABC and NBC assigned their White House correspondents to cover the McClellan story, the very people he had been stonewalled in his previous job. ABC's Martha Raddatz sat down with McClellan for a q-&-a; NBC's David Gregory reported on McClellan's earlier appearance on his own network's Today. Gregory picked up on the official White House line against What Happened, namely that its criticisms of George Bush were insincere because they were not voiced by him at the time he held the job: "If the knock on McClellan is Why did he not speak up sooner? it should sound familiar," Gregory pointed out, replaying McClellan's own soundbite of identical criticism of onetime aide Richard Clarke for his earlier post-White-House tell-all book.

The disconcerting task of reporting on an erstwhile sparring partner appeared to discombobulate NBC's Gregory. He lapsed into that irritating reporter's fault of characterizing someone's position in the set-up to a soundbite only to have it contradicted by the quote itself. In this instance Gregory told us that Condoleezza Rice "brushed aside McClellan's claim" that the Iraq War was "unnecessary" and then quoted the Secretary of State as countenancing such a claim instead: "…you can agree or disagree about the decision to liberate Iraq in 2003…" Then Gregory concluded his package with another irritating quirk, the false choice. He posed a "fundamental question"--"Is a memoir like this important for history or is it an unforgivable act of betrayal?"--as if the answer was either history or treachery when it could in fact be both…or neither.

ABC's Raddatz disposed of the official criticism of McClellan--that his book must be insincere since he never voiced its sentiments at the time--with straightforward reporting: "McClellan says his change of heart came after only a lot of soul searching and truth seeking." She then zeroed in on the key flaw in McClellan's job performance that his own book exposed. Who does the press secretary work for? "It was my job to be the advocate and spokesman for the President of the United States." "But don't you serve the public?" "Yes, absolutely. You serve the public…I think I fell short at times. We got caught up in this whole mentality of selling the war to the American people and yes, in itself, it becomes a game played on spin."

CBS anchor Couric picked on McClellan's criticism of the very press corps whose tough questions he was deflecting. "Is that not the height of hypocrisy?" "There could have been more done to ask the tough questions. What happened is that the press becomes complicit enablers in this permanent campaign culture by focusing on the march to war rather than the necessity of war." When McClellan repeated his talking point about his job being an "advocate for the President," unRaddatzlike Couric chose not to challenge that claim.

Raddatz' is the most interesting question concerning the dual loyalties of the White House press secretary. What are the ethics of simultaneously being a Presidential advocate and ensuring that the people are fully, accurately and fairly informed about the policies being pursued by that President in their name? Jay Rosen at PressThink has thought long and hard about the role of the press secretary in George Bush's White House. Check it out.

HOMEWARD BOUND The headline on all three newscasts was the Texas decision in favor of the Yearning for Zion ranch. More than 400 children and young teenagers, scattered in foster homes across the state, will now be reunited with their fundamentalist Mormon parents. "This is a huge blow to Texas Child Protective Services," CBS' Hari Sreenivasan asserted, as its custody raid on the ranch and subsequent mass removal was ruled "not warranted." NBC's Don Teague promised that "the buses may soon be rolling again taking many, if not all of those children, home." On ABC, Mike von Fremd acknowledged a "tremendous victory for the polygamous sect" and warned that this Texas ruling will have "a chilling effect" in other states where authorities may have been contemplating a similar crackdown.

FUEL FUELS INFLATION The ripple effect of high energy prices attracted feature coverage on all three networks. ABC had John Berman (embargoed link) track the threat of consumer price inflation as manufacturers stop absorbing the higher costs of raw materials from firms like Dow Chemical and start passing them on. NBC's Tom Costello continued his Running on Empty series with vacationers Ed and Joan Pabian in Estes Park Colo, who spent $1044 on diesel to drive their RV to the Rockies from Florida. CBS publicized a survey by the Travel Industry Association that estimated that airlines lost $9.5bn in revenue last year from 41m skipped trips. Those non-travelers complained about "delays and cancelations, security lines and baggage problems." Mark Strassmann pointed out that airlines cannot afford to correct those problems since they are strapped by the high cost of aviation fuel. "The only debate seems to be whether the system has actually hit bottom."

WHO WOULD FARDELS BEAR? CBS, whose Armen Keteyian has made a specialty of reporting on suicides by military veterans, assigned David Martin at the Pentagon to report on the rising suicide death toll among those on active duty. It is a Dear John or Dear Jane letter that is the immediate cause of despair, with underlying factors being extended tours of duty away from home, their exposure to warzone violence and the easy availability of loaded weapons. Martin told us that 115 soldiers killed themselves in 2007. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski called that the highest annual suicide rate since the USArmy started keeping that statistic 30 years ago.

WAR WIDOWS A rare couple of reports were filed with a Baghdad dateline--there have only been 40 such stories in the first five months of 2008 compared with 152 in the same period in 2007. ABC's Nick Schifrin (embargoed link) brought us positive news from Sadr City where a ceasefire has been declared after two months of fighting and "the only soldiers on patrol are wearing Iraqi uniforms." NBC's In Depth feature by Ned Colt produced the sober reminder that Iraq has been at war for most of the past 25 years. That carnage has produced as many as 2m widows "with no safety net, few jobs"--and a government pension of just $41 each month.

GEE WHIZ MED TECH Check out the rhesus monkeys in Robert Bazell's report on robotic research to help paraplegics for NBC. They have learned to control a mechanical arm at a University of Pittsburgh laboratory by thinking: "When those neurons fired correctly the monkeys got food." And check out John McKenzie's A Closer Look into treatments for debilitating psychological depression at the Cleveland Clinic on ABC. Neurosurgeons stimulated the brain of mental patient Diane Hire with bursts of electricity, opening up her skull while she was awake. A small pulse--"I am starting to smile. I feel happy." Higher voltage--"I feel good." Turn the dial up some more: "I just feel happier." She walked away from surgery with a pacemaker in her chest, permanently wired to her non-depressed deep brain.

FREESTYLE Dara Torres knows how to do two things very well: she can swim extremely fast; and she can attract the national news media. She was ABC's Person of the Week last August. Now CBS' Kelly Cobiella follows the 41-year-old mother to Sun Valley where she is doing laps and hitting the weight room in high Idaho altitude to qualify for her fifth Olympic Games. A winner of nine medals already, why does Torres not leave it to the teenagers to represent the United States in Beijing? "I am just selfish," she kidded. "The best answer I can give is: 'Because I can.'"

STONE DEAD ABC's closer consisted of publicity for Stonehenge Decoded, a TV documentary on National Geographic's cable channel on archeology at the 4,000-year-old stone circle in England. Ned Potter shared NGTV's theory. Stonehenge was a religious complex to celebrate life and death: the stones symbolized death and housed a crematorium; there was a matching circle made of wood a few miles away that symbolized life. Wood, like life, is evanescent. Stone, like death, is eternal.

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: Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama published medical records: apart from those cigarettes he is trying to quit he is in great shape…New York State has not legalized marriages between gay couples but it will recognize those solemnized elsewhere…Tropical Storm Alma made landfall in Nicaragua…Harvey Korman, the comic actor, died, aged 81…a medevac helicopter practicing lifesaving drills crashed on the roof of a Michigan hospital, where, conveniently, the crew was treated…no one was injured in a major fire in an apartment complex in suburban Boston…spam luncheon meat has found renewed popularity.