CONTAINING LINKS TO 35725 STORIES FROM THE NETWORKS' NIGHTLY NEWSCASTS
     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM AUGUST 08, 2008
Yes, war started in the Caucasus. Yes, a prominent politician copped to lying about sex. But the Olympic Games opened in Beijing and that was the Story of the Day. NBC, obviously, covered the Games most heavily with anchor Brian Williams based in Beijing. He was in the awkward position of referring to the extravaganza of the opening ceremonies as his lead news event even as he persisted in promoting it as an upcoming primetime spectacle to be aired by NBC Sports. CBS, with substitute anchor Russ Mitchell, led with that priapic politician, onetime Presidential candidate John Edwards. ABC, with substitute Kate Snow, made a peculiar choice for its lead--a continuation of the monthlong decline in the cost of a barrel of crude oil.    
     TYNDALL PICKS FOR AUGUST 08, 2008: CLICK ON GRID ELEMENTS TO SEARCH FOR MATCHING ITEMS
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video thumbnailNBCBeijing Summer Olympic Games previewedOpening ceremonies are lavish extravaganzaRichard EngelBeijing
video thumbnailNBCBeijing Summer Olympic Games previewedUSOC flagbearer Lopez Lomong, lost boy of SudanBrian WilliamsBeijing
video thumbnailCBSBeijing Summer Olympic Games previewedTight security on watch for unrest, protestsBarry PetersenBeijing
video thumbnailABCBeijing Summer Olympic Games previewedOrganizers lay off workers, evict residentsStephanie SyBeijing
video thumbnailNBCChina economy: migrant workforce from rural areasUrban workers allowed single annual trip homeMark MullenBeijing
video thumbnailABCFormer Sen John Edwards admits extra-marital affairRetracts denial, yet disavows baby's paternityBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailCBSRussia-Georgia fighting over South OssetiaMoscow troop incursion to support secessionistsRichard RothLondon
video thumbnailABC
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Oil, natural gas, gasoline pricesGlobal economic slowdown drives down crude costsJohn BermanNew York
video thumbnailCBSSinger-songwriter Chris Bell plays coffeehousesUses Erie Canal canoe to paddle between gigsSteve HartmanNew York State
video thumbnailNBCChina society guided by numerology superstitionAll-eights date is propitious, many nuptialsIan WilliamsBeijing
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
LET THE GAMES BEGIN Yes, war started in the Caucasus. Yes, a prominent politician copped to lying about sex. But the Olympic Games opened in Beijing and that was the Story of the Day. NBC, obviously, covered the Games most heavily with anchor Brian Williams based in Beijing. He was in the awkward position of referring to the extravaganza of the opening ceremonies as his lead news event even as he persisted in promoting it as an upcoming primetime spectacle to be aired by NBC Sports. CBS, with substitute anchor Russ Mitchell, led with that priapic politician, onetime Presidential candidate John Edwards. ABC, with substitute Kate Snow, made a peculiar choice for its lead--a continuation of the monthlong decline in the cost of a barrel of crude oil.

Both NBC's Richard Engel and ABC's David Muir (embargoed link) talked us through the opening ceremonies--"talked" because video images had been embargoed by NBC Sports so highlights had to be rendered in still photojournalism. "Breathtaking' and "lavish" were adjectives selected by Engel. "Stunning," was Muir's choice. He found the 90,000 crowd in the Birds News stadium "mesmerized." Anchor Brian Williams selected Lopez Lomong for NBC's closing Making a Difference feature. Lomong, a track-&-field athlete, was the flagbearer for the USOC team at the ceremonies. At the age of six he had been separated from his parents during the civil war in his native Sudan, becoming one of that war's Lost Boys before being granted asylum and then citizenship in the United States. "He may be part of a walking political statement," Williams suggested, "because of China's ties to Sudan and the ongoing Darfur tragedy." Sharyn Alfonsi (no link) profiled Lomong on Wednesday, but as usually happens, ABC decided not to exercise its fair use privilege to post copyright-protected sports footage online, so Williams' Lomong videostream is the only network story available.

"We have been able to see the air here," declared anchor Williams. He consulted his network's in-house physician Nancy Snyderman about whether breathing stuff that thick can be healthy. Snyderman noted that factories are closed and that the dusty Gobi Desert is close and that the humidity was heavy: "Honestly right now I think most of this is humidity…Right now according to the International Olympic Committee it is safe for the athletes."

The serious side of the Olympics was covered by ABC's Stephanie Sy and CBS' Barry Petersen. "Dissidents fear security forces will use Olympic protection as an excuse for more roundups," Petersen warned, referring to arrests of Christian activists. The Chinese did not promise an open Olympics--just a secure one." Sy followed up on the monthlong shut down of construction in the city as part of the clean air effort. It left "a million migrant workers unemployed." Some Beijing residents have been evicted for Olympic urban renewal projects. Yet Sy found both laid-off migrants and homeless citizens brimming with patriotic pride at China's achievement.

The construction of the Birds Nest stadium was the news hook used by NBC's Mark Mullen to file a feature on the life of a migrant construction worker. He followed Jung Tao An, a 34-year-old who has traveled from site to site installing insulation for the past 14 years. He sleeps at the job site and "can only afford to go home once a year" to see his two children. This winter his journey coincided with the horrendous snowstorms that welcomed the Year of the Rat. With Beijing construction shut down, Jung is now insulating 200 miles away in Hebei.


ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW The decision that news of John Edwards' extra-marital affair with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter should cross over from the tabloids to the nightly network newscasts was made by the former candidate himself. "For two weeks it has been the biggest story never told," declared CBS' Jeff Greenfield, "at least by the mainstream media." The National Enquirer had published details of their liaison, her pregnancy and his clandestine meeting with her at a hotel in Beverly Hills.

Edwards had responded with this statement--"The story is false. It is completely untrue. Ridiculous"--until he agreed to grant an interview to Bob Woodruff of ABC's Nightline. ABC had Woodruff's colleague Brian Ross cover Edwards' partial retraction of his denial. Ross reported that the now-unemployed Hunter has moved into a $3m home in Santa Barbara with her newborn daughter, whose father's name is not listed on her birth certificate. Ross added that an Edwards aide claims to be the baby's father; Edwards himself denies paying Hunter hush money; but Fred Baron, a former finance chairman for Edwards "said he had made payments to Hunter and others without the knowledge of Edwards."

NBC's Andrea Mitchell reminded us that Edwards' run for the Democratic Presidential nomination earlier this year had been "a family affair" with the full involvement of his with Elizabeth. Mitchell noted Edwards' timeline that he had ended his affair with Hunter and confessed his cheating to his wife before he declared his candidacy, before his wife's breast cancer recurred and before Hunter became pregnant.

On CBS, Greenfield replayed Edwards' answer to anchor Katie Couric's Primary Questions about whether he could "understand or appreciate" the point of view of voters who do "not feel comfortable supporting a candidate who has not remained faithful to his, or her, spouse." "It is fundamental to how you judge people and human character, whether you keep your word" was the candidate's unequivocal reply. Greenfield's colleague Bob Schieffer, Sunday morning host of CBS' Face the Nation, appeared to announce that Edwards had just called him on the telephone. Schieffer spoke to Elizabeth: "She was obviously in tears." As for John, he explained his denial of The National Enquirer's reporting: "So many of the stories had so much false information in them…What I should have done is confirm the part that was true and then just live with it."


JOURNALISM JUDGMENT 101 Were the network nightly newscasts correct to withhold reporting on The National Enquirer's scoop until John Edwards himself decided to invite the networks in? Tyndall Report says yes. Once Edwards had withdrawn from campaign contention, there was no public policy reason to publish details of his private life, even if he could be proven to be lying about them.

Once his hat was no longer in the ring, his newsworthiness consisted merely of his celebrity. Thus he was part of the beat for extra--which ran soundbites from Rielle Hunter--or The National Enquirer but not for the nightly newscasts, whose political stories should pass the threshold test of consequence for the body politic. It was entirely appropriate that network reporters like Brian Ross at ABC should do background digging on the veracity of the Enquirer's reporting and on possible payments, as Ross evidently did, so that if the story were to break such details could be included.

When Edwards himself decided to make an on-the-record statement confessing his previous lies, his expectation of privacy disappeared and the story crossed the threshold of public interest--but only barely. CBS' Jeff Greenfield found himself astonished that "a major Presidential candidate would have risked his entire campaign and perhaps his party's hopes for the White House by running with a threat of scandal hanging over his head." Greenfield's justification for covering the Edwards' confession--as a form of post mortem on the flaws in his candidacy--is the strongest framing for making it newsworthy. Yet even then, a fling that ended even before the candidacy started, if Edwards' timeline is candid, is not much of a "threat of scandal."


SOUTH OSSETIA: GEORGIAN TERRITORY, RUSSIAN POPULATION On the opening day of the Olympic Games, when the globe celebrates One World, One Dream, war broke out between Russia and Georgia. None of the networks had a correspondent in the Caucasus: ABC's Clarissa Ward (embargoed link) filed from Moscow; NBC's John Yang was with the traveling White House press corps in Beijing; CBS used Richard Roth in London.

A dispute over South Ossetia triggered the fighting. It is a province of Georgia, almost all of whose citizens are Russian, with Russian instead of Georgian passports. The province had been policed by Russian peacekeepers until Tbilisi decided to assert Georgian sovereignty. When its troops moved northwards, Russia responded by moving its troops southwards. Thus war began.

Local journalist Giorgi Lomsardze filed this dispatch for CBS' Roth: "If Russia eventually moved to use all its military might against Georgia, in that case Georgia does not stand a chance." In such an asymmetrical fight, it is exquisitely important to frame the antagonists accurately.

"Georgia launched a major military offensive to take back the breakaway region"--ABC's Ward.

"Moscow puts blame on the United States and its allies saying what made Georgia's offensive possible is military aid from the west"--CBS' Roth.

"South Ossetia is situated along the Russian border between Russia to the north and Georgia to the south…The United States, which backs Georgia's claim to the region, urged restraint"--NBC's Yang.

"This is the first time that Russian troops have been in combat action in a foreign country since the end of their war in Afghanistan"--ITN's Julian Manyon, quoted by NBC's Yang.


SINGING ALONG THE ERIE CANAL ABC's choice of lead story was an aberration with so much other news being made. John Berman's (embargoed link) story on the decline in the cost of a barrel of crude oil to $115 was almost indistinguishable from the story filed by his colleague Betsy Stark (embargoed link) on Tuesday about the decline to $119. The law of supply and demand is having its way, Berman asserted. The price falls as demand for oil is weakening in Asia, Europe and the United States: "You have to be careful not to cheer too hard for a global economic slowdown," economists warned him. The cost of gasoline inspired a cute closer on CBS. Steve Hartman's Assignment America brought us the stylings of singer-songwriter Chris Bell, who plays the coffeehouse circuit of upstate New York. To stop frittering away his tips on transportation, Bell's concert tour is traveling along the Erie Canal by canoe, paddling from Buffalo to Albany, with a detour to Ithaca, to a September gig down the Hudson River in New York City.


TWO CUBED Ian Williams explainer on why August 8th, 2008, was a propitious date for the Chinese to open their Olympics should really have been the newscast's lighthearted closer. NBC treated the fluff with far too much seriousness by inserting it into the fourth slot of its lineup, before the first commercial. "Eight means prosperity," Williams stated, although he did not explain why. More than 16,000 engaged couples chose the date to tie the knot in Beijing alone…maternity hospitals saw a surge in births…and postage stamps and jewelry and license plates are all selling. Has eight really meant luck in 2008? The Year of the Rat snowstorms that paralyzed the nation were on January 25th (1/25 is 1+2+5 is eight) and the earthquake in Sichuan was on May 12th (5/12 is 5+1+2 is eight). "It is the most significant number but sometimes it will be positive and negative," a numerologist helpfully explained.