As usual on a Tuesday in the Presidential primary season, the nightly newscasts were caught in the odd position of reporting on a story without knowing what had happened. The polls were still open in the Republican primary in Florida at the news hour. All three networks led with the vote as the Story of the Day--but all they could do was speculate about the implications of results that were still undecided. All three concurred, however, that the key contest was between John McCain and Mitt Romney, with Rudolph Giuliani and Mike Huckabee consigned to the sidelines.    
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video thumbnailNBC2008 Florida Republican primaryVote will likely narrow field for Super TuesdayRon AllenFlorida
video thumbnailABC2008 Super Tuesday primary scheduledMulti-state contest poses logistical obstaclesKate SnowWashington DC
video thumbnailNBC2008 Barack Obama campaignHome purchase in Chicago subsidized by backerLisa MyersWashington DC
video thumbnailCBS2008 Presidential General Election field overviewRivals select indispensible books to readKatie CouricNo Dateline
video thumbnailCBSReal estate home mortgage foreclosures increaseRepossession auctions attract bargain buyersBen TracyLos Angeles
video thumbnailNBCPersonal, household, consumer debt mushroomsMost non-mortgage borrowing uses credit cardsErin BurnettNew York
video thumbnailABCReal estate home mortgage foreclosures increaseNC homeowner was desperate to renegotiate loanBetsy StarkNorth Carolina
video thumbnailCBSTelevangelists accused of abuse of tax exemptionProsperity Gospel's Kenneth Copeland suspectedArmen KeteyianTexas
video thumbnailNBCKenya elections protested: vote rigging allegedPolitical friction turns into ethnic violenceMartin GeisslerNairobi
video thumbnailNBCMarine mammals threatened by USNavy sonarClaims exemption from ban on Pacific testsJohn LarsonSan Diego
COVERING A STORY THAT HAS NOT HAPPENED YET As usual on a Tuesday in the Presidential primary season, the nightly newscasts were caught in the odd position of reporting on a story without knowing what had happened. The polls were still open in the Republican primary in Florida at the news hour. All three networks led with the vote as the Story of the Day--but all they could do was speculate about the implications of results that were still undecided. All three concurred, however, that the key contest was between John McCain and Mitt Romney, with Rudolph Giuliani and Mike Huckabee consigned to the sidelines.

NBC kicked off with Ron Allen filing a portmanteau report from Romney's campaign, handing off to soundbites from Kelly O'Donnell with the McCain camp and John Yang with Giuliani. Allen zeroed in on immigration as McCain's key vulnerability in Romney's eyes. ABC assigned all of its coverage to John Berman (embargoed link). He found Romney "implying McCain is weak on the economy and McCain implying Romney is weak on character." CBS, as usual, adopted a wheel format, with anchor Katie Couric introducing first Jeff Greenfield (no link) on Giuliani then Kelly Cobiella (no link) with McCain, rounding out at Romney HQ with Byron Pitts (no link). Pitts agreed that for Romney "this primary is about one issue--the economy" and concluded with the bleak assessment that if most voters believe the economy is "in bad shape that is good news, encouraging news for Romney."

CBS' Cobiella found McCain "in an unusual position for the straight talker--on the attack" and her colleague Pitts repeated Romney's complaints about McCain's "kitchen sink strategy: throw everything at us and see what sticks." Pitts pointed out that Romney had outspent McCain by an eight-to-one margin. NBC's Allen added that Romney's get out the vote effort had an edge while McCain, NBC's O'Donnell countered, was relying on the endorsements of Gov Charlie Crist and Sen Mel Martinez.

As for Giuliani, CBS' Greenfield performed a post-mortem even before the results were in. As factors in Giuliani's fall from frontrunner status, Greenfield pinpointed an improvement in Iraq, which revived McCain's standing; a decline in the economy, which helped Romney; and a "barrage of personally damaging stories," which harmed Giuliani himself. NBC's Yang noted that "for the first time" Giuliani "seemed to express doubts" about his strategy of skipping the small early primary states to focus on Florida.

So what is next? NBC's Allen asserted that "momentum is the prize" coming out of Florida. "If Romney wins it may be difficult for McCain to raise cash going forward." If Giuliani pulls out, McCain would benefit, CBS' Greenfield speculated, since they compete "for the same national security minded relatively moderate voters." Of the 21 Republican Super Tuesday states, ABC's Berman predicted that McCain will head northeast (NY, NJ, Conn) where "moderate Republicans do well" while Romney heads west (Colo, Mont, Minn) to caucus-convention states "where organization and money make a difference."

VOTING FOR DOLLARS As usual for a primary election day, all three networks turned to the anchors of their Sunday morning interview shows. Each saw the Florida race as key to the money primary. Bob Schieffer (no link) of CBS' Face the Nation stated that it was Mitt Romney's money that has kept him in the race so far. In Florida Romney ran 4,475 television commercials compared with John McCain's 470. Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press called McCain "broke" so a Florida win is essential to his ability to raise future funds. George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week reported that McCain's team expects that a Florida victory would spark "a huge surge of fundraising."

BONE HEADED As for the Democrats, NBC assigned Andrea Mitchell to a brief report simply to remind us that "nobody came" to Florida because its delegates do not count while ABC had Kate Snow survey early Super Tuesday advertising, Hillary Rodham Clinton unveiling Spanish-language spots and Barack Obama using his big-name endorser Caroline Kennedy. For NBC's In Depth feature, Lisa Myers explained Obama's self-confessed "bone-headed mistake" in 2005 when he bought his $1.65m "stately home in a pricey Chicago neighborhood." The entire lot--house and an adjacent undeveloped parcel--was listed for $2.57m but sold for $2.27m. Obama bought the house itself while the parcel was purchased simultaneously by the sister of Tony Rezko, a political supporter and real estate developer who has since been indicted for corruption. The entire $300,000 discount was applied to the house and none to the $625,000 parcel so "Rezko may have essentially subsidized Obama's purchase." Myers noted that Obama "strongly disputes" the grant of any such subsidy but she did not explain his argument in rebuttal.

NO NEED FOR SHAKESPEARE CBS rounded out its campaign coverage with another of anchor Katie Couric's Primary Questions: "If you were elected President what is the one book, other than the Bible, you would think is essential to have along?"

This is the reading list offered by the seven candidates still standing. Note it is nothing but non-fiction. No novels. No poetry. No self-help books. We looked up the rankings.

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (#977)
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (#6325)
John Adams by David McCullough (#13257)
Whatever Happened to the Human Race? by Francis Schaeffer (#33925)
The Trial of Socrates by IF Stone (#4209)
The Federalist Papers (selected by both Rudolph Giuliani and Hillary Rodham Clinton) (#266)

NOBODY HEARD IT President George Bush's lame duck status was decisively designated by the fact that not a single syllable of Monday's State of the Union speech was deemed worthy of mention on any of the three newscasts. Only ABC made reference to the fact that the speech had even taken place. Anchor Charles Gibson only did so in order to engage in Kremlinological analysis of the body language on the House floor. Gibson scrutinized photographs taken by The New York Times of the interaction--or lack thereof--between rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. He turned away as she stretched out her hand to greet him. "A snub or not a snub?"

ABC LENDS A HAND Away from the campaign trail all three networks continue to be preoccupied by the slowing economy. Only ABC assigned a correspondent to news developments on the money front: Martha Raddatz (embargoed link) reported that some members of the House of Representatives are "frankly furious" that the Senate may add spending on infrastructure, housing, home heating and unemployment relief to the $150bn fiscal stimulus package, thus imposing delay on the timetable for cutting rebate checks.

Both CBS and ABC filed features on the housing market. For CBS' Hitting Home series Ben Tracy showed us California "bargain buyers tour of foreclosed homes courtesy of the repo bus" as property is being auctioned off at a 40% discount. ABC launched its series called The Kitchen Table with Betsy Stark's tale of a North Carolina family facing foreclosure because its adjustable rate mortgage had driven its monthly payments up to $2,015 with a 14% rate. The family had been unable to renegotiate with Homecomings Financial until ABC itself came to the rescue, using its clout to achieve a 7.6% fixed rate and a $1,300 monthly payment. "They might have been better walking away from the house," financial planners told Stark. "They put no money down. The house is worth less than they paid for it. In a sense they were just renters paying a rent they could not afford."

NBC's feature was filed by Erin Burnett, a preview of her CNBC primetime special The Millionaire Inside: Debt Makeover on the growth in credit card spending and the mushrooming household debt that results when purchasers borrow instead of paying off their entire balance.

RENDER UNTO CAESAR The theology of the Prosperity Gospel of the Rev Kenneth Copeland was explained thus by CBS' Armen Keteyian: "Sow the seeds of your faith by following God's word and donating dollars, promising a hundredfold return in happiness and wealth." Those dollars are not-for-profit and tax exempt, Keteyian pointed out, as he reported on the efforts of Sen Charles Grassley (R-IA) to find out whether some funds are being diverted into Copeland for-profit family holdings in ranching, aviation, real estate and oil-and-gas exploration. Keteyian's Investigation showed us a clip from Copeland's blessing of his ministry's $20m Citation 10 executive jet: "It will never be used for anything other than what is becoming to you, Lord Jesus." That includes family vacations to Colorado, Keteyian reported. When Senate investigators sought to scrutinize the ministry's finances since "churches are not required to file tax returns or make their finances public" the televangelist offered this sermon: "We answered them. We gave them a several page lesson on No!"

ELSEWHERE… NBC's John Larson showed us USNavy maneuvers off the coast of San Diego where submarine hunting exercises have endangered marine mammals for a decade, killing whales with deafening sonar pulses. Warships now practice keeping their distance…the murder of an opposition politician in Nairobi enflamed Kenya's post-election violence. NBC had Martin Geissler of its London-based partner ITN file an update: "I think now it has gone beyond politics. It has become simply tribal ethnic violence, deep-seated resentment at work here. It is now not police beating back protestors but two tribes trying to get at each other. I think the genie is out of the bottle here in Kenya. And it is difficult to imagine what the politicians can do now to push it back in."

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: travel continues to be disrupted in China in the run-up to the Year of the Rat…whiteout blizzards blanketed the western plains…winds whipped up wild brush fires outside Fort Worth…the Food & Drug Administration's bureaucracy is underfunded, understaffed, underequipped…Margaret Truman, former First Daughter turned popular singer turned whodunit novelist, died, aged 83.