The unrelenting bombardment of the Gaza Strip by the Israel Defense Force was the lead item on all three network newscasts and the Story of the Day. All three kicked off from the Israeli side of the border where Hamas fired 50-or-so rockets killing three people. By contrast, more than 350 are dead in Gaza, with a United Nations estimate that at least 60 of them were Palestinian civilians. Despite the seriousness of the news, this holiday week saw the three regular anchors on vacation: ABC substituted with David Muir; CBS with Maggie Rodriguez; and NBC with Lester Holt.    
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video thumbnailNBCIsrael-Palestinian conflictIDF air raids target Hamas on Gaza StripMartin FletcherIsrael
video thumbnailCBSIsrael-Palestinian conflictHamas took over Gaza Strip when Israel withdrewSheila MacVicarLondon
video thumbnailABCIsrael-Palestinian conflictPeace policy options facing Obama PresidencyJohn DonvanWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSWinter weatherHeavy snows in Pacific NW, winds across midwestCynthia BowersChicago
video thumbnailCBSTennessee power plant coal sludge pollutionDrinking water may be tainted by metal toxinsMark StrassmannAtlanta
video thumbnailCBSICE border controls along Mexico lineFewer violators arrested as economy slowsBill WhitakerLos Angeles
video thumbnailNBCRetail sales slowdown: chains go bankruptShopping malls face shuttered stores, layoffsTrish ReganNew York
video thumbnailABCMilitary personnel face family, personal problemsBereaved toddler bequeathed father's journalBob WoodruffNew York
video thumbnailCBSPresident-elect Obama takes Hawaii vacationNative state sells Obama tourism, memorabiliaBen TracyHawaii
video thumbnailNBCNazi Holocaust rememberedRomantic camp fence memoir exposed as hoaxLee CowanChicago
SEASON OF GOODWILL ENDS ABRUPTLY IN HOLY LAND The unrelenting bombardment of the Gaza Strip by the Israel Defense Force was the lead item on all three network newscasts and the Story of the Day. All three kicked off from the Israeli side of the border where Hamas fired 50-or-so rockets killing three people. By contrast, more than 350 are dead in Gaza, with a United Nations estimate that at least 60 of them were Palestinian civilians. Despite the seriousness of the news, this holiday week saw the three regular anchors on vacation: ABC substituted with David Muir; CBS with Maggie Rodriguez; and NBC with Lester Holt.

"Israeli warplanes have complete control of the skies," NBC's Martin Fletcher told us. "Israeli bombs did not stop for a moment today." ABC's Simon McGregor-Wood noted that the IDF's targets had graduated from military sites to "everything with a connection to Hamas" including Islamic University and the residence of the Health Minister. He quoted Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as declaring: "We have nothing against the citizens of Gaza" even as he showed the funeral procession of five sisters, girls who were crushed to death when "an Israeli strike caused a wall to collapse in their home."

NBC's Fletcher was confused about the motives for the IDF assault. He quoted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert calling for Hamas to agree to "a new truce" while Barak declared "war to the bitter end" against Gaza's rulers. Fletcher reported that the IDF had planned a five stage offensive: "Stage Five is a ground invasion." At the same time, he pointed out, "Hamas has been training for a year, too, to repel an Israeli ground invasion: 10,000 fighters, well-trained and well-armed; and thousands more police; a sophisticated network of tunnels to smuggle arms; and boobytraps." CBS' Mark Phillips evoked the IDF's incursion into southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006: "Hamas does not have to defeat the Israelis to win this conflict. It merely has to survive." Phillips surveyed the "huge imbalance" between the Israeli bombardment and Hamas' rockets and wondered: "How many new recruits? How many new militants? How much more hatred is being created by an assault on this scale?"

ISRAEL HANDS OUT OBAMA VIDEO CLIPS NBC's Savannah Guthrie, traveling with President-elect Barack Obama in Hawaii, quoted the reaction to the fighting by the spokesman for soon-to-be ex-President George Bush: "Hamas has once again shown its true colors as a terrorist organization." ABC's Martha Raddatz reminded us that then-candidate Obama had addressed Hamas' rocket attacks during his summer visit to Israel: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house…I am going to do everything in my power to stop that." Raddatz reported that the Israeli Embassy delivered videotape of that soundbite to her and concluded that the Government of Israel has interpreted Obama's "everything in my power" formulation as amounting to support for its raids.

REGIONAL BACKGROUND Each of the networks followed up with a mideast backgrounder.

NBC's Richard Engel was assigned to cover the response to the fighting in the Arab World. The regional news media have been "playing this story 24/7 for the last several days and they are seeing much more violent images that the ones that have been broadcast in the United States." He judged that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt "all find Hamas to be something of a dangerous entity, a rogue state," a view not shared by the Arab populace on the street, as the saying goes.

From Washington, ABC's John Donvan surveyed the desultory progress along the road map to peace--"more process than peace"--while noting that President-elect Barack Obama has "promised nothing except to remain a friend to Israel." Mideast diplomacy is never easy, he mused: "On the one hand, there are expectations, usually disappointed, that Israel will do whatever the United States tells it to. On the other hand, there are suspicions that never go away that America, as a mediator, always favors Israel."

CBS' Sheila MacVicar in London looked at how Hamas came to power in Gaza. It filled "a vacuum" caused by Israel's unilateral end to its occupation three years ago and followed up with an electoral victory. She counted 6,000 rockets fired by Hamas into southern Israel since 2005 before asserting that "the violence was not one-sided. Israel carried out targeted killings and, more importantly for the people of Gaza, they imposed and tightened an economic blockade that cut off supplies of food, medicine and even electricity. The theory was that would encourage Palestinians to reject Hamas. That did not work."

WINTER WEATHER PORN Chicago-based Cynthia Bowers on CBS surveyed the high winds and power outages in the midwest and the record month of snowfall in the Pacific North West. Those heavy western snows have created an unusually weak base, ABC's Brian Rooney (embargoed link) narrated from Los Angeles. It allowed him to play avalanche videotape from "this picturesque back country of British Columbia" where eleven snowmobilers were wiped out, with only three surviving.

UNCLEAN COAL CBS' Mark Strassmann updated us on the mountain of coal ash mud that wiped out the neighbors of the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil power plant last week. "Downstream from the spill is the Tennessee River, the main source of drinking water for millions," he warned. Already local residents have been warned not to use private wells and springs for drinking water. Now the Environmental Protection Agency is finding high concentrations of arsenic.

NEW BORDER FENCE OR BURST HOUSING BUBBLE? The number of arrests of would-be immigrants crossing the Mexican border illegally is plummeting. CBS' Bill Whitaker contrasted the current daily rate of just 2,000 with 4,000 each day at the start of the decade. He mulled a pair of feasible explanations without offering an assessment as to which carries more weight. Is the beefed-up border patrol--a 550 mile fence and 6,000 new agents--the reason? Or is it the collapse of the home construction boom and the loss of all those jobs?

SILVER LININGS IN THE ECONOMIC STORM CLOUDS NBC filed a couple of stories about how bad the economy is. CNBC's Trish Regan saw shopping malls 20% emptier than they were this time last year and quoted predictions that as many as 26% of all retailers will go bankrupt. Jeff Rossen covered the same healthcare angle that CBS' Jon LaPook told us about in October: cash-strapped patients are skimping on their prescription medicines and preventive care at clinics and as a result "hospitals report a spike in emergency room visits."

Yet there is a pair of silver linings amid the economic gloom. NBC's Roger O'Neil pointed out the people still love to gamble. They may not be able to afford as much casino travel but they can still plop down $3 for a flutter: 22 of the 42 states with lotteries are reporting record ticket sales. CBS' Hari Sreenivasan visited a cobbler, a tailor and an auto transmission shop to tell us about the "fix-it economy." Repair business is booming even as sales of new goods decline. Mike Taibbi covered fix-its for NBC three weeks ago.

PICTORIAL PECTORALS Savannah Guthrie, NBC's woman in paradise with the President-elect, had to cover real news--fighting in Gaza--to justify her assignment to Oahu. ABC aired no correspondent with an Hawaiian dateline. CBS used Ben Tracy for a feature closer. Honolulu native Barack Obama has proved to be a boon to his hometown's tourist trade. "Vendors are riding the Obama wave," Tracy showed us from the memorabilia-stacked knickknack stores on Waikiki Beach. Tracy's angle also afforded him the pretext of displaying the shirtless Obama and his chiseled pectorals.

ADVICE FROM THE GRAVE The New York Times' reporter Dana Camedy allowed herself to be the topic of Bob Woodruff's human interest reporting on ABC. She introduced us to her son Jordan, a two-year-old toddler, whose father died when he was not yet six months old. Jordan's father was Sgt Charles Monroe King, killed in Iraq. He left behind Jordan's Journal, a book of posthumous paternal advice--on grand issues such as tolerance and faith and simple advice like how to hide one's cash when traveling--for the boy as he grows up. "Dana looks forward to the time when Jordan will be able to take wisdom from the journal."

FENCE ANGEL WILL STILL BE MOVIE Angel at the Fence is a memoir written by Buchenwald concentration camp survivor Herman Rosenblat that was covered by correspondents on all three newscasts because it will never see the light of day. Berkley Publications canceled its plans for the book and demanded its advance returned because its romantic story turned out to be a fabrication. No, the boy Rosenblat was not sustained as a prisoner by a girl who tossed him apples from the other side of the fence. No, the boy and girl did not find each other again in a blind date 14 years later. No, that coincidence was not the spark that led to their 50 year marriage. No, the couple had not told the truth when their love affair was celebrated on Oprah.

CBS' Kelly Cobiella credited The New Republic for poking holes in Rosenblat's story. NBC's Lee Cowan pointed out that Rosenblat had already published his fiction as a children's book Angel Girl. ABC's Dan Harris equated Rosenblat's tale with "another high profile literary hoax," that of Misha Defonseca, who claimed to have eluded the Nazi Holocaust as a Jewish girl by being raised by wolves.

Angel at the Fence may never be released in book form, mused CBS' Cobiella, but "producers are moving forward with a $25m movie."