The fighting in Basra between Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias was Story of the Day for the third straight day. CBS, anchored by substitute Harry Smith, led its newscast from Baghdad. For the first time, the US military found itself drawn into the feud, with USNavy fighter jets strafing Basra and USArmy helicopters firing missiles into Baghdad's Sadr City. ABC and NBC both decided to lead from the campaign trail, where a trio of senators made minor news: Christopher Dodd and Pat Leahy asked Hillary Rodham Clinton to concede defeat; Bob Casey endorsed Barack Obama in Pennsylvania.    
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video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesGovernment relaxes ultimatum to Shiite militiasLara LoganBaghdad
video thumbnailNBCIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesGovernment offensive implicates US air powerJim MiklaszewskiPentagon
video thumbnailABC2008 Pennsylvania primary previewedObama outspends Rodham Clinton, needs close voteDavid WrightPennsylvania
video thumbnailNBC2008 Barack Obama campaignRacial politics loom large; wins Sen Casey nodAndrea MitchellWashington DC
video thumbnailCBS2008 Presidential race Democratic delegates standingsSuperdelegates confused over support criterionJeff GreenfieldNew York
video thumbnailNBC2008 Barack Obama campaignPersonal legacy of his father, mother assessedLee CowanNew York
video thumbnailCBSRep Rick Renzi (R-AZ) indicted for extortionAccused of organizing corrupt alfalfa land dealSharyl AttkissonWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSEconomy expansion slows: recession risks assessedStimulus unlikely from consumer spending boostBen TracyLos Angeles
video thumbnailNBCColombia civil war: narcoguerrillas hold hostagesGovernment may relent, allow prisoner exchangeMark PotterColombia
video thumbnailCBSKentucky-Ohio border dispute along Ohio RiverSubmerged C19th landmark boulder sparks feudSteve HartmanOhio
BATTLE OF BASRA STALLS The fighting in Basra between Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias was Story of the Day for the third straight day. CBS, anchored by substitute Harry Smith, led its newscast from Baghdad. For the first time, the US military found itself drawn into the feud, with USNavy fighter jets strafing Basra and USArmy helicopters firing missiles into Baghdad's Sadr City. ABC and NBC both decided to lead from the campaign trail, where a trio of senators made minor news: Christopher Dodd and Pat Leahy asked Hillary Rodham Clinton to concede defeat; Bob Casey endorsed Barack Obama in Pennsylvania.

It was Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who "appeared to waver" in his offensive on the forces loyal to opposition leader Muqtada al-Sadr, ABC's Miguel Marquez (embargoed link) concluded. An initial 72-hour ultimatum for the Mahdi Army to lay down its arms was extended to ten days and sweetened, with al-Maliki "offering money in exchange for guns." The militias "showed no signs of backing down" in Basra, reported CBS' Lara Logan. In Sadr City residents claimed that the helicopters' Hellfire missiles killed nine civilians, including one child. For its part the US military claimed to have killed only four, all of them guerrillas. The Iraqi government asked the US military to use "aggressive tactics" in support, Logan added. She found "a certain amount of frustration" on the US side because those tactics "violate the rules of engagement."

From the Pentagon, CBS' David Martin heard grumbling about al-Maliki. His unidentified sources told him that the Basra offensive was "put together on the fly and has degenerated into a stalemate." Even President George Bush seemed to be "caught by surprise." Also at the Pentagon, NBC's Jim Miklaszewski suggested one reason for its failure: "The Iraqi police force is heavily infiltrated with militant Shiite forces." He also cast doubt on al-Maliki's law-and-order rhetoric to justify his drive to take control of Basra: instead he is "targeting his Shiite political rivals," local tribal leaders claim. If the Battle of Basra continues, Martin warned, it may require Iraqi reinforcements, leaving US troops stretched thin elsewhere. He warned that might throw "a monkey wrench" into the current withdrawal of 3,500 troops each month: "Many of the successes of the past twelve months are in danger of being canceled out," Martin's unnamed Pentagon source told him.

NO CLOSING TITLES On the campaign trail, all three networks pondered the question of whether the primary season should end yet. "It is like a good movie that lasted about a half hour too long," suggested Barack Obama. "I like long movies," Hillary Rodham Clinton replied.

Obama's endorsement by Bob Casey, the junior senator from Pennsylvania, "could help him make inroads among blue collar white votes," ABC's David Wright speculated. Obama "is pushing hard" in the Keystone State, outspending his rival by two-to-one. NBC's Andrea Mitchell checked back to 1992 and suggested that the Carey nod "could be the result of a family feud." Back then Bill Clinton would not let Casey's father, the Governor of Pennsylvania, address the Democratic National Convention "because he opposed abortion rights."

As for the calls for Rodham Clinton to drop out of the race, ABC's Wright reported husband Bill's response: "A bunch of bull." And ABC's George Stephanopoulos commented that those calls by Pat Leahy and Christopher Dodd had not made Obama's aides "all that happy." Such demands "have the potential to backfire" especially with women voters "who want Hillary to hang in there." Officially, the Democratic Party is in no immediate rush. CBS' Chip Reid repeated a soundbite by Chairman Howard Dean on his network's Early Show that called for superdelegates to make up their minds within three months, by the end of June.

If Obama were to win in Pennsylvania on April 22nd or even make "a respectable showing" ABC's Wright suggested that might seal the nomination for him. CBS' Jeff Greenfield was skeptical. He reminded us of hints of contest-ending Obama surges in other states during the primary season--Cal, NJ, Mass, Ohio, Texas--all of which Rodham Clinton successfully stifled: "Making the sale has so far eluded Obama." ABC's Stephanopoulos agreed. For Obama, winning Pennsylvania is "an uphill climb."

HE MISSES HIS MOTHER On the human interest side, Lee Cowan filed an affecting profile of Barack Obama's parents for NBC's Family Ties series. His father, the elder Barack, who abandoned his wife and two-year-old son, remains in the candidate's thoughts as an example "of how not to live," as Cowan put it. Obama explained: "I watch myself for some of the things that I know ended up hurting him--too much pride, an inability to listen to other people." His mother Stanley Ann died in 1995. Cowan reminded us of Obama's reaction the first time his face appeared on the cover of Newsweek: "It makes me think of my mom and the fact that, you know, she is not around."

ARIZONA ALFALFA CBS' political feature was on Rick Renzi, the Republican Congressman from Arizona, who has been slapped with an indictment for extortion and moneylaundering. On Follow the Money, Sharyl Attkisson outlined the alleged alfalfa scheme. According to prosecutors, Renzi was owed $733,000 by a local farmer named James Sandlin. Sandlin's alfalfa fields were eligible for land swaps under which mining companies that want to exploit federal land can win access if they trade in land of equivalent value. Renzi sat on the committee that approves the swaps. He is accused of directing a mining firm to buy Sandlin's alfalfa fields in order to qualify. Sandlin is accused of using part of the proceeds to pay his debt to Renzi. "Well before the indictment," Renzi announced that he will not run for reelection.

NOT COMFORTING The woeful economic statistic du jour was February's consumer spending data. It grew by just 0.1%. Ben Tracy illustrated retail troubles on CBS' Hitting Home series with a visit to a heavily-discounted Los Angeles boutique called My Favorite Place. "Americans are now actually saving more than they spend--good for their bottom line, bad for the economy." On ABC, Chris Bury (embargoed link) reported on the trucking industry crisis that Nancy Cordes covered Wednesday for CBS: the rising price of diesel has hiked annual fuel costs for the freight industry from $112bn to $135bn in just one year.

On NBC, anchor Brian Williams asked economist Steve Liesman from CNBC, his network's sibling financial news cable channel, to explain the credit crunch. The Federal Reserve Board has assets of $800bn in USTreasury notes, Liesman explained, and has already committed between $300bn and $400bn to banks in an attempt to restore liquidity in order to allow them to start lending again. "Nobody knows where this is going. People do not even understand what the problem is," Liesman stated. "There are guys taking their college textbooks off the shelf to go back and remind themselves about stuff that they learned about in school, because it always worked. They never really had to know about." Quipped Williams the anchor: "I do not know if I am comforted by that or not."

FARC-OTTEN The undercovered civil war in Colombia made a rare appearance on the evening newscasts as Mark Potter filed for NBC from Bogota on a possible prisoner exchange between the government and FARC guerrillas. The key hostage the government wants released is Ingrid Betancourt, a onetime presidential candidate in Colombia, who may be "gravely ill" after six years in captivity. At the same time it is possible that three Americans--Potter called them "defense contractors," which may or may not be a euphemism for spies--who have been held for five years after "their small plane crashed on a drug surveillance mission" may also be released. Potter showed us pictures of Thomas Howes, Mark Gonsalves and Keith Stansell. He noted that Stansell's parents have met with the governments of both Colombia and Venezuela to try to win their release: they say "they feel ignored by the United States government."

ROCK ON The Indian Head Rock was once a sight to see in the Ohio River. The boulder had a face carved in it, reputedly by Indians, and was an attraction for C19th Portsmoth Ohio residents, halfway between Ohio and Kentucky. Then a dam was built and the river valley flooded and the boulder was lost. Steve Shaffer, of Portsmouth, spent three summers of scuba diving along the river bottom until he found that Indian Head and hoisted it out. It now stands on view in Portsmouth's municipal garage. Steve Hartman showed it to us on CBS' Assignment America. The problem, Hartman explained, is that the rock was taken from a part of the river that is in Kentucky. Shaffer may have landed it on the wrong bank.

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: protests in support of Tibetan independence spread to the United Nations compound in Nepal…Felipe Sixto, a White House aide, has resigned over mishandled USAID funds at a Cuban exile foundation…the chief executive of Bear Stearns, the distressed Wall Street brokerage house, took a $909m haircut when he was forced to sell to JP Morgan--leaving him with a fortune of a mere $61m…a pair of arrests were made in the rash of sniper shootings along the I-64 highway in rural Virginia…a riot at a federal prison in Texas left one inmate dead…the gray wolf population has been restored in several Rocky Mountain states and so the species, no longer endangered, can now be hunted…urban areas across the globe plan to go dark for an hour in a protest against light pollution…a spring training baseball game to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' arrival in Los Angeles hopes to attract a crowd of 115,000…the cherry blossoms are in bloom along the Tidal Basin on the DC Mall.