Colombia grabbed headlines, not because of the visit by Presidential candidate John McCain, but because of the rescue of 15 hostages held by FARC narcoguerrillas in a bloodless raid by undercover government agents. Freed prisoners included Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician and three Americans, shot down in a spy plane while conducting surveillance in the War on Drugs. ABC and CBS both led with the Colombian rescue. NBC chose to kick off with more weather porn, this time the California wild fires. In the last three weeks, NBC has led its newscast with natural disasters more often than its two rivals (8 of 13 weekdays v 2 ABC, 4 CBS) combined.    
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video thumbnailABCColombia civil war: FARC narcoguerrillasGovernment infiltrates cell, rescues 15 hostagesJeffrey KofmanMiami
video thumbnailABC
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2008 John McCain campaignShowcases trade, narcotics in Colombia tripDavid WrightColombia
video thumbnailNBC2008 Barack Obama campaignEmphasizes centrist policies for swing votersLee CowanColorado
video thumbnailCBSIran-Israel frictions: IDF warplanes drillIranian diplomat at UN doubts Israel will attackLara LoganUnited Nations
video thumbnailABCEnergy conservation and alternate fuel useVenture capital invests in green technologyDan HarrisNew York
video thumbnailCBSSupermarket, grocery, food prices escalateInflation in corn feed drives up cost of meatHari SreenivasanTexas
video thumbnailCBSPoverty: hunger, food banks and soup kitchensFood stamps paid at start of month, buying rushSeth DoaneChicago
video thumbnailNBCWild forest fires in western statesNationwide resources used against 85 firesGeorge LewisCalifornia
video thumbnailNBCBeijing Summer Olympic Games previewedSailing course in Yellow Sea clogged with algaeMark MullenChina
video thumbnailABCFormer President George Washington historyNatl Geo archeologists unearth Va boyhood homeJohn DonvanVirginia
FREED FROM FARC Colombia grabbed headlines, not because of the visit by Presidential candidate John McCain, but because of the rescue of 15 hostages held by FARC narcoguerrillas in a bloodless raid by undercover government agents. Freed prisoners included Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician and three Americans, shot down in a spy plane while conducting surveillance in the War on Drugs. ABC and CBS both led with the Colombian rescue. NBC chose to kick off with more weather porn, this time the California wild fires. In the last three weeks, NBC has led its newscast with natural disasters more often than its two rivals (8 of 13 weekdays v 2 ABC, 4 CBS) combined.

In tribute to the looming Fourth of July holiday, Tyndall Report will keep its notes on Wednesday's news brisk. No network filed from Colombia on the hostage release: NBC's Mark Potter and ABC's Jeffrey Kofman handled the FARC story from Miami; CBS had David Martin file from the Pentagon. Funnily enough, ABC had a correspondent in Cartagena. David Wright (embargoed link) was traveling with the McCain campaign. He stuck with trade policy and narcotics trafficking rather than the hostage rescue. The day's other campaign news was filed on NBC as Lee Cowan updated us on Barack Obama's centrist inflections as he shifts from a primary campaign to the General Election.

WAR CAUSES EXTREME STRESS CBS was the lone holdout on Tuesday as ABC's Jonathan Karl and NBC's Richard Engel both covered the diplomacy by Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran's Foreign Minister, as he tried to defuse tensions with Israel. Now Lara Logan plays catch-up, filing for CBS from the United Nations on Minister Mottaki's reassuring words. NBC followed-up from the White House with John Yang as President George Bush, too, urged jaw-jaw rather than war-war. Yang also noted that Chairman Mark Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was wary of "opening up a third front," calling that "extremely stressful" for the US military.

HERE COME DA BEAR On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined to 11215, a 20% decline from last fall's highs, a statistic that marks the nominal beginning of a bear market. ABC's Betsy Stark previewed a year of sluggish economic growth ahead while CBS' Anthony Mason and CNBC's Philip LeBeau on NBC both zeroed in on DJIA component General Motors, whose stock price is no higher now than it was in 1954. GM may need to raise $15bn in capital to avoid bankruptcy. The high price of oil has triggered a research-&-development boom in alternative energy supplies, ABC's Dan Harris told us, with $148bn annually invested by venture capitalists and other technology funds.

CBS’ HEALTHY APPETITE CBS went food crazy, with three out of its seven video packages on victuals. Kelly Cobiella looked at the mystery salmonella that may or may not come from tomatoes--ABC's Lisa Stark (embargoed link) and NBC's Robert Bazell filed that story Tuesday. Hari Sreenivasan went down on the farm to discover that the high cost of corn--chickenfeed is now a misnomer--will push up the supermarket price of pork, beef and poultry next year. In an excellent feature for The Other America series, Seth Doane took advantage of the date--two days after the start of the month--to dramatize how hungry the working poor of Chicago have become. The first of the month is when funds are transferred from the USDA's food stamp program to recipients' debit cards. Doane watched at a supermarket on the stroke of midnight as the aisles became busier with bustling predawn shoppers than in some entire days as a month comes to a close.

YACHT OBSTACLE RACE NBC may have chosen a double-barreled kick-off on the California wildfires with George Lewis near Santa Barbara and Mara Schiavocampo in Shasta County but Nature Gone Wild in the Yellow Sea made for yet more startling visuals. The Yellow Sea has turned green, carpeted by a massive algae bloom in the city of Qingdao--that is Tsingtao for us beer drinkers. The algae is newsworthy because it is clogging the course for the sailing competition in next month's Beijing Olympics. Thousands of volunteers are working by hand to clean up the green glup. NBC's Mark Mullen and ABC's Stephanie Sy (embargoed link) tagged along to document their efforts.

CHOP DOWN THAT TREE For a patriotic feature as the long holiday weekend gets under way, both NBC and ABC publicized an archeological dig in Stafford County Va. Bob Faw stayed in NBC's Washington DC studio to narrate the National Geographic videotape of the excavation of George Washington's boyhood home at Ferry Farm. ABC's John Donvan braved a looming thunderstorm to tread the ground where that cherry tree might have stood if it were not a hagiographic fiction. As the rain began to fall, the foundations of the house where the Founding Father slept as a boy had to be covered with a tarp, lest it by washed away.

NETWORK NEWS CONFORMS TO MCCAIN’S IRAQ DOCTRINE The Iraq War has been virtually purged from the agenda of the mainstream media. It has been like turning off a light switch. A Tyndall Report analysis of the most mainstream of the MSM--the half-hour evening newscasts of the broadcast television networks--shows that the conflict in Iraq now attracts an average of less than six minutes of coverage each week on all three network newscasts, ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, combined. Call it the McCain Doctrine as applied to the news assignment desk.

Covering Iraq is an expensive, dangerous, unpleasant business for the network news divisions. Yet worse, it is a topic that is unpopular with their audience. The networks have no short-term commercial reason to treat the Iraq War as a major news story. Their only incentive for delivering such ugly, intractable information, in spite of their audiences' desires, is to maintain a long-term reputation for journalistic integrity by doing so.

And to their credit, that is what the television networks did for almost five years. NBC's David Bloom died in Iraq. ABC's Bob Woodruff almost had his brains blown out. CBS' Kimberly Dozier almost had her legs blown off. Yet from 2003 through 2007 the three newscasts combined to file a total of 6061 minutes on the Iraq War, more than 100 hours of video journalism. The war ranked as Story of the Year in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007 (in 2005 Hurricane Katrina took top honors). Weekly totals each year from 2003 through 2007 averaged 31 minutes, 26, 17, 22 and 30--five times greater than what viewers now see.

Then, curiously, all that came to a screeching halt last September, when Gen David Petraeus testified to Congress that the so-called surge, the US troop reinforcement, had been accompanied by a moderation in Iraq's sectarian violence. President George Bush declared the build-up a success and announced a timetable for the surge to be reversed.

That was when that light was switched off. In the nine months since Petraeus testified, the three networks' nightly newscasts combined have devoted a total of 249 minutes to the Iraq War. That is an average of six minutes a week, in contrast to a 26 minute average for the entire previous five year period. CBS' top Baghdad correspondent Lara Logan has been reassigned to the DC bureau. NBC's man in Baghdad, Richard Engel is now on a book tour for his War Journal memoir. Of the networks' three top Iraq correspondents, only ABC's Terry McCarthy is still filing regularly. In June 2008, thanks to a trip to Afghanistan by NBC anchor Brian Williams, for the first month since the invasion of Iraq, the Afghan War (31 min v 12) was the more newsworthy of the two.

Network executives appear to agree with Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, who famously announced in his "maybe one hundred years" soundbite that Americans are not concerned about whether the US military occupies Iraq or not, but only if troops are "being injured or harmed or wounded or killed" there. It seems indisputable that this McCain Doctrine is being applied to the news agenda: "If GIs do not bleed, Iraq has no need to lead."

True, in the relative calm of the past nine months, the networks have switched somewhat in their treatment of Iraq, turning to non-combat stories such as the reviving economy and political reconciliation and humanitarian issues and the role of the Pentagon's civilian contractors to round out their coverage. Fully half of the three-network Iraq coverage (267 min out of 519) since Petraeus' testimony has been unrelated to the war. But this is no huge switch. In 2006, for example, non-combat coverage accounted for 44% of the total--and non-combat coverage of Iraq has also declined post-Petraeus (from 17 minutes per week in 2006 to six), just not as precipitously as war coverage. Yet there has been scant focus on diplomacy over permanent US military bases or leases for US-based oil conglomerates. The McCain Doctrine holds: those hundred-year issues do not create casualties so they do not create headlines.

The strongest counterargument against the McCain Doctrine is that the press of competing stories caused the precipitous decline in Iraq's status on the networks' news agenda, not a lack of interest. Exhibit A is the unprecedented appeal of Campaign 2008 during the first six months of this year. This primary season has surpassed each of the previous five election cycles by an order of magnitude.

So far this year, the three weekday network newscasts have devoted an astonishing 1912 minutes (ABC 615, CBS 630, NBC 667) to campaign coverage, that is an average of 74 minutes each week, more than ten times the attention paid to the Iraq War, fully 26% of the entire newshole. Compare that with the first six months of previous years in the Presidential cycle. Only 1988 was anywhere close (1304 min) from 1992 through 2004 those totals were 1180, 747, 799, 846. Thus the first six months of the Obama-Rodham Clinton-McCain game of Survivor was as newsworthy as 2000 and 2004 combined.

And it was not only the election. Economic hard times have also knocked war out of the headlines. The economy--rising oil prices, falling stock prices, rising food prices, falling housing prices, rising unemployment, falling economic growth--has been more newsworthy than at any year since the recession of 1990-1991. In an average twelve months, a total of 1418 minutes are devoted to the Economic beat. In the first six months of 2008, the economy has already amassed 1077 minutes, on track for the only 2000-plus year in the last two decades. For record, 1990 was the previous high with 1933 minutes.

So, yes, McCain's intuition about MSM news judgment seems right: as long as it is not lethal, the US military occupation of Iraq is not newsworthy. And yes, the networks justifiably stand accused of falling foul of crass commercial considerations in cutting back on coverage of an expensive and unattractive war as soon as Gen Petraeus seemed to offer them permission to do so.

But no, there has been a breathtaking half year of supercharged politics to cover that has sucked the oxygen out of all other stories--and one of the crucial issues at stake in Campaign 2008 happens to be Iraq War policy so, indirectly, the outcome of the election turns out to be crucially important for Iraq anyway. And no, the networks cannot be accused of abandoning Iraq for fluff, when the beat they turn to instead is a seriously ailing economy.

Let's all just hope for one thing. Let's hope that if, or when, the networks decide once more to ramp up their coverage of Iraq to saturation levels, the reason will not vindicate the McCain Doctrine--namely that their headlines consist of a renewal of unspeakable carnage there.

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: a bulldozer rampaged through Jerusalem traffic, killing three people before its driver was shot dead…Samuel Israel, the fugitive financier who faked his own suicide when facing prison for hedge fund fraud, surrendered to police…radio talkshow host Rush Limbaugh will be paid $38m a year…Leona Helmsley, the late hotelier, bequeathed $8bn for dogs--to fund animal welfare.