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     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM JANUARY 15, 2009
The spectacular sight of a half-submerged jetliner floating down the icy Hudson River with passengers standing on its wings awaiting rescue was the irresistible unanimous pick for Story of the Day. The crash landing of USAirways Flight 1549 led all three newscasts and accounted for fully 63% (37 min out of 59) of their combined newshole. It was the third most newsworthy non-campaign-related Story of the Day in the last 18 months (the I-5 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in August 2007--45 min; the death of NBC's Tim Russert in June 2008--44 min). CBS anchor Katie Couric even left the warmth of her west side studio to anchor her newscast from the banks of the frigid river. All 155 people on board the jet--150 passengers; five crew--survived.    
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video thumbnailNBCUSAirways 1549 crash lands in NYC's Hudson RiverAll 155 on board rescued from frigid watersMike TaibbiNew York
video thumbnailABCUSAirways 1549 crash lands in NYC's Hudson RiverPassengers describe emergency, survivalDan HarrisNew York
video thumbnailCBSUSAirways 1549 crash lands in NYC's Hudson RiverEngine failure probably caused by flock of birdsArmen KeteyianNew York
video thumbnailCBSIsrael-Palestinian conflictUN compound in Gaza destroyed by IDF firebombRichard RothTel Aviv
video thumbnailNBCIsrael-Palestinian conflictIDF escorts reporters into Gaza Strip war zoneMartin FletcherTel Aviv
video thumbnailCBSWinter weatherRecord low temperatures persist across plainsCynthia BowersChicago
video thumbnailCBSPharmaceuticals industry marketing abusesEli Lilly fined $1.4bn for off-label promotionSharyl AttkissonWashington DC
video thumbnailABCAttorney General Eric Holder nominationConfirmation hearings cover waterboard torturePierre ThomasWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCEconomy is officially in recessionStimulus urgency spurred by banks, states woesChuck ToddWhite House
video thumbnailABCPresident Obama Inauguration ceremonies previewedTeenage rehab house marching band joins paradeDavid MuirNew Jersey
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
HUDSON RIVER BECOMES EMERGENCY RUNWAY The spectacular sight of a half-submerged jetliner floating down the icy Hudson River with passengers standing on its wings awaiting rescue was the irresistible unanimous pick for Story of the Day. The crash landing of USAirways Flight 1549 led all three newscasts and accounted for fully 63% (37 min out of 59) of their combined newshole. It was the third most newsworthy non-campaign-related Story of the Day in the last 18 months (the I-5 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in August 2007--45 min; the death of NBC's Tim Russert in June 2008--44 min). CBS anchor Katie Couric even left the warmth of her west side studio to anchor her newscast from the banks of the frigid river. All 155 people on board the jet--150 passengers; five crew--survived.

The A-320 Airbus lost power in both of its engines within minutes of taking off from LaGuardia Airport. Losing altitude, it was not able to return nor to reach the nearby suburban Teterboro Airport. So the pilot looped over the George Washington Bridge and ditched in the river off midtown Manhattan. CBS' Bob Orr (no link) calculated that the plane cleared the bridge by 900 feet and hit the water at 150 mph, The fact that the crash landing happened within sight of the headquarters of all the major national news organizations helped make the survival story so newsworthy. Robin Roberts, anchor of ABC's Good Morning America saw the ditching from the balcony of her Manhattan apartment: "I saw the pilot make the most perfect landing. It was as if he was using the Hudson River as a runway." Joyce Cordero, a producer for 60 Minutes, took out her binoculars to watch the rescue from her office: "I was able to see people standing on the aircraft wings. They seemed pretty calm. It was not so chaotic as I would expect it to be," she told CBS' Randall Pinkston.


FEW DEVIL’S ADVOCATES FOUND Few of the newscasts would qualify for work at the Vatican scrutinizing candidates for canonization. "Everyone says it is a miracle that everyone survived," declared the credulous Randall Pinkston on CBS, finding no physical explanation for what happened. "A terrifying flight turned into a miraculous rescue," asserted a similarly awestruck John Berman on ABC. "It really was a miraculous combination: the presence of mind, the nerve of the pilot to put that plane down in the water combined with the speed of the rescue." Then CBS' transportation correspondent Bob Orr (no link) chimed in from Washington: "It is not too strong to say this was a miracle." At least NBC's Mike Taibbi had the sense to throw in a modifier. He found "skill combined with near miraculous luck" producing a result "that was frankly astounding."


NO MIRACLE ON THE HUDSON Of course, it was no miracle. ABC's in-house aviation consultant John Nance debriefed anchor Charles Gibson. The decision to ditch the jetliner in water rather than attempting to fly to an airport was "excellent," Nance decided, because of the risk of running out of air speed and altitude. "You are in a tremendously populated area there, a lot of houses, and it is going to be a catastrophe." The textbook training for pilots is to land "nose up, gently putting it into the water." That way "you are not going to breach the fuselage and you are not going to breach the wings and therefore you have got buoyancy." NBC's Tom Costello reported that the Airbus A-320 is designed with a "ditching button" that seals valves in case of a watery landing. "Since the plane is tightly sealed and pressurized, water would have a hard time seeping in, at least at first."

As for the speed of the rescue, NBC's Mike Taibbi explained there were "dozens of commuter ferries and tugboats that became first responders moving quickly…even before the Coast Guard and firefighters arrived on the scene." CBS' Randall Pinkston reported that the commuter ferries "pulled up within minutes." The passengers survived because they "climbed on the wings as the plane filled with water," ABC's John Berman pointed out. The upshot, noted NBC's Robert Bazell, was that "very few people ended up in the drink. They might have gotten wet…but they did not get into the water where hypothermia can take over much more actively." Bazell reported that he had checked with New York City hospitals and "there were very few people admitted."


PANIC-FREE PASSENGERS The first-person accounts by surviving passengers made for riveting journalism. CBS anchor Katie Couric interviewed Dave Sanderson, the last passenger to leave the fuselage, waiting as water lapped around his waist to make sure it was completely evacuated. Then "I just jumped in and started trying to swim to the first boat I could find. Fortunately somebody pulled me up on the boat because I did not have much use of my lower extremities at that point." Passenger Jeff Kolodjay, who was traveling to Myrtle Beach to play some winter golf, answered anchor Brian Williams' questions on NBC: "The captain did a hell of a job making sure that everyone survived," he declared. "Kudos to the pilot and kudos to the people that helped get us on board because I do not know how long we could last in that water. It is pretty cold." ABC's Dan Harris talked to Kolodjay too and exploded the "major myth of plane crashes that people go into a blind panic." Koldjay told him that "people were certainly scared but they maintained their cool even after they smashed into the frigid waters."


BLAME GEESE NOT GE Why did USAirways 1549 lose power just minutes after takeoff en route to Charlotte NC? All three newscasts concurred that the likely culprit was a flock of geese getting sucked into both of its jet engines. "The vast majority of collisions with birds occur at low altitude, during landing or takeoff," Armen Keteyian told us on CBS. "Jet engines are particularly vulnerable during takeoff when they are turning at very high speed." Each year, damage to jets caused by bird strikes, as they are called, costs $600m, ABC's Lisa Stark reported, and the resulting crashes have killed more than 200 people over the last two decades. NBC's Tom Costello showed us videotape of Pratt & Whitney tests of bird strike damage. He did the conscientious thing and told us that the engines that failed were made his own bosses. General Electric, which owns NBC News, is partner in the joint venture that powers Airbus. Yet Costello called geese not GE the "prime suspect" for the crash.


BURNING FOOD WITH PHOSPHORUS This would have been a heavy day of news anyway, even without the spectacle of the half-sunk Hudson River airplane. The United Nations compound in Gaza City was set on fire by Israeli bombardment. ABC's Simon McGregor-Wood blamed artillery shells filled with burning white phosphorus. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon happened to be in Israel at the time. He called the attack an "outrage." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded with "regret." CBS' Richard Roth recorded the plea of a Gazan woman: "What is the safe place for us to go?" "Not the UN compound," Roth responded rhetorically. The fire started just as IDF censors relented and allowed some journalists to cross the Gazan border from Israel. NBC's Martin Fletcher hopped on an armored personnel carrier to find "a whole region cleared of Palestinians." The access hardly helped his reporting: "We have no idea what is going on inside the town not even what is causing this plume of smoke above the city." That was United Nations food warehouses being incinerated. Israel "insists all its actions are in self-defense," McGregor-Wood pointed out.


YES, WE HAVE BANANAS Tyndall Report loves the stunts TV reporters invent to demonstrate how extreme weather conditions are…hanging on to a lamppost in a hurricane…frying an egg on a sidewalk in a heatwave…kayaking down a street in a flood. Cynthia Bowers came up with a marvelous addition for covering incredible cold. "Meet the frozen banana hammer!"


KEEP GRANNY QUIET WITH ZYPREXA Any time a corporation pays a $1.4bn criminal fine for "egregious" marketing abuses it should be headline news. Big Pharma's Eli Lilly has USAirways to thank for its abuses passing largely unnoticed. Only CBS covered the case of Zyprexa, the prescription medication for schizophrenia, that Eli Lilly's sales force was accused of pushing for so-called off-label use. Sharyl Attkisson told us that the antipsychotic drug, whose side effects can include weight gain and diabetes, was sold for "children in foster care, people who have trouble sleeping, elderly in nursing homes." Five at Five was the Zyrexa slogan, meaning 5mg dispensed at 5pm would keep patients quiet.


NOT TORTUOUS ABC, whose Jan Crawford Greenburg covered the convoluted definition of torture at Guantanamo Bay Wednesday, now cuts through the circumlocution by assigning Pierre Thomas to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Eric Holder, Barack Obama's nominee to be Attorney General. "Waterboarding is torture," Holder testified flatly. It is a judgment that is "categorically at odds with the Bush Administration," Thomas pointed out.


TOUCH THAT THIRD RAIL On a day when unemployment continued to worsen and annual housing foreclosures surpassed 3m and California declared a $42bn state budget deficit, NBC's Chuck Todd covered Barack Obama's progress on Capitol Hill. He "won his first political fight in Congress," even before Inauguration Day, as the Senate voted not to block the second tranche of the Treasury Department's $700bn TARP bailout for high finance. At the same time the House of Representatives unveiled its $825bn two-year plan for fiscal stimulus. Todd also noted an interview Obama granted to Washington Post in which he pledged "to tackle entitlement reform." Todd translated: "In other words he is going to touch the third rail of American politics--Social Security."


SINCEREST FORM Steve Hartman's pre-Inauguration Day feature on CBS Wednesday about the marching band of troubled teens from the Bonnie Brae rehab center in New Jersey was so good it deserved to be emulated. Here is David Muir's version on ABC. Hartman focused on the school's devious director. Muir picked up a pair of sticks and joined the kids who are Constitution Avenue bound.