CONTAINING LINKS TO 58103 STORIES FROM THE NETWORKS' NIGHTLY NEWSCASTS
     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM DECEMBER 11, 2009
The week ended on a light day of news as the network newscasts reached no consensus on the agenda. NBC chose to start its newscast with a preview of the weekend's shopping as a barometer for the overall retail health of the Christmas holidays. ABC followed up on the weeklong early winter storm that left a blanket of snow on the southern shores of the Great Lakes. CBS led with the five students from the Washington DC area who continue to be held in a Pakistani jail, suspected as terrorist wannabes. The lackluster coverage of the winter storm qualified, barely, as the Story of the Day.    
     TYNDALL PICKS FOR DECEMBER 11, 2009: CLICK ON GRID ELEMENTS TO SEARCH FOR MATCHING ITEMS
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video thumbnailNBCWinter weatherGreat Lakes snows block I-90, strand motoristsRon AllenNew York State
video thumbnailNBCChristmas holiday season beginsWeekend volume will be barometer for retailersJohn YangNew York
video thumbnailCBSRetail sales volume is slow to reboundNovember was strongest month since JanuaryAnthony MasonNew York
video thumbnailABCMoslems in western nations recruited by terroristsStudent quintet from DC held in Pakistan jailDavid WrightWashington DC
video thumbnailABCCIA accused of hiring illegal mercenariesUsed Blackwater in Afghan-Pakistan border raidsBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailCBSWar on Drugs: Mexico narcotics gang warsTijuana police corruption purged, chief targetedBill WhitakerMexico
video thumbnailNBCGlobal warming greenhouse effect climate changePlan for refugee crises, wars over resourcesJim MacedaCairo
video thumbnailCBSAdoption scam offers fake orphans from SamoaParents still alive, children may have to returnMaureen MaherNew York
video thumbnailCBSCollege football: Heisman Trophy ceremonies previewCandidate Mark Ingram's father, ex-NFLer in jailJeff GlorNew York
video thumbnailABCHollywood modernizes 3-D movie technologyDirector James Cameron spends $400m on AvatarBrian RooneyHollywood
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
SHUFFLE OFF TO BUFFALO The week ended on a light day of news as the network newscasts reached no consensus on the agenda. NBC chose to start its newscast with a preview of the weekend's shopping as a barometer for the overall retail health of the Christmas holidays. ABC followed up on the weeklong early winter storm that left a blanket of snow on the southern shores of the Great Lakes. CBS led with the five students from the Washington DC area who continue to be held in a Pakistani jail, suspected as terrorist wannabes. The lackluster coverage of the winter storm qualified, barely, as the Story of the Day.

For domestic weather stories, the national networks often like to showcase talent from a local affiliate battling a storm on the scene. Scott Brown of WGRZ-TV, NBC's Buffalo affiliate, grabbed his moment in the spotlight in Ron Allen's report with a perfectly executed tonguetwister: "A foot of snow and high winds has meant a lot of slow going and snow blowing." The story from Buffalo was that the overnight blizzard was so heavy that a 50-mile stretch of I-90 had to be shut down, stranding as many as 100 vehicles. "The Interstate became a snowy parking lot. Plows could not keep up," ABC's David Kerley reported from upstate. No one was harmed by the freezing overnighter.

CBS decided not to send Jim Axelrod to the scene to see the snow. He filed from outdoors in a frigid Times Square as he voiced over videotape of the blocked Thruway and useless traffic lights in Green Bay. "This is one frozen calling card," he complained, as a total of 17 were killed by the week's weather nationwide.


CHRISTMAS PRESENT Christmas coverage was strictly commercial. No time for the festive spirit--the coming weekend is all about cold cash. "Crucial," NBC's John Yang called it. "If shoppers are not out in force this weekend some retailers have contingency plans for even more markdowns and deeper discounts." ABC's Betsy Stark took the same angle. She noted that spending at department stores and consumer electronics stores is lower than last year. "This is going to be a big weekend" for determining whether retailers will have to resort to pricecutting to attract traffic. "If the shoppers are not out in force this weekend those big sales could come."

On CBS, Anthony Mason noted that most retail sales improved in November before warning that "early reports suggest that December sales have started slowly." And CNBC economist Steve Liesman unveiled his analysis for NBC anchor Brian Williams. He predicted "a tough Christmastime for retailers and it is going to be a great Christmas for bargain hunters"--and then he added his caveat--"who have money to spend." Any increase in spending, Liesman found, will be "driven entirely by the wealthy." Households with annual incomes lower than $30,000 "are going to cut back on their spending."


HIRED GUNS & TERRRORIST WANNABES A pair of contrasting stories about American civilians getting caught up in the fighting along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border surfaced--one incompetent, one sinister.

ABC's Brian Ross filed the sinister angle, reporting from unidentified "current and former military and intelligence officials" that the Central Intelligence Agency illegally hired mercenaries for clandestine border raids. "The use of private contractors is one way to help keep certain activities off the books," Tony Shaffer, a retired colonel, told Ross. The mercenaries were hired from Blackwater, the security contracting firm. Ross cited a pair of specific operations: two contractors were killed in an ambush in 2003 while searching for al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan; and in October 2006 twelve Blackwater mercenaries "were recruited for a secret mission to attack an al-Qaeda camp across the border in Pakistan" in an operation dubbed Vibrant Fury. Ross reported that Director Leon Panetta has canceled a secret CIA contract with Blackwater "and ordered a review of others."

The incompetent angle concerned the five students from the Washington DC area who are being held in a Pakistani jail in Punjab Province on suspicion of being terrorist wannabes. NBC's Pete Williams reported on the group Thursday, quoting sources as calling them "jokers" and suspecting that they got cold feet after they arrived. Now CBS' Bob Orr quotes Pakistani police as saying that they "immediately raised suspicions when they tried to hook up with two separate terrorist groups. They were not successful, turned away as westerners who did not speak the local language." ABC's David Wright also quoted police sources in Pakistan: "Two extremist groups actually rejected the young men, not convinced that they were serious."

A shambolic tone surrounds the coverage of these five. It is not even clear who they are. CBS' Orr identified them by their mugshots three times: twice he called them Hussain-Zamzam-Hassan-Abdullah-Farooq; then he called them Khan-Zamzam-Yamer-Abdulminni-Farooq. ABC's Wright used full names, some the same as Orr's, others were variations: Waqar Hussain Khan, Rami Zamzam, Aman Yemer, Ahmed Minni, Umar Farooq.


TOUCH OF EVIL Violence closer to the United States border caught Bill Whitaker's eye for CBS. He gave us an Exclusive look at a 166-foot-long smuggling tunnel built by narcotraffickers in Tijuana that was discovered and sealed off just 50 feet short of US territory. Whitaker profiled Police Chief Julian Leyzaola. When Leyzaola took over the Tijuana department he "soon realized he did not just have to clean the drug criminals off the streets; he had to clean them out of this own police department. He says he investigated all 2,200 officers; 460 were fired or jailed for having ties to drug cartels." Attending funerals "is a growing part" of Leyzaola's job. So far this year, 28 officers on his force have been slain. "Cartel killers threatened to murder five officers a week until he leaves office."


WATER IS FOR FIGHTING Anne Thompson filed from Copenhagen for NBC on the United Nations' global warming conference for the third time this week. Monday she covered the opening ceremonies; Wednesday she watched the EPA take the lead role in US diplomacy. Now she tells us about money: nations in the developing world want a $100bn fund for them to buy new technologies for carbonfree energy; rich nations are offering just $10bn.

NBC also completed its five-part series A Perfect Storm on the impact of global warming. Jim Maceda took the military angle as the Pentagon plans for regional warfare caused by changes in the climate. Conflicts sparked by refugee crises and depleted resources. Maceda used the Nile Delta on Egypt's Mediterranean coast as an example of a potential flashpoint. Rising sea levels ruin farmland by turning it salty; high temperatures and evaporation deplete the river; Sudan and Ethiopia, the neighbors upstream, divert its flow. "Egypt calls it a cause for war."


SAMOA SCAM An adoption agency called Focus on Children found itself in the cross-hairs of 48 Hours Investigates on CBS. Maureen Maher filed a preview of her primetime documentary on the 80-or-so orphans from Samoa that Focus on Children provided for more than 50 families in America at a fee of $13,000 per adoption. Maher revealed that the children were not orphans after all: "The Samoan families, all poor and uneducated, believed they had signed their children up for a foster program and that their children would be coming home at age 18." The operators of Focus on Children faced felony prosecutions but have plea bargained the case down to "just a handful of misdemeanors." As for the legality of the adoptions--that ruling is still pending.


MISSING THE MARK CBS likes to close its week with an inspirational feature invoking the American Spirit. This week Jeff Glor was assigned to file on the "special bond" between father and son. Glor landed quite a story, a jailhouse Exclusive with former New York Giants running back Mark Ingram, who is incarcerated awaiting sentencing for bank fraud and moneylaundering. Glor's angle was that Ingram's son, also a running back, also named Mark, is a frontrunner for this year's Heisman Trophy for his exploits for the University of Alabama.

It is a fine story of familial contrasts--a father's disgrace, a son's glory. What is has to do with embodying the American Spirit is a mystery.


YOU CANíT SEE THIS ON TV Rounding out the week from Hollywood, ABC's Brian Rooney offered some free publicity--not that it needs it--for director James Cameron's $400m movie production that is opening in theaters next week. Rooney oohed-and-aahed over Avatar's 3-D effects: "What you see is a picture that is sharp and has depth. Some objects appear to float right over you, close enough to reach out and touch." Rooney realized that we had to take his word for it: "Of course," he conceded, "you cannot see the effect on a flat screen television."