CONTAINING LINKS TO 51991 STORIES FROM THE NETWORKS' NIGHTLY NEWSCASTS
     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM OCTOBER 19, 2010
What a dreadful newscast NBC put together on Tuesday! It led with such excessive coverage of a report on the safety of Hormone Replacement Therapy for menopausal women that HRT qualified as Story of the Day. It followed up with three reports on Campaign 2010: the network's own poll results on the generic ballot and a couple of incomprehensible features. For finishers, its Making a Difference offering was more propaganda than journalism. Meanwhile CBS led with a survey on the loyalty of Barack Obama's supporters while ABC chose the real estate foreclosure crisis. ABC did not even consider the HRT story, which NBC spent six minutes on, to be worth the assignment of a correspondent.    
     TYNDALL PICKS FOR OCTOBER 19, 2010: CLICK ON GRID ELEMENTS TO SEARCH FOR MATCHING ITEMS
click to playstoryanglereporterdateline
video thumbnailCBSMenopause: Hormone Replacement Therapy controversyIncrease in breast cancer deaths confirmedJon LaPookNew York
video thumbnailCBSHealthcare reform: universal and managed careLaid-off, uninsured scammed by fake insuranceWyatt AndrewsWashington DC
video thumbnailABCAlzheimer's Disease coverageFamily caregivers face dementia with loveTerry MoranNo Dateline
video thumbnailNBC2010 House races previewedNBC News poll finds GOP generic lead 50%-43%Chuck ToddNew York
video thumbnailCBS2010 House races previewedGeneric support for Democrats among Obama votersChip ReidWhite House
video thumbnailABC2010 Ohio Governor race: Strickland vs KasichDemocratic incumbent hurt by jobs, enthusiasmJonathan KarlCleveland
video thumbnailABCReal estate home mortgage foreclosures increaseBank of America OKs paperwork, ends moratoriumDavid MuirNew York
video thumbnailCBSFrance economy: street protests against pension cutsLegislation looms to raise retirement ageElizabeth PalmerParis
video thumbnailNBCMagnet, charter schools offer alternative educationAustin Can! Academy prevents Hispanic dropoutsRehema EllisTexas
video thumbnailABCTV sitcom actor Tom Bosley dies, aged 83ObituaryJohn BermanNew York
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
NBC’S USELESS NEWS YOU CAN USE What a dreadful newscast NBC put together on Tuesday! It led with such excessive coverage of a report on the safety of Hormone Replacement Therapy for menopausal women that HRT qualified as Story of the Day. It followed up with three reports on Campaign 2010: the network's own poll results on the generic ballot and a couple of incomprehensible features. For finishers, its Making a Difference offering was more propaganda than journalism. Meanwhile CBS led with a survey on the loyalty of Barack Obama's supporters while ABC chose the real estate foreclosure crisis. ABC did not even consider the HRT story, which NBC spent six minutes on, to be worth the assignment of a correspondent.

What on Earth did NBC see in the menopause story that was so newsworthy? Robert Bazell told us that the Women's Health Initiative released a follow-up to its 2002 research that found that HRT--the estrogen-progesterone combination--led to an increased incidence of breast cancer. At the time, HRT was "the most commonly prescribed medication for women 50 and older," Bazell reminded us, a routine practice that has been discontinued because of that research. The follow-up study found that the resulting tumors were not "small and not-so-life-threatening," as doctors had hoped at the time, but "more advanced and deadly."

Obviously that is not good news. But what are the public health consequences? Bazell did not tell us. How many women take HRT nowadays? What income and profits did Pfizer make then or does it make now from marketing HRT? How many extra breast cancer deaths occur each year? What is the cost to the healthcare budget of treating those extra tumors? Bazell did not tell us.

Instead, NBC anchor Brian Williams invited Dr Beth DuPree into the studio, the medical director of the breast health program at the Holy Redeemer Health System in Pennsylvania. What followed was almost four minutes of the most anodyne interviewing. Examples of Dr DuPree's pabulum include:

"I think we have to shift perspective and say individualize the care and make sure women talk to their doctors to know what their risk is."

"That is where we have to get back to having a very good doctor/patient relationship and discuss each symptom."

"You have to weigh those risks and benefits but at this point in time, I think it is something that we have to take a very, very good look at, from a medical perspective, to say, is this the right choice for this woman?"

"So should we be treating all those women with a medication or should we individualize the care and decide which women will benefit from it and which woman's risk is too high?"

"You have to individualize the care and make sure that you are treating that woman specifically and not just giving a medication to alleviate a symptom, so that that person no longer comes to your office with that same complaint."

My complaint is not that the health-&-medicine beat is an inappropriate one for the nightly newscasts. Of course healthcare should be covered. While NBC was airing this pabulum, CBS' Wyatt Andrews, for example, was filing an Investigation expose into infomercials that purport to sell health insurance to laid-off workers, coverage that turns out to be nothing more than a worthless discount card. Beware of the American Trade Association, he warned. Even Terry Moran's affecting first-person account of losing family members to dementia--part two of ABC's Taking on Alzheimer's series kicked off by in-house physician Richard Besser Monday--has its place in the nightly newscast palette.

No, my complaint is with this News You Can Use formula. It is a problem seen more often on the morning programs such as Today or Good Morning America. It has no business whatsoever on the nightly news. Actionable information directed at a tiny minority of the audience is a waste of time on a general interest newscast. Brian Williams should be addressing us as citizens, supplying information for participation in the public square. Individualized advice on whether or not we should take Hormone Replacement Therapy for our menopausal symptoms cannot be usefully dispensed by a journalist via television. Instead we need to know whether public policy concerning HRT, and its withdrawal from general use, was pursued properly, with full accountability.

CBS' in-house physician Jon LaPook did a superior job, in shorter time, than either correspondent Bazell or physician DuPree. CBS told us that 40m prescriptions for HRT are currently written annually. Presumably, on the basis of a monthly prescription, that means 3.3m women are taking the hormones at any one time. Dr LaPook told us that the increased risk of premature death from breast cancer as a result of taking HRT was "slight, a little over one extra death per year for every 10,000 women." Doing the math, that means that, nationwide, 333 women will die prematurely from breast cancer each year because they are taking HRT.

That is no big deal, certainly not worth more than a quarter of NBC Nightly News' entire newshole.


NBC’S DIRECTIONLESS POLITICAL COVERAGE Next let's look at NBC's exasperating coverage of Campaign 2010. I have no complaint with political director Chuck Todd's summary of NBC News' latest polling data. He noted a Republican lead on the generic ballot; a similar right-track/wrong-track ratio to the one found in 1994 and 2006, the last two times leadership in the House of Representatives changed hands; yet an improvement in the job performance ratings of individual incumbent members of Congress.

No, my problem is with the two follow-up features: Mike Taibbi on the conduct of politicians on the stump; and Kevin Tibbles on the mood of voters. Taibbi's round-up consisted of Christine O'Donnell's confusion about the First Amendment; Rush Limbaugh insulting Barack Obama; Jack Conway invoking college pranks; Joe Miller having a reporter arrested; and Carl Paladino being upstaged by the Rent Is 2 Damn High Party. Taibbi's so-called analysis was the observation that "beyond political theater there is real anger heading into these midterms" calling it a "volatile election cycle." Not a word about issues; not a mention of public policy; not a hint of platforms or mandates or future governing strategies.

As for Tibbles' survey of voters' vox pop, he detected an "unsettled mood…many voters are questioning whether the politicians even realize how worried they are about the future of this country and it upsets them…It is in middle America, middle-class America, where many say fear is replacing hope." He found vague opposition to bailouts and to deficit spending and to joblessness and to declining living standards. Not a word about issues; not a mention of public policy; not a hint of platforms or mandates or future governing strategies.

Chuck Todd is NBC's political director. He needs to start giving his political correspondents some direction.


ALL CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE IN LAKE WOBEGON If you look at the playlist of coverage of magnet and charter schools on all three of the nightly newscasts, one thing will strike you. In all that coverage, you will never find a single charter school that is failing to produce stellar results. All are way better than average. This year alone, CBS anchor Katie Couric has offered glowing praise for the Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington DC; ABC's David Muir just loved the Urban Prep Charter Academy in Chicago; CBS' Michelle Miller gushed over Harlem Village Academy in New York City; CBS' Jim Axelrod was so impressed by Cleveland's Ginn Academy.

So what a refreshing change Rehema Ellis appeared to be offering on NBC's Making a Difference when she uncovered the shambolic Austin Can! Academy in Texas! This charter school was a mess, "desperate for leadership, going through four principals in two years…with only 88 students, huge behavior problems and dismal test scores."

Finally, NBC's Education Nation appeared to be dropping its cheerleading, turning a skeptical eye on the solutions publicized by Waiting for Superman, the documentary it showcased during its Education Summit on Rockefeller Plaza. Ellis had already taken a step in that direction in her coverage of the departure Chancellor Michelle Rhee, the Waiting for Superman favorite from Washington DC: "Rhee is leaving after her boss Mayor Adrian Fenty failed to win his bid for reelection and her policies had become a major issue in the campaign." Rhee's style, Ellis reflected, "alienated many teachers and parents." The improved school system she leaves after four years "still struggles with less than half the students graduating on time, meaning there is a lot more work to be done."

But no, Ellis turns out to be a cheerleader still. The reason she covered the Austin Can! Academy was not its failure but its success. Joe Gonzales, a new principal, arrived three years ago, his plan "strict discipline, a dress code, longer school days. It is working. Enrolment has quadrupled. Grades are improving." Score one more for the Superman system.

When every single charter school that attracts coverage is better than average, we are not seeing journalism about the Education Nation. We are being fed propaganda.