CONTAINING LINKS TO 55600 STORIES FROM THE NETWORKS' NIGHTLY NEWSCASTS
     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM DECEMBER 21, 2010
The teeming rain that is drenching California from San Diego to Humboldt County was the Story of the Day. Correspondents in southern California braced for gale force winds and a nightlong downpour. All three newscasts showed rescues from flash floods, mud-lined canyons and vehicles abandoned on highways. CBS and ABC led from the Golden State. NBC, whose sibling cable network is the Weather Channel, departed from its normal practice of giving top billing to nature's fury (211 reports so far this year v ABC 157, CBS 145). It chose to lead with the findings of the 2010 Census instead: all 308m of them.    
     TYNDALL PICKS FOR DECEMBER 21, 2010: CLICK ON GRID ELEMENTS TO SEARCH FOR MATCHING ITEMS
click to playstoryanglereporterdateline
video thumbnailCBSStorms, heavy rains, mudslides on Pacific coastRescue teams keep busy amid flash floodsBen TracyCalifornia
video thumbnailNBCCensus Bureau reports results of 2010 countPopulation exceeds 308m, House reapportionedTom CostelloWashington DC
video thumbnailABCDomestic terrorism preparedness and preventionHomeland security warns of increased chatterDiane SawyerWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCHijacked jets kamikaze attacks on NYC, DCWTC workers lobby Senate for $6bn health fundKelly O'DonnellCapitol Hill
video thumbnailABCRussia-US diplomacy: START treaty ratification debatePresident Obama lobbies holdout RepublicansJake TapperWhite House
video thumbnailNBCCollege for-profit sector abuses investigatedMarketing pitches aggravate student debt crisisScott CohnWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSOil, natural gas, gasoline pricesUnusual jump in winter prices, $3/gallon averageBill WhitakerLos Angeles
video thumbnailABCAuto safety: Ford Windstar rear axle recallMinivan was marketed for safety, can roll overBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailCBSPhilanthropy and charitable donation trendsThe Giving Pledge now attracts 58 billionairesKatie CouricNew York
video thumbnailCBSBroadway musical Spider-Man is lavish productionPreviews plagued by dangerous stunt accidentsElaine QuijanoNew York
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
HATE CALIFORNIA, ITíS COLD & ITíS DAMP The teeming rain that is drenching California from San Diego to Humboldt County was the Story of the Day. Correspondents in southern California braced for gale force winds and a nightlong downpour. All three newscasts showed rescues from flash floods, mud-lined canyons and vehicles abandoned on highways. CBS and ABC led from the Golden State. NBC, whose sibling cable network is the Weather Channel, departed from its normal practice of giving top billing to nature's fury (211 reports so far this year v ABC 157, CBS 145). It chose to lead with the findings of the 2010 Census instead: all 308m of them.

CBS' Ben Tracy filed from mudslide-threatened La Canada in the suburban canyons of Los Angeles, where NBC's Miguel Almaguer and ABC's Mike von Fremd were located on Monday. "This is the hottest commodity in this neighborhood right now," CBS' Tracy showed us, "a sandbag." ABC's von Fremd followed up from Los Angeles, predicting rains that will break 30-year records. NBC's Almaguer added that the ten-foot snowfall at Mammoth broke a 40-year mark.


HEAD COUNT Since the Constitutional purpose of the Census is to reapportion the seats in the House of Representatives, it was fitting that CBS and ABC should both assign their Congressional correspondents, Nancy Cordes and Jonathan Karl, to cover the top line results from 2010: 12 seats will change states compared with 2000, with all the new seats assigned to the south and the west away from the north and midwest. Hurricane Katrina caused the exception to that trend, transferring population within the sunbelt, out of Louisiana and into Texas.

NBC's Tom Costello took more of a demographic approach, noting that the last decade saw the smallest population growth rate, at 9.7%, since the Great Depression. Michigan even suffered depopulation. As for that migration of people from northeast-and-midwest to west-and-south--that trend has been in place for a hundred years.


SAWYER TO CLAPPER: GOTCHA OR LEGITIMATE EXPOSE? There was an excruciating moment in Diane Sawyer's sitdown with top homeland security officials about preventing domestic terrorism. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, responded with befuddled silence when the ABC anchor asked him about the possibility of bomb plots originating in Britain. Sawyer was so stunned that Clapper did not know what she was talking about that she came back to the question later in the q-&-a.

"London, how serious is it? Any indication that it was coming here?" was the question that stumped Clapper. Sawyer later told Clapper that she was referring to that morning's arrest of a dozen suspected plotters by British police. She was surprised that he was not informed. He apologized and acknowledged that he had not been; John Brennan, the White House advisor on counterterrorism, told Sawyer that he had been briefed. In Clapper's defense, his office later pointed out that Sawyer's question had been "ambiguous" and it claimed that Clapper had "profound and multidimensional" knowledge of "threat streams in Europe."

So did she expose a deplorable state of ignorance where there should be intelligence? Or was this just gotcha journalism?

First, Sawyer's question was clumsy, to say the least. The major news from London that morning was the closing of Heathrow Airport and the halting of all airline traffic. Given that she had just asked about the bungling underwear bomber in a jetliner last Christmas, she could have been understood to be asking whether the lack of airline traffic from London posed such a threat--a question that would have befuddled anyone.

Second, London was not the location of most of the arrests in the bomb plot. They were in Birmingham, Stoke and Cardiff, so using "London" as shorthand for a police round-up that mostly took place outside of London would be a second source of logical befuddlement.

Third, the fact that ABC News treated the arrests as a cause for alarm is no guarantee that they were. ABC's Jim Sciutto covered the arrests Monday with the claim that "this plot may have been in its final stages." CBS' Elizabeth Palmer had a different take: that the arrest was made to protect an undercover informant not to prevent imminent bombings. Palmer also reported that the alleged plot was an internal British affair, targeting shopping districts and government buildings. She mentioned no transAtlantic angle. NBC did not treat the round-up as newsworthy enough to warrant a correspondent.

Nevertheless, Sawyer did expose the fact that Clapper's daily briefing had not included news of these arrests. Her inartful questioning was not the reason Clapper was confused--although inartful it certainly was. He was confused because of his lack of knowledge. Should his briefing have included the arrest of a dozen ethnic Bangladeshis in three English cities and one in Wales? Only if it was part of that so-called "threat stream." ABC's decision to give the arrests prominence is no proof that it was.

Clapper's aides may have been correct not to have wasted his time by putting these arrests on his agenda. It may have been ABC that made the mistake, treating a domestic round-up by British police as a transAtlantic cause celebre. Without knowing whether the underlying story was legitimate or hyped, it is impossible to judge whether Sawyer's journalism was legitimate or gotcha.


MORE LAME DUCK NBC became the third newscast in the last three weekdays to give publicity to the debate over funding healthcare for World Trade Center workers damaged by toxins from the destroyed Twin Towers. Jonathan Karl filed Friday for ABC; Nancy Cordes Monday on CBS. Now Kelly O'Donnell completes the trifecta. Karl and Cordes both offered a tip of the hat to Jon Stewart's non-comedic lobbying on The Daily Show. O'Donnell concentrated on the personal lobbying of the sickened workers themselves.

When the Senate decided not to block a vote on ratification of the latest START treaty, ABC's Jake Tapper decided it was time to cover the agreement as a bilateral arms control story rather than yet more inside-the-Beltway politics. He actually told us about nuclear warheads, long-range missiles, strategic bombers, and stockpile inspections.


CNBC REMEDIES EDUCATION NATION ETHICS LAPSE Remember back in September when NBC News hosted its Education Nation summit. The summit offered prestigious publicity to its major sponsors, including the for-profit college, the University of Phoenix. Jennifer Epstein at Inside Higher Ed covered the ethical criticism of NBC News for its embrace of Phoenix from both journalists and college educators. Now comes NBC's backlash against its onetime partner. Scott Cohn previewed his CNBC documentary The Price of Admission about the looming crisis in the student loan system: "America's student debt is approaching $880bn. That is more than we owe on our credit cards. Student loan defaults have doubled in the last five years and half of those defaults are at so-called for-profit colleges, schools that operate as a business--like the University of Phoenix."


BILLIONAIRES WIELD DISPROPORTIONATE POWER Another of Education Nation's sponsors was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Friday, I noted that the billionaire's charity is also sponsoring ABC News' coverage of the Third World development beat under its Be the Change--Save a Life series. Now @katiecouric on CBS publicizes The Giving Pledge, the organization Gates started with Warren Buffet to persuade their fellow billionaires to set up charitable foundations while they are still alive. Anchor Couric sat down with a pair of the 58 pledgers, Steve Case and Ted Forstman.

Couric told us about the disproportionate power those 58 individuals wield--not only underwriting the agendas of the network news divisions. Collectively their endowments are four times larger than the annual budgets (excuse us, Katie--comparing endowments with budgets is apples and oranges) of these six organizations combined: the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute (excuse us, Katie--NCI is part of NIH so that is double counting), the American Cancer Society, the Salvation Army, the United Way, the American Red Cross.


GASOLINE MAKES A COMEBACK It has been almost 18 months since any of the nightly newscasts considered it worth the effort to assign a correspondent to check out the price at the pump at a filling station. Suddenly CBS decides to send Bill Whitaker out to buy some gasoline. Cheap gas does not make news--only the expensive kind. With the national cost of a gallon averaging $3, it looks like that threshold is being crossed.

Also on the highway, Brian Ross could find only a single death to report out of 800 accidents for his Investigates feature on ABC into rear axle problems in Ford Motors' early model Windstar minivans. So he relied on a simulated accident on a test track to publicize Ford's expensive recall to get the problem fixed.


STUNTS NBC's Anne Thompson had already shown us the production problems besetting Broadway's Spider-Man extravaganze Turn Off The Dark so in a way, CBS' Elaine Quijano and ABC's John Berman were playing catch-up. On the other hand, these later reports have the advantage of including handheld cellphone footage of actor Christopher Tierney plummeting into the pit when his stunt harness failed. The other visual ingredients in their packages were dynamic and eyecatching--promotional material from the producers showing how the aerial stunts are supposed to look, when not causing industrial accidents.