The aftermath of last weekend's massive earthquake in Chile was Story of the Day again as the networks' correspondents headed south, negotiating flattened bridges and torn-up highways, to arrive at its epicenter. CBS, anchored by substitute Harry Smith, was the only newscast to lead from Chile. ABC kicked off with Jim Bunning, the Republican Senator from Kentucky, on the second day of his objection to borrowing $10bn to pay for benefits fro the unemployed. NBC chose the massive debts and cutbacks facing the US Postal Service.    
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video thumbnailCBSChile earthquake hits city of Concepcion: Richter 8.8High rises razed, crackdown on nightly lootingMark StrassmannChile
video thumbnailABCChile earthquake hits city of Concepcion: Richter 8.8Tsunami devastated coast town of ConstitucionDavid WrightChile
video thumbnailNBCGuns: firearms control regulations debateMunicipal handgun bans appealed to Supreme CourtPete WilliamsSupreme Court
video thumbnailABCSen Jim Bunning (R-KY) singlehandedly blocks billSecond day of objections to $10bn in borrowingJonathan KarlCapitol Hill
video thumbnailCBS2010 California Governor raceDemocrat Jerry Brown seeks old job, runs againBen TracyCalifornia
video thumbnailNBCUSPS posts annual losses of $7bn, faces cutbacksRestructuring plan submitted to CongressTom CostelloWashington DC
video thumbnailABCSexual offender ex-inmates post-release rulesMonitoring of parolees varies state-by-stateTerry MoranWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSChild abuse: NJ foster care siblings found starvingNewly adopted, no longer stunted six years laterMary CalviNo Dateline
video thumbnailNBCOrganic food is all the rageHigher cost, no toxins, no improved nutritionLisa MyersWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSMovie reviewer Roger Ebert loses voice to cancerAutomated voice software uses his own phonemesDean ReynoldsChicago
CHILE’S EPICENTER The aftermath of last weekend's massive earthquake in Chile was Story of the Day again as the networks' correspondents headed south, negotiating flattened bridges and torn-up highways, to arrive at its epicenter. CBS, anchored by substitute Harry Smith, was the only newscast to lead from Chile. ABC kicked off with Jim Bunning, the Republican Senator from Kentucky, on the second day of his objection to borrowing $10bn to pay for benefits fro the unemployed. NBC chose the massive debts and cutbacks facing the US Postal Service.

ABC's David Wright and Today newscaster Ann Curry for NBC arrived in the small coastal town of Constitucion where almost half of the fatalities from Chile's earthquake happened--some 350 killed out of nearly 800 dead. Constitucion was hit twice, once by the nighttime quake itself and then, 15 minutes later, by a series of tsunamis, some as tall as 50 feet. ABC's Wright reported on villagers aroused from their sleep--some in pajamas, some naked--heading for the hills to avoid the water. The rubble of a waterfront discotheque will likely contain the bodies of drowned late-night dancers.

CBS' Mark Strassmann and ABC's Jeffrey Kofman filed from the city of Concepcion, population 600,000: high-rise buildings have been razed; a curfew has been imposed to prevent looting; and the population is sleeping in tents for fear of aftershocks. Even in the Chilean summer, the nighttime temperature is close to freezing, ABC's Kofman told us. CBS substitute anchor Smith asked Strassmann why the military had not been mobilized: "This country has had a long history of military dictatorships, sending troops into civilian areas. It is a very touchy subject, sensitive among the Chilean people, and always a very careful decision by their leaders.

Meanwhile NBC also heard from Mark Potter, based in the capital of Santiago, checking on the civilian government's coordination of relief.

NBC PULLS THE TRIGGER All three network newscasts had their Supreme Court correspondents cover the 2008 challenge to bans on handguns in which the Justices recognized an individual's Constitutional right to bear arms, at least in federal jurisdictions. Now that ruling, based on the District of Columbia, may be expanded but only NBC deems that second step newsworthy enough to assign a reporter. Pete Williams alone covered the decision to accept the wider appeal last September; now he alone reports on the oral arguments. "Constitutional rights do not apply automatically to the cities and states," he explained, as Chicago sought to have its restrictions upheld. He did not give the Windy City much of a shot: "A clear majority of the Court seemed prepared to strike down Chicago's handgun ban and apply the Second Amendment nationwide."

BUNNING REDUX ABC's Jonathan Karl attracted so much attention Monday when he confronted Jim Bunning as the doors of a Senate elevator were closing that he was sent back to the corridors of power to pester the Solon some more. Neither CBS nor NBC deemed Day Two of Bunning's objections to a month-long $10bn extension of funding for the unemployed worth an assignment. Karl kept at it, apparently more concerned about appearances than the substance. "Are you concerned about how this has played out?" he asked, in front of another elevator bank. "No, I am not concerned, except for the people." Karl was not just targeting Bunning. He seemed to think that the majority party was a pretty cynical bunch too: "As Democrats complain about Bunning's behavior, they are thrilled with the political fallout here, happy to be fighting an unpopular senator over a bill that has got a lot of popular support."

GOVERNOR MOONBEAM CBS made splendid use of its videotape archives as it assigned Ben Tracy to profile Jerry Brown as he announced his latest candidacy to be Governor of California. Tracy showed us Brown's previous campaign in 1975 at the age of 36. "He was ahead of his time on environmental issues, pushing solar power. He also wanted a space satellite for California's emergency communications, earning him the nickname, Governor Moonbeam." Amid clips of Linda Ronstadt and Mother Teresa, Tracy persuaded Brown to reflect on his former self: "I was pretty colorful, pretty interesting. So next time I may not be as colorful, but I will still be interesting," was his campaign pledge.

By the way, that moonbeam satellite was launched.

LEGACY LOSSES Journalists at the television networks' news divisions have plenty of worries about diminishing resources and clout in an age of media fragmentation in an online, broadband world.

Misery appears to love company, so all three newscasts covered the plight of the US Postal Service. NBC's Tom Costello noted a "whopping" 16% drop in its volume of mail since 2006. This year it faces a $7bn loss and without changes a cumulative shortfall of $238bn by 2020. Accordingly the Postmaster General is applying to Congress to be allowed to discontinue Saturday deliveries, to close thousands of offices and to raise the price of a stamp yet again. CBS had Nancy Cordes cover the reaction to the request on Capitol Hill. ABC' Ron Claiborne reflected that there was little that the USPS could have done differently: "Like many businesses, it was a victim of a revolution in how--and how fast--people communicate."

MORAN EXPOSES IGNORANT SHERIFF, PANICKED PUBLIC Check out this piece of reporting on ABC by Nightline anchor Terry Moran. There is such a disconnect between his content and his tone. At first I thought the dissonance derived from shoddy, manipulative scaremongering. On second viewing, I found the dissonance to be unnerving and persuasive.

ABC anchor Diane Sawyer introduced Moran's reporting with a reference to a teenage jogger who has gone missing near San Diego. Yet Moran's story had nothing to do with that. Nightline's camera crew was involved in a COPS-style tagalong with a task force from the Santa Clara Sheriff's Department in California "on a mission to conduct random, unannounced checks" on some of the county's 3,000 former sexual offenders, now released from prison.

Sheriff Laurie Smith explained the rationale for her task force: "These are people who have just gotten out of prison or jail, who have a history, who are likely to reoffend." And sure enough, Moran's cameras were on hand when one of the 3,000 was found with children's toys in his apartment, a "creepy discovery" that was a violation of his parole.

But then Moran turned to his statistics. Nationwide the recidivism rate for sexual offenders is 24%, "below average for all criminals, including drug addicts." Politely, he did not confront Sheriff Smith with these facts in contradiction. He just let them stand. Instead he invoked emotion--"frightening"--as the explanation for Smith's policy: "Can we ever spend enough time searching through closets and boxes to reassure ourselves that a walk to the bus-stop or a run in the park is safe?" he asked rhetorically, assuming that the answer must be No.

It seems that it is not just Sheriff Smith but most of the population at large who has no understanding of the statistics that Moran quoted: "Polls show a majority of the American public does not think child molesters can ever be rehabilitated and they want these kinds of criminals kept off the streets forever."

So you watch the report. Is Moran arguing that uninformed fear should be the basis of penal policy? Or is he pointing out that creepy anecdotes and law-enforcement overkill can amount to manipulation?

NOT THE BIGGEST LOSER CBS's feature on a trio of abused siblings made no attempt--like ABC's Terry Moran--to draw conclusions about general social policy. It was a simple, affecting tale of unbearable hardship overcome by Mary Calvi of the network's New York City affiliate, WCBS-TV.

She reminded us of the three brothers found starving to death in a New Jersey foster home in 2004: Tre'Shawn, aged 14, weighed 40 lbs; ten-year-old Terrell weighed less than 20 lbs; at age nine, "Michael's tiny body fit into clothes for a baby."

The three were rescued from abuse. They are now happily adopted by the Parrish family and eating healthily. For once, the before-and-after pictures did not show The Biggest Loser but the Greatest Gainers.

NO PERSONAL PESTICIDES Personal Best, NBC's post-Olympics how-to series on health and fitness continues. It started Monday with in-house physician Nancy Snyderman advising us on exercise. Now Lisa Myers turns to diet. Should we be eating organic fruits and vegetables? They are no good for one's budget--a head of organic lettuce is almost three times as expensive as a conventional one. They offer scant nutritional improvement--"actually little scientific evidence of that." So what are organics good for? "No synthetic chemicals, no hormones, no antibiotics and no genetic engineering."

WINDY CITY TWANG VIA EDINBURGH & CASABLANCA Chicago-based Dean Reynolds filed a closer on CBS about Chicago-based movie reviewer Roger Ebert and his appearance on Oprah, the Chicago-based daytime TV talkshow. Reynolds reminded us that Ebert can no longer talk: "That critical voice was silenced four years ago after cancer surgery and while he kept reviewing hundreds of movies, Ebert relied mostly on the printed instead of spoken word." For speaking, he had used the computer-generated voice of a robot--until now. CereProc, a hi-tech outfit in Scotland, has analyzed Ebert's DVDs, including his commentary on Casablanca, to isolate his pronunciation of each of the 45 spoken phonemes that make up the English language. That robot now speaks with Ebert's accent.