The ash-clogged skies were Story of the Day as airline travel across the Atlantic Ocean to northern Europe--and over much of northern Europe itself--was the unanimous choice as the lead on all three network newscasts. ABC has led with the volcanic plume spewing southeastwards from Iceland for the last three weekdays. CBS and NBC returned to the volcano after switching last Friday to the SEC lawsuit against Goldman Sachs for fraud. Add continuing coverage of high finance and the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing and this was a very heavy day of news.    
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video thumbnailABCVolcano erupts beneath glacier in IcelandEuropean airline traffic to resume graduallyNick WattLondon
video thumbnailNBCVolcano erupts beneath glacier in IcelandEuropean travelers resort to trains, ferriesStephanie GoskFrance
video thumbnailCBSVolcano erupts beneath glacier in IcelandMuch of Europe's commerce relies on air freightRichard RothLondon
video thumbnailABCVolcano erupts beneath glacier in IcelandGround around crater covered in thick ash layerNeal KarlinskyIceland
video thumbnailNBCVolcano erupts beneath glacier in IcelandAsh particles harm lungs of local populationRobert BazellIceland
video thumbnailABCInvestment bank Goldman Sachs faces SEC fraud rapCEO pledges aggressive defense against chargesDavid MuirNew York
video thumbnailCBSFinancial industry regulation, reform, bailoutSenate vote on legislation will be closeNancy CordesCapitol Hill
video thumbnailNBCOklahoma City federal building bombing aftermathMcVeigh's jailhouse confession in MSNBC docuPete WilliamsWashington DC
video thumbnailABCOklahoma City federal building bombing aftermathSurvivors profiled at 15th anniversary memorialRyan OwensOklahoma
video thumbnailCBSOffice copier machines have hard drive memoriesNeed to be wiped clean to preserve privacyArmen KeteyianNew York
VOLCANO KEEPS ENFORCING NORTH EUROPE NO-FLY ZONE The ash-clogged skies were Story of the Day as airline travel across the Atlantic Ocean to northern Europe--and over much of northern Europe itself--was the unanimous choice as the lead on all three network newscasts. ABC has led with the volcanic plume spewing southeastwards from Iceland for the last three weekdays. CBS and NBC returned to the volcano after switching last Friday to the SEC lawsuit against Goldman Sachs for fraud. Add continuing coverage of high finance and the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing and this was a very heavy day of news.

Last week, aviation correspondents dramatized the potential problems of volcanic ash jamming airliners' jet engines, sending flights crashing to their doom. ABC's Lisa Stark and NBC's Tom Costello both retold the hair raising ordeal of Eric Moody, the pilot of a British Airways jet in 1982, whose engines stalled at 36,000 feet near Sumatra and could only be restarted after a powerless dive to an altitude of 10,000 feet.

Now the backlash. "After five days of massive disruptions, the pressure was mounting from airlines to get planes flying again because many of them believe the skies are safe," was how NBC's Dawna Friesen put it, mildly. "Beleaguered European carriers slammed their governments for their handling of this crisis, calling it chaotic and embarrassing," ABC's Nick Watt told us, somewhat more forcefully. CBS' Mark Phillips noted "furious complaints from the airlines that the blanket shutdown was an overreaction."

ABC's Sharyn Alfonsi filed the human interest angle on the stalled transAtlantic routes with a visit to JFK Airport in Queens NY. Getting ready to spend their fifth night on cots in the concourse, the passengers "have not had showers. They are short on cash."

SKIES CLOSED SO SKYPE OPENS NBC had Stephanie Gosk take a crack at flightless travel. Her task was to travel from London to Madrid overland. A train from Saint Pancras…the Channel Tunnel…on to the Gare de Lyon…no connection in Marseille…filing her report from the dateline "nowhere near home." ABC's Miguel Marquez (at the tail of the Alfonsi videostream) brought us a trio of anecdotes from Paris: a married couple from Omaha obliged to extend their tenth-anniversary vacation; an English family wending their way home from Istanbul by train via Bucharest, Budapest, Zurich, Paris and Calais--total travel time 84 hours; an Australian couple traveling to London to get married who had to tie the knot in Dubai and celebrate via Skype.

On CBS, Richard Roth looked at grounded air freight instead: cut stem roses wilting in Kenya and courier companies "absolutely, positively having problems."

IRON, SILICA, MAGNESIUM, BROMIDE Eyjafjallajokull! CBS' Elizabeth Palmer summoned the nerve to enunciate the name of the glacier covering Iceland's erupting volcano last Thursday. Now ABC's Neal Karlinsky joins that honor roll. He took a helicopter to the crater's northern rim and watched there for five minutes in safety because "the wind is carrying everything in the other direction." At a nearby farm he showed us what had been volcanic mud on Sunday. He tried to scrape it with his boot. "The ash has dried almost like cement." NBC's Robert Bazell worried about the health effects of the mixture of iron, silica, magnesium and bromide: "The greatest danger is here at the bottom of the volcano, where there is so much ash, that it has completely blocked out the sun in the middle of the day. I can feel the grit in my teeth and it is constantly going into my eyes." Bazell's colleague Chris Jansing also filed from Iceland where she called the eruption "extremely dynamic…the activity inside the volcano is increasing and the concentration of ash inside that plume is intensifying."

ABC’S OF THE ABACUS CASE All three newscasts did their level best on Friday to explain the Securities & Exchange Commission's lawsuit against Goldman Sachs.

ABC's Bill Weir tried an automotive analogy. "Imagine that instead of investment vehicles, Goldman sold actual vehicles--like a big car lot. Now imagine they let a mechanic named John Paulson install faulty brakes in a few of those cars so he could take out insurance on the doomed vehicles and get rich when they crashed. Though Paulson's hedge fund made over $1bn betting against mortgage securities he allegedly helped design, he is not accused of any wrongdoing. Instead, the government is suing Goldman for misleading the pension funds and other investors who lost that bet so the bank could make $15m on transaction fees."

CBS' Anthony Mason picked on a flamboyant internal e-mail at the investment bank to dramatize the SEC case that Goldman Sachs knew its Abacus investment was a loser: "The whole building is about to collapse any time now. Only potential survivor, the Fabulous Fab." The e-mail's author was bank vice-president Fabrice Tourre and he was referring to his fabulous self.

NBC's Lisa Myers paraphrased the allegations thus: "Goldman Sachs was pulling together a bucket of subprime mortgages to sell to investors. It allowed the hedge fund to pick the worst mortgages to go into the bucket, which means the investment was likely to fail. Goldman Sachs then helped the hedge fund bet against the bucket. Goldman Sachs then labeled the bucket a good investment and sold the supposedly good investment to others, telling them the hedge fund also had invested. But Goldman Sachs did not tell other investors that the hedge fund helped pick the worst mortgages and was actually betting against the bucket. When the bucket failed, investors lost more than $1bn."

Now, after a weekend of damage control, ABC's David Muir reported on Goldman Sachs' response: "We believe that the firm's actions were entirely appropriate and will take all steps necessary to defend the firm." He quoted the bankers' belief that "Goldman is being made a scapegoat for the kind of product that was pushed by many of the big investment banks" and gave Goldman credit for "long, powerful tentacles" to defend itself.

CBS' Armen Keteyian had given us a heads-up on Goldman Sachs' political clout in his Investigation earlier this month. "To understand Goldman's outsized influence, take a look at the powerful jobs held by current and former employees. Three former Treasury Secretaries; two presidents and one chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; a White House Chief of Staff; the president of the World Bank; the former chairman of Wall Street's law enforcement arm in the Securities & Exchange Commission; the head of the New York Stock Exchange and the Banks of Canada and Italy; and even a Prime Minister of Italy...Goldman employs an army of lobbyists in Washington, 46 in all from 13 different firms, more than Bank of America and Morgan Stanley combined. Goldman employees also made campaign contributions to more than half of the members of the last Congress.

NBC’S GUTHRIE FLUBS THE HE-SAID-SHE-SAID TEST The SEC charges were leveled against Goldman Sachs just as the Congressional debate on regulating high finance is intensifying. CBS anchor Katie Couric invited best-selling non-fiction author Michael Lewis of The Big Short to speculate on the timing. Barack Obama had warned Wall Street: "Keep your nose out of the financial reform bill," Lewis paraphrased. High finance continued lobbying anyway so the SCE lawsuit "seems more than coincidental."

As for the partisan debate over new financial regulation, both CBS' Nancy Cordes and NBC's Savannah Guthrie laid out the talking points. Republicans argue that a $50bn bank-financed fund, to pay for the gradual liquidation of Wall Street firms that are too big to fail immediately, amounts to a bailout. The President calls the GOP argument a "cynical and deceptive assertion." CBS' Cordes did the correct thing and tried to adjudicate between the two claims. "Who is right?" she inquired of the Brookings Institution's Douglas Elliott. Elliott--mostly--sided with Obama: "The bill would make bailouts significantly less likely but there is no way to end completely the possibility."

NBC's Guthrie did not inquire, just leaving the He-Said-She-Said lying there, uninformatively.

NO WAY MCVEIGH The 15th anniversary commemorations of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City were the news hook for MSNBC to air The McVeigh Tapes, based on the Death Row confession of bomber Timothy McVeigh to journalist Lou Michel. NBC's Pete Williams promoted the documentary, including this McVeigh soundbite for the bereaved relatives of the 168 killed by his bomb: "You are not the first mother to lose a kid; you are not the first grandparent to lose a granddaughter or a grandson. Get over it!"

NBC's Janet Shamlian followed up with a Making a Difference profile of Peggy Clark, a USDA veterinarian, who was killed by McVeigh's bomb and her three daughters, each of whom grew up to become a vet in her mother's career path. ABC's Ryan Owens attended the commemorations and focused on two who were wounded by the bomb yet survived. Patty Hall "moves a bit slowly" now, after her 40 broken bones mended. Chris Nguyen is a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma; he was a five-year-old in the day care center when he dodged death.

…AND COPIES OF PAIRS OF BUTTOCKS FROM THE XMAS PARTY Did you know that since 2002 almost all new xerographic copier machines have been digital? That means that they each have a hard drive that keeps a record of each image that has been photocopied. That means that one can buy a used copier and download each of those images using forensic software. CBS' Armen Keteyian knows about this. He bought three secondhand copiers for $300 each and had a forensic software expert download copies of police records from a sex crimes unit, of pay stubs and Social Security numbers from a construction firm, and of individual medical records from an insurance company.

Who gave Keteyian help for his Investigation? The Digital Copier Security firm of Sacramento. What does it do? "It develops software that can scrub all the data on hard drives." How much would that increase the cost of a copier? $500 per machine.