The aftermath of a weekend of stormy spring weather was Monday's Story of the Day even though none of the three newscasts chose it as their lead item. All three networks sent a reporter to rural Mississippi to show us the damage wreaked by a giant tornado that had plowed through the state. As for breaking developments, NBC chose to lead with the widening slick of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico; ABC selected a massive class action lawsuit against Walmart alleging discrimination against its female workforce; CBS focused on the decision by Senate Republicans to block debate on a bill to regulate high finance.    
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video thumbnailNBCTornado seasonMassive twister blasts 200 miles across MissKerry SandersMississippi
video thumbnailCBSOil exploration in Gulf of Mexico watersCrude oil leak from busted seabed wellheadKelly CobiellaMiami
video thumbnailCBSIllegal immigration increases, sparks backlashNew Arizona police search law for ID protestedJohn BlackstonePhoenix
video thumbnailNBCChicago street gang violence intensifiesHomicide spree overwhelms local police forceKevin TibblesChicago
video thumbnailCBSFinancial industry regulation, reform, bailoutDebate on legislation blocked by Senate voteNancy CordesCapitol Hill
video thumbnailABCInvestment bank Goldman Sachs faces SEC fraud rapCEO Blankfein prepares for Senate testimonyDavid MuirNew York
video thumbnailABCRetailer Wal-Mart accused of workforce abusesClass action suit over gender bias goes aheadDan HarrisNew York
video thumbnailABCNorthwest Airlines 253 midair bomb plot foiledFailed bomber's suicide video recorded in YemenBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailNBCAfghanistan education: co-ed schools now permittedSchoolgirls targeted by Taliban with toxic gasJohn YangAfghanistan
video thumbnailNBCSupermarket, grocery, food prices escalateSuper coupon clipper gives lessons in discountsNatalie MoralesMassachusetts
CATCHING UP ON WEEKEND’S OLE MISS TWISTER The aftermath of a weekend of stormy spring weather was Monday's Story of the Day even though none of the three newscasts chose it as their lead item. All three networks sent a reporter to rural Mississippi to show us the damage wreaked by a giant tornado that had plowed through the state. As for breaking developments, NBC chose to lead with the widening slick of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico; ABC selected a massive class action lawsuit against Walmart alleging discrimination against its female workforce; CBS focused on the decision by Senate Republicans to block debate on a bill to regulate high finance.

The Mississippi twister had been almost two miles wide with winds that topped 170 mph. ABC sent Steve Osunsami to Ebenezer to show us torn-apart houses: he used stormchasing videotape of the funnel cloud from Don Teague was in Yazoo City for CBS to tell us the sad story of 30-year-old Nikki Bradshaw Carpenter, who saved the lives of her three sons, aged seven, two and one, by covering them with a mattress: "She was found dead, still on top of the mattress." NBC's Kerry Sanders used his report from Weir to praise his network's sibling cable network, The Weather Channel, for its superior tornado forecasting formula developed by meteorologist Greg Forbes. The Weather Channel's Mike Seidel had filed from Little Rock on Friday to tell us that this year's tornado season was starting later than usual.

By the way, Norman Charles at The Nightly Daily teased NBC's producers for its graphic that located Seidel in Alaska (AK not AR), where tornadoes hardly ever happen.

DRILL, BABY, DRILL--OR NOT It is a surprise that advocates for offshore oil drilling have not suffered bigger public relations damage from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and its spreading slick of toxic crude.

The explosion, which killed eleven of the platform's 126 workers, occurred 40 miles south of Louisiana's Point Fourchon in the Gulf of Mexico last Wednesday. On day one, it was covered more as an industrial accident than an environmental catastrophe. ABC's Jeffrey Kofman (no link) at the time quoted Forbes magazine's assessment that working on a rig "is the worst job in America because of the danger, the low pay and the cramped living conditions." CBS' Kelly Cobiella reassured us that "most of the oil and gas is burning rather than spilling onto the surface of the water" and NBC's Ron Mott calmly assessed that although the rig was burning and listing "they do not expect it to capsize." Most of the day's coverage focused on the Coast Guard's vain helicopter search for the eleven workers unaccounted for.

I expected the disaster to receive maximum coverage on its second day, Thursday, because that happened to be Earth Day and an environmental sidebar on the pros and cons of offshore oil exploration would have been a natural fit. Instead, all three newscasts treated the oil rig story as a human drama not an ecological one. NBC's Mott described the "apocalyptic scene" with flames raging 350 feet in the air before the rig did sink after all. ABC's Kofman told us of the good fortune for most of the workers that a supply ship happened to be tethered to the massive floating rig at the time of the explosion, sending out lifeboats to rescue those thrown into the sea.

Whit Johnson on CBS had an inkling that crude oil could be leaking from the well head on the sea floor yet none of the three newscasts made reference to the spill in their Earth Day features. NBC's Anne Thompson went for cute--how goats can replace lawn mowers in keeping grass tidy in a green way. ABC's Neal Karlinsky was in the Guatemalan village of Granados, where Laura Kutner, a Peace Corps volunteer, encouraged children to recycle plastic bottles to make bricks for their schoolhouse wall. CBS' Seth Doane showed us the coconut harvest in Kerala. ABC anchor Diane Sawyer offered a brief summary sketch of environmental changes since the first Earth Day forty years ago, but her mention of marine ecosystems concerned plastic flotsam digested by whales not slicks of oil.

Friday was good news day for the oil drilling industry. "It is a human tragedy," conceded CBS' Don Teague, "but the environmental catastrophe that could have followed may have been averted. A remotely operated submarine…has found no oil leaking from the well head on the ocean floor." NBC's Thompson reassured us that Barack Obama has "no intention of backing away from his plan to expand offshore oil drilling." ABC saw no reason to file a follow-up from the Gulf of Mexico.

Then the weekend passed and all that positive spin was discredited. ABC's Ryan Owens watched crude oil "turning famously blue water a murky brown." The valve to stop the well head from leaking crude oil had failed. NBC's Thompson warned about Louisiana's Bayou Country, "rich breeding grounds for shrimp, crabs and fish" as she followed the "trajectory of the slick oozing toward the coast."

CBS' Cobiella described the heroic measures being contemplated: "Using underwater vehicles with remote-controled arms, officials are trying to force the blowout preventer, a 450 ton valve, to close, sealing off the well completely. It is a complicated process and there is no guarantee it will succeed. At the same time, they are getting ready to drill two more wells, one-to-two miles from the site, tapping into the original well, then pump a material like concrete to plug it. That could take several months. So as a Hail Mary pass, if they cannot stop the leaks, they will try to cover them with two underwater domes connected to pipes, which will bring the oil to the surface. It has been done before but never in water almost a mile deep."

Yet we are still waiting for any of the three newscasts to revisit the public policy case for drilling for oil in offshore waters that all three White House correspondents covered--ABC's Jake Tapper, CBS' Chip Reid and NBC's Chuck Todd--when the President argued for it at the end of March.

RACIAL PROFILING IS PROHIBITED IN ARIZONA "In a state where more than 30% of the population is Hispanic, many feel the sting of racism in the new law." Thus CBS' John Blackstone covered the signs of backlash against Friday's Story of the Day, the signing of Arizona's immigration law, which requires police to stop and search individuals, citizens and non-citizens alike, reasonably suspected of lacking proper residency papers. All individuals will be required to carry such papers at all times. Back on Friday, both CBS and ABC consulted their in-house legal experts concerning the law's legitimacy. "The Supreme Court has ruled that police cannot stop people based solely on their Mexican appearance so it appears that that could be a real problem under the Constitution," opined CBS' Jan Crawford (at the tail of the Whitaker videostream). "The Constitution gives to Congress exclusive authority to determine who is in this country legally and who is not," ABC's Terry Moran pointed out, calling the law "fraught with Constitutional problems."

To be fair, all three networks did publicize Gov Jan Brewer's proclamation, when she signed the law on Friday, that the law was completely colorblind. "I will not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling in Arizona," was how ABC's Mike von Fremd quoted the Republican governor. "I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like," was her soundbite from CBS' Bill Whitaker. NBC used Jose Diaz-Balart of its sibling network Telemundo. "Racial profiling is illegal," was his quote from Gov Brewer.

CBS' Blackstone did mention that preventing violent crime was one motive for Arizona's law. On NBC, Kevin Tibbles pointed to two other proposed crimefighting solutions from Chicago, where the homicide rate is 15% higher than this time last year: "Almost as many people have been killed on the streets of Chicago so far this year as US troops have been killed fighting the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." The two tolls are 116 and 127. Mayor Richard Daley wants tighter gun control laws. State Sen John Fritchley wants to call in the National Guard.

HIGH FINANCE Capitol Hill is getting agitated about Wall Street. A pair of Congressional correspondents--CBS' Nancy Cordes and NBC's Kelly O'Donnell--covered the vote in the Senate on whether to debate the regulation of high finance. Republicans blocked debate, which needed 60 votes to go ahead. "Senate Democrats actually scheduled the vote knowing they would lose--and they did," mused NBC's O'Donnell, "because they see it as a political win, better able to paint Republicans as too friendly with Wall Street." CBS' Cordes summarized the to and fro: "Republicans say they will not be rushed on such major reforms. Democrats say Who is rushing? This legislation has been in the works for a year-and-a-half."

Meanwhile a pair of New York based financial correspondents previewed Tuesday's Senate hearings into Goldman Sachs' sales of derivatives as the financial bubble in the real estate housing market burst. CBS' Anthony Mason previewed this part of the testimony: "Early in 2007, our mortgage trading desk started putting on big short positions and made money, substantial money, in the third quarter as the subprime market weakened." ABC's David Muir predicted contradictory testimony from CEO Lloyd Blankfein: "We did not have a massive short against the housing market and we certainly did not bet against our clients."

Last week, only NBC's Kelly O'Donnell covered an earlier round of the same Senate investigation--into Moody's Investor Services and Standard & Poors. She reported on internal e-mails exposing the "huge conflict of interest" that led them to attach high credit ratings to junk. What did ABC and CBS cover instead? Congressional correspondents Jonathan Karl (no link) and Nancy Cordes told us about the internal investigation of workplace computer use at the Securities & Exchange Commission. Over a 30-month period, it found that 31 of the agency's 4,000 employees had surfed onto hardcore pornography Websites. CBS' Cordes put that number in proportion: "According to a Nielsen survey, in March alone, 29% of Americans with work computers used them access adult Websites."

The SEC! What a bunch of prudes!

To be fair to CBS, Armen Keteyian did cover the credit ratings agencies too. He zeroed in on just one investment, the infamous Abacus 2007-AC1 derivative that triggered the SEC's fraud lawsuit against Goldman Sachs. "When those toxic loans were packaged and presented to investors, they smelled more like French perfume. One big reason--the deal received the highest possible credit rating, stamped AAA."

WOMAN’S WORK Only ABC decided that "what could become the largest class action lawsuit ever" was worthy of coverage by a correspondent. Dan Harris was assigned the newscast's leadoff spot for the federal appeals court ruling against Walmart, the giant retailer. It was nine years ago that seven women workers sued for back pay and punitive damages, alleging that the firm engaged in "systemic sexism" in hiring, wages and promotions. Now hundreds of thousands of female associates will be allowed to sign on along side them. Walmart is filing an appeal against the appeals court ruling with the Supreme Court.

UNEXPLODING UNDERWEAR & SICKENED SCHOOLGIRLS NBC and ABC each offered an update on radical Islamic militants. ABC's Brian Ross obtained Yemeni videotape from al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula that contained "what appears to be a farewell martyrdom statement" from Umar Farouk abdul-Mutallab: "The enemy is in your lands with their armies," he declared. abdul-Mutallab is the 23-year-old Nigerian who failed to blow up his underwear while traveling on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit last December. NBC's John Yang filed from Kabul on the declining enrolment of girls in Afghanistan's schools. In 2008, 40% of girls were attending schools, a total of 2.2m, up from 0.8m in 2001. Since then, Taliban guerrillas have embarked on a campaign of intimidation and attendance is declining. The Taliban's latest scheme was to attack three different schools in Kunduz Province with a toxic gas that sickened 83 schoolgirls.

FEED YOUR FAMILY FOR FORTY TWO CENTS A WEEK Jamie Chase paid a grocery bill of 42c for food costing $167 when she went shopping for her family last week. NBC's Natalie Morales explained how. Enroll at North Eastern Community College in Newburyport Mass and Professor Chase will explain it to you too.