Will Cairo 2011 turn out to have fleeting street glamour of Paris 1968 without any permanent regime change? Or will it end as blood-soaked as Tiananmen 1989? Or will Hosni Mubarak be toppled as decisively as People Power ousted Ferdinand Marcos in Manila 1986? Or will these events mark the transition from dictatorship to repressive revolution as in Teheran 1979? In the wake of the Million Man March and Mubarak's promise to leave…but not quite yet…Tyndall Report offers a recap and timeline of the coverage of the first week of protests in Egypt on the network nightly newscasts.    
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video thumbnailNBCEgypt politics: President Hosni Mubarak protestedAnnounces that he will leave office in SeptemberRichard EngelCairo
video thumbnailCBSEgypt politics: President Hosni Mubarak protestedOpposition is diverse, shares core demandsElizabeth PalmerCairo
video thumbnailABCEgypt politics: President Hosni Mubarak protestedPotential successors to Mubarak surveyedMartha RaddatzWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSEgypt politics: President Hosni Mubarak protestedMoslem Brotherhood is influential in AlexandriaLara LoganEgypt
video thumbnailNBCEgypt politics: President Hosni Mubarak protestedMohamed el-Baradei seeks to be agent for changeBrian WilliamsCairo
video thumbnailCBSEgypt politics: President Hosni Mubarak protestedYouth, cultural, class mix in Tahrir SquareMark StrassmannCairo
video thumbnailNBCEgypt politics: President Hosni Mubarak protestedInformal organization around Tahrir SquareRichard EngelCairo
video thumbnailABCEgypt politics: President Hosni Mubarak protestedEx-patriate returns from Texas to join protestsDavid MuirCairo
video thumbnailNBCWinter weatherMassive blizzard, icestorm blankets midwestKevin TibblesChicago
video thumbnailABCPrescription drug side effects, interaction risksElderly can mix pills, overdose, self-medicateRichard BesserNew York
CAIRO 2011 FIRST WEEK TIMELINE Will Cairo 2011 turn out to have fleeting street glamour of Paris 1968 without any permanent regime change? Or will it end as blood-soaked as Tiananmen 1989? Or will Hosni Mubarak be toppled as decisively as People Power ousted Ferdinand Marcos in Manila 1986? Or will these events mark the transition from dictatorship to repressive revolution as in Teheran 1979? In the wake of the Million Man March and Mubarak's promise to leave…but not quite yet…Tyndall Report offers a recap and timeline of the coverage of the first week of protests in Egypt on the network nightly newscasts.

It was not until the start of the Egyptian weekend that all three networks decided that the Cairo protests were momentous enough to warrant blanket nightly coverage. That was last Friday, when worshippers turned into protestors, leaving prayers at mosques all over the city to head downtown to Tahrir Square. That was the day when the riot police withdrew their rubber bullets and tear gas and water cannon and were replaced by army troops, who allowed the citizenry peaceably to assemble.

Friday was the day when protestors set fire to the headquarters of President Mubarak's political party and Mubarak himself appeared on television to fire his cabinet, while remaining in office himself. It produced the signature photo-op of the Egypt story so far: the sight of hundreds of protestors in the middle of the street, pausing in their confrontation with riot police, to get down on their knees and pray, obliging the police to observe without interference. On hand to narrate that image were NBC's Richard Engel, ABC's Alex Marquardt and CBS' Elizabeth Palmer.

NBC's Engel filed his first report on the protests on the previous day, arriving in Cairo at the same time as Mohamed el-Baradei, the celebrated United Nations diplomat, who joined the opposition protests. Before that, NBC had relied on its British newsgathering partner ITN to cover the first two days of protest, using a couple of reports (here and here) from John Ray. Marquardt, one of ABC's young generation of one-man-band digital foreign correspondents, had also filed a couple of reports (here and here) earlier in the week.

CBS made the wrong domino-theory call to start the week when it sent Palmer to the region. She started off in Beirut, covering the newly installed Hezbollah-led coalition government of Lebanon, before moving on to Cairo. She played catch-up well enough: her Friday report was her third from the city (the others were here and here).

BIG FEET ON THE MARCH Tyndall Report takes western weekends off, so the timeline resumes on Monday with the army's announcement that it would not interfere with peaceful protests. Over the weekend, it had become obvious that the crisis in Egypt could be a transformative event and all three networks had their Big Feet on the march. ABC tapped Christiane Amanpour's longstanding regional expertise as a roving reporter at CNN now that she is anchor at This Week. Amanpour led ABC's coverage of the Tahrir Square protests Monday and Tuesday, when Mubarak made his announcement that he will relinquish power "but not just yet," as Amanpour put it.

Monday, CBS had Palmer kick off the protest coverage one more day, since anchor Katie Couric was still en route. Couric arrived in time to lead her network's coverage of Tuesday's so-called Million Man March. NBC anchor Brian Williams arrived Monday to anchor his network's specials, dubbed Rage and Revolution but he was not geared up to do any reporting on the first day. He apologized: "We have found a safe spot to do our broadcast tonight and cobbled together a few ways to get the pictures and sound on the air though it may be something less than our usual broadcast quality." Both days Williams handed off to Engel (here and here) to lead protest coverage.

This is how NBC's Engel reported on Mubarak's promise to resign--but simultaneously to restore law and order: he "seemed to offer concessions but to many people here it looked like he was taking a very hard line. Many Egyptians worried that there will be more violence ahead…Mubarak also hinted a crackdown could be coming. He stressed his ties to the army and said Egypt must choose between chaos and stability."

NBC, with its Rage and Revolution specials, has covered the Egypt story most intensively over the past week (55 min v CBS 42, ABC 34). Egypt was the lead story all three newscasts on Friday and Monday; Tuesday, ABC, the only newscast not to have its anchor in Cairo, chose to lead with winter weather, while the other two continued with Egypt in the top spot.

MEDIA MOMENTS Besides the money shot photo-op of protestors praying in front of static riot police, Friday was notable for a second major media angle--it was the day the Mubarak regime cut off the nation's Internet and cellphone service. CBS' Daniel Sieberg noted that Egypt 2011 thus joined the ignominious company of Nepal 2005 and Myanmar 2007. CBS' Palmer had already introduced us to the social network aspect of Cairo's protests with a primer on how urban youth used Facebook and Twitter to mobilize. When the Internet was cut off, Palmer pointed to a slightly older medium: "The Arab satellite channels have covered it like a blanket so anybody who has access to a television in Egypt knows exactly what is going on." NBC's Engel offered a tip-of-the-hat here to al-Jazeera for videotape of police paddy-wagons running over demonstrators crossing a bridge over the River Nile during the Friday march.

CAIRENE ANECDOTES NBC's decision to make Engel so prominent derived from his position at the network--chief foreign correspondent--and from his personal history: he lived for four years in Cairo when he was learning Arabic. Thus a personal anecdote: "I lived in a very poor neighborhood and the police were not popular then. They are not popular now. The people come into contact with the police all the time. Often they are unpleasant experiences, demanding petty bribes, shakedowns." Engel took his cameras to the main offices of the Moslem Brotherhood to interview Essam el-Erian, a senior leader. He escorted his anchor Brian Williams through the checkpoints around Tahrir Square, reading political slogans and vouching for the quality of the ancient antiquities on display in "one of the best museums in the world."

ABC, too, showed off its Arabic-speaking staffer. London-based Lama Hasan is another of the network's one-woman-band digital journalists (along with Alex Marquardt and Joohee Cho and Dana Hughes and Nick Schifrin and Karen Russo). Hasan offered simultaneous translation of the protestors' chants: "I have been coming to Cairo for the past 15 years and I never thought I would see a popular uprising here."

CBS flew Atlanta-based Mark Strassmann into Egypt along with anchor Couric. He recapped a hairy weekend for Cairenes, when Mubarak left the city streets unpoliced even as thousands of inmates broke out of prison: "Gangs ran wild. It is widely believed some looters were police…We found that worried residents armed with bats and machetes had organized a militia with in-your-face checkpoints." CNBC sent anchor Erin Burnett to the scene to monitor repercussions for financial markets and global commerce. Filing for NBC, she found a city where "the law is on hold…storefronts are padlocked; gas stations are closed; bank machines down." When ABC's David Muir flew into Cairo from New York he found Sherief Gaber, an ex-patriate student, flying home from Texas on a nearly-empty jetliner. Gaber wanted to check on his grandmother's safety and Muir gave him a ride home in exchange for his story.

Mostly the mood in Cairo was covered from the point of view of the protestors. ABC's Amanpour caught a "poignant moment" when a family of four, boy six, girl eight, joined the anti-Mubarak throng. NBC's Lester Holt introduced us to the political awakening of a twentysomething interior designer. CBS' Strassmann found the English-speaking Nageeb sisters: "It is now or never!" they repeated. ABC's Hasan saw "a spirit of pride everywhere we looked."

EGYPT IS A PRISON There was almost complete consensus that the people of Cairo were justified in their grievances against the Mubarak regime. Here is just a sampling of what is wrong with life in Egypt: "Corruption, unemployment and poverty"--ABC's Marquardt…a "government reputation for corruption and repression"--ITN's Ray for NBC…"corruption, unemployment and police abuse"--CBS' Palmer. "People are already angry in Egypt," according to NBC's Engel, "half live in poverty." NBC's Andrea Mitchell reminded us that Mubarak committed "widespread fraud" in last year's elections. ABC's John Donvan painted this pretty picture of life under Mubarak: "He has led a people whose apparent destiny remains unchanged--to live on $2 a day, to live where the police have power to torture, to watch a tiny elite amass extreme wealth."

As for the political demands of the opposition, CBS' Palmer noted that while "every religious and political affiliation" was represented in the Tahrir Square protests, they had nonetheless managed to agree on a set of core demands: Mubarak must go into exile immediately; a transitional coalition government would be formed; a new constitution would be drawn up; parliamentary elections would be open to all parties. A potential transitional leader is Nobel Peace laureate el-Baradei, who told NBC anchor Williams that he would be "perfectly happy" to play the role of "agent of change." ABC's Amanpour called him "more elder statesman than grassroots leader."

BROTHERHOOD BOGEYMEN You may notice that the opposition demands made no mention of turning Egypt into an Islamic republic. Very few of those reporting from Cairo seemed to think that Islamism was what was at stake in these protests. NBC's Engel noted that the Moslem Brotherhood was late to join the protest movement that had been started by the unemployed, by students, and by opponents of corruption. He picked up on worries that the Brotherhood "will try and make a run for power." Later Engel was careful to stipulate that the Brotherhood "denounces terrorism."

Contrast that to those covering the story from outside Cairo. ABC's Martha Raddatz associated the Brotherhood with terrorists thus: "They do not openly back al-Qaeda but several of the founders of al-Qaeda were former members." NBC's Michelle Kosinski, reporting from Tel Aviv, quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as worrying that "Egypt could become another Iran." CBS' Lara Logan, in Alexandria, called the Moslem Brotherhood "extremist" and ABC anchor Diane Sawyer called it a "mysterious fundamentalist group." CBS substitute anchor Harry Smith interviewed Richard Haass, the former diplomat, now think-tank honcho at the Council on Foreign Relations: "The one thing we never want to have in Egypt is the sort of thing we had in Iran three decades ago where the choice is between an authoritarian government and a radical Islamist alternative."

LOOKING FOR THE AMERICAN ANGLE I suppose that pounding on the prospects of a radical Islamist regime as Mubarak's replacement was one way to crank up domestic American interest in internal Egyptian affairs. Another way was to check into the plight of ex-patriate American workers and visiting foreign tourists who happened to be caught up in the confrontations. All three newscasts sent a correspondent--ABC's Hasan, CBS' Logan, NBC's Holt--to Cairo Airport to check on the evacuation charter flights to Athens, Istanbul, and Nicosia being organized by the State Department. It was not much of a story: of the 75,000 US citizens registered with the embassy as being residents of Egypt, fewer than 2,500 were trying to leave. "A tiny fraction," CBS' Logan shrugged.

Another way to try to persuade Americans to take Egypt personally was to worry about what might happen to the price of oil if the Suez Canal happened to be blocked. Tankers from the Persian Gulf would be forced to take the long way round the Cape of Good Hope to American ports. On NBC, CNBC anchor Burnett reported that the cost of a barrel of crude might jump from $90 to $120 if the canal closed. ABC's Raddatz reported a much less alarming number--a dime extra on a gallon of gasoline.

BRAIN CRAMPS & DOOMSDAY SCENARIOS Then, there would be the impact on US foreign policy. NBC's Mitchell must have had a brain cramp when she described Hosni Mubarak as "America's closest ally in the Middle East." What region of the world does she think Israel is in? ABC's Raddatz gave us a nauseating example of the fruits of that alliance, torture by proxy: "Egypt has been a key partner in cracking down hard on al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups, capturing and sometimes brutally interrogating them by the thousands but then passing on the intelligence to the United States."

"A pattern is beginning to emerge," reckoned NBC's Engel. "The regimes under fire are pro-Western police states widely accused of corruption." Later, his colleague Martin Fletcher marched us across the southern Mediterranean from Algeria through Tunisia to Libya, then Egypt and Jordan before ending up in Yemen: "Will Islamic fundamentalists, well-organized almost everywhere, fill the power vacuum?" he asked, rhetorically. "Is that good or bad? Who knows?" At the sound of Yemen, ABC's Raddatz just about lost it. "Talk about alarm bells!" she expostulated. Check out her Doomsday Scenario here, which makes an ex-patriate Internet imam more dangerous than Osama bin Laden himself.

THAT’S A FINE LINE YOU’RE WALKING, MR PRESIDENT ABC's Donvan called Mubarak "about the most loyal ally we could imagine, a keeper of Egypt's peace with Israel, an opponent of extreme Islam, who sent his own forces into battle against Saddam Hussein when we asked in 1991." So the final angle the network newscasts found to bring the Egypt story home to their American viewers was to monitor President Barack Obama's public diplomacy towards his longtime ally--an ally, CBS' White House correspondent Chip Reid pointed out, whose regime had received $68bn in US aid over three decades. CBS' Reid had the most consistent insight. "The President walked a fine line today," he reported last Thursday as Obama called Mubarak "very helpful" yet called reform "absolutely critical." On Friday when Obama endorsed the civil rights of protestors and denounced violence to suppress them, Reid mused that "he is still walking that fine line." Monday, when Obama called for an "orderly transition" instead of demanding Mubarak's resignation, Reid interpreted that as "walking a very fine line." NBC's Mitchell used a different ambulatory metaphor, "an awkward diplomatic straddle."

Whatever President Obama does or does not say, at root the events in Egypt are not a foreign policy story. It is an internal drama being played out by the people of Egypt, trying to shape their own future. NBC's Savannah Guthrie quoted Obama thus: "It is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt's leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that." CBS' Reid vouched for the sincerity of that sentiment after talking to the President's unidentified aides: "It is not window dressing. It is something he believes in very strongly."

And the network newscasts have been most successful over the first week of this crisis when they have emulated that approach--telling the story as an Egyptian one without trying to shoehorn an American angle, with correspondents on the spot to bear witness.