We have a ton of important and compelling stories -- now it's down to ordering them. No sooner had I returned to my office after the editorial meeting, concerned about time allotments and a crowded broadcast rundown -- when I looked up at my television and saw white smoke coming from the top of Mount St. Helen's in Washington state. Can there please be no more news involving mountains in the Pacific Northwest?
That brings us to one story we'll be covering tonight: the climbers. I've detected in my TV watching a real up-tick over the past 24 hours in the number of voices questioning such elaborate rescue efforts and the expenditure -- given the fact that three experienced men made a conscious decision to climb a dangerous mountain. It's a very dicey area where life and death is concerned. Tonight we'll touch on the cost, while largely leaving the debate over it to others.
We will also cover the over-the-counter pain reliever story, which is a big one. The products on the list are in 99% of American medicine cabinets, and while they are taken like candy by some, they are decidedly not -- and as we'll hear tonight, the FDA and manufacturers are concerned enough to warn us further that this is serious medicine. We'll update the increasing talk of a "surge" in Iraq (using more U.S. troops initially, the theory goes, in order to decrease the number of U.S. troops eventually), and the crime stats that are just out. We also will have an interesting update from New Orleans (I've been reading your e-mails) on both the everyday picture there, and a new post-Katrina dynamic that is straining the already-strained public health system.
THE FIRST LADY
We will tonight cover the revelation that Laura Bush had a skin cancer removed back in November -- which has been disclosed now, we're told, because she was "tired of wearing pant suits." It raises an interesting issue for discussion and debate: Who among us would like our medical records -- say nothing of each and every procedure, no matter how intimate -- disclosed publicly and dissected with graphics by experts and would-be experts on television and all other media? And yet, having said that: the reason why Betty Ford is among the undisputed great figures of the last several generations is her courage in all but singlehandedly destigmatizing substance abuse and breast cancer. Yes, there are vast differences here, but it underscores the constant conundrum of public life where privacy and medical issues are concerned. The first lady's health is the first lady's business... until it isn't. Meaning: disclosure of a medical condition in the public domain leads to massive media coverage, which leads to public awareness -- which inevitably leads to early detection and perhaps even a cure for some who otherwise wouldn't have been checked. Tony Snow was questioned rather thoroughly about the topic at today's White House briefing. We will briefly cover Mrs. Bush's procedure with Dr. Nancy Snyderman tonight.
IN THE NEWS
Entirely by accident, all of today's print stories that I've chosen to note happen to be from one place, for the second day in a row: The New York Times. It's not as if it's the only paper I read today, but there are several items worth noting. In the Metro section, an article about foster parents in New Jersey. (NYTimes.com login required for links.) Under a new policy, those families who agree to raise foster children will be given an album, or "life book" to fill with photos and memories, so that when the child grows up and finds a permanent home, they will have a better sense of who they are, what they looked like, how they developed... the story of their own childhood. If you'll forgive the personal reference, what made this story so meaningful and sentimental to me was the fact that this is exactly what my late sister did for the children she raised as a foster mother in New Jersey. She used to compile beautiful books filled with photos, stories -- elaborate hand-written accounts of how the children developed (baby's first word, first step, etc.) and when, family stories, outings and favorite outfits. No one told her to do it, she just did it. While she did not invent it, she may well have perfected it. And now it will be state policy for all foster parents... and children will be the better for it.
Now to the Op-Ed page. No one would have blamed readers of this morning's Times for getting back into bed, pulling up the covers and staying there for the next 10 years after reading the piece by nuclear physicist Peter Zimmerman, which featured this upbeat riff on a "The Smoky Bomb Threat:"
"A few breaths might easily be enough to sicken a victim, and in some cases to kill. A smoky bomb exploded in a packed arena or on a crowded street could kill dozens or hundreds. It would set off a radiological emergency of a kind not seen before in the United States, and the number of people requiring life support or palliative care until death would overwhelm the number of beds now available for treating victims of radiation. First responders dashing unprotected into the cloud from a smoky bomb might be among the worst wounded... Some of the steps involved with making a good smoky bomb from polonium would be dangerous for the terrorists involved, and might cost them their lives. That, unfortunately, no longer seems like a very high barrier."
Alrighty then. That nicely brings us to the next item, found in today's business section, under the headline: Finally, a Way to Catch a Flight Without Shedding Your Shoes. It's the work of the always-superb Joe Sharkey and it's about a new paid service... the Registered Traveler Program:
"Under the program, travelers who pay an annual fee and pass a federal background check receive biometrically encoded ID cards to use at special processing lanes at airports. While the traveler still has to pass through security, the special lane has a separate kiosk that verifies identity and, starting in January, will scan shoes, negating the need to take them off at the regular magnetometer."
The takeaway message? We haven't mastered airport security yet, not even close. We're still screening shoes, but this will be a PRIVATE shoe screening. What could be more luxurious than private shoe screening? It does lend credence to the notion, raised often by smart people (who have time to think of such lofty things during the time they spend in security lines), to treat security as a Marshall Plan. Have we made it known that the input from our best and brightest to solve a huge problem... would be welcome?
Finally, and I won't keep you much longer, today's twin obituaries -- Chris Hayward and Joseph Barbera -- both men were giants of the cartoon world. Both started out in jobs they knew they didn't belong in. And for the first time in memory, one obit referred in the text to another.
This is all a function of being unable to talk during the day, to save what little voice I have. Today it's all gone to the keyboard. I left it all on the field, as it were.
We hope you'll join us tonight for our Tuesday night broadcast.