More Leftovers from 2006

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Whatever happened to all of those characters with those great ideas for 2006? Mike Pesca found out and checks in with the results.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

It's DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, a story of a small town in Indiana chronicled by a local photographer and a thousand of family portraits he shot.

ADAMS: But first, we're joined again by NPR's Mike Pesca.

MIKE PESCA: Hi, there, Noah.

ADAMS: And we've asked Mike to help us get reacquainted with the latest developments in some of the news stories we followed throughout this past year. And what is Part 2, Mike?

PESCA: Well, maybe, you heard about this: little cover development. There's this lady, and her name is Katie Couric. And she was asked to report the news for an outfit known as, I believe, CBS.

ADAMS: “CBS Evening News.” She worked for “The Today Show.” She's getting paid, they say, $15 million a year to be the anchor of “The Evening News.”

PESCA: So I asked Syracuse professor, Robert Thompson, how is that working out for the network?

Dr. ROBERT THOMPSON (Syracuse University): I think everybody at CBS has got to be disappointed that she didn't get them out of third place. I think the expectation was we're going to hope that the beloved Katie Couric, who was so adored on “The Today Show” and kept it at number 1 for so long, is going to bring us to number 1.

ADAMS: It seemed for a while there that there was more coverage of CBS News than just about anything on CBS News. So it's easy to get all schadenfreude, ha, ha, ha, $15 million, the ratings barely budged.

But as Robert Thompson points out, the Couric morass might point to a larger truth, that smart pantsuits, new sets, and all this talk of re-imagining the news, that might not add up to anything more than gimmicks.

Dr. THOMPSON: That when all the dust settles, when all the smoke clears, the network news executives are going to figure out that what works best is the old fashion newscast. You're not going to get 25-year-olds to watch these newscasts. You could put singing gorillas in there and they wouldn't watch it.

ADAMS: What's the singing gorilla reference there, Mike?

PESCA: I think he's just saying that, you know, the kids, they love the singing gorillas. Put that on YouTube and that will definitely be one of the most popular videos around.

But if YouTube is a news story - it was one of the biggest of the year. Another huge story with big implications were the publishing by a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

ADAMS: Now, this is a serious story. Some Muslims around the world found the cartoons themselves to be offensive. Others, the very fact that Muhammad was pictured in the newspaper was offensive. And there was rioting in several countries.

PESCA: Yeah, over a hundred people died throughout the world in those riots. Now, let's be clear about the timeline. The cartoons were originally published in 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. But the cartoons didn't gain widespread attention until 2006. They precipitated what the Danish prime minister called Denmark's worst international crisis since World War II.

ADAMS: And so where do we stand almost a year later on that?

PESCA: I talked to Fleming Rose, the culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, who said his newspaper continues to be Denmark's best selling daily, its circulation was unaffected. But he thought that the present Denmark, and indeed in all of Europe, did change a bit.

Mr. FLEMING ROSE (Jyllands-Posten Newspaper): There is a stronger tendency to think twice before you publish any material that might seem offensive. So in that sense, you could say that there is a growing social censorship in Europe right now.

PESCA: Rose said that the paper stood by its publishing. It went so far as to republish the cartoons under the theory that once they've become news, you can't think or judge the news until you actually see the cartoons. And if that means showing them again, so be it.

ADAMS: Okay. Time for one last catch up from 2006.

PESCA: Let's end with the megafauna update.

Elephants. This is the sound of Gita(ph), an elephant at the L.A. Zoo.

(Soundbite of elephant)

MR. JOHN LOUIS(ph) (Los Angeles Zoo): Right now she's just given herself a shower, and then pulling the water under her trunk and then, blowing it back up on her back.

(Soundbite of elephant)

PESCA: That's the Zoo Director John Louis, who at the time of that interview in March told NPR's Carrie Kahn that Gita was spoiled rotten. Just a few months later, Gita was dead. This was a trend and a cause of concern. Elephants Peaches(ph), Wankie(ph), and Tatima(ph) died at the Chicago Zoo.

Now, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums said they'd looked into these deaths. They've just released their findings. And according to Vice President Steve Feldman, the zoos did nothing wrong.

Mr. STEVE FELDMAN (Vice President, Chicago Zoo): Sometimes animals get old and unfortunately pass away. But the good news is that there's baby elephants coming along all the time. As a matter of fact, there are new baby elephants in St. Louis, Tampa, San Diego and Houston. We've got more on the way in 2008.

PESCA: To animal rights groups that's not good news at all. They compare elephants' life spans in the wild to their life spans in zoos. And they say elephants are much better off that they're able to roam free.

And in fact, you knew we wouldn't able to talk about this without bringing up “Price Is Right” host Bob Barker. And he recently told Ruby, an elephant at the L.A. Zoo, to come on down to an animal sanctuary. He put up $300,000 towards that end.

ADAMS: NPR's Mike Pesca.

More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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