July 1, 2005 | 6:33 p.m. EDT

Editor's note: This blog will not be updated until Tues., July 5.  From all of us at Nightly News, have a happy and safe Independence Day.

July 1, 2005 | 5:04 p.m. EDT

Change at the court

Brian Williams, 'Nightly News' Anchor & Managing Editor
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has submitted her resignation to the president, and the Supreme Court has lost an American original.  Much of our reporting tonight will revolve around this jurist and trail-blazer... this woman of towering intellect, strength, compassion and drive. As I said to our Justice Correspondent Pete Williams earlier today, I don't think we will see her kind ever again.  Tonight we will look at her legacy, the political fight that may lie ahead, her possible replacements, and her life on the court.

I will end the broadcast tonight with a personal note about Justice O'Connor.

And on this busy day I'm compelled to throw in a personal note of my own... it's about a question I asked Andrea Mitchell on Nightly News last night. Coming out of the story alleging that Iran's President-elect may have been among those who kept 52 Americans hostage for 444 days in Tehran, I asked Andrea the following question:

"What would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today: The first several U.S. presidents were certainly revolutionaries... and might have been called "terrorists" at the time by the BRITISH CROWN, after all..."

Today, apparently, on  some radio talk shows and blogs, my friends in the media have accused me of labeling George Washington a terrorist. They apparently missed my point: That the BRITISH CROWN might have viewed American revolutionaries that way.

My question — and specifically the line, "what would it all matter..." was meant to address the popular support within Iran for those who acted against the U.S. and are now in positions of power. Those of you who are regular readers of our blog know we spoke about this very issue yesterday in our afternoon editorial meeting.

All I ask is that people re-read what was said on the air. I've talked to several viewers today, and one conversation I actually enjoyed was with a woman from Virginia, who said, "These days, you just can't use the word TERRORIST for anything but a TERRORIST." And I take this nice woman's point about the power of words in our current climate.

While I insist that a re-reading of my question will prove that in no way was I calling the framers "terrorists" (for starters, the word did not exist 229 years ago), I regret that anyone thought that after a life spent reading and loving American history, I had suddenly changed my mind about the founders of our nation.

To all: I hope you can join us for the broadcast tonight. Have a wonderful weekend and a spectacular July 4th.

July 1, 2005 | 3:33 p.m. EDT

A pioneering woman

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders  /  NBC News
NBC News' Andrea Mitchell
I was one of the reporters waiting for Sandra Day O'Connor at what we then called National Airport when she first arrived in Washington 24 years ago, and I've gotten to know her over the years since. So when she announced her retirement today, I was flooded with memories of this pioneering woman, a woman who graduated third in her class at Stanford Law in 1952 but still couldn't get a paying job. A few weeks ago, when I interviewed her for the Smithsonian Institution, someone in the audience asked what makes our country so different. She reached for her handbag and pulled out a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution, waved it and said: "This is what makes us different from other countries." According to O'Connor, everything we need to know about our system is boiled down into that brief document, which she carries wherever she goes. When you spend time with O'Connor, what strikes you is her ranch-hewn, no-nonsense grittiness and her sparkling sense of humor. She has had some tough times, but still loves to have a good time. O'Connor and her husband, John, used to organize dance parties. They still play tennis and golf. She revels in her roles as wife, mother and grandmother, even contributing to a children's book with her beloved granddaughter, Courtney. And she instituted an aerobics class at the Supreme Court in the morning which she frequently attends. What I want to convey to our viewers tonight is the way this path-breaking woman enjoys the different parts of her life. And now, in what must be a wrenching decision, she is giving up the job she loves to spend more time with the man she loves. Even in the way she's leaving the court, she remains a role model, and not only for women.

July 1, 2005 | 1:03 p.m. EDT

What it was like at the court this morning

Pete Williams, NBC's justice correspondent
We've been braced for a possible retirement since Monday, when the court took to the bench for the last time. I've been waiting down here all week trying to read the tea leaves and operating against a backdrop of rumors from conservative groups that the announcement would come from O'Connor and not Rehnquist. But friends of Justice O'Connor all thought it was unlikely that she would step down. It's pretty clear that her decision was an agonizing one for her, because in essence she had to choose between her enormous dedication to the U.S. Supreme Court and her husband John, who is in declining health. This morning there was a definite sense in the air here that something was going to happen. Then, at 10:15 a.m. EDT, a conservative group, the Heritage Foundation, sent out a newsletter saying that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced she's stepping down. That was sent out before the Supreme Court announced her plans to retire and before she talked to the president. Once the formal announcement came out a few minutes later, a Supreme Court spokesman added a few other details about why Justice O'Connor was stepping down. But the main reason was that she's 75 and wants to spend more time with John.

Editor's Note: Pete will offer a complete report on O'Connor's resignation tonight on the broadcast.

July 1, 2005 | 10:30 a.m. EDT

Breaking news at the Supreme Court

Sandra Day O'Connor made history in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan nominated her to be the first woman justice on the Supreme Court. Today, she sent a letter to President Bush announcing her intent to retire, as soon as a replacement is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. We will have complete coverage tonight on Nightly News — from O'Connor's legacy to the confirmation fight ahead.  In the meantime, you can find a guide to what happens next here ; and a look back at O'Connor's nearly 24 years on the bench here .

June 30, 2005 | 4:15 p.m. EDT

A potpourri of news (Brian Williams)

Good news and bad today, for those of us in the news business. While we have no shortage of stories to fit into tonight's broadcast, at this hour they are in no particular order, and Nightly News is decidedly a work in progress.

Many Americans woke up to a curious story this morning: several of the former Iran Hostages have decided there is a strong resemblance between Iran's new president and one of their captors more than 25 years ag o. The White House and most official branches of government are ducking any substantive comment on this story, and photo analysis is going on at this and other news organizations. It is a story that will be at or near the top of our broadcast and certainly made for a robust debate in our afternoon editorial meeting, when several of us raised the point (I'll leave it to others to decide germaneness) that several U.S. presidents were at minimum revolutionaries, and probably were considered terrorists of their time by the Crown in England.

We'll also update what we know from Afghanistan, where the news is not good, but slightly less than we feared. Sixteen American bodies have been recovered at the Chinook helicopter crash site . Yesterday we feared the death toll was 17, and we now know one chose to go in on a different chopper. Our thoughts are with him, as our prayers are with the families who have, beginning last night, been forced to endure the most awful sight possible for military families: the official car bearing both officer and chaplain pulling up in front of the house. All of these lost souls were superb fighters. That's why they were there, on a rescue mission to help others in trouble.

There are several bizarre and interesting "picture" stories today... among them the stolen pickup speeding by passenger jets on an active tarmac in Phoenix and the ferry boat in British Columbia that missed its berth by a huge and dangerous margin. Also tonight from our own profession: the decision of Time magazine to cooperate with the feds and hand over relevant notes from their reporter Matt Cooper, who was threatened with jail time just days from now.

We'll also look at what's happening to pension funds in this country and we'll continue our series on identity theft. We hope you'll join us.

June 30, 2005 | 12:52 p.m. EDT

Tonight's promoted story on Nightly News

The companies they dedicated their lives to promised to take care of them in retirement. But things have changed. Pension plans are getting cut, nest eggs are disappearing, and the widows of loyal workers are paying the price. How can it happen? NBC's Rehema Ellis reports, tonight.

June 29, 2005 | 3:59 p.m. EDT

Thoughts about the Chinook crash (Brian Williams)

On this night after the president's speech to the nation we will begin the broadcast with the very outcome we feared at airtime last night: 17 Americans confirmed dead in the shoot-down of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan . Our thoughts today cannot help but be with the families that have already received or are girding for the very worst news. We will do our best tonight to deconstruct the chain of events in Afghanistan. The terrain could not be more rugged, the weather is unforgiving and the work is dangerous. The Chinook helicopter is the workhorse of our forces there. I have flown a lot of hours on Chinooks (and spent three nights in one while the unit we were flying with was grounded during the first stage of the war), and while by modern standards they are low and slow, they are built to last. Many of the Chinooks flying today have patches on the fuselage from damage suffered in Vietnam. While they have been retrofitted with new engines, prop blades, avionics and in some cases counter-measures, they are at heart the same bird. Most Army veterans have a whole lot of Chinook seat-time and swear by them as basic transportation and then some. While I have seen a Chinook survive a direct RPG hit with my own eyes, it is often a deadly combination.

Jim Miklaszewski will begin our coverage from the Pentagon. We'll also review last night's speech by the president, including today's criticism that he invoked 9/11 to excess in relation to the Iraq conflict . We'll also take a moment to note what appeared to members of the television audience to be some strange "rules of engagement" where applause was concerned last night. As we pointed out, the soldiers were at attention and thus forbidden to clap when the president entered, but then were led in applause approximately 23 minutes into the speech by a member of the White House advance team, according to our own Kelly O'Donnell who will handle reporting duties tonight.

Also this evening: A scary story about a possible link between a Teflon ingredient and forms of cancer in lab animals , and we'll continue our series on identity theft. We hope you'll join us.

June 29, 2005| 2:02 p.m. EDT

How ready is the Iraqi Army?

President Bush, in his speech before troops last night at Ft. Bragg, N.C., said, "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." Jim Maceda spent some time with Iraqi Army recruits recently, and reports tonight on just how prepared they are to protect their countrymen and provide security.

June 29, 2005 | 11:30 a.m. EDT

Tonight's promoted story on Nightly News

When you're online, you're being watched. Identity thieves want to break into your bank account, but they need your password. Find out how you're making it easy for some of them to figure it out. Our series "Swiped: Identity Theft in America" continues tonight with a report from Rehema Ellis.

Also, for those viewers wondering why they haven't seen Kerry Sanders reporting for awhile, he's in Africa, where he filed this piece for MSNBC.com on the AIDS epidemic ravaging the continent .

June 28, 2005 | 4:18 p.m. EDT

To cover or not to cover? (Brian Williams)

Our senior executives spent the better part of this day discussing the coverage of tonight's speech by President Bush, and much of the debate had to do with the intersection (some would say collision) of semantics and politics. In the standing Washington tradition of the pre-September 11th era, the White House would call the bureau chiefs of the television networks and request evening television air time on the occasion of a major speech by the president. That's what happened in this case, only tonight's event is made more complicated by the venue: Instead of the traditional backdrop of the Oval Office, the president is delivering what some are calling an "address to the nation" from Fort Bragg, N.C., while surrounded by 500 U.S. Army soldiers. While some members of the loyal opposition have said the backdrop will render this event a de facto rally in support of the president, several of our NBC television stations let us know they were anxious to provide live coverage of the president's speech, and the network will do so, from 8-9:00 p.m. EDT, with coverage afterward continuing on MSNBC.

Our broadcast of Nightly News will begin tonight with a preview of the speech, including a bit of context on the issues the venue raises.

We'll also check in with our man in Iraq, Richard Engel, who is on an embedded assignment tonight with the U.S. fighting men and women who are in our thoughts every day.

We'll update the emotional debate, rekindled by a recent article in Rolling Stone by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., over what some suspect is a tie between inoculations and autism. All of us who've been touched by autism know it now affects one in 166 live births, so we all have a role in a vigorous discussion and investigation of the cause.

Finally tonight, we'll take a moment to remember Shelby Foote, Memphis, Tennessee's beloved writer-in-residence, and the author of the landmark three-volume history of the Civil War. I always admired him for another reason. He wrote exclusively by hand, feeling it was a part of the process of writing (where we parted company was his use, equally exclusively, of a pen he manually dipped in bottled ink). He was a remarkable writer of real warmth, insight and intelligence, all qualities he leaves behind on the printed page for the education and enjoyment of future generations.

We hope you'll join us tonight.

June 28, 2005 | 11:05 a.m. EDT

Tonight's promoted story on Nightly News

Your credit card may have been compromised in that recent massive hacker attack , allowing thieves to charge thousands to your account. So shouldn't your bank have to tell you about it? It doesn't! NBC's Ron Mott kicks off our three-part series "Swiped: Identity Theft in America" tonight.

June 27, 2005 | 3:37 p.m. EDT

Supreme decisions and what's up with Tom Cruise? (Brian Williams)

For those of us who follow the Supreme Court, this was far from an ordinary Monday. While it was a big day for the remaining decisions from this court term, all eyes were (and continue to be) on Chief Justice William Hubbs Rehnquist, who may decide at any time to end his 33 years of service on the court... 19 of them as chief.

The court's decisions will make up our lead story tonight, most notably a pair of cases, decided differently, on the Ten Commandments . While the court "struck down" the posting of the commandments inside a courtroom, they "let stand" a granite monument on the grounds of the State Capitol in Austin, Texas. There were other major decisions today, including a case on file sharing , and in the area of press freedom, a LACK of comment by the justices may mean the end of all appeals for two journalists facing 18 months in jail.

Adding to the interest in the court today: This morning's extraordinary profile of (and rare interview with) Justice Anthony Kennedy in The New York Times, a Reagan appointee who is less than popular with many conservatives. This has been the most stable court in modern history... in terms of lack of turnover among justices, but NOT in terms of sharp disagreements behind the scenes among the justices. While as a group — appointed to the bench for life — they consistently display great mutual respect, and while personal friendships abound, the expression "scorpions in a bottle" often accurately describes the portrait of the court portrayed by their opinions. Our own court expert, NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams, will head up our coverage.

Lisa Myers has a fine piece of work ready for air tonight, and it has to do with our post-September 11th nation: The terror threats we've all had to learn how to live with. Her report details a particularly memorable threat and its underpinnings in the world of intelligence . Also at today's Nightly News editorial meeting, Barbara Raab of our staff made a strong pitch for the good work being done by (and strong warnings being issued by) the group that was formerly the 9/11 Commission. They have stayed together as a de facto commission and continue to hold hearings and shed light on what they see as the areas that have not been addressed.

Finally tonight, a story that seemed to be the subject of conversation wherever two or more Americans gathered over the weekend: What's the deal with Tom Cruise? We found ourselves a part of the story around here with the two-part interview of the actor by my friend and colleague Matt Laue r. With a big-budget film ("War of the Worlds") about to be released, Mr. Cruise has sparked a debate over psychology, pharmacology, Scientology, post-partum depression, hyper-active children and the "handling" of celebrities. George Lewis will somehow wrap this all together for us tonight from Los Angeles as we here in New York complete our Monday broadcast. As always, we hope you'll join us.

June 27, 2005 | 10:47 a.m. EDT

Tonight's promoted story on Nightly News

Remember the color-coded terror alerts that seemed to happen every week in 2002 and 2003? The nation was on edge. More than 30 flights were cancelled. But what was really behind some of those perceived threats? Tune in for an NBC News investigation.

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