The Retro Report

NECIR will feature video reports from The Retro Report, a news website dedicated to exploring what became of major news stories from the past. From the Exxon Valdez to Love Canal, these reports will revisit, as well as update, stories that have largely been forgotten.

Napster: Culture of Free

In 1999, a file-sharing program created in a Boston dorm room sent shockwaves across the music industry and served notice that a major cultural shift was underway.

The software was called Napster, so named by its 18-year-old developer, and its usage soon exploded on college campuses across the country. No longer did music lovers have to go to the record store to buy CDs — with the click of a mouse, they could gain free access to their favorite tunes.

Power Line Fears

News media coverage in the 1980s and early 1990s fueled fears of a national cancer epidemic caused by power lines and generated a debate that still lingers today.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, news outlets reported a disturbing scientific finding: the electromagnetic fields from power lines may cause cancer. In a world that runs on electricity, the threat seemed to be everywhere.

Sybil: A Brilliant Hysteric?

In the 1970s, the T.V. movie “Sybil” introduced much of the nation to multiple personality disorder and launched a controversy that continues to resonate.

In 1976, millions of viewers tuned in to watch “Sybil,” a television movie based on the best-selling book of the same name, and were introduced to the agonies of a young woman said to have 16 different personalities.


"A Dingo's Got my Baby:" Trial by Media

In 1982, an Australian mother was convicted of murdering her baby daughter. She was later exonerated, but soon fell victim to a joke that distracted the world from the real story.

When Lindy Chamberlain’s nine-week-old baby daughter Azaria disappeared from a campsite in the Australian outback, she maintained a dingo had snatched the infant from inside a tent.

But the police didn’t buy it, and initially nor did most of Australia.  Lindy was charged with her daughter’s murder, convicted and sent to prison.  Three and a half years later new evidence surfaced, proving that Lindy had been telling the truth all along.  She was released from prison and her conviction overturned.  But her plight didn’t end there.

A Search for Justice

The murder of four American churchwomen focused attention on the United States’ involvement in El Salvador. Nearly 35 years later, the case continues to take surprising turns.

In 1980, four American churchwomen, working as missionaries, were raped and then murdered in El Salvador. The killings created a storm of protest in the United States, revealed the brutality of the civil war in El Salvador and raised awareness about America’s policies in Central America. Now, the families of the slain churchwomen are still hoping to find justice  — this time in American immigration courts

Wolves at the Door

In the 1990s, the federal government reintroduced the gray wolf to Yellowstone National Park. It was considered a big success.  And that’s when the real fight began.

Some call it one of the great conservation success stories of our time. After being nearly killed off, gray wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995.

Ruby Ridge: American Standoff

When armed suspects stand off against the law today, one event continues to cast a shadow on both sides of the police line: the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge.

In 1992, federal agents surrounded the remote Idaho cabin of fugitive Randy Weaver, wanted for selling two illegal sawed-off shotguns to an informant. By the time Weaver surrendered 11 days later, his wife, 14-year-old son and a federal agent were dead.

The Cost of Campaigns
The Watergate campaign finance scandals led to a landmark law designed to limit the influence of money in politics. Forty years later, some say the scandal isn’t what’s illegal, it’s what’s legal.

Curt Flood: Rebel Without a Clause
When baseball star Curt Flood rejected a trade in 1969, he challenged America’s pastime and helped spark a revolution that rippled beyond the game.
On the morning of October 8, 1969, just days after the end of a disappointing season for the St. Louis Cardinals, the phone rang at the home of baseball star Curt Flood.

The Mystery of the Missing Bees
The mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder has pushed honeybees into the public eye. But the story of their plight — and its impact — is much more complicated.
There was no question about it: some 400 beehives had been alive and thriving, now they were suddenly dead and empty. The bees had simply vanished.

Revolution in a Capsule
When Prozac was introduced in 1988, the green-and-cream pill to treat depression launched a cultural revolution that continues to echo.

The Promise of the Air Bag
How did cars become “computers on wheels,” so automated that some are about to start driving themselves? The story begins forty-five years ago with a quest to make cars safer and the battle over the air bag.

Swat: Mission Creep SWAT teams were created in the 1960’s to combat violent events.  Since then, the specialized teams have morphed into a force increasingly used in routine policing, most often to serve drug warrants. The media has shone a light on isolated botched raids, but it took the show of force in response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri to start a national dialogue on the appropriate role of SWAT teams in today’s police force.

Major Malfunction: Lessons from the Challenger On January 28, 1986, seven astronauts “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.” America’s space program was never the same. Those who saw it never forgot: the Space Shuttle Challenger launched on January 28, 1986 only to break apart 73 seconds later, killing seven astronauts, including the first “teacher in space” – Christa McAuliffe.

How DNA Changed the World of Forensics

Before DNA testing, prosecutors relied on less sophisticated forensic techniques, including microscopic hair analysis, to put criminals behind bars. But how reliable was hair analysis?

In the late 1980s, DNA technology upended the world of forensics.  Genetic fingerprinting, as it was often called, was a powerful tool to win convictions, but it also revealed cracks in the criminal justice system: innocent people were in prison. And many of them had been convicted in part using older forensic techniques, including microscopic hair analysis.

Agent Orange: Last Chapter of the Vietnam War The use of the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War continues to cast a dark shadow over both American veterans and Vietnamese citizens. During the war, the U.S. military sprayed Agent Orange over millions of acres to defoliate jungles, deprive its enemy defensive cover, and save the lives of American soldiers.

Picking a Winner: The 1998 NFL Draft In the 1998 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers both drew on a blend of physical and psychological testing, player background checks, and gut instincts to select a quarterback who would turn a losing football franchise into a winner. And when the draft was over, each team thought they had done just that.

Three Mile Island: Lessons from the Nuclear Dream  In March of 1979, the news of an accident at the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania sent reporters rushing to the scene, while some 140,000 residents eventually fled from surrounding towns in fear and confusion.

The Enduring Legacy of Terri Schiavo The controversy over Terri Schiavo’s case elevated a family matter into a political battle that continues to frame end-of-life issues today. Terri Schiavo’s case started long before the cameras appeared.  In February 1990, the 26-year-old suffered cardiac arrest and was left in a persistent vegetative state. Initially, Schiavo’s husband and parents cared for her together, exploring potential treatments and rehabilitation. But over time, Schiavo’s husband and parents became locked in a very public battle over whether or not to remove the feeding tube that sustained her.

The 1989 earthquake that shook San Francisco sent out a wake up call that continues to echo across the country.  On October 17, 1989, the opening jolt of a major American earthquake was broadcast on live TV. Suddenly and without warning, viewers tuning into the third installment of the 1989 World Series heard the pre-game banter of the ABC sportscaster cease. The images of San Francisco’s Candlestick Park crackled and disappeared.

The "Superpredator" Scare After a surge of teen violence in the early 1990s, some social scientists predicted the future was going to be a whole lot worse. Reality proved otherwise.

The Shame of the Church Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has been making headlines for years. Some priests have been punished, but what about the bishops who shielded them? In 2002, revelations of widespread sexual abuse led the U.S. bishops to pass a set of landmark reforms to end abuse in the Church. But as new scandals and long-secret files continue to come to light, even the Archbishop who presided over those new policies says the crisis seems like “a never-ending drama.”

Baby M and the Question of Surrogacy Melissa Stern, also known as “Baby M,” was born in March of 1986 in New Jersey to a surrogate mother, Mary Beth Whitehead. After answering a newspaper ad Whitehead was inseminated with sperm from William Stern and contracted to carry a child for him and his wife. But once Baby “M” was born, Whitehead decided she could not give her child away. The ensuing custody battle both fascinated and divided the public, raising important questions: was surrogacy essentially baby selling or was it a new way to help infertile couples have families?

Fly Wars: Battling The Medfly In the summer of 1981, the Mediterranean fruit fly spread through California’s Santa Clara Valley, infesting backyard fruit trees and threatening the state’s $14 billion agricultural industry. But it would take more than conventional tools to defeat this bug. A massive ground eradication program failed to stop the Medfly, and a plan to spray pesticides from the air sparked angry protests and led Governor Jerry Brown into a dramatic showdown with the Reagan administration.

McMartin Preschool: Anatomy of a Panic The nightmare began in 1983 when a 39-year-old mother called the police department in Manhattan Beach, California and accused a teacher at the McMartin Preschool, Raymond Buckey, of molesting her two and a half-year old son. The accusation soon led to reports that hundreds of children had been abused at the prominent preschool, and set in motion one of the longest and most expensive child molestation cases in U.S. history.  It also fed a national panic about child sex abuse, satanic rituals and child pornography that enmeshed dozens of day care centers across the country.

When a Bridge Fails At the height of rush hour on August 1, 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a bridge carrying eight lanes of I-35W over the Mississippi River suddenly collapsed, sending cars trucks plunging into the water below. Thirteen people died and 145 were injured in one of the worst bridge accidents in years.

Stealing J. Edgar Hoover's Secrets  On March 8, 1971, a group of eight Vietnam War protesters broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole hundreds of government documents that shocked a nation. The stolen memos, reports and internal correspondence provided the first tangible evidence that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was systematically targeting and harassing hundreds of American citizens then known collectively as “the New Left.”

Exxon Valdez: In the Wake of Disaster On a cold March night in 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground off the coast of Southern Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the waters of Prince William Sound and creating one of the worst oil spills in American history.

Crime and Punishment: Three Strikes and You're Out  After the 1993 murder of a California child, many states passed laws to lock up repeat offenders for life, but today those laws are raising new questions about how crime is handled in America.

Love Canal: A Legacy of Doubt In 1978, toxic chemicals leaking from an old landfill thrust an upstate New York community called “Love Canal” into the national headlines, and made it synonymous with “environmental disaster.”

The Sleeper Cell that Wasn't Six days after 9/11, the FBI’s raid on a Detroit sleeper cell signaled America’s resolve to fight terrorism. But, despite a celebrated conviction, there was one problem — they’d gotten it wrong.

The Day the Lights Went Out In 2003, a blackout crippled areas of the U.S. and Canada, leaving some 50 million people in the dark. Ten years later, we are still grappling with concerns over the vulnerability of our power grid.

The Long War on Cancer Forty-two years ago when President Richard Nixon vowed to make curing cancer a national crusade, many anticipated quick results.  That expectation was raised in part by the PR campaign, complete with ads suggesting we could cure cancer by the bicentennial, that successfully pushed President Nixon to support what came to be called his “War on Cancer.”