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.

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.”