Preview -- World News Tonight 04/17/01

Good Afternoon.

One could build a journalism school seminar around the story we led the broadcast with Monday night.

The "slave ship" off the coast of Africa that was said to be carrying more than 200 children, all of them "bought" for domestic work or prostitution. Sources for the story included senior officials in West African governments and officials working for the United Nations in those same places. No one knew where the ship was; many feared, as we reported, that the captain may have thrown the children overboard.

Twenty-four hours later, it is difficult to sort through the confusion. Except to say that there were certainly not 200 children on board — and that while child trafficking certainly goes on, the children who disembarked at Benin's port of Cotonou may not have been headed for a life of slavery. Virtually every major news organization ran the story yesterday — but that doesn't make it any less awkward to learn that we didn't get it right. We are following up today; we mention it here so you know how complicated some stories can be.

Today, a raging river, an invasion, a warning to China, one major company's troubles, and what a drink or two might do for your heart. All that — and Ellis Island.

The mighty Mississippi is overflowing. Along more than 400 miles of the great river, water levels are approaching record highs, and rising roughly a foot a day. The spring thaw and heavy rains are to blame — and the river has yet to crest. ABC News' Jim Williams will report tonight from Davenport, Iowa.

We use the word "escalation" often — too often, perhaps — in describing the situation in the Middle East. It may actually be too soft a word for what has happened in the last 24 hours. Monday, five mortar shells were fired into Israeli territory from the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip. The Israeli government has promised a crackdown on these incidents — and even though this latest one caused no damage it was followed by a furious response. When the new day dawned, Israeli tanks and bulldozers had deployed to the Gaza Strip, and cut it in three. Significantly, the attacks have also produced high-level criticism from the Bush administration. We'll have a report from our Jerusalem correspondent Gillian Findlay.

National security correspondent John McWethy has obtained footage from the Pentagon today that appears to be another effort to show the world that Chinese fighter pilots have made a habit of harassing American aircraft. This comes on the eve of what is certain to be a contentious meeting of American and Chinese officials in Beijing; John also reports that the United States may use this videotape to make its case in those meetings.

Our business story today is about a company that's been described as the "General Electric of the new economy" — a company that has just announced a significant drop in earnings — and therefore a company whose performance is watched very closely on Wall Street. Business correspondent Betsy Stark has the story of Cisco Systems.

We have another powerful story from inside America's prison system. Tonight, when the victims become victimizers. "You're going to be a time bomb," an inmate tells ABC News' Dan Harris. "And you will explode one day." That's our Closer Look tonight.

And finally, when the research finds that an occasional drink — wine, beer, even hard liquor — may be good for you, why won't your doctor tell you that? Medical editor John McKenzie has that.

As we said, that — and Ellis Island.

A busy day. We hope you'll join us.

Peter Jennings

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