COMMENTS: NBCs Haiyan? Or CBS Healthcare?

There was a split decision on Story of the Day. CBS, which has covered the rollout of the Affordable Care Act most heavily (88 min v NBC 65, ABC 25) since the federal exchange Website was mislaunched at the beginning of October, led with early statistics for health insurance enrolment. NBC (27 min v CBS 23, ABC 15) continued to focus on The Philippines, leading with Typhoon Haiyan for the fourth straight weekday. ABC, being the laggard on both stories, had an unaccustomed choice to make; it opted to kick off with healthcare reform. The typhoon, however, qualified as Story of the Day.

Nancy Snyderman is not only NBC's in-house physician, she actually got to play one on TV. She attended the emergency clinic set up in the city hall of the devastated coastal community of Tanauan, where she took orders to resupply the pharmacy. See Dr Nancy's bedside manner with an amputee, as she hitched a ride on the flatbed of Raul-the-Cop's pick-up truck to join the Mammoth Medical Mission, volunteers who diverted their trip from Mexico to Cebu City when they heard about the storm.

ABC's Terry Moran brought us emergency techniques for water purification, using disinfectant powders or solar power. CBS' hoarse and bestubbled Seth Doane showed us body bags by the roadside, a fraction of the death toll that now stands at 2,300. Doane's colleague Bill Whitaker rounded out typhoon coverage from Los Angeles, where Filipino ex-patriates are organizing via Stop Hunger Now and the Red Cross.

All three newscasts had their White House correspondent cover the embarrassingly small enrolment statistics for health insurance: the target for October was 500K; actual sign-ups were 106K, although CBS' Major Garrett did add that a further 400K had qualified via Medicaid. His colleague Ben Tracy noted from Los Angeles that Covered California is only 35K towards its statewide goal of 700K. NBC's Chuck Todd observed that the sheepish Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would not even appear before a camera to announce the number: she phoned it in instead. CBS' Nancy Cordes covered the hearings at the House Oversight Committee into the mess at the Website as a separate story, while NBC and ABC folded them into their White House packages.

On ABC, Jonathan Karl did that irritating thing that his colleague Robin Roberts did on Friday. He used a clip from Comedy Central's The Daily Show to illustrate how newsworthy the story was that he was filing on. That technique does not work since, as often as not, Jon Stewart invokes a news story in order to satirize a failure of coverage rather than to point to its underlying importance. Karl used that precious Exclusive label to make the lame boast that ABC News had discovered Adrianna (no last name), the stock photography model whose smiling face, adorning the government's homepage, had been the butt of Stewart's humor.


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