The economy eclipsed the Presidential primaries to qualify as Story of the Day for the fifth weekday out of the last six. All three networks led with the agreement on Capitol Hill between House leaders and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on a $150bn fiscal stimulus package to try to avert a serious recession. Under the deal 116m individuals--all but the affluent and the very poor--will receive a check from the federal government late this spring. Middle class adults will receive $600 each, plus $300 for each child in their household; the working poor will each receive $300.    
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video thumbnailCBSEconomy expansion slows: recession risks assessedFiscal stimulus deal agreed, extra cash for 116mAnthony MasonNew York
video thumbnailABCEconomy expansion slows: recession risks assessedEconomic analysis of efficacy of stimulus planBetsy StarkNew York
video thumbnailNBC2008 Florida Republican primaryCandidates compete to claim Reagan legacyDavid GregoryFlorida
video thumbnailABC2008 Hillary Rodham Clinton campaignHusband Bill is overzealous, sparks backlashTerry MoranSouth Carolina
video thumbnailCBS2008 South Carolina primaryObama, Rodham Clinton exchange of negative adsDean ReynoldsSouth Carolina
video thumbnailNBC2008 Presidential General Election field overviewStress of stump saps candidates' stamina, healthLee CowanSouth Carolina
video thumbnailCBSStock trading fraud exposed at Paris bankJunior trader lost Societe Generale $7bnRichard RothLondon
video thumbnailNBCIsrael-Palestinian conflictGaza-Egypt border remains open for tradeMartin FletcherEgypt
video thumbnailNBCOvarian cancer coverageLongterm protection from birth control pill useRobert BazellNew York
video thumbnailCBSFertility rate increases for American teenagersYoung motherhood more common in popular cultureBen TracyLos Angeles
STIMULUS PACT SPEEDILY SETTLED The economy eclipsed the Presidential primaries to qualify as Story of the Day for the fifth weekday out of the last six. All three networks led with the agreement on Capitol Hill between House leaders and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on a $150bn fiscal stimulus package to try to avert a serious recession. Under the deal 116m individuals--all but the affluent and the very poor--will receive a check from the federal government late this spring. Middle class adults will receive $600 each, plus $300 for each child in their household; the working poor will each receive $300.

ABC and NBC both assigned the stimulus package story to their White House correspondents, where President George Bush called the agreement "swift and decisive." NBC's John Yang agreed, calling its speed "remarkable" even though he warned that "some Senate Democrats are pressing for a bigger package, which could delay the process." ABC's Jonathan Karl (embargoed link) reported that the Democrats were defeated in their desire for "more help for the working poor" including extended unemployment benefits and food stamps.

When Secretary Paulson anticipated that checks would be mailed out in May, CBS' business correspondent Anthony Mason was skeptical. He pointed out the Internal Revenue Service would first have to handle income tax returns so mid-July would be more likely: "It may not come in time to keep us out of recession but it should speed up any recovery." ABC's Betsy Stark consulted economists, who pronounced the plan "not perfect" yet "good enough" to make the difference between a slowdown and a recession "or a short recession and a long one." The economists told her that an extension of unemployment benefits would have been better than this mass mailing of checks: "People without jobs are almost sure to take the money and spend it on basic necessities…the biggest bang for the stimulus buck."

Rounding out the economic coverage were the now-conventional vignettes of individuals coping with hard times. On CBS' Hitting Home series Cynthia Bowers brought us Karen Wimbish, a Los Angeles homeowner who now owes more on her mortgage than her property is worth. A trio of small business operator were profiled on George Lewis' NBC report: the shuttle van driver, the florist and the realtor.

DESTROY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY NBC had Brian Williams anchor its newscast from Boca Raton, where he prepared to co-anchor MSNBC's Republican debate with Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press in the run-up to Tuesday's Florida primary. David Gregory portrayed the Florida vote as a contest for the mantle of Ronald Reagan between Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and John McCain. He did not factor Rudolph Giuliani into the race. Gregory argued that a coalition that united "social, economic and national security conservatives" was forged in 1980 and only Romney is campaigning as the full-spectrum heir to that legacy. Yet in South Carolina, true red state conservatives had supported McCain and Huckabee. Gregory played a radio soundbite from Rush Limbaugh warning his dittoheads about them: "If either of those two guys gets the nomination, it is going to destroy the Republican Party. It is going to change it forever, be the end of it. A lot of people are not going to vote. You watch."

NBC's Russert released topline results of his network's latest General Election poll. It found voters generically preferring a Democrat over a Republican (51% v 34%) yet in individual match-ups John McCain polled even with Barack Obama (42% v 42%) and slightly ahead of Hillary Rodham Clinton (46% v 44%) but within the margin of error.

DISTORTIONS & LOWBALLS The Democrats, meanwhile, are in South Carolina in the run-up to Saturday's primary. CBS' Dean Reynolds covered the exchange of negative radio spots between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. She accused him of being a big fan of Ronald Reagan; he said she "will say anything to get elected." Reynolds reported, according to Obama's operatives, Rodham Clinton's campaign "combines distortions with lowball expectations." ABC had Nightline anchor Terry Moran follow Bill Clinton's efforts in support of his wife. Moran found "big, diverse and enthusiastic crowds" with the former President "spellbinding the room. Even some Democratic voters wonder if this might be just too much Bill Clinton." NBC's contribution, by contrast, was more softhearted than hardball. Lee Cowan showed what an ordeal the campaign trail is. With constant travel, raspy voices, occasional catnaps and a disrupted family life, "the grind takes its toll."

CBS' senior politico Jeff Greenfield speculated about the Rodham Clinton campaign's aggressive tactics. Perhaps its attacks are successfully "pushing Barack Obama off his central message that he can transcend the political arguments of the 1990s." Greenfield should have spelled out, but instead left it unspoken, his implied counterhypothesis, namely that Bill's attacks vindicate Barack's insistence of the necessity of transcending those politics.

THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK The thirtysomething Parisian banker who secretly lost $7bn of his employer's money in illicit wrong way bets on the financial markets was an irresistible story. Jerome Kerviel did not actually drive Societe Generale into bankruptcy but, as CBS' Richard Roth dryly pointed out, the bank does not expect him to claim his uncollected year-end bonus "if he comes out of hiding." In Kerviel's favor, the bank stated he "was not trying to enrich himself," noted NBC's Ned Colt. He was just "going double or nothing over and over again," as ABC's Jim Sciutto (embargoed link) put it. "Kerviel used to work in fraud prevention so he may have known how to fool his supervisors."

WIN-WIN Only NBC continued coverage of the crisis on the Gaza Strip. Martin Fletcher was at the border with Egypt where "confrontation is brewing" as Hamas police plan to use force to prevent Egypt from closing the crossing. As long as the border is open, Fletcher added, Israel will halt diesel fuel deliveries to the Palestinians, however "responsibility for impoverished Gaza is the last thing Egypt wants." For all his foreboding, Fletcher found the locals enjoying the situation: "The guy bought his motorbike in Egypt now for the half the price in Gaza. The Egyptian sold it at double the price in Egypt. Win-Win!"

STOP MAKING BABIES Preventing oneself from getting pregnant by using the pill has a side benefit: the contraceptive drug offers long term prevention against ovarian cancer. NBC's Robert Bazell estimated that, worldwide, 100,000 women have not died of cancer as a result. CBS' in-house physician Jon LaPook pointed out that there is a slight increase of contracting other cancers--of the breast or of the cervix--while taking the pill. But that risk ends when the prescription does; the benefit for the ovaries persists for as long as 30 years.

Getting pregnant, rather than avoiding it, was the topic of a confusing report by Ben Tracy of CBS. Tracy fell into CBS' favorite cliche of combining an undertone of moral panic--usually about out-of-control teenagers--with an overvaluation of pop culture, embodied by illustrating a sociological trend by using fictional characters.

In this instance he speculated that an increase in young motherhood in 2006 might be linked to the 2007 release of the movies Juno and Knocked Up. He did not actually go so far as to claim that the celluloid pregnancy actually has the power retroactively to impregnate teenagers' eggs some two years earlier. The closest he came to suggesting such time travel was the vague "it is unclear whether Hollywood is imitating life or it is the other way around." It is not unclear at all. The latter is a physical impossibility.

Compounding the sloppy thinking in Tracy's report was a switch in terms. Anchor Katie Couric introduced it by saying that a higher fertility rate for teenagers and young women aged 15 to 19--she condescendingly called them "kids"--had resulted in 20,000 additional births in 2006. Tracy himself referred to an increase in pregnancies with no mention of how many resulted in babies. He did point out that the abortion rate is at its lowest since 1981. Isn't the pro-life movement a more plausible explanation for an increase in non-terminated pregnancies than movie studios?

MENTIONED IN PASSING The network newscasts do not assign correspondents to all of the news of the day. If Tyndall Report readers come across videostreamed reports online of stories that were mentioned only in passing, post the link in comments for us to check out.

Today's examples: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is preparing to order commando squads to infiltrate northwestern Pakistan…a carbomb killed a senior police officer in the Iraqi city of Mosul…the FBI will pay a $5m reward to the Minnesota flight instructor who was suspicious of Zacarias Moussaoui, the confessed conspirator in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks…the British Airways jetliner crash last week at Heathrow Airport may have been caused by faulty fuel supply…Rep Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) ended his Presidential campaign to run for reelection to the House…Ford Motors will offer more buyouts for its hourly workforce.