For the third day in a row Detroit's imploding automobile industry was Story of the Day. All three newscasts led with Senate Banking Committee hearings as its trio of chief executives sought federal loans. Last month the three arrived by corporate jet, with no concrete plans, seeking $25bn. This time they carpooled in fuel-efficient vehicles, carrying restructuring blueprints--and asked for $34bn. NBC anchor Brian Williams took the day off as Lester Holt substituted.    
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video thumbnailNBCAutomobile industry in financial troubleDetroit CEOs seek $34bn loan at Senate hearingsPhilip LeBeauCapitol Hill
video thumbnailCBSAutomobile industry in financial troubleDetroit has too many brands, too many modelsAnthony MasonNew York
video thumbnailNBCAutomobile new model design trendsEurope's SmartCar is nimble, cheap, niche brandKerry SandersMiami
video thumbnailABCReal estate housing market prices continue to fallTreasury seeks to lower rates to boost salesBetsy StarkNew York
video thumbnailABCMillionaire tax shelters run by European banksUBS sponsors Art Basel Fair despite IRS probeBrian RossMiami
video thumbnailABCZimbabwe politics: government is near collapseDrinking water fails, cholera deaths spreadJim SciuttoLondon
video thumbnailABCMumbai luxury hotels attacked in hostage siegeGunman interrogated about his Pakistani trainingDan HarrisMumbai
video thumbnailCBSFormer President Lyndon Johnson audiotapes releasedTelephone conversations from final year in powerBill PlanteWhite House
video thumbnailNBCPresident Bush prepares to leave officeFirst Couple reflects on eight-year tenureJohn YangWhite House
video thumbnailNBCPresident Obama Inauguration ceremonies previewedFashionistas buzz over Michelle's ball gownAndrea MitchellWashington DC
DETROIT RETURNS CAP IN HAND TO CAPITOL HILL For the third day in a row Detroit's imploding automobile industry was Story of the Day. All three newscasts led with Senate Banking Committee hearings as its trio of chief executives sought federal loans. Last month the three arrived by corporate jet, with no concrete plans, seeking $25bn. This time they carpooled in fuel-efficient vehicles, carrying restructuring blueprints--and asked for $34bn. NBC anchor Brian Williams took the day off as Lester Holt substituted.

In the two weeks since their bosses last testified, the three automobile firms have lost $3bn, ABC's Jonathan Karl (no link) reckoned. "This time they came with specific plans and a big dose of humility." CNBC's man in Detroit traveled to Washington too for NBC. Phil LeBeau pointed out that both General Motors and Chrysler are warning that they must have funds by the end of December to stave off bankruptcy. CBS' Sharyl Attkisson looked into the $34bn request and found "they are actually seeking way more money than you may think." Add in separate requests of the Department of Energy and the Department of the Treasury and "that puts the real taxpayer sticker shock somewhere above $55bn."

Only one of the Detroit CEOs moved on from the Senate panel to the media rounds on the nightly newscasts. That was Robert Nardelli, the boss of Chrysler. He granted a remote interview to CBS anchor Katie Couric in order to warn of the "cataclysmic impact" on the national economy if the loans were to be refused. "This thing has broad tentacles," he warned, envisioning a ripple effect of 3m layoffs. Why not reorganize under bankruptcy? "It would cost us in bankruptcy two or three times more than what we are asking for, Katie, up front."

A major obstacle standing in the way of Detroit's revival, CBS' Anthony Mason pointed out, is that the Big Three firms--General Motors, Ford, Chrysler--are riddled with brands that are too small. Altogether GM and Toyota have similar sales volumes--yet Toyota's three brands build 32 models; GM's eight brands build 57. Mason zeroed in on GM's Saturn brand, whose market share is just 1%. It is now up for sale. On NBC, Kerry Sanders turned to an even smaller brand that is an even smaller brand. The super-mini SmartCar--"a Tonka toy, a glorified golf cart"--has been imported from France for eleven months now. "The company has never bought a TV or print ad in the United States," yet has sold 22,000 vehicles. "It is made to order and has developed a cult-like following."

SECURITY IN SOLDIERING As the economy slows, NBC offered the pros and cons of a tight labor market. CNBC's Margaret Brennan catalogued a lengthening list of current corporate layoffs--AT&T, DuPont, Bank Credit Suisse--while citing predictions that 73,000 store closings in shopping malls in 2009 will cost 600,000 jobs nationwide. The number of beneficiaries on unemployment rolls is at a 26-year high. Meanwhile Lee Cowan spotted the silver lining at Fort Riley in Kansas. At least the USArmy offers job security--not to speak of health benefits and education benefits and a resigning bonus. Reenlistment rates are improving. "It is not all the economy. The improved security situation in Baghdad has certainly helped."

On ABC, Betsy Stark explained the latest scheme to revive the housing market, which has a nationwide unsold inventory of 4.6m homes. "The Treasury Department is now considering a plan to lower fixed rate mortgages for homebuyers from 5.5% to 4.5%. It is a plan within its power now that it controls FannieMae and FreddieMac." Even if approved, however, Stark warned that it is unlikely that the cheaper rates would kick in "until the new President takes office."

PAWN THE PICASSO OR PARK IT OFFSHORE? Are hard times hurting the wealthy too? ABC and CBS came up with a split decision. CBS' Ben Tracy checked out the pawnbrokers of Beverly Hills--call them "collateral lenders" charging 4% per month--and found that even the rich need quick cash, handing over luxury watches, jewels, Ferrari, Bentley, even Picasso as security. On the other hand, Brian Ross of ABC's Investigates landed an assignment to Miami Beach to spot moneyed artlovers sipping bubbly at the Art Basel Fair. The fair is sponsored by UBS, the Zurich-based bank that is under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service for operating as many as 20,000 illegal tax shelters. UBS is suspected of using its patronage of the arts to solicit new business and to smuggle assets offshore.

IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA NBC aired a shocking report on the public health crisis in Zimbabwe from Jonathan Miller on Wednesday. Unfortunately Miller works for Britain's Channel 4 so NBC could not post his report online. Now ABC follows up with London-based Jim Sciutto narrating African videotape. "Zimbabwe has had no functioning government since disputed elections in June," Sciutto reminded us. Now Harare's sewage system has collapsed and it has run out of money for chemicals to purify drinking water. Life expectancy was already just 37 years for men and 34 for women even before cholera broke out. "The only relief," mused Sciutto darkly, is "free grave sites for families of the victims."

FROM LAHORE TO MUMBAI Only ABC filed a follow-up on the Mumbai luxury hotel attacks. Dan Harris continues to report from what once was known as Bombay. He brought us up to date on the police interrogation of Ajmal Qasab, the only gunman still alive of the ten terrorists who infiltrated the port city by dinghy. Qasab's target was Mumbai's central railroad terminus, not those five star hotels. He is accused of killing 55 people at the station before being injured and arrested. Harris traced the investigation into his training by Lashkar e-Taiba, the Kashmiri separatist guerrillas, who recruited him from a life of crime on the streets of the Pakistani city of Lahore.

PRESIDENTIAL SUCCESSION Most of the rest of the day's newscasts focused on Presidents--past, present and future. CBS' Bill Plante and ABC's John Cochran covered the release of the final tranche of audiotapes by Lyndon Johnson's Presidential Library of his Oval Office telephone conversations. The tapes covered 1968 and his last days in office in 1969. Plante selected LBJ's pick of Daniel Inouye as Hubert Humphrey's running mate and his support for Mayor Richard Daley during the Chicago Convention when the whole world was watching. Cochran picked his condolences to Edward Kennedy when brother Robert was assassinated and his suspicion that Richard Nixon was committing treason by conspiring with the Saigon government to sabotage the Vietnam peace process. "Absolutely no credibility," was how Nixon defended himself by telephone.

ABC made a big deal of its exit interviews with the current President earlier in the week (here, here, here and here) as anchor Charles Gibson landed a trip to Camp David to talk with George and Laura Bush. NBC was considerably less impressed by the lame duck's words of wisdom. Correspondent John Yang was assigned to the sitdown instead of an anchor and the exchange was summarized in a single segment. George equates leaving office with braking from 100 to 5 mph. Laura envisions George standing at a barbecue wearing a Barney's Dad apron flippin' burgers.

Looking forward to Inauguration Day, ABC anchor Charles Gibson filed a tribute to the Stafford Foundation, a charity that laid down $1m to rent all 300 rooms in Washington DC's downtown Marriott Hotel for three days to entertain supporters of Barack Obama who could otherwise not afford to attend. Wounded veterans, young people, the homeless, the terminally ill, victims of battery will be invited to stay at the hotel, watch the parade from the hotel's 12th floor balcony over Pennsylvania Avenue and dance the night away. NBC assigned Andrea Mitchell, habitually the hardest of its hard news correspondents, to the fluffy fashion beat for the day. Whose gown would Michelle Obama wear to the Inauguration Ball? According to Women's Wear Daily the shortlist is Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, Zac Posen "or the more traditional Oscar de la Renta."

HERE’S GAFFNEY Adrienne Gaffney has joined our happy band of news junkies who "watched last night night's you do not have to." Here are her observations on the same content Tyndall Report just monitored at Vanity Fair magazine's Culture & Celebrity blog.