The Federal Reserve Board was the unanimous choice for Story of the Day as Chairman Benjamin Bernanke announced that short-term interest rates would be set as low as they could go. The Fed would charge banks an annual rate of less than 0.25%, the cheapest money it has ever offered. All three newscasts led with the alarm signal of how shaky the economy has become.    
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video thumbnailABCInterest rates lowered by Federal Reserve BoardSlashes short term rates to close to zeroBetsy StarkNew York
video thumbnailCBSBank credit, debit card rates, fees, chargesInterest hiked, cash limits cut without warningMark StrassmannTennessee
video thumbnailCBSWar on Drugs: Mexico narcotics gang warsTurf battles by four cartels kill 5K this yearBill WhitakerMexico
video thumbnailABCIllegal immigration increases, sparks backlashFederal ICE operates deportation air flightsDan HarrisEl Salvador
video thumbnailNBCAfghanistan's Taliban regime aftermath, fightingSilver Star awarded after friendly fire deathRichard EngelIllinois
video thumbnailNBCColon cancer coverageColonoscopies sometimes fail to detect tumorsRobert BazellNew York
video thumbnailNBCFirst Lady history surveyed: variety of rolesSemi-official position is paid no salaryAndrea MitchellWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCGov Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) accused of corruptionState impeachment panel probes pay-for-playKevin TibblesIllinois
video thumbnailCBSTV crimestopper host John Walsh is bereaved fatherFlorida police finally close 1981 murder caseKelly CobiellaFlorida
video thumbnailCBSHollywood movies box office trendsEscapist fare boosts revenues during recessionSandra HughesHollywood
CHAIRMAN BERNANKE PUSHES ON A STRING The Federal Reserve Board was the unanimous choice for Story of the Day as Chairman Benjamin Bernanke announced that short-term interest rates would be set as low as they could go. The Fed would charge banks an annual rate of less than 0.25%, the cheapest money it has ever offered. All three newscasts led with the alarm signal of how shaky the economy has become.

"This recession is not a typical recession and so the Fed's traditional response--cutting rates--is actually having very little effect," warned CNBC's Trish Regan on NBC. So the headline news that short term interest rates were being cut turned out to be less important than the second announcement. "The Fed is going on a buying spree," Regan declared, pledging in excess of $2tr to relieve banks of shaky mortgages, auto loans and credit card debt in order to encourage them not to hoard their capital. "The economy will not improve until interest rates fall for consumers as well," ABC's Betsy Stark predicted, and everyone knows credit cards and home mortgages "are nowhere near zero."

"Economic shock and awe," ABC's Stark called it, reminding us of cruise missiles. CNBC economist Steve Liesman and CBS' Anthony Mason came up with ballistic metaphors to describe the difference between lowering rates and buying bad debts. "With no silver bullet for the economy, the Fed fired a shotgun blast," was how Mason put it. "It has decided to put down the pea shooter and pick up the elephant gun," declared Liesman. On ABC, anchor Charles Gibson interviewed Liz Ann Sonders, strategist at the Charles Schwab brokerage firm. She used the technical term for running the printing presses to try to inflate your way out of trouble: "Quantitative easing…pouring reserves into the financial system." Sonders chose herding for her figure of speech. "It is almost like a cattle prod. They are doing everything they can to prod lending."

CBS' Mark Strassmann offered an example from Bank of America's credit cards to illustrate how commercial banks undercut the Federal Reserve's easing efforts. He used Miriam Majors, a nurse in rural Tennessee, to show how the "downward spiral" of consumer credit works. When one credit card contracted her line of credit, her credit rating score was reduced, which made her card's interest rate skyrocket from 8% to 28%, which made her cancel her bank plastic and switch to her local credit union. Strassmann found one estimate that such a spiral will make $2tr-or-so, some 40% of consumer credit, unavailable by 2010.

THIS IS YOUR HEAD OFF DRUGS For the second day in a row, CBS altered the normal structure of its newscast by running an extended feature after its first commercial and relying on anchor Katie Couric alone with no correspondent in its penultimate segment. Monday, Armen Keteyian Byron Pitts aired a seven-minute investigation into the specialty chemical company Rohm & Haas. Now Bill Whitaker files a six-minute Exclusive from Tijuana on the "orgy of violence" that is afflicting Mexico.

Narcotics gang wars have accounted for 5,000 murders this year since Mexican federal authorities decapitated the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix Cartel. Its boss Eduardo Arellano is under arrest and the unintended consequence is "this bloodbath, as the next generation of gangsters battles to become the new, undisputed power cartel." The combat to control $14bn in annual cocaine-marijuana-methamphetamine smuggling pits Arellano Felix against the "brutally aggressive" western Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf Cartel in the east and the Juarez Cartel in the north.

Using genuinely graphic images, Whitaker demonstrated that Juarez is the narcowar's epicenter. He showed us the "grisly new tactic--beheadings. This headless corpse hung above a busy highway almost two hours before police covered it with a sheet."

DIVIDED FAMILY Illegal immigration was such a major story in 2007 (46 reports) that it is amazing how rapidly it has disappeared from the news in 2008, once legislation to grant residency to the visaless was defeated in the Senate. Dan Harris' report for ABC's A Closer Look on ICE deportations was astonishingly only the third story on the topic all year, only the 21st in 2008 with an immigration angle of any kind. Harris flew along as a plane full of deportees was shipped home to El Salvador at a federal cost of $680 a seat, returning home empty. Harris stayed in central America to trace David Garcia's return home. Garcia had left two citizen children behind in the United States but can now embrace his peasant poppa for the first time in 16 years.

GOLD STAR FAMILY NBC's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel returned home for the third part of his Tip of the Spear series. The first two were filed from the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan in October (here and here) when he came under Taliban guerrilla fire while embedded at a remote USArmy outpost. During his reporting Sgt John Penich was killed by mortar rounds fired by his own comrades. For part three of Tip of the Spear Engel traveled to Penich's hometown in Illinois where his mother prizes the sergeant's posthumous Silver Star for valor under friendly fire; his brother, a Harley Davidson mechanic, keeps the dead soldier's bandana on his handlebars; and his father awaits a spring thaw so he can place the marker on his grave under the great oak trees of the town cemetery.

DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO THIS STORY Medical research out of Canada that undercuts claims of the effectiveness of colonoscopies at preventing cancer had all three anchors scrambling. The research tripled the estimate of overlooked tumors, from failing to find 10% of fatal cases to between 30% and 40% of them. "Does this news mean I do not need to get my colonoscopy?" asked NBC's Robert Bazell rhetorically. "A lot of doctors I talked to said the answer to that is absolutely not." Anchor Brian Williams concurred: "That is a great danger of stories out there like this one." At CBS, anchor Katie Couric, the nation's leading publicist for the necessity of colon screening, insisted: "Do not use this study as an excuse not to get screened." "Absolutely," her in-house physician Jon LaPook agreed. On ABC anchor Charles Gibson drummed the point home: "Experts stress it is still crucial to get colonoscopies." His in-house physician Timothy Johnson (embargoed link) implied that some of those Canadians may not have prepared properly for their screening: "Cooperate with the instructions for cleaning out," he lectured.

MITCHELL GETS SWEPT OFF HER FEET WITH HER CLIPS Andrea Mitchell was in a light inauguration mood for NBC's In Depth. She dug through the archives to find video clips of First Ladies past--Jackie and Eleanor, Hillary and Rosalynn, Nancy and Laura--in order to illustrate the change facing Michelle Obama. Before moving into the White House, the First-Lady-to-be had been "her family's chief breadwinner." Now the Ivy League educated lawyer intends her "number one role to be mom-in-chief." Her husband will be pulling down a $400,000 annual salary but Mitchell wondered, besides her "big staff, the use of an airplane and a nice budget," whether stay-at-home mother Michelle should also get a paycheck. "Sometimes being the partner is an overlooked talent." Using an inapt analogy just so she could end her cavalcade of clips with more black-and-white glamour, Mitchell confused the issue: "As they used to say about Ginger Rogers, she did everything Fred Astaire did except backwards and in high heels."

Nobody believes a First Lady does "everything" a President does.

BLAGO TIDBITS Only NBC decided to update us on the Rod Blagojevich story from Illinois. Kevin Tibbles came up with three tidbits. Rep Jesse Jackson, a fellow Democrat, has been informing against the governor for two years, alleging a pay-for-play shakedown of his wife. Impeachment proceedings got underway at the state legislature in Springfield. And legal scholars are questioning the strength of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's case in the alleged Senate seat conspiracy.

NO CLOSURE, ONLY JUSTICE Primetime TV's leading reality crimebuster and victims' rights activist returned in tears to the horrific murder that launched his career. Florida police made the formal determination that the late Ottis Toole had been the assailant who kidnapped John Walsh's six-year-old son Adam from a Sears department store back in 1981 and beheaded him. ABC's Pierre Thomas (embargoed link) paid tribute to the decision by Walsh in his grief to turn "unspeakable pain into something positive." In 1984 Walsh co-founded the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and in 1988 his TV show, a "national neighborhood watch," went on the air. CBS' Kelly Cobiella quoted the still-bereaved pursuer of America's Most Wanted: "There is no closure. Only justice."

STILL & MOTION PICTURES Both CBS and ABC tried to close their newscasts with attempts at a cheery silver lining in the recession. ABC anchor Charles Gibson introduced us to a program for homeless families in New York City's Central Park. Dayna Camp's Portrait Project does not help them find housing but it does take their photograph. "It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the box office, exclaimed CBS' Sandra Hughes from Hollywood. She found a reverse economic indicator in the current surge in receipts: "In five of the past seven recession years, as the economy went down ticket sales went up."