President Barack Obama generated the Story of the Day by virtue of his bipartisan outreach not because of his diplomatic bridgebuilding. Obama made news by granting his first television interview as President to al-Arabiya, the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based cable news channel. Yet the more newsworthy story was his visit to Capitol Hill to lobby for $825bn in fiscal stimulus over the next two yaers. He held meetings with members of both the House and the Senate--but only with members of the Republican Party. ABC and NBC led with Obama's GOP outreach. CBS chose winter weather as an icestorm moved from the southern plains towards the Atlantic seaboard.    
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video thumbnailABCEconomy is officially in recessionPresident Obama lobbies Hill GOPers on stimulusJake TapperWhite House
video thumbnailNBCIslamic World anti-US sentiment is prevalentPresident Obama tries outreach with TV interviewRichard EngelBaghdad
video thumbnailCBSAfghanistan's Taliban regime aftermath, fightingUSArmy faces savvy propaganda on civilian deathsElizabeth PalmerAfghanistan
video thumbnailCBSFinancier Bernard Madoff accused of $50bn fraudSenate hearings into SEC oversight failuresWyatt AndrewsWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCGov Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) accused of corruptionImpeachment trial hears FBI wiretap audiotapeLee CowanChicago
video thumbnailCBSWinter weatherIcestorm emergency across southern plainsDave PricePittsburgh
video thumbnailABCMultiple births: octuplets born in CaliforniaHuge maternity ward delivery team assembledMike von FremdCalifornia
video thumbnailNBCSalmonella outbreak investigatedFDA alleges peanut processor went lab shoppingTom CostelloWashington DC
video thumbnailABCRetirement trends, activities, communities surveyedMexican town offers discount on eldercareJeffrey KofmanMexico
video thumbnailCBSNovelist, essayist John Updike dies, aged 76ObituaryKatie CouricNew York
OBAMA’S OUTREACH TO GOP & ISLAM President Barack Obama generated the Story of the Day by virtue of his bipartisan outreach not because of his diplomatic bridgebuilding. Obama made news by granting his first television interview as President to al-Arabiya, the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based cable news channel. Yet the more newsworthy story was his visit to Capitol Hill to lobby for $825bn in fiscal stimulus over the next two yaers. He held meetings with members of both the House and the Senate--but only with members of the Republican Party. ABC and NBC led with Obama's GOP outreach. CBS chose winter weather as an icestorm moved from the southern plains towards the Atlantic seaboard.

Tyndall Report complained Monday about Chip Reid's scattershot approach to his new job as CBS' White House correspondent. No complaints today. Reid now reverts to a conventional style, joining his colleagues Jake Tapper at ABC and Chuck Todd at NBC, in a straightforward account of President Obama's sortie to Capitol Hill. The meetings are unlikely to produce votes, especially from the House GOP caucus. ABC's Tapper predicted support from "a dozen" Republicans; NBC' Todd vaguely counted "probably not a lot;" CBS' Reid put it as opposition by "nearly all."

The payoff, instead, appeared to be atmospheric. Many Republicans "commended Obama for changing the tone and making later compromise possible," CBS' Reid reported. NBC's Todd saw the visit as an opportunity to "showcase" his campaign promise to change that tone. ABC's Tapper quoted a soundbite from House Minority Leader John Boehner on Good Morning America: "There is a dialogue. I am encouraged that the President is engaged in this dialogue."

As for the details of the legislation, both ABC's Tapper and CBS' Reid quoted the following complaint from Rep Michael Pence, a GOP leader: "The only thing it will stimulate is more government and more debt." Pence's observation is confusing when framed as a complaint since it is an accurate, even supportive, description of how Keynesian fiscal counter-cyclical stimulus is supposed to work. ABC's Betsy Stark offered anchor Charles Gibson an Economics 101 on the relative benefits or deficit spending versus tax cuts to inject stimulus. The government spending has the larger multiplier effect because some tax cuts are saved instead of spent; the cuts have a quicker impact because they appear immediately as an increase in workers' take-home pay.

CBS' Reid elaborated on Pence's protest against government spending: $50m for the National Endowment for the Arts; $335m for teenage sex education; $200m for improvements to the DC Mall; $20bn in highway funds that will take more than 18 months to be disbursed; $15bn in similarly delayed alternative energy projects. Add them all together and $36bn out of a total stimulus of $825bn hardly seems grounds for opposition.

CRUSADER REPLACED Barack Obama's interview on TV al-Arabiya was covered from the Middle East by NBC and ABC. ABC's Simon McGregor-Wood (embargoed link) filed from Jerusalem on a "sea change" message compared with how President George Bush--"You are either with us or against us"-- was received. Reporting In Depth from Baghdad, NBC's Richard Engel replayed Bush's 2001 declaration that his War on Terrorism is a "crusade." Engel reported that Obama "has taken the Moslem World by surprise, speaking with unexpected candor and respect." In the interview, he referred to his Moslem kin and onetime residence in Islamic lands. Yet Engel reminded us that Bush "spent hundreds of millions of dollars to win hearts and minds" to no avail. The United States' Arab language TV channel al-Hurra "is barely watched." ABC's McGregor-Wood was similarly cautious: "The President's new language is buying goodwill where it is desperately needed but people here are looking for results."

Elizabeth Palmer, who continues her tour in Afghanistan for CBS (last week's reports are here and here), demonstrated a specific mechanism whereby the United States attracts a negative reputation in Moslem society. She outlined the propaganda contest between the foreign military and Taliban guerrillas over dead Afghan civilians: are villagers killed in a US raid neighbors or enemy fighters? "It is very, very difficult to say you are going to avoid any loss of civilian life," was how Gen David McKiernan of the USArmy put it to Palmer. By very, very difficult he meant impossible. "We try to avoid it. The insurgent does it on purpose," the general explained. Nevertheless that US military admits responsibility for 20% of all civilian deaths; it blames the Taliban for 80%. "This interview will be used by the Taliban," McKiernan predicted. "They will use it to say that US forces kill innocent civilians."

HIGH FINANCE POSTER BOYS Each newscast chose its own poster tycoon for financial scandal. CBS' Wyatt Andrews covered Senate hearings into the Securities & Exchange Commission's regulation--or lack thereof--of the $50bn fund that Bernard Madoff is accused of running as a Ponzi scheme. The questions led to "the frustration of the committee," Andrews reported, since the criminal investigation of Madoff inspired repeated No Comments from SEC staffers.

ABC's David Muir followed up on John Thain, the former boss of Merrill Lynch who was interviewed by CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo on NBC Monday. Muir reported that the $4bn Thain paid in bonuses to colleagues just before Bank of America purchased the loss-making brokerage will be investigated by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of New York. Muir repeated the standard Wall Street explanation for their necessity: "The bonus pay is needed to keep good talent at the banks." Then Muir repeated the standard response: "If you do not give the bonuses, just where else on Wall Street are these bankers going to go?"

Exhibit C was Arthur Nadel. CNBC's Scott Cohn reported from Sarasota Fla for NBC on the 76-year-old money manager who disappeared last week. Nadel had been "at the pinnacle of Sarasota society," a fixture on the charity circuit and a major donor for the opera house building fund. Cohn told us that federal prosecutors allege he faked his own suicide even while leaving behind instructions to his wife on where to transfer their money. Nadel has now reappeared and is in jail without bail.

BLAGO SENATE TAPES STILL UNPLAYED The notorious federal wiretaps with which prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald claims to have incriminated Rod Blagojevich have still not been published. So the impeachment trial of the Governor of Illinois had to make do with more mundane evidence than purported shakedowns of would-be senators. It is no surprise then, that ABC and CBS did not bother to assign a reporter to cover the charges of trying to extort campaign contributions from a racetrack. NBC's Lee Cowan manfully tried to turn Illinois sleaze into national headlines. He was helped by Rachel Maddow at NBC's sibling cable news channel MSNBC. When Blagojevich had his sitdown with her as part of his national media tour "he came as close as he has to suggesting that he did use influence in filling Barack Obama's Senate seat," as Cowan put it. The soundbite is far from a confession of corruption, however: "There are political negotiations and leveraging, which is all very much part of the process."

THE ICE STORM An icestorm stretched from Texas to Kentucky and is preparing to move eastwards through Pennsylvania to New England. Highways are slick and tree limbs are heavy and electric power cables are being downed. NBC had Jim Cantore, of its sibling Weather Channel, play meteorologist from Paducah. CBS relied on its Early Show weathercaster Dave Price in Pittsburgh. ABC treated the weather as a straight news story, sending Ryan Owens from its Dallas bureau to show us Oklahoma's state of emergency.

HEART, LUNG PROBLEMS, SEIZURES, JAUNDICE An unidentified woman gave birth to nine-week-premature octuplets by cesarean section in a southern California hospital. Multiple births usually inspire the adorable-yet-exasperating style of coverage evinced in anchor Brian Williams's exclamation--"Wow!"--on NBC or that by ABC anchor Charles "eight, count 'em, eight" Gibson: "Overwhelming for that mother--overwhelming just to hear the story." So it was a refreshing and honest departure from those cliches when Mike von Fremd interspersed his corny cartoon visions of mountains of diapers on ABC's A Closer Look with a severe caution from Dr Richard Paulson of the USC Medical Center: "From the fertility point of view this is a very, very serious medical complication of fertility care and we do our best, actually, to avoid it as much as possible." From New York, NBC's in-house physician Nancy Snyderman pitched in with the medical pitfalls that threaten the eight newborns--"heart or lung problems, seizures and jaundice."

LAB SHOPPING The Peanut Corporation of America was blasted by the Food & Drug Administration for its salmonella-tainted batches of processed peanuts, NBC's Tom Costello reported. Lab Shopping is the name of the technique whereby suspicious food is not withdrawn after testing positive but is taken elsewhere for further analysis until it is found safe. The FDA alleges that PCA went lab shopping twelve times in two years, said Costello, and that PCA "took no steps to improve the cleaning or manufacturing methods after salmonella was found in its plant, a clear violation of the law." Costello quoted the response by PCA: "It has cooperated fully with investigators." So far the salmonella has killed eight people.

SAN MIGUEL IS THE NEW SUN CITY Well done Jeffrey Kofman! Congratulations for landing an assignment in San Miguel de Allende in the central highlands of Mexico for ABC. Kofman profiled the coming trend of cross border migration: not immigrants heading north to work illegally but the elderly heading south to stretch their retirement dollars into pesos. Kofman showed us a newly-constructed assisted living facility in San Miguel and listed the cheap cost of eldercare there: daily cooking and cleaning by a housekeeper--$100 per week; assisted living accommodation--$1400 per month; daily medical care for Alzheimer's patients--$1,000 per month. In the United States the Alzheimer's care is thirteen times more expensive.

RABBIT AT REST All three anchors mentioned the death of novelist John Updike, aged 76. CBS' Katie Couric filed the most detailed obituary, noting that his satanic The Witches of Eastwick was his best remembered story even as the Rabbit quartet was his most acclaimed. "In his prolific career Updike was more inclined to tackle lesser evils--sex, divorce and adultery--the issues lying just below the surface in every suburb."

Sometimes Couric can be annoyingly prudish. Sex is not an evil, not even a lesser one. It is a pleasure!