One way or the other, the ailing economy topped the news agenda. NBC and CBS led with the plight of Detroit's automobile industry as both General Motors and Chrysler submitted so-called viability reports to the Treasury Department in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy. ABC led with the fiscal stimulus legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law at a ceremony in Denver. ABC's newscast was anchored by substitute Diane Sawyer. The $787bn spending bill was Story of the Day.    
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video thumbnailNBCEconomy is officially in recessionPresident Obama signs $787bn stimulus packageChuck ToddWhite House
video thumbnailNBCState government budgets face fiscal crisisCalifornia gridlock may cause 20,000 layoffsGeorge LewisLos Angeles
video thumbnailABCMunicipal government budgets face fiscal shortfallMayors seek feds' aid for thousands of projectsDavid MuirNew Jersey
video thumbnailNBCAutomobile industry in financial troubleGM, Chrysler file survival plans, seek fundsPhilip LeBeauDetroit
video thumbnailCBSPacific Rim diplomacy: Secretary Rodham Clinton tripTalks in Japan on global recession disruptedWyatt AndrewsTokyo
video thumbnailCBSSen Roland Burris (D-IL) takes officeFaces ethics questions over Blagojevich tiesNancy CordesCapitol Hill
video thumbnailABCSoda rots teeth: epidemic of Mountain Dew mouthPepsico agrees to help Appalachian dentistDiane SawyerKentucky
video thumbnailCBSChild abuse and neglect prevention effortsThrowaway toddler survived shocking traumaJohn BlackstoneCalifornia
video thumbnailCBSFinancier Allen Stanford investigated for fraudSEC probes suspiciously high interest paymentsBob OrrWashington DC
video thumbnailABCBaseball spring trainingReality TV show winners from India earn tryoutBob WoodruffFlorida
CHECK OUT THE RECOVERY WEBSITE One way or the other, the ailing economy topped the news agenda. NBC and CBS led with the plight of Detroit's automobile industry as both General Motors and Chrysler submitted so-called viability reports to the Treasury Department in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy. ABC led with the fiscal stimulus legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law at a ceremony in Denver. ABC's newscast was anchored by substitute Diane Sawyer. The $787bn spending bill was Story of the Day.

The ingredient elements of the spending bill--$287bn in tax cuts, $140bn in aid to states, $120bn for infrastructure and so on--had already been reported so, besides the ceremony, what was newsworthy about the stimulus legislation was how it would be monitored. "Republicans across the nation vowed to analyze every dollar of spending in search of waste and fraud," CBS' Chip Reid reported. All three White House correspondents publicized the White House's own monitoring Website NBC's Chuck Todd visited and was not impressed: it "lacks specific details--even under a learn more tab the same numbers are simply presented in a different sleek graphic form."

ABC's Jake Tapper promised that "the most immediate effect" of the stimulus will be felt by the unemployed in the form of jobless benefits and copayments for health insurance premiums. NBC's George Lewis illustrated how state governments need the funds. California has a $40bn projected deficit and the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tristate deficit will total $27bn. "In California they are calling it a fiscal disaster," with 20,000 state workers facing layoffs. ABC's David Muir illustrated how municipalities need the funds. He covered the same $150bn list of 18,750 projects from the nation's mayors that his colleague Lisa Stark covered two weeks ago. Back then Stark was sarcastic, joking about aquatic centers and golf courses and butterfly gardens. Muir treated the list with more respect, singling out school boilers and water pumps and airport runways and flood control.

For NBC's In Depth, Lisa Myers itemized conservative arguments against the measure. She came up with four separate complaints. First, some of the spending represents the porkbarrel priorities of powerful Democrats, like high speed rail in Harry Reid's home state of Nevada or so-called clean coal in Richard Durbin's home state of Illinois. Second, too much of the spending is structured as non-specific block grants for education, healthcare and community development rather than being itemized. Third, the demand-side argument that federal deficit spending per se constitutes stimulus is incorrect. Conservatives, Myers noted, argue that only "properly designed" spending does the trick. Fourth, $787bn is just too much money.

TURN THE LIGHTS OFF AND THE HEAT DOWN All three newscasts covered the dire straits of the automobile industry. General Motors applied for a further federal loan of $16bn, in exchange promising to slim down to just four brands--Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC--laying off 30,000 workers and closing five north American plants. CNBC's Phil LeBeau, filing for NBC from Detroit, reported that the United Autoworkers have agreed to rework their labor contracts. ABC's Chris Bury (embargoed link) pointed to additional pressure on the UAW "to accept less money for retiree healthcare and take some of it in General Motors stock instead of cash." As for Chrysler, CBS' Anthony Mason publicized its cost cutting attempts: its corporate headquarters now have fewer clocks and lightbulbs and its hallways are now 4F cooler to save on heat.

Yet CBS' Mason put all that cost cutting in perspective: annual automobile sales two years ago were 16m, now they are 10m. "That volume has gone down enormously. If that 10m continues they are all going to be in trouble."

LUBRICATED CBS has Wyatt Andrews traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her East Asian tour. Andrews sat down with the Secretary to ask about her talks with the Japanese government but his interview appeared to be little more than a pretext to allow him to air a clip of Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa "trying to explain the Japanese recovery plan to the media." The operative word there is trying since Nakagawa "appeared to be so drunk." The Tokyo government has "just lost its fiscal point man in such a humiliating way."

PROBABLY HAVE $1,000 "We will probably have $1,000 for you." That was the key phrase of the soundbite that CBS' Nancy Cordes aired from Sen Roland Burris. The Illinois Democrat was reconstructing a conversation he had with the office of now-impeached Gov Rod Blagojevich before the governor appointed him to the Senate. Cordes then aired a portion of Burris' press conference two days ago in which he declared he did not "promise any favors of any kind" to the governor. Mused Cordes: "With every press conference he holds…Burris seems to be digging himself in deeper." ABC substitute anchor Diane Sawyer asked George Stephanopoulos of This Week whether this amounts to ethical jeopardy for Burris. "Very unlikely," was the answer. Political jeopardy, certainly--"he is guaranteed now a serious rival, a primary rival when he runs in 2010."

WHAT KIDS DEW IN THE MOUNTAINS Diane Sawyer took advantage of her substitute appearance as ABC anchor to follow up on her 20/20 documentary last Friday on poverty in Appalachia A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains. Mountain Dew Mouth is the dentists' nickname for the toothlessness of so many in the region because the popular soda has "high caffeine, acid, sugar consumed in such quantities that it destroys enamel on the teeth." Sawyer interviewed Indra Nooyi, the boss of PepsiCo on Good Morning America about the dental damage her brand is doing. "Nooyi told me personally how concerned she and the company are about any overuse or misuse of the soda among small children." PepsiCo will supply a van for a traveling dental practice in Kentucky's mountains. Mountain Dew will remain on the market.

THROWAWAY DOES NOT GO OVERBOARD John Blackstone's five minute feature entitled Mia's Story for CBS is worth a look. It deals with a topic that could so easily be maudlin or saccharin or melodramatic yet Blackstone's level tone allows its emotional charge to speak for itself instead. "Kids like Mia are sometimes called throwaways," he explained, "too damaged to recover."

CRICKET & BASEBALL "Stanford's financial empire has a global reach with offices in Montreal, Zurich and Antigua with 50,000 clients in 131 countries," CBS' Bob Orr told us when the Securities & Exchange Commission raided Sir Allen's offices in Houston and Memphis and froze his assets on suspicion of fraud. Orr also noted that the billionaire Stanford is a sports fan, sponsoring golf and cricket tournaments. Any self-styled cricket lover who prefers Twenty20 to test matches should have alerted suspicions years ago.

All three newscasts filed a baseball story as spring training gets under way. NBC's Kerry Sanders (no link) and CBS' Armen Keteyian covered Alex Rodriguez' press conference in which he described his cheating with steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers between 2001 and 2003. "I knew we were not taking Tic Tacs," he understated as he described shooting himself up with over-the-counter dope purchased in the Dominican Republic. CBS' Keteyian aired Rodriguez' sort-of-apology for lying to his anchor Katie Couric on 60 Minutes: "Look. When you are in denial, when you are not being honest with yourself, it is hard to be honest with Katie."

ABC's baseball closer by Bob Woodruff was from ESPN's sports magazine Outside the Lines. It profiled a pair of javelin throwers from India who won a TV reality show there entitled The $1m Arm. Danesh Kumar Patel and Rinku Singh were the winners of a throwing competition. Their prize was a trip to Bradenton Fla to try out at spring training with the Pittsburgh Pirates. "It is only throwing the ball from one place to another," complained Singh's mother about our national pastime. "I do not understand it." I bet she can understand a test match, though.