Constitutionally speaking, Barack Obama's primetime address to a Joint Session of Congress did not qualify as a State of the Union, but the nightly newscasts gave it the full treatment anyway as Story of the Day. All three anchored from Washington; all three led with their White House correspondents' preview of the President's key talking points; all three aired a q-&-a with senior White House advisor David Axelrod.     
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video thumbnailABCState of the Union style address by President ObamaSpeech to Congress will focus on economyJake TapperWhite House
video thumbnailABCEconomy is officially in recessionFed's Bernanke sees recovery at Senate hearingsBetsy StarkNew York
video thumbnailNBCEconomy is officially in recessionRecovery hinges on jobs, banks, homes, consumersCarl QuintanillaWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSReal estate housing market prices continue to fallBuyers' market produces bargains in MichiganCynthia BowersDetroit
video thumbnailABCFederal porkbarrel spending from earmarked projectsOmnibus spending includes agricultural extrasJonathan KarlCapitol Hill
video thumbnailCBSIraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesPentagon prepares 19-month troops out scheduleDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailNBCDubai is booming, glamorous construction centerLuxury retail, real estate bubbles burstMartin FletcherDubai
video thumbnailNBCUSAirways 1549 crash lands in NYC's Hudson RiverCrew, controler testify at House hearingsTom CostelloWashington DC
video thumbnailABCAlcohol: health risks from extra drinkingIncreases middle aged women's cancer incidenceJohn McKenzieNew York
video thumbnailCBSGolf tournament sponsored by Northern Trust bankThrows lavish parties after taking federal fundsBill WhitakerLos Angeles
FULL STATE OF THE UNION TREATMENT Constitutionally speaking, Barack Obama's primetime address to a Joint Session of Congress did not qualify as a State of the Union, but the nightly newscasts gave it the full treatment anyway as Story of the Day. All three anchored from Washington; all three led with their White House correspondents' preview of the President's key talking points; all three aired a q-&-a with senior White House advisor David Axelrod.

Given that all three White House correspondents were given the same briefing, it is no surprise that they should file similar previews. "Hopeful notes" about a "serious situation," was how NBC's Savannah Guthrie characterized Obama's tone on the economy…"walk the line between alarm and optimism," was how ABC's Jake Tapper put it…"rally the people" amid a "crisis of confidence," according to CBS' Chip Reid.

All three isolated healthcare, education and energy as his priority policy areas--"themes that will sound familiar," as NBC's Guthrie put it. And all three warned that the speech will rely on generalizations. "The President will not discuss specific hard choices"--ABC's Tapper…"The President will not offer a lot of new details"--CBS' Reid…"The President will not lay out specific policy proposals"--NBC's Guthrie.

LOOK BACK IN ANGER Apparently, populist ire against federal bailouts of Wall Street financiers and reckless mortgageholders has struck a chord. NBC's Savannah Guthrie predicted that the Barack Obama "will acknowledge the anger many Americans feel." White House advisor David Axelrod told NBC anchor Brian Williams that "the President shares their anger." "There is anger out there. People are miffed," ABC anchor Charles Gibson suggested to Axelrod. "There is no doubt there is great anger in the country," Axelrod replied.

The President invited the networks' Sunday morning anchors along with their nightly newscast colleagues to lunch. David Gregory of NBC's Meet the Press reflected on Obama's desire to deal with "some of the anger in the country" while George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week referred to "bailout fatigue out there--there is a lot of anger."

In the face of all this rage Axelrod tried humor with CBS anchor Katie Couric. She asked whether the Obama Campaign had envisioned such deep economic trouble while running for office. Axelrod repeated the candidate's joke on the campaign plane: "You know there is still time to throw this thing."

WHEN WILL THE MELTDOWN STOP? When will the recession be over? ABC's Betsy Stark offered us Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Bernanke's testimony before a Senate committee, "what he called a reasonable prospect of the recession ending this year." Will the government have to nationalize banks to stabilize the system? "A public-private partnership," was his euphemism.

NBC continued its series Meltdown: Making Sense of it All to answer the recession question a different way. CNBC's Carl Quintanilla laid out a series of four economic metrics that would be evidence that the fiscal stimulus was doing the trick: the weekly rate of unemployment claims will have to slow; so-called toxic assets will have to be removed from banks and sold; house prices will have to stop falling; consumer confidence will have to improve. On those last two, Quintanilla had no good news: the annual rate of decline in real estate values is 18% in major cities; and consumer confidence is at "its lowest level since 1967."

BUYER’S MARKET IN MOTOWN Looking for bargain home prices? Check out Cynthia Bowers' Hitting Home feature on CBS. "The Detroit real estate market is not for wimps," she declared. "Desperation is making for some incredible deals." Sales are soaring because prices are falling so fast. According to Bowers, the national median price of a home is $175,000; the median price in Motown is $7,000. Yes, seven thousand dollars.

FAUNA & FLORA Crickets…beavers…swine…poultry…blackbirds…blueberries…hybrid grapes. These fauna and flora were all the target of Jonathan Karl's sarcasm in his Your Money feature on ABC. Funding for each project had been earmarked by a member of Congress--from Utah and Mississippi and Iowa and Georgia and Kansas and New York--and added to the federal omnibus spending bill. Karl condemned the line items as porkbarrel spending. "With the exception of the period right after September 11th, this bill includes the biggest increase in federal spending since 1978 thanks, in part, to the millions earmarked for blueberries, blackbirds and crickets."

Okay, Jonathan, take a deep breath and relax.

The total size of the spending in the omnibus bill is $410bn. There are 9,000 earmarked projects in the bill. The eight singled out averaged $1.23m. Assuming they were typical, all 9,000 earmarks would total $11bn, which is less than 3% of the total. Those weasel words thanks, in part save Karl's report from being inaccurate--but it certainly seems designed to mislead.

A TIMETABLE FOR WITHDRAWAL Word from the Obama Administration has it that the Commander in Chief has settled on plans to withdraw every combat brigade from Iraq on a 19-month schedule, winding up the military occupation in the fall of 2010. NBC anchor Brian Williams asked White House advisor David Axelrod if he could confirm that story: "I can evade," he smiled, deferring to his boss to make the announcement. CBS' David Martin at the Pentagon had no such compunction. The plan would leave "training and assistance brigades" in Iraq, 50,000 troops in all.

PALM SHAPE GOES PEAR SHAPED "The poster child of excess," NBC's Martin Fletcher called it, "the world's tallest building, palm-shaped islands reclaimed from the sea, Arabia's only indoor ski slope." He was, of course, reporting from Dubai where the global recession of falling oil prices and tightening credit have finally hit home. Daily layoffs in Dubai number 1,500 and Fletcher showed us a skyline of idle construction cranes. At the city's annual real estate fair he managed to get this soundbite: "It has become a bit slow." Opined Fletcher: "Nobody will admit how bad things are. They are doing their best to keep their game face on."

SULLY REPEATS HIS PITCH FOR MORE PAY When CBS anchor Katie Couric snared her 60 Minutes exclusive with Chesley Sullenberger two weeks ago, part of the deal--besides having him describe the emergency crash landing of USAirways Flight 1549 into the icy Hudson River--was to allow him to voice his warning about the erosion of airline safety because of the industry's cost cutting. Now Sullenberger gets the same deal from a House committee, parlaying his "hero's welcome," as ABC's Lisa Stark put it, into a soapbox about cuts in pilots' pay and pensions. NBC's Tom Costello repeated Sully's warning that experience "is now drying up as military pilots avoid the relatively low pay of the airlines." Costello also played soundbites from the testimony of air traffic controller Patrick Harten recalling the powerless jetliner disappearing from his radar screen: "I believed at that moment I was going to be the last person to talk to anyone on that plane alive."

NO BOOZE SCARE, REALLY Public health researchers assured ABC's John McKenzie that their report about cancer risks was "not meant to scare women but to inform them." If that was their intention, they certainly failed. "There is no level of alcohol consumption that can be considered safe," was the conclusion that McKenzie quoted. He cited statistics that 13% of tumors in four organs in middle-aged women--the breast, the liver, the rectum, the esophagus--"may" be caused by alcohol consumption. Women in that age group who average two or more drinks a day increase their risk of getting cancer by 15%, McKenzie reported--although he did not say from what to what.

A 15% increased risk might be from a teetotaler's 40% to a toper's 46%…or from 6% to 7%.

THANKS TMZ IN TIGER’S ABSENCE The big golf news that closed the newscast at CBS and at ABC was Tiger Woods' return to the professional tour after eight months off for knee surgery. Presumably because of the usual copyright restrictions concerning sports footage, neither report is available as an online videostream. So NBC's Lisa Myers and CBS' Bill Whitaker brought us a second golf story courtesy of TMZ, the celebrity news Website. It concerned last weekend's Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles, which, CBS' Whitaker reminded us, had been broadcast by CBS Sports.

Northern Trust is a Chicago-based bank that parlayed its sponsorship of the golf tournament into a weekend of parties for clients and executives on the Sunset Strip and in Santa Monica. That is where TMZ comes in. It obtained party entertainment footage featuring country singer Sheryl Crow and vintage rock-n-rollers Chicago.

What made the parties news was that Northern Trust had also received $1.6bn from the Treasury Department's TARP bailout, so theoretically the taxpayers helped pay Chicago's $100,000 performance fee. NBC's Myers told us the bankers' explanation: "It is a healthy bank that actually made money last year and these are legitimate marketing activities…It did not seek the bailout money but was asked to take it by the government." CBS' Whitaker added that "the tournament contract was signed a year ago before the government bailout existed."