The White House is dominating the news agenda. Of the twelve nightly newscasts so far this week--four weekdays on three networks--the White House correspondent has been assigned the lead nine times (4 of 4 on CBS; 3 of 4 on NBC; only 2 of 4 on ABC…so much for Jake Tapper's legendary Alpha Masculinity). Thursday, the White House's proposed budget for Fiscal Year '10 went three-for-three as lead item, becoming the unanimous Story of the Day. The President proposes that the federal government spend $3.55tr next year--$1.80tr from tax revenue; $1.75tr from borrowed money.    
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video thumbnailNBCFederal budget for FY10: $3.55tr spending proposedWhite House proposal for taxes, $1.75tr deficitSavannah GuthrieWhite House
video thumbnailABCFederal budget for FY10: $3.55tr spending proposedHigher tax rates proposed for wealthy bracketDavid MuirNew York
video thumbnailCBSMilitary combat dead: coffins returned to Dover AFBLift blanket ban on press photos, defer to kinDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailABCNorth Korea nuclear weapons program resumesUSNavy missiles prepare to intercept ICBM testMartha RaddatzHawaii
video thumbnailNBCRussia economy slumps into steep recessionNewly impoverished launch anti-Putin backlashJim MacedaMoscow
video thumbnailCBSAutomobile industry in financial troubleGeneral Motors posted $31bn in losses for 2008Anthony MasonNew York
video thumbnailNBCNewspaper industry in financial troubleRocky Mountain News goes out of businessLee CowanChicago
video thumbnailCBSObesity poses major public health hazardFast food diet helps British put on weightRichard RothLondon
video thumbnailCBSObesity poses major public health hazardChinese urban dwellers adopt western lifestylesCelia HattonChina
video thumbnailABCFormer President George Bush begins retirementFormer First Lady Laura describes life in DallasJonathan KarlHouston
THE BUDGET, NOT IN BILLIONS BUT TRILLIONS The White House is dominating the news agenda. Of the twelve nightly newscasts so far this week--four weekdays on three networks--the White House correspondent has been assigned the lead nine times (4 of 4 on CBS; 3 of 4 on NBC; only 2 of 4 on ABC…so much for Jake Tapper's legendary Alpha Masculinity). Thursday, the White House's proposed budget for Fiscal Year '10 went three-for-three as lead item, becoming the unanimous Story of the Day. The President proposes that the federal government spend $3.55tr next year--$1.80tr from tax revenue; $1.75tr from borrowed money.

The budget made news for both its spending proposals and its taxation plans. Taxes would be cut for working families and the middle class; they would be raised for the wealthy and for corporations. CBS' Chip Reid went overboard in characterizing this as "a major redistribution of wealth" as did ABC's Tapper who saw an attempt "to redirect vast sums of wealth from wealthy individuals and businesses to people from lower incomes."

"Major" and "vast" are relative terms. In the context of $3.55tr in annual spending, the proposal is to raise $0.99tr from the wealthy over the course of a decade and to relieve the middle class of $0.77tr in taxes over the same ten year period. Given those numbers, marginal or incremental are the accurate terms. CBS' Reid pointed out that $0.64tr of the increased payments by rich people were accounted for by the temporary tax cut that is scheduled to expire in 2011 anyway. The remainder of the hikes, his colleague Ben Tracy explained in a profile of Mike O'Toole, the wealthy gondalier of Venice Cal, will consist of limits on deductions by the rich for their charitable contributions and their mortgage interest payments.

Hype was also bestowed on Barack Obama's spending proposals. NBC's Savannah Guthrie said the budget "signals major policy shifts in healthcare, education and energy" while CBS' Reid saw it "take America in a fundamentally new direction" and ABC's Tapper saw "a break from the past in a dramatic, if not radical, fashion." NBC's Guthrie highlighted the proposal for a "huge increase in the Pell Grant program for college tuition and more government lending to students." ABC's David Muir pointed to the plan for an increase in the tuition tax credit, from two years at $1,800 per student to the full four years at $2,500 per.

On ABC, George Stephanopoulos called the proposals to fund universal healthcare and to limit greenhouse gas emissions of carbon "two scorpions in a bottle because they call for so many new revenues." Specifically, the budget sets aside $0.63tr over the next decade to fund a transition to universal healthcare, even though no such plan is yet in place. ABC's in-house physician Timothy Johnson (at the tail of the Stephanopoulos videostream) found healthcare experts "thrilled" at that proposal. "They see it as a very strong signal from the President that he is indeed very serious about healthcare reform."

As for the Republicans, CBS' Reid characterized their response as "a typical Democratic budget, all tax and spend." With $1.75tr to be borrowed in a single year, that is clearly inaccurate, even though Reid did not point out the GOP error explicitly. That was left to CNBC economist Steve Liesman on NBC. Anchor Brian Williams asked him: "How are we paying for it? Are we literally printing money to pay for it?" "Not yet," was Liesman's reply. "That is not, as I understand it at the moment, the intention of the Treasury. They are going to issue a whole lot of debt."

"I missed the point," economist Liesman added, "when we got from counting deficits in billions to trillions."

FLAG DRAPED AT DOVER All three newscasts assigned a reporter to cover the decision by the Pentagon to end its 18-year-old absolute ban on photography of flag-draped military coffins at Dover AFB. The decision whether or not to allow news coverage of the arrival ceremonies will now be made by the bereaved kin. "Everybody understands a family's need for privacy," stated CBS' David Martin from the Pentagon, "but that is not why the ban was put in place." Also at the Pentagon, NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reminded us of an "embarrassing shot on split screen TV" of President George Bush pere "bantering with the press while Americans killed in Panama arrived at Dover." The ban was instituted when Desert Storm, Bush's next war, started.

"Other democracies let their citizens see their young men and women come home from war in flag-draped coffins," CBS' Martin remarked. NBC's Miklaszewski reminded us of Canada's Highway of Heroes that his colleague Kevin Tibbles covered last fall. ABC's David Wright considered the public relations pros and cons of showing the coffins. Offering visual evidence of the "human cost of war" might undermine political support, he mused. "Many believe that is what happened in Vietnam. Yet public opinion turned against the Iraq War even without the pictures."

CBS' Martin ended his report in a tone of controled fury. "The younger President Bush was accused of using the ban to cover up the true cost of his own war in Iraq but the fact is you cannot cover up something that costly. All you have to do…is walk into the physical therapy room at Walter Reed."

STAR WARS AT THE READY The Pentagon's Pacific Command made use of Martha Raddatz' reporting from Pearl Harbor for ABC to send a message to Kim Jong Il, the leader of North Korea. Adm Timothy Keating bragged of his anti-missile defense in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, coordinating Aegis missiles with space radar monitoring. North Korea may be preparing to testfire an InterContinental Ballistic Missile. Said the admiral to Raddatz: "Should it look like it is something other than a satellite launch, we will be fully prepared to respond as the President directs."

THE VIEW FROM ELEKTROSTAL In January, Jim Maceda told us for NBC's In Depth, "flash protests by opposition groups swept through Moscow, moving by subway, scuffling with riot police." Their slogan was Russia Without Putin. During the eight years of Vladimir Putin's presidency, Russians "willingly gave Putin a free hand in exchange for prosperity, sacrificing personal freedoms to be part of a new resurgent Russia." Now that resurgence has evaporated: oil and gas exports have collapsed; the ruble has fallen by 25%; the economy shrank by 9% in a single month. The Kremlin's response, Kremlinologists told Maceda, consists of "trying to buy time, pumping billions of dollars into bankrupt factories while cracking down on anti-Kremlin protests, hoping that somehow this global crisis solves itself."

ENCLAVE, CTS OR MALIBU? Phil LeBeau, CNBC's automobile expert, filed from the White House for NBC because General Motors' bosses had traveled to the Beltway to make their case for a car loan…"at least $9bn more, perhaps as much as $16bn more, and many believe there will be more after that." The plea for cash came as GM announced its total losses for 2008. CBS' Anthony Mason had fun with long division in explaining the $31bn shortfall. That is $85m each day. Or $3,700 lost for each vehicle sold. "GM is burning through $2bn in cash every month." On the bright side, Mason recommended a test drive of a Buick Enclave or a Cadillac CTS or maybe the Chevrolet Malibu.

COWAN’S TRIVIA CHALLENGE NBC's Lee Cowan joined the death watch for the newspaper industry that CBS' Jeff Greenfield covered Monday. This time it was not a title protecting itself by entering bankruptcy but an outright shutdown. Denver's Rocky Mountain News "is printing its own obituary tomorrow, its final edition," Cowan declared. "There are only about ten cities left that still have major competing dailies."

Cowan did not list them but we can guess eight:

The Times, the Post and the Daily News
The Globe and the Herald
The Post and the Times
The Inquirer and the Daily News
The Post-Gazette and the Tribune-Review
The News and the Free Press
The Tribune and the Sun-Times
The Times and the Post-Intelligencer

Help! Which are the other two?

GET ON YOUR BIKE CBS' in-house physician Jon LaPook launched a lively wheel of reporting from his New York studio, stopping in England and China, on his way to a wrap-up with anchor Katie Couric. His topic was how to prevent cancer. Fully two-thirds of all tumors can be avoided by changing one's lifestyle: do not smoke; exercise more; lose weight; eat fewer fats. The doctor's public policy recommendations urged municipalities to build walking and bicycle paths; schools to serve less junk food and to ban vending machines; and inner city groceries to improve stocks of fresh fruits and vegetables. What about England and China? Richard Roth told us that Londoners are in love with "cheap and cheerful" American fast food chains while Celia Hatton worried that the urban middle class is "dumping the traditional low fat diet and ditching bicycle paths for the expressway."

BUSH NEEDS SOME CHAIRS Both CBS and ABC decided to close their newscasts with a First Lady. NBC's Savannah Guthrie (no link) and ABC's David Wright have already filed their glowing profiles about Michelle Obama's new role. Now comes CBS' Bill Plante, who coos that the new First Lady, seen on the cover of both Vogue and People, "goes from traditionally elegant and formal to relaxed and casual with ease." ABC's Jonathan Karl landed the rarer assignment, a sitdown with Laura Bush about the first month of her husband's retirement. "We have very little furniture," at their new home in Dallas, she explained. "The other night I had 16 people for dinner and I had to borrow chairs from the Secret Service next door."