For the second straight day the frigid cold on the northern plains was the lead item on the newscasts of ABC and NBC. CBS decided not to make it unanimous as anchor Katie Couric traveled to Washington to interview President-elect Barack Obama in preparation for her Inauguration Day primetime special Change and Challenge. She kicked off her newscast with excerpts from her q-&-a, which she titled Exclusive, even though Obama has hardly been the shrinking violet towards the mainstream news media. Anyway, the double-digit temperatures below zero Fahrenheit still qualified as Story of the Day.    
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video thumbnailNBCWinter weatherDangerously frigid air mass across upper midwestLee CowanChicago
video thumbnailCBSSaudi exile Osama bin Laden manhunt continuesMakes 22-minute anti-Israel, anti-Bush audiotapeDavid MartinPentagon
video thumbnailNBCObama Presidency-elect poll approval ratingsNBC News finds 66% support, disapproval of BushChuck ToddNew York
video thumbnailCBSSmall plane pilot may have faked flight emergencyIndiana money manager on lam arrested in FloridaArmen KeteyianNew York
video thumbnailABCComputer CEO Steve Jobs of Apple may be sickKey to firm's success takes leave of absenceNeal KarlinskySeattle
video thumbnailABCUnemployment: corporate layoffs continueRemedies include green jobs, stimulus, trainingBill WeirIndiana
video thumbnailNBCSurgery errors should be prevented by checklistsPilot-style verbal go-ahead adds safetyRobert BazellNew York
video thumbnailNBCMilitary personnel amass challenge coin collectionsRecord of service, career achievements in silverRoger O'NeilFlorida
video thumbnailABCFirst Family Obama prepares for White House lifeFirst Mother-in-Law Marian Robinson to move inJohn BermanNew York
video thumbnailCBSPresident Obama Inauguration ceremonies previewedTeenage rehab house marching band joins paradeSteve HartmanNew Jersey
COLD WEATHER CONTINUES WHILE KATIE QUIZZES BARACK For the second straight day the frigid cold on the northern plains was the lead item on the newscasts of ABC and NBC. CBS decided not to make it unanimous as anchor Katie Couric traveled to Washington to interview President-elect Barack Obama in preparation for her Inauguration Day primetime special Change and Challenge. She kicked off her newscast with excerpts from her q-&-a, which she titled Exclusive, even though Obama has hardly been the shrinking violet towards the mainstream news media. Anyway, the double-digit temperatures below zero Fahrenheit still qualified as Story of the Day.

All three networks took the opportunity of the cold snap to showcase their morning programs' weathercasters. Dave Price of the Early Show filed CBS' report from a frosty Green Bay. He could have been in International Falls or Flint, each of which recorded their coldest January 14th on record. On NBC, Al Roker of Today followed up Lee Cowan's lead from Chicago with a forecast filed from New York City's Rockefeller Center. ABC's weather coverage was filed by Chris Bury in Chicago, but it included a soundbite from Sam Champion of Good Morning America.

ABC's Bury explained why this winter weather happened to be newsworthy: "This cold snap is unusual for two reasons. Temperatures are reaching lows not seen in decades; and this bitter blast of Canadian air is really sticking around, making life miserable." NBC's Cowan reached for comparisons. "A meat locker is actually warmer than most of the midwest," he complained. "Even breathing is painful, like you are taking a bite out of ice cream only to find you have got a cavity."

AVE ATQUE VALE Out of hiding in the high Hindu Kush, Osama bin Laden bid farewell to George Bush as he leaves office and bid welcome to his successor Barack Obama, referred to not by name but as "the elected leader and heir." CBS had David Martin cover bin Laden's 22-minute audio message from the Pentagon while ABC assigned Brian Ross to it in New York. Ross found bin Laden "short of breath" on the tape "suggesting a possible health problem"--or it could have been the altitude. Whereas bin Laden forecast a "long war with a stubborn opponent" for the United States while it is "drowning in the economic crisis," Ross noted that his "repeated references" were to the military incursion into the Gaza Strip by Israel, against which he called for jihad. CBS' Martin noted that it had been eight months since bin Laden last released a message and that the Pentagon's commandos have "not had a good shot at him since he was cornered in the Tora Bora Mountains" more than seven years ago.

CBS led its newscast with those portions from Katie Couric's so-called Exclusive interview with Obama that concerned bin Laden. Obama's priority was to "capture or kill" the fugitive. Failing that, he would be satisfied by keeping him on the run and weakening his infrastructure. "If we have so tightened the noose that he is in a cave somewhere and cannot even communicate with his operatives, then we will meet our goal."

TORTUOUS Only ABC picked up on the day's other terrorism-related story from the Washington Post. Jan Crawford Greenburg came up with an explanation of the case of Mohammed al-Qahtani that can only be described as tortuous. The Post covered the decision by Susan Crawford, a Pentagon official, not to put al-Qahtani on trial because torture had been used to interrogate him. The Guantanamo Bay inmate is suspected of being the so-called 20th hijacker on September 11th, 2001. Crawford Greenburg tried to explain how Crawford's findings of torture squared with the Bush Administration's insistence that We Do Not Torture, to use Vice President Dick Cheney's words.

This was Crawford Greenburg's explanation. The specific authorized techniques used on al-Qahtani--"sleep deprivation, isolation, being threatened with dogs"--are not torture. When they are applied in a fashion that is "too persistent and too aggressive" they are. So the "high-ranking officials" who approved the techniques were not torturers. Those who "carried them out, out there in the field," were.

And by the way, has Zacarias Moussaoui not already pleaded guilty to being the missing 20th hijacker anyway? In al-Qahtani, the interrogators seemed to have been torturing the wrong man.

THE HONEYMOONER CBS' Exclusive soundbites from Katie Couric's interview with President-elect Barack Obama covered three other issues. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama pledged to begin regional diplomacy with Syria and Iran in search of a two-state solution. On his nominee for Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, who skipped paying self-employment taxes for four years, Obama called it "an innocent mistake, a common mistake." When Couric inquired whether or not the tax cuts Obama proposes, which constitute 40% of his fiscal stimulus, would translate into economic activity, he conceded that even he was skeptical: "Are some people going to just pay down their credit cards or save some of that money? Absolutely." NBC News, meanwhile, surveyed the degree of popular support for the President-elect in its opinion poll with The Wall Street Journal. Political Director Chuck Todd delivered the top line, noting a tough patch that included the withdrawal of Bill Richardson's Cabinet nomination and the corruption charges against Rod Blagojevich in Obama's hometown. Finding an "enormously high" approval rating of 66%, Todd concluded that "none of it has touched him. He is Teflon. He is in the middle of the honeymoon."

AEROBATIC STUNTS Marcus Schrenker attracted coverage from all three networks. ABC got the jump on the Schrenker story Monday when Dan Harris covered the pilot's disappearance in midair over Alabama just before his small plane crashed in Florida. Now Armen Keteyian on CBS and Michelle Kosinski (no link) on NBC catch up. Schrenker was arrested in a tent in a Florida campground with his wrists slashed in an apparent suicide attempt. Police claimed to have tracked him by following the origins of a wireless e-mail message. The Indiana money manager had "just lost a lawsuit, lost his investment advisor's license and was under investigation for allegedly defrauding his clients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars," listed NBC's Kosinski, before issuing the coup de grace. "His wife had just filed for divorce." Schrenker, who posted his aerobatic stunts on YouTube, is accused of faking the plane emergency before parachuting out of his autopiloted plane. CBS' Keteyian reported that he now has the reputation as a Hoosier Bernard Madoff: "It seems financial fraudsters are literally falling from the sky."

JOBS OFF JOB FOR SIX MONTHS Only one week ago, ABC's Neal Karlinsky had reported on the health rumors surrounding Steve Jobs, the boss at Apple. Back then Jobs blamed his gaunt appearance on "a simple, treatable hormone imbalance." Now the pancreatic cancer patient concedes that his health problems are "more complex than I originally thought." Karlinsky and CBS' Anthony Mason and CNBC's Maria Bartiromo all covered the six-month leave of absence for the father of the iMac and the iPod and the iPhone. "More than any other company, the CEO of Apple Computer has really been synonymous with the company's success," Bartiromo observed on NBC. "Steve Jobs was and is the face of Apple."

JOBS EVAPORATE IN ELKHART What's the Fix?, ABC continued to ask as it tried to find solutions to the nation's dysfunctional economy. Monday David Muir looked at the burst bubble that used to be the Phoenix housing market. Tuesday Betsy Stark studied all those depleted 401(k) accounts for newly-strapped Asheville NC retirees. Now Bill Weir travels to Elkhart, the Indiana town where unemployment has zoomed from 4% to 12% in a single year because the market for recreational vehicles, which are made there, has collapsed. You remember Elkhart. It is where Seth Doane mourned the plight of the shuttered Dakota restaurant (here and here) in CBS' The Other America series. Weir's fix for unemployment turned out to be a combination of green subsidies, infrastructure stimulus, job retraining plus his advice to "apply, volunteer and pray."

SCALPEL TIMEOUT NBC's Robert Bazell filed an In Depth report on a system that claims to improve the incidence of death and complications after surgery for hospital patients by 36%. It is inspired by airline pilots, who follow a safety checklist before every flight. So in an operating theater, facts as simple as the patient's identity, the paperwork, the X-rays and the equipment are systematically checked before the scalpel cuts. "Many hospitals in the United States already employ a checklist and experts say patients should ask if they do--and if they do not they should call for their own timeout."

NOT JUST SAYING THAT NBC deviated from this week's trend by deciding not to close its newscast with a pre-Inaugural feature. Anchor Brian Williams explained that he is so proud of his personal collection of military Challenge Coins that he assigned Roger O'Neil to file an entire feature on them. O'Neil gave us World War I history and the difference between "military unit" coins and "commander" coins and the alcoholic origin of the term "challenge" and the Highland Mint's popularity and the secret handshake method of delivery. So now you know.

CBS and ABC stuck with Obamafeatures. ABC's John Berman clearly had fun with the news that Marian Robinson, the First Mother-in-Law-to-be, will take up residence in Barack Obama's White House. He channeled Mark Twain ("Adam was the luckiest man. He had no mother-in-law") and Henny Youngman ("I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport") before averring that mothers-in-law play an ever more important role in young families' childrearing. "And I am not just saying that because I have to, which I do."

CBS' Steve Hartman nailed a fine human interest feature on the Bonny Brae Knights, "just a ragtag group of bad news snares," who have been invited to march in the Inaugural Parade. Bonny Brae is a residential treatment center for troubled teenage boys in New Jersey whose director lied about his charges' drumming abilities, "all minor details he figured he would fix if by some miracle the group ever got accepted." So the acceptance letter arrived and now it is practice, practice, practice.

By the way, ABC's Berman concluded: "Maybe Mark Twain was wrong: Adam was not lucky; men like Obama are--and I am not just saying that because I have to."