Friday made it a clean sweep. All five days this week saw an economic development qualify as Story of the Day: Monday's was corporate layoffs; Tuesday and Wednesday followed the fiscal stimulus debate on Capitol Hill; Thursday saw President Barack Obama blast Wall Street bonuses. Now the Commerce Department publishes statistics on the Gross Domestic Product for the final three months of 2008. The national economy is shrinking at a 3.8% annual rate, the steepest quarterly decline since 1982. ABC and NBC led with the recession. CBS, anchored by substitute Harry Smith, chose to kick off with the federal investigation into the salmonella outbreak's origin in a Georgia peanut processing factory.    
click to playstoryanglereporterdateline
video thumbnailNBCEconomy is officially in recession: 4Q08 GDP down 3.8%Steel industry slowdown is symptom of slumpScott CohnIndiana
video thumbnailCBSEconomy is officially in recession: 4Q08 GDP down 3.8%GOP opposes pork, non-temporary stimulus itemsWyatt AndrewsCapitol Hill
video thumbnailABCIraq: political progress, elections scheduledLocal police responsible for precinct securityJim SciuttoBaghdad
video thumbnailNBCIraq: political progress, elections scheduledGender quota ensures plenty of women candidatesRichard EngelBaghdad
video thumbnailCBSIsrael-Palestinian conflictGaza youth determined to take fight to IsraelAllen PizzeyGaza
video thumbnailABCMultiple births: octuplets born in CaliforniaShould fertility clinic treat mother of six?John McKenzieNew York
video thumbnailCBSSalmonella outbreak investigatedFDA launches criminal probe of Ga peanut plantMark StrassmannAtlanta
video thumbnailCBSFinancier Bernard Madoff accused of $50bn fraudKin sheltered assets in Florida as SEC probedArmen KeteyianNew York
video thumbnailNBCNFL Super Bowl XLIII: Cardinals vs SteelersTampa fails to enjoy usual hoopla spendingRoger O'NeilTampa
video thumbnailABCKenya poverty relief, development effortsEmigrant physicians return, fund village clinicCharles GibsonNew York
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING ECONOMY Friday made it a clean sweep. All five days this week saw an economic development qualify as Story of the Day: Monday's was corporate layoffs; Tuesday and Wednesday followed the fiscal stimulus debate on Capitol Hill; Thursday saw President Barack Obama blast Wall Street bonuses. Now the Commerce Department publishes statistics on the Gross Domestic Product for the final three months of 2008. The national economy is shrinking at a 3.8% annual rate, the steepest quarterly decline since 1982. ABC and NBC led with the recession. CBS, anchored by substitute Harry Smith, chose to kick off with the federal investigation into the salmonella outbreak's origin in a Georgia peanut processing factory.

Monday, Tyndall Report applauded ABC's use of a wheel format to cover accelerating corporate layoffs nationwide. Friday's recession statistics received the same wheel treatment: ABC's exaggerating Betsy Stark kicked off from the New Jersey suburbs where consumer spending "completely shut down at the end of last year;" she handed off to Barbara Pinto in Chicago who detailed how the crisis in the automobile sector has metastasized across the entire industrial midwest; Laura Marquez rounded off the wheel in San Francisco where she warned that the California economy is bracing for a suspension of $3.7bn in direct payments from the state government.

On NBC, Scott Cohn of CNBC took a similar angle to ABC's Pinto. Cohn filed from Indiana to show us how the demand for industrial production "just hit a chill" around the world: "Steel production has fallen by half." The corollary to the drop in global trade is the shuttering of factories in China's Guangdong export zone. NBC' Ian Williams covered the millions of jobless migrant workers from a village in Sichuan Thursday; now ABC's Terry McCarthy (embargoed link) covers the same crisis from the village of Zhangjiajie in Hunan.

CANTOR CUTS THROUGH STIMULUS CONFUSION Federal fiscal stimulus continues to be the only newsworthy antidote to the rapidly shrinking economy. CBS filed a couple of reports: Anthony Mason warned that "many economists now forecast the drop in GDP this quarter could be even worse than last." Mason visited the corporate headquarters of Honeywell, the global technology conglomerate. CEO David Cote recounted visiting the White House to urge President Barack Obama to work for a pump priming "measured in trillions not hundreds of billions." CBS' Wyatt Andrews wrestled with the thorny problem of trying to explain Republican opposition to the Democrats' $825bn deficit-spending plan. His report suffered from the same problems as previous efforts even as it achieved fresh insight.

First the problems: Tyndall Report has noted the pitfall of explaining GOP opposition by focusing on specific, trivial porkbarrel elements. When CBS' Chip Reid tried to explain what it was about the $825bn that Republicans objected to, he singled out just $36bn as non-stimulative; NBC's Savannah Guthrie a mere $2.2bn; ABC's Jonathan Karl less than $2bn. Now CBS' Andrews peddles in the same trivia. He listed six specific line items in the bill as "too much goody bag and not enough stimulus" yet the grand total of the six--money for ATV trails and beehives and digital TV sets and sexually transmitted diseases and the arts and smoking--does not even reach $1.5bn. The efficacy of the deficit spending bill as a whole in producing demand-side stimulus is affected in no material way by these six items--either their absence or their presence. Andrews' decision to cite them is misleading reporting. It only sows confusion.

So what did CBS' Andrews manage to explain clearly? He quoted the complaint of Rep Eric Cantor (R-VA) that $200bn out of the $825bn does not represent a temporary stimulus to be applied to the next two years but "permanent spending." Cantor showed Andrews his Won't Go Away List to argue that the $200bn should not be spent now, even if it is currently beneficial, because three and four years from now such spending will be remain unrepealed and will therefore be counterproductive. Cantor's Exhibit A was $15bn in Pell Grants for college students to pay tuition; Exhibit B was $13bn to local school districts to pay for special education.

On ABC, Pierre Thomas offered an example of what local governments would do if the federal government does pay a stimulus directly to municipalities. They would reverse budget cutbacks and looming layoffs in police departments. He showed us the threat to "hard-fought gains in crime reduction" if the thin blue line erodes in Columbus Ohio and Atlanta and Phoenix and Sacramento and Boston.

As for that repeated focus on the most trivial aspects of the stimulus package, ABC's George Stephanopoulos, anchor of This Week, cited the proposed $50m for the National Endowment for the Arts as an example of the bill "getting defined by its least popular elements." He predicted "a lot of amendments" when the bill is debated in the Senate, with extra tax breaks for corporations and agricultural subsidies for rural states, to garner Republican support.

DASCHLE, STEELE & GREGG There was a smattering of other political news inside-the-Beltway besides the stimulus debate. ABC's Jake Tapper broke the story that Tom Daschle, the former senator who is the nominee for Health Secretary, was given free use of a car and driver for three years when he worked for a private equity firm but failed to report the perk as income. It was only when he was being vetted for the Cabinet post that he "corrected this mistake, paying more than $100,000 in back taxes plus interest"… David Gregory, anchor of NBC's Meet the Press, called the Republican National Committee's selection of Michael Steele as its new chairman "a new face, literally and substantively." Steele is an African-American from Maryland. "The Republican Party has to become more than just a regional party in the South"…CBS' Bob Schieffer (no link), anchor of Face the Nation, reflected on speculation that Judd Gregg, the senator from New Hampshire, may become Barack Obama's Commerce Secretary. He juggled the cynical--"they are just trying to figure out a way to get one of the Republicans out"--with the goo-goo--Obama "is really serious" about bipartisanship.

NBC's rookie White House correspondent Chuck Todd caught a dose of what ailed his colleague Chip Reid at CBS earlier in the week. Instead of settling on a single headline for his report, Todd tried the portmanteau approach, mixing labor union policy with bonuses on Wall Street with a reference to Steele and another one to Gregg. If a single story is not important enough for its own two-minute package then really it rates no mention at all on the nightly news. Relegate it to the First Read blog instead.

BAGHDAD’S CAMPAIGN ‘09 NBC and ABC both had correspondents in Baghdad ahead of the weekend's provincial elections. ABC's Jim Sciutto told us that 14,000 candidates are competing for 400 seats nationwide. He called it "an election taking place in something approaching normality," although what he meant by "normality" is unclear since, he reported, five candidates had been murdered within the previous 24 hours. NBC's Richard Engel focused on the quota that reserves 25% of elected position for women. "In past elections, female candidates were anonymous, most of them wives and sisters of male politicians," he conceded. Maybe not this time. Fighting on a platform to deliver water, power and sewers, meet Madhiha al-Mosuwi the so-called Mother Teresa of Baghdad, running for city council, and her rivals Hadija Jabri and Sabah al-Tamimi

PIZZEY PERSISTS WITH GAZA Since the ceasefire on the Gaza Strip two weeks ago, only Allen Pizzey of CBS has continued to file reports for the nightly newscasts. "Their world has been blasted to bits," he shrugged, contemplating the fate of Palestinian youth. "Their options for the future are little better." Pizzey has already surveyed Gaza's rubble, shown us the smuggling tunnels from Egypt being rebuilt and investigated possible war crimes by the IDF. Now Pizzey offers two potential paths for young Gazans. Some scavenge through unexploded Israeli ordnance to recover ammunition to build new rockets to fire back across the border. Others go back to school, but "even the Islamic University was pounded by airstrikes putting students' chances of graduating in jeopardy." Pizzey concluded that "career choices tend to be influenced by family circumstances and for many revenge is a more likely path than education."

EIGHT IS MORE THAN ENOUGH ABC is following the mounting backlash against the southern California octuplets. Mike von Fremd started to cut through the sentimentality surrounding the story when it broke Monday. Wednesday, in-house physician Timothy Johnson suggested malpractice by the mother's fertility clinic. Now John McKenzie follows up on Los Angeles Times' reports that the still unidentified 33-year-old mother of eight already had six children--aged 7,6,5,3 and twins of 2--when she became pregnant. McKenzie quoted official guidelines that stipulate a maximum of two eggs to be implanted by in-vitro fertilization for a woman of that age. NBC's in-house physician Nancy Snyderman quoted the average hospital cost of caring for premature infants with complicated deliveries at $400,000 per baby: "Multiply that by eight."

PEANUTS CATCH-UP All week long NBC tracked the peanut story coming out of Georgia: Tom Costello picked up on lab shopping by the Peanut Corporation of America Tuesday; Robert Bazell emphasized the record size of the recall of processed foods Wednesday; Thursday Bazell listed the Georgia factory's unsanitary conditions when it was finally inspected by the Food & Drug Administration. Now that the FDA has referred the PCA-based salmonella outbreak to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, ABC's Lisa Stark and CBS' Mark Strassmann are playing catch-up. They both reported that a shipment of peanuts from the plant was rejected by Canadian customs officials in September of last year. CBS' Strassmann described the shipment as "filthy, putrid, decomposing, unfit for food and later shown to include metal fragments." Yet even then, "the FDA never inspected the facility."

HOMESTEADING IN PALM BEACH CBS filed an Investigation by Armen Keteyian into Bernard Madoff, the disgraced financier, who may have run his $50bn investment fund as a Ponzi Scheme. Keteyian examined whether Madoff acted alone or whether his family suspected his operation was a scam. He focused on Florida's homestead law, which allows residents who lose lawsuits and owe judgments to exempt their homes from seizure of assets. Keteyian revealed that Madoff's sister-in-law Marion successfully applied for homestead status for her $4.6m Palm Beach mansion in 2006. Madoff's wife Ruth filed for similar protection back then for her $9.3m home, also in Palm Beach, but was rejected: "After reapplying it was granted just two weeks ago."

SUPER SEATS STILL AVAILABLE NBC Sports televises the NFL Super Bowl this year so a little cross-promotion from NBC News comes as no surprise. What was surprising was what a downbeat and unboosterish tone Roger O'Neil struck from Tampa. "The opulence of the past is less opulent," he worried as corporate parties are not being thrown this year by Playboy nor by Sports Illustrated nor by Victoria's Secret. Tickets are still available from scalpers and "even NBC had trouble selling the last of its 67 game-time commercials."

AFRICA IN STATEN ISLAND AND NASHVILLE Africa, the slightly covered continent, was the focus of the weekending feature on both ABC and NBC. NBC did not even leave New York City for Jeffrey Rossen's Making a Difference profile--although he had to take a boat. Rossen traveled to Staten Island to profile Jacob Massaquoi, a human rights activist during the Liberia Civil War: "Rebels killed his brother right in front of him. Jacob himself was tortured and shot in the leg. So he fled to New York." He now runs a community center for his fellow refugees.

ABC's Persons of the Week are Milton and Fred Ochieng. Anchor Charles Gibson told us about the Kenyan-born brothers who trained to be physicians at Dartmouth College and Vanderbilt University. While they were in Nashville, the Ochiengs attracted the attention of a Barry Simmons, a local television news reporter. Simmons quit his TV job to become a documentary filmmaker. His movie Sons of Lwala follows the Ochiengs' decision to honor their late parents, both killed back home by HIV/AIDS, by raising the funds and returning to run a clinic in their native village.