A quartet of stories attracted the unanimous attention of the assignment desks at all three nightly newscasts. All three filed updates on the United Nations' global warming conference in Copenhagen; all three covered a new plan from Senate Democrats for a federal government role in the healthcare system; all three followed five inside-the-Beltway college students to Pakistan where they were found consorting with a suspected terrorist and arrested. The Story of the Day--and the choice to lead off all three newscasts--was the winter weather that has descended early on the northern plains.    
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video thumbnailNBCWinter weatherGreat plains blizzard followed by wind chillsJohn YangWisconsin
video thumbnailNBCGlobal warming greenhouse effect climate changeEPA presents US policy at UN ConferenceAnne ThompsonDenmark
video thumbnailCBSGlobal warming greenhouse effect climate changeSkeptics trumpet hacked e-mails of scientistsWyatt AndrewsWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCDrought parches east Africa, EthiopiaKenya cattle herds die, tribal feuds escalateMartin FletcherKenya
video thumbnailCBSMoslems in western nations recruited by terroristsStudent quintet from DC tracked to PakistanBob OrrWashington DC
video thumbnailABCAfghanistan politics: rampant government corruptionLeaders' narco-graft, everyday official briberyNick SchifrinAfghanistan
video thumbnailABCHealthcare reform: universal and managed carePublic option changed to federal Medicare planJonathan KarlCapitol Hill
video thumbnailCBSFederal porkbarrel spending in stimulus programIsolate $7bn of $787bn as frivolous projectsSharyl AttkissonWashington DC
video thumbnailABCFine art photographer Liu Bolin camouflages himselfPaints his body to blend into Chinese cityscapeClarissa WardBeijing
video thumbnailABCGolf champion Tiger Woods in late night car crashPublic relations advice for scandal-plagued iconJohn BermanFlorida
EARLY WINTER IN WISCONSIN A quartet of stories attracted the unanimous attention of the assignment desks at all three nightly newscasts. All three filed updates on the United Nations' global warming conference in Copenhagen; all three covered a new plan from Senate Democrats for a federal government role in the healthcare system; all three followed five inside-the-Beltway college students to Pakistan where they were found consorting with a suspected terrorist and arrested. The Story of the Day--and the choice to lead off all three newscasts--was the winter weather that has descended early on the northern plains.

NBC and CBS both consulted meteorologists on the frigid wind chill that followed early winter snows. NBC used Mike Seidel of its cable TV sibling The Weather Channel for a forecast from Des Moines. CBS used Dave Price (at the tail of the Reynolds videostream), weathercaster for its Early Show, in the Minneapolis suburbs. As for reporting on the storm, CBS went to Dean Reynolds in Chicago while ABC and NBC had their correspondents in Wisconsin, NBC' John Yang in Waukesha and ABC's Barbara Pinto in Madison. Altogether they told the same story: "high winds and bitter cold"--NBC's Yang…"ferocious winds and bitter cold"--ABC's Pinto…"gale force winds, plummeting temperatures and drifting snow"--CBS' Reynolds.

CBS' Reynolds showed as a storm-tossed lighthouse on Lake Michigan. NBC's Yang pointed to 73 miles of a closed interstate highway in Missouri. "The state of Wisconsin, for all intents and purposes, is shut down," declared ABC's Pinto.

HIDE THE DECLINE & IT IS A TRAVESTY NBC's Anne Thompson was in Copenhagen to cover US diplomacy at the United Nations conference on global warming. She saw Lisa Jackson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, lead a "full-court press to convince the world that America is serious about cutting carbon emissions."

Back inside-the-Beltway opponents of controls on greenhouse gases generated publicity on all three newscasts. Their hook was last month's publication of thousands e-mails stolen from the Climate Research Unit at England's University of East Anglia. David Wright called the e-mails "an inconvenient scandal" on ABC's A Closer Look: they "threaten to undermine the political effort under way in Copenhagen." CBS' Wyatt Andrews cited the expose's nickname: "To anyone skeptical about the science of global warming, Climategate is the biggest scandal ever." NBC's Thompson quoted from an op-ed written by former Gov Sarah Palin in the Washington Post, asserting that the e-mails "reveal a highly-politicized scientific circle pushing policies in Copenhagen that will not change the weather."

NBC's Thompson played a soundbite that Al Gore gave to her colleague Andrea Mitchell: "The leadership of the modern Republican Party has really gotten into a global-warming-denier posture." CBS' Andrews came to a similar conclusion: "To many Republicans Climategate proves that global warming is a deception." Meanwhile, NBC's Thompson reminded us that Palin was no such denier: "We know that it is real," was her soundbite from the campaign trail last year.

Both ABC's Wright and CBS' Andrews focused on two phrases from the thousands of messages: "We cannot account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we cannot" and "he has used a trick to hide the decline." CBS' Andrews showed us the fun: "The phrase Hide the Decline is now so infamous it is being spoofed on YouTube." During the course of his report, Andrews was imprecise about his definition of opponents of carbon restrictions. Initially he referred to scientific skeptics; then he used that phrase about a "deception," which is close to Gore's "deniers;" finally he characterized "Climategate advocates" as seeking political traction from "any uncertainty over manmade global warming," which is milder even than skepticism.

ABC's Wright overstated his case when he concluded that, because of the e-mail controversy, "the consensus about making the tough choices to curb carbon emissions threatens to crumble." There is no evidence that such a consensus ever existed.

SEE THE SMELL Part Three of NBC's global warming series A Perfect Storm took Martin Fletcher to northern Kenya, now in its ninth year of drought. "You smell the results--hundreds and thousands of cows and goats dead and dying from hunger and thirst," he showed us. Herders find so little pasture that they drive their cattle into the streets of Nairobi itself. Dana Hughes showed us similar dreadful images on ABC in October. Commented Fletcher: "This is pretty horrific stuff."

WHERE IS RAMI ZAMZAM? The arrest of Rami Zamzam, a student of dentistry at Howard University, with four friends in a house in Sargodha in northeastern Pakistan inspired plenty of generalization but little information.

"Intelligence officials are increasingly worried that al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are trying to recruit Americans, who might draw less attention when they travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan for training," ABC's Pierre Thomas observed. CBS' Bob Orr told us that unidentified "terror analysts" are speculating that Zamzam "may be the latest example of US citizens and residents reaching directly to international terrorist organizations." Orr himself has reported on the three examples he used: Najibullah Zazi, who allegedly tried to make a bomb in Queens NY out of women's beauty products; the al-Shabab faction in the civil war of Somalia, suspected of recruiting volunteers from a Minneapolis mosque; and Lakshar-e-Taibi, the Kashmiri independence fighters, for whom Chicagoan David Headley was accused of plotting on Monday.

As for Zamzam and his friends, NBC's Pete Williams consulted unidentified US official sources: "None of these students appears to have had any kind of military-style training or to have made other preparations." The reason the FBI was searching for them was that their families and Moslem community leaders were concerned after they left home, CBS' Orr added: "Officials do not believe they attended any terror training camp. Sources say it is premature to conclude they had any terrorist intentions."

OPIUM & BISCUITS When CBS' Elizabeth Palmer reported on the rampant corruption in Kabul in January, she told us that the local nickname for the neighborhood of lavish mansions populated by corrupt government bureaucrats was City of Loot. Now Nick Schifrin takes on a similar guided tour for ABC and he calls the "gaudy, garish and gigantic homes" of the Sherpur district Poppy Palaces, for their presumed underlying opium financing. Schifrin introduced us to Muhammad Siddique Chakiri, the Minister of Religious Affairs, who allegedly stashed his graft money in boxes of biscuits; Muhammad Ibrahim Adel, the Minister of Mines, who allegedly skimmed $30m from a $3bn concession; and abdul-Ahad Sahel, the Mayor of Kabul--convicted of graft, sentenced to four years in prison--who is still on the job.

Truckers routinely pay the police to make deliveries and students pay teachers to be promoted to the next grade. An average Afghan family "has to give 20% of its income in bribes," ABC's Schifrin reported. Palmer's estimate on CBS was 33%.

NO MORE PUBLIC OPTION--BUT CONTINUED PUBLIC ROLE "A breakthrough," announced CBS' Nancy Cordes, "that might allow them to scrap the public option." Considering how much fuss and bother has been expended--pro and con--over the public option in the healthcare reform debate, at first blush it seems that the networks were burying the lead by not making the latest compromise formula from Senate Democrats their Story of the Day.

All three Congressional correspondents did cover it and the details reveal that the new plan is not quite that radical a departure. It does not get rid of the federal role; it just replaces the public option role--a government-run insurance plan--with a public brokerage role: "The coverage would be provided by private insurers but premiums and benefits would be negotiated by the federal government's Office of Personnel Management," as ABC's Jonathan Karl put it. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell called it "the same kind of insurance benefits that Congress now gets…A government agency would organize it but not pay for it."

In addition the compromise expands federal Medicare coverage to uninsured patients between the age of 55 and 64 who work for very small business or who are self-employed. ABC's George Stephanopoulos noted that a slogan of universal healthcare advocates for the last 20 years had been Medicare For All. "They are not going to get that but they are going to make a move in that direction." Stephanopoulos predicted that passage for this latest compromise would hinge on two factors. Does it cost the federal government little enough to satisfy centrists? Is it affordable enough and universal enough to satisfy progressives?

MARTINIS & BRAZILIAN STEAK Sometimes when Sharyl Attkisson Follows the Money for CBS she generates a tone of outrage at wasteful porkbarrel spending by a corrupt Congress. Sometimes she prefers a sarcastic tone of ridicule and exasperation. The latter was her response this time to a list of 100 programs compiled by Republicans John McCain and Tom Coburn from the 50,000 approved under the federal fiscal stimulus. Out of the $787bn spent in the stimulus, the senators' 100 account for $7bn.

Attkisson cherry-picked a few racy research projects--on malt liquor consumption, marijuana use, coed dating in college, how birds cooperate, how rats have sex, how ants divide labor. Her lead, however, was $100,000 for stimulus in St Joseph Mo. The money will help Fosters Restaurant sell $2-off martinis and Brazilian steak.

WARD BECOMES A WALL Clarissa Ward so admired Beijing artist Liu Bolin that she allowed herself to be physically painted in his style for her stand-up in her ABC profile of his work. Check it out.

CONTRITION, COMEDY, CALLAWAY For the second day in a row, ABC worried about Tiger Woods. Tuesday, David Muir traced the speed with which the golfer's travails course around the online media universe. Now John Berman consults public relations experts and image consultants on what Woods should do if he wants to restore his once pristine image. Should he share his contrition about infidelity in a one-on-one sit down with TV's Oprah? Should he joke about his sexual dalliances on NBC's Tonight? "The most potent weapon in Woods' rehabilitation," Berman concluded, "might be golf. He is really, really good at golf."