Celebrity scandal attracted more attention than hard news. Tiger Woods was Story of the Day as the golfer announced his comeback to competition after a tabloid winter. His first tournament will be the Masters, for which CBS Sports happens to own the broadcast rights. Guess which network decided that the Woods story was worthy to lead its newscast. NBC led with more serious self-promotion, the results of its in-house opinion poll on the popularity of Congress and the prospects for healthcare reform. For the second straight day, ABC played it straight, leading with the healthcare bill's prospects for passage.    
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video thumbnailCBSHealthcare reform: universal and managed careHouse may pass Senate bill by way of amendmentChip ReidWhite House
video thumbnailNBCJustice Clarence Thomas is married to activistWife Ginni leads Tea Party, no recusal requiredPete WilliamsSupreme Court
video thumbnailABCIsrael-Palestinian conflictUS moderates tone in opposition to settlementsMartha RaddatzWashington DC
video thumbnailNBCWar on Drugs: Mexico narcotics gang warsSafety precautions for spring break in AcapulcoKerry SandersMexico
video thumbnailNBCFEMA flood insurance system shortfallFalsely drawn flood zone map raises extra fundsGeorge LewisLos Angeles
video thumbnailCBSHuman embryo stem cell biotechnology researchProgress in lab, in nerve growth, against cancerJon LaPookNew York
video thumbnailABCHousehold income erodes for middle classSome decline into joblessness, hunger, evictionSharyn AlfonsiNew York
video thumbnailNBCAirline travel: disruptions, delays, cancelationsVirgin flight diverted by winds, 12 hours lateRehema EllisNew York
video thumbnailABCGolf champion Tiger Woods in late night car crashWill make comeback from scandal at MastersJohn BermanNew York
video thumbnailABCPop singer Michael Jackson dies, aged 50Catalogue value booms posthumously, SONY dealDan HarrisNew York
TABLOID GOLFER TRUMPS PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURE Celebrity scandal attracted more attention than hard news. Tiger Woods was Story of the Day as the golfer announced his comeback to competition after a tabloid winter. His first tournament will be the Masters, for which CBS Sports happens to own the broadcast rights. Guess which network decided that the Woods story was worthy to lead its newscast. NBC led with more serious self-promotion, the results of its in-house opinion poll on the popularity of Congress and the prospects for healthcare reform. For the second straight day, ABC played it straight, leading with the healthcare bill's prospects for passage.

There were two developments on Capitol Hill. Outside, a few hundred members of the Tea Party rallied. Kill the Bill, CBS' Chip Reid quoted their slogan. Inside, the Rules Committee deliberated on how the House should combine adoption of the Senate bill with its own amendments in order to win majority support. "What they are talking about is a procedure called Deeming," grinned ABC's Jonathan Karl at the opportunity to display his arcane procedural chops. "It can be found in Vol. VI Ch. 21 of Deschler's Precedents," he showed us. "It is a procedure that has been used about 20 times over the last 30 years, by both Democrats and Republicans, but never on legislation as seismic as health care reform." CBS' Reid called it "a special shortcut."

NBC's political director Chuck Todd provided the analysis on the opinion poll his network conducted with The Wall Street Journal. He called the even split over the healthcare legislation (46% pro, 45% con) "very good news for the President" since he can assure wavering Democrats that the party's base supports the bill. As for the prospects for the midterm elections in November, Todd envisaged "total upheaval." Here are the approval ratings for the 111th Congress: 59% of Democrats disapprove, 69% of independents, 86% of Republicans.

MRS THOMAS DISLIKES TYRANNY The Tea Party has a new leader. NBC's Pete Williams introduced us to Ginni Thomas, the founder of He paraphrased her message: "Unless America gets back to Constitutional principles, the nation is headed for tyranny." What personal clout might Mrs Thomas have in her drive to see the Constitution upheld? She is the wife of Clarence, a Supreme Court Justice for the past 23 years. "Legal scholars see no direct conflict," Williams reassured us.

HILLARY AVOIDS A DIVORCE So far all three network newscasts have found little news in the decision by the government of Israel to expand its settlements on Palestinian land east of in East Jerusalem. None has reported on the underlying controversy. The diplomatic angle is something else.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell observed last week that "you could cut the tension with a knife" between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Vice President Joe Biden as Biden was "blindsided" by the announcement of the construction during a peacemaking visit. Mitchell followed up with a sitdown with Hillary Rodham Clinton at the United Nations: "It was an insult to the United States," the Secretary of State declared. Now ABC's Martha Raddatz follows up, calling Rodham Clinton "as mad at the Israeli government as she has ever been." Yet in public, Raddatz remarked, "you would not have known." Rodham Clinton reiterated "a close unshakeable, bond" between the United States and Israel. "The Secretary sees this as a messy fight not a matter for divorce court." CBS did not see the story as worthy of a correspondent's assignment.

JEWEL JEOPARDY Yes, it is Spring Break so, yes, Mexican narcoviolence is in the news once more. This time last year ABC's Jim Avila, NBC's Mark Potter and CBS' Seth Doane worried about trafficker street violence spilling over onto the beaches of Cancun. This year's dateline is Acapulco and Kerry Sanders lands NBC's plum assignment in "the city known as the Pacific Jewel-- since the weekend, at least 19 people have been murdered."

WATTS UNDER WATER On the flood watch, NBC's Ron Allen showed us New Jersey suburbanites clean up from last weekend's nor'easter; ABC's Barbara Pinto and NBC's Kevin Tibbles watched North Dakotans sandbagging along the banks of the Red River as it swells from snowmelt. Then George Lewis demonstrated the most unlikely flood plain of all for NBC's Fleecing of America. FEMA geographers designated a neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles to be flood prone, making homeowners liable for an extra $200 in monthly insurance premiums. Why the new map? Lewis noted that FEMA's flood fund found itself $17bn in debt in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "Is the agency trying to balance the books by soaking the public?" he wondered.

Lewis gave a tip of the hat to KCET, the PBS affiliate in Los Angeles, for persuading FEMA to admit that its map was faulty. The flood zone was redrawn and the levee levy was rescinded.

MUDDLED SAWYER NEEDS A CLASS ON MIDDLE CLASS Last Tuesday, Tyndall Report acknowledged CBS' forward-looking innovation with its Where America Stands. The feature series explains long-term problems that face the nation and tries to outline possible solutions. The series had already tackled three health issues--Seth Doane on obesity, in-house physician Jon LaPook on dementia, anchor Katie Couric on the War on Cancer. Now Dr LaPook returns with an update on the biotech prospects of human embryonic stem cell research. Researchers can grow diseased tissues in the laboratory to test medicines on them; they can implant cells in the body to try to regenerate tissue; and they can identify harmful stem cells already in the body to suppress tumors.

As informative as CBS' explainer series tries to be, that is how confounding ABC's new effort this week, Saving America's Middle Class, has been. It is a befuddlement. Who are the middle class? Anchor Diane Sawyer offered four contradictory descriptions Monday:

"People whose drive and optimism has lifted the nation out of financial trouble into triumph time and time again, first during the Industrial Revolution, again after World War II."

"The 135 million working people who did so much to create this American century."

"The envy of the rest of the world, 50% of this nation, the engine of American's financial might."

"To be middle class always had less to do with income than a defining value, a belief that with hard work and a better education, in America, your children would have a better life and more opportunity."

What? Surely the dominant class during the Industrial Revolution was the working class? So how big is the working class--135m or 50% of the nation? Which century is the American Century anyway, C20th or "this" one, the C21st? And Sawyer cannot be serious that the middle class is a belief system rather than an economic and sociological category. What does she think the word class refers to?

Sawyer suggested that we go to the series' Website to check out its definition of the middle class. It offers ten litmus tests, although it does not say how many of the ten one must satisfy to be included. At the minimum, though, the site suggests that one should belong to a two-car family, with collegebound children (childless people and empty nesters are ignored), earning at least $50K annually (but less than $125K), most likely homebuyers not renters, and having no trouble paying the bills. That is not rigorous enough to be a definition but seemed fair enough for a rough description--until we came to part two of the series from Sharyn Alfonsi.

As far as Alfonsi was concerned an anonymous suburban California couple called "Joe & Kate" still live in a middle class family. No matter that they are four months away from being homeless; no matter that they rely on a food bank to feed their children; no matter that their sole income is an $11-an-hour job. If Joe & Kate are members of the "middle class" then that term is devoid of meaning. Surely, they are members of the working poor.

Just as the current recession was starting a couple of years ago, NBC's Lisa Myers ran into the same problem when she profiled the Second Harvest food bank. I commented back then that Myers "used the confusing terminology that thousands of the hungry belong to the 'middle class.' It would seem that, by definition, membership in the middle class requires enough income to feed oneself. The word for those without enough to eat is poor."

You would think that a sociologist or an economist could help Sawyer cut through this gobbledegook with some scholarly precision. Sure enough she consulted Professor Elizabeth Warren of Harvard University, who "has been writing about the middle class for 20 years." So, Professor Warren, clarify things for us. "The middle class is what makes us America. The fact that we were not born into it; we earned it; we developed it; and we do not all look alike in it--that is what makes it great. Middle class people are people who mow the lawn, who pick up litter on the streets, who go to the PTA meetings. It is about aspirations and what hopes we have for our children. That is middle class."

Oh dear.

PRINGLES, JACKO & TIGER After the wreckage that was ABC's attempt at analysis of the middle class, the remainder of the day's news might as well be frivolous fluff. NBC's Rehema Ellis and ABC's Ron Claiborne both brought us Virgin America Flight 404. The plane was delayed by the weekend's high winds that prevented it from landing at JFK Airport. It was diverted to Stewart Airport in New York City's northern suburbs. It was held on the runway until eventually a fleet of buses arrived to drive passengers into the city. The total delay was 12 hours. What made the adventure news was that food rations amounted to four Pringles each.

On the celebrity front ABC's Dan Harris and CBS' Ben Tracy (no link--presumably because of online copyright clearance problems) brought us news that SONY would pay at least $200m to Michael Jackson's estate for rights to release ten posthumous CDs. And CBS' Jeff Glor (no link--presumably because of online copyright clearance problems) and ABC's John Berman previewed the Masters Golf tournament in April, where Tiger Woods will make his comeback. "How important is it for him to play really, really well?" CBS anchor Katie Couric asked Golf Channel anchor Steve Sands. Quite apart from the impact on Woods' image, Sands replied, "for the game of golf, it obviously means a lot"--not to speak of CBS Sports' ratings.