ABC stuck to its guns and picked the Capitol Hill countdown to the vote on healthcare reform as its lead for the third straight day this week. This time ABC was not alone. All three newscasts selected the vote counting in the Democratic caucus of the House of Representatives. NBC and CBS led from Congress; ABC from the White House. So healthcare reform was the unanimous choice for Story of the Day.    
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video thumbnailABCHealthcare reform: universal and managed careHectic lobbying of remaining undecided DemocratsJake TapperWhite House
video thumbnailCBSHealthcare reform: universal and managed careHouse may pass Senate bill by way of amendmentSharyl AttkissonWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSCatholic Church pedophile priests sex abuse scandalPope under fire after Ireland, Germany exposesMark PhillipsLondon
video thumbnailNBCFloods in Red River valley threaten Fargo NDSandbaggers work on levees, expect weekend crestKevin TibblesNorth Dakota
video thumbnailNBCCoastal property at risk from extreme weatherEroded beach sand replacement is costly, futileRon MottNorth Carolina
video thumbnailABCPublic school students take standardized testsGirls outscore boys in reading, math parityRon ClaiborneNew York
video thumbnailNBCAirline travel: anti-terrorism security precautionsNew terminal scanners use minimal X-ray doseTom CostelloMassachusetts
video thumbnailNBCMilitary funerals attended by traditional caissonColorado farmer volunteers with her percheronRoger O'NeilColorado
video thumbnailABCJunk and snack food industry under fireTarget movie popcorn, salty foods, sugar drinksBill WeirNew York
video thumbnailABCCollege hoops: NCAA March Madness tournamentPresident Obama makes bracket picks on ESPNAndy KatzWhite House
ABC LEADS HEALTHCARE COUNTDOWN ABC stuck to its guns and picked the Capitol Hill countdown to the vote on healthcare reform as its lead for the third straight day this week. This time ABC was not alone. All three newscasts selected the vote counting in the Democratic caucus of the House of Representatives. NBC and CBS led from Congress; ABC from the White House. So healthcare reform was the unanimous choice for Story of the Day.

The House may vote on amendments to the Senate bill at the same time as the underlying bill itself by deeming it passed instead of holding two separate votes. ABC's Jonathan Karl explained this convoluted procedure Tuesday, pulling out his copy of Volume VI of Deschler's Precedents. Now Sharyl Attkisson plays parliamentarian on CBS. She called the so-called self-executing rule a "controversial strategy to help give cover to those vulnerable Democrats facing tough elections… Democrats know that this could give the appearance of back room deals being used to push through something many Americans do not like but it may be the only way the President can get it passed."

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell used the Deem'n Pass nickname for the self-executing rule: "Republicans have also used the deem and pass rule when they were in charge but they argued that it was on things much smaller than healthcare reform." What about Barack Obama? Where does he stand on parliamentary procedure? CBS' Chip Reid (no link) used a soundbite from the President's "contentious" interview with Bret Baier on FOX News Channel in which he scrupulously observed the Constitutional separation of powers: "I do not spend a lot of time worrying what about the procedural rules are in the House or the Senate." ABC's Jake Tapper ran clips of Baier and Obama talking over one another. "You have got to let me finish my answers," the President insisted. Tapper called FNC Obama's "least favorite network."

CBS' Nancy Cordes patroled the corridors of Congress counting votes. She assumed that Speaker Nancy Pelosi could count on unanimous Republican opposition to the bill. That means that Pelosi can afford to allow 37 Democrats to defect and still reach the 216 votes she needs for passage. So far, Cordes counted 19 Noes and 48 undecideds: "One hot button issue that appears to be fading in importance is abortion. Today, two more anti-abortion rights members say that they are fine with the language in the Senate bill. They do not believe it provides federal funding for abortions."

All three newscasts told us about Dennis Kucinich, the fierce advocate of a Canadian-style single-payer system, who reversed his opposition and decided to back this insurance industry based bill. "Even though I do not like the bill, I have made a decision to--to support it," on CBS. "This is not the bill I wanted to support," on NBC. "I have decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation," on ABC. Holding out pays its dividends in face time.

HAPPY ST PATRICK’S DAY Pope Benedict XVI observed their patron saint by addressing the Roman Catholic faithful of Ireland. He promised to write them a letter about the sexual abuse of children by his priests. "My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal," was how both NBC's Dawna Friesen and CBS' Mark Phillips quoted the Pontiff in their narration from London. CBS' Phillips warned that this scandal has now spread from the United States to Ireland and now to Brazil and the rest of Europe. Noted NBC's Friesen: "In 1980, Pope Benedict was Archbishop of Munich. A pedophile priest in his diocese was sent for therapy, went on to re-offend and even after being convicted, continued as a priest until finally being suspended--this week."

RETURN TO FARGO NBC sent its own reporter Kevin Tibbles to the banks of the Red River in North Dakota to watch the second straight year of sandbagging to ward of floods from the snow melt. CBS relied on Heather Brown of WCCO-TV, the network's Minneapolis affiliate. ABC had Sharyn Alfonsi file a portmanteau package, linking the subsiding floods along the Passaic River in New Jersey with the rising waters on the great plains. This time last year, Fargo ND warranted a heavy week of coverage. NBC's Tibbles told us of a possible solution to Fargo's woes, "a planned diversion canal to reroute some of the rising river around populated areas, through either North Dakota or neighboring Minnesota."

KING CANUTE The grand futility of trying to hold back the tide makes for vivid visuals in a porkbarrel spending feature. Last May, Sharyl Attkisson showed us so-called beach renourishment along Cape May NJ for CBS' Follow the Money. Now Ron Mott is on the barrier islands of North Carolina for NBC's Fleecing of America. Mott patroled Kure Beach with Orrin Pilkey, a former Duke University professor: "This is a form of societal madness to build buildings right up next to an eroding shoreline."

SCHOOL CRAZY There has been a flurry of education coverage on the nightly news in the last three weeks (53 mins v 17 annual average). We have seen laudatory profiles of charter academies in Lansing Mich by NBC's John Yang, in Harlem NY by CBS' Michelle Miller and in Chicago by ABC's David Muir. We have heard about curriculum revision from ABC's Chris Bury and CBS' Mark Strassmann and NBC's Rehema Ellis. CBS' Cynthia Bowers and NBC's Yang have told us about budget cuts and inner city school closings in Kansas City. The No Child Left Behind law led to mass firings of high school teachers in Rhode Island as described by ABC's Dan Harris and NBC's Mike Taibbi and CBS' Jim Axelrod. Possible changed in the NCLB law have been mooted by CBS' Ben Tracy and NBC's Ellis. Now comes Ron Claiborne on ABC with the latest results in reading and math standardized tests, as analyzed by the Center for Educational Policy. The report is "very good news for girls but it describes what amounts to a crisis for the nation's boys."

JUST A HANDFUL OF TUMORS While the federal Department of Education succeeds in its public relations push to place schools higher on the national news agenda, the Department of Homeland Security is making smaller strides over its rollout of full body scanners at airport terminals. The Transportation Security Administration managed to persuade CBS to make the new scanner at Boston's Logan Airport its lead story two weeks ago by granting an Exclusive to Bob Orr. Now NBC's Tom Costello gets access to cover the safety angle. Because the machine's X-rays bounce off the skin, he told us, the radiation dose is 100,000 times smaller than a CT scan of one's internal organs. Costello quoted the odds of contracting cancer from a scan at 1-in-100m, yet the number of scans will be "potentially hundreds of millions of travelers each year." So that means they will cause a handful of tumors annually.

A HORSE, A HEARSE & A HARLEY DAVIDSON After the unsettling lawsuit that NBC's Pete Williams covered last week in which the Supreme Court will consider whether a preacher is entitled to picket military funerals with gay-bashing slogans, Williams' colleague Roger O'Neil offered a poetic contrast for his Making a Difference feature. He introduced us to Lorraine Melgosa and her percheron: they volunteer a caisson to carry a soldier's casket. Now, remember Erin Hayes' military funerals story three years ago on ABC, when the honor guard rode hogs.

A TWINKIE IS NOT A CIGARETTE First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign to improve childhood nutrition ran headlong into the Twinkie question. Should it carry a warning label? "She scoffed," ABC's Bill Weir told us: "A Twinkie is not a cigarette, you know?" That soundbite alone was hardly enough for a full story, so Weir filled it out with popcorn, mac-&-cheese and Pepsi-Cola. Soda will no longer be sold in schools by Pepsi. Kraft will remove some salt from its processed foods. And SONY movie theaters will add fruit salad to their concession stands.

The First Husband, meanwhile, was studying his brackets. ESPN's Andy Katz was on hand in the White House for ABC. Barack Obama, who was raised in Kansas, picked his state to beat Kentucky, the home state of anchor Diane Sawyer: "All of us from Kentucky will remind him of that on April 5th when we are partying," she smiled. Obama won no fans among the Orange. Spelling Syracuse defeated him.