Monthly unemployment data were the Story of the Day: the jobless rate fell to 9.4% in December but only 103K new jobs were added to the labor force, so the improvement derived as much from continued discouragement as from renewed hiring. NBC and CBS both led with the state of the economy. ABC, with substitute anchor George Stephanopoulos, kicked off with an incendiary parcel addressed to Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano.    
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video thumbnailNBCUnemployment: joblessness, corporate layoffs persistDecember rate falls to 9.4%, slow 103K growthKevin TibblesChicago
video thumbnailABCUnemployment: joblessness, corporate layoffs persistPresident Obama hails 1.1m annual job growthJake TapperWhite House
video thumbnailCBSAustin Texas is nation's fastest growing cityHigher education, low taxes, vibrant cultureAnthony MasonTexas
video thumbnailCBSPrisons: harsh robbery sentence for Miss sistersPair paroled after 16 years, head for surgeryKelly CobiellaMississippi
video thumbnailNBCICE border controls along Mexico lineBorder Patrol shoots, kills Nogales teenagerMiguel AlmaguerMexico
video thumbnailNBCMalawi poverty relief: clothes for childrenSewing circle charity expands, countries addedChris JansingMichigan
video thumbnailABCMunicipal water supply fluoride safety worriesExcess levels harm teenagers' teeth, CDC warnRon ClaiborneNew York
video thumbnailABCWinter weatherNYC fully prepared yet gets light dustingSharyn AlfonsiNew York
video thumbnailCBSWinter weatherInvestigation into NYC streets snowplow failuresElaine QuijanoNew York
video thumbnailABCCross-species oddities in the animal kingdomNGTV documentary on unlikely animal friendshipsJohn BermanNew York
FULL EMPLOYMENT IS STILL FIVE YEARS AWAY Monthly unemployment data were the Story of the Day: the jobless rate fell to 9.4% in December but only 103K new jobs were added to the labor force, so the improvement derived as much from continued discouragement as from renewed hiring. NBC and CBS both led with the state of the economy. ABC, with substitute anchor George Stephanopoulos, kicked off with an incendiary parcel addressed to Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano.

ABC assigned the unemployment story to White House correspondent Jake Tapper, who highlighted Barack Obama's talking point that employers generated 1.1m new jobs in 2010: "Each quarter was stronger than the previous quarter, which means that the pace of hiring is beginning to pick up," the President boasted. This optimism was undercut by Chairman Benjamin Bernanke of the Federal Reserve Board. He predicted that full employment would not be achieved for another four or five years.

ABC's Tapper gave us the nickname for the long-term unemployed who are so discouraged that they have dropped out of the workforce altogether: 99ers, for those ineligible to collect jobless benefits after the 99th week on the dole. On CBS' Anthony Mason (no link) showed us his chart: for every 100 people who were unemployed in November, 62 were still out of work a month later; 20 had dropped out of the labor force entirely; and 18 had found a job. NBC had Kevin Tibbles file from Chicago: "December job creation simply did not materialize at the predicted pace."

CBS' Mason then followed up with a bright spot in the economy: Austin is ranked by the Brookings Institute as the city with the strongest expansion out of the recession. "It's a great town!" Mason took a trip to Texas and ticked off its state university, its inexpensive housing, the lack of state income taxes, and cultural vibrancy as key selling points. Curiously, Mason did not even let the word pass his lips that makes UTexas immune from budget cuts and incomes immune from taxation.


NBC’S TRUONG IGNORES ALL FOUR ANGLES FOR FEELGOOD’S SAKE All three newscasts covered the celebrations that marked the release of Gladys and Jamie Scott from a Mississippi prison after serving 16 years for robbery. They had each been given a life sentence for a petty theft--CBS' Kelly Cobiella said it netted $200; ABC's Steve Osunsami just $11--for which their three accomplices served only three years. Haley Barbour, the Republican governor, paroled them on condition that sister Gladys donate a kidney to sister Jamie, who is currently a dialysis patient.

NBC's Pete Williams had already questioned the medical ethics of Barbour's conditions: offering release from prison in exchange for donating a kidney amounts to coercion. Both Osunsami and Cobiella quoted a tasteless exchange of guffawing on WMPR talkradio in which Barbour explained that his mercy was a moneysaving gimmick: the state has to pay for its prisoners' dialysis so the release saves his coffers $190K annually. CBS' Cobiella reported that the dialysis will now go on the tab of Florida Medicaid: "They still do not know if Gladys is a match to donate a kidney." ABC's Osunsami quoted speculation by the sisters' mother that Barbour reversed the injustice in order to burnish his image, in preparation for running for President.

Amid all these controversies, NBC's Thanh Truong played the story simply for feelgood human interest--no penal injustice, no ethics questions, no callous budgetcutting, no political careerism. "It will be a life outside prison walls and literally on their own terms."

NBC’S ALMAGUER LETS MISLEADING SOUNDBITE STAND UNCORRECTED NBC sent Miguel Almaguer to the Mexican border to cover the death of Ramses Barron Torres. The 17-year-old from Nogales was apparently shot in the chest by a Border Patrol agent while climbing the fortified fence that separates Mexico from Arizona. An unidentified FBI agent told Almaguer that some teens had been throwing rocks at the time. "When you pick up a rock and throw it at a police officer, you should expect to have deadly force directed back toward you," was how Almaguer quoted a spokesman from the Border Patrol's union. Almaguer's nameless FBI source never said the rocks were thrown at the agent--but Almaguer left the union soundbite stand uncorrected.

Anyway, is that really police protocol? Throwing rocks at a cop deserves death?

NBC’S JANSING JOINS IN The Little Dresses for Africa charity so inspired NBC's Chris Jansing that she dropped her reporter's posture and joined a loading line, shipping boxes of handmade clothing to girls in Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Guatemala, Mexico and Haiti. This was Jansing's follow-up Making a Difference report; here is her original, which is credited with the surge in donations.

MORE OF THE MOVIE QUIZ ABC's movie quiz continues. Dr Strangelove, The Odd Couple and Beauty and the Beast join six other feature films where fictional movie footage has substituted for video newsgathering of actuality. The latest contributions are by Ron Claiborne and John Berman. Even more convolutedly, Berman used the fictional footage to illustrate publicity and promotion for a documentary--Unlikely Animal Friends--to be aired on cable's NGTV channel. Where is the news story here?

ABC’S THOMAS IS NERVOUS As for ABC's lead, it was filed from a Department of Homeland Security mail sorting facility by Pierre Thomas: "Officials across this region are on high alert…There is someone who is very angry at the government." Thomas was also the correspondent who made much more of Thursday's Maryland parcel fires than either CBS' Bob Orr or NBC's Pete Williams. Neither of the other two newscasts considered the package newsworthy enough to warrant the attention of a reporter--although NBC did file a bemused stand-up from Stephanie Gosk in London, where vigilance for terrorist threats is elevated. What is the mood on England's streets? "Daily life has not changed."

WINTER RHUBABRB ABC's Sharyn Alfonsi decided to tease New York City for its Herculean efforts to prepare for a winter snowstorm that produced a mere dusting: "Even my boots feel like overkill." CBS' Elaine Quijano took a serious approach, following up on the snowplowing snafus of the Boxing Day blizzard that led to three possibly-preventable deaths because EMS response was blocked. The rhubarb at City Hall focuses on accusations that sanitation workers deliberately slow-plowed to protest municipal budget cuts. NBC simply turned to its sibling cable network The Weather Channel for Chris Warren's weekend forecast.