Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ad In

It was grotesquely inappropriate of Brian Williams to devote nearly four minutes of Monday's Nightly News broadcast to a "news story" about the 50th anniversary of Chicago's Second City Comedy Troupe. Certainly, this frothy, vacuous entertainment piece was meant to appeal to viewers who find actual news too heavy and confusing. But more importantly, this story was meant to be a three-minute-and-forty-five-second commercial for NBC shows. The story included an interview with Bonnie Hunt (who has a daytime show on NBC), a clip from Saturday Night Live and several shots of Steve Carell (who stars in The Office on NBC). But the bulk of the story was comprised of interviews with Tina Fey and clips from 30 Rock (including, of course, a clip featuring none other than Brian Williams). It's no secret that despite all the critical praise, 30 Rock is not doing too well in the ratings. So Brian, his producers and the NBC executives devised this Second City story as a way to give 30 Rock a little promotional boost. And not coincidentally, NBC is airing a four-hour 30 Rock marathon on New Year's Eve, so this strategically-placed Nightly News story is clearly intended to help the show's ratings that night.

Of course, promoting NBC shows is nothing new for Nightly News. The night before the Second City story aired, Nightly News ran a story about police codes. The story began and ended with clips from Adam-12 and CHiPS, shows that aired on NBC in the 60's, 70's and 80's. (The clips from those shows took up more than 30 seconds of the two-minute story.) Both shows are available on DVD, and it's obvious that the clips were included in the story in order to boost DVD sales for NBC Universal. (Here's a great idea: NBC Universal can offer the Adam-12 and CHiPS DVDs for half price to anyone who orders the Obama Inauguration DVD and the "Inside the Obama White House" DVD, which NBC has been hawking relentlessly during Nightly News.) On the Dec. 15 Nightly News, Brian spent 30 seconds talking about the Golden Globe nominations, before shamelessly announcing that, "The awards air live Jan. 17 here on NBC." And on Dec. 12, Nightly News aired a story about singers who have recently recorded Christmas albums. A third of that story was devoted to interviews and clips of Barry Manilow--who just happened to be appearing on The Jay Leno Show later that night. So that entire "news story" was contrived in order to promote Manilow's appearance on Jay's show. Well done, Brian. But I wouldn't want anyone to think that Nightly News spends its time just promoting NBC shows. Far from it. In fact, Nightly News also spends time promoting regular sponsors and giving them lots of free air time as part of "news stories".

For one thing, the entire Tiger Woods saga was an opportunity for Brian and his producers to pepper the screen with logos for Gillette, Nike and Tag Heuer watches. During a Dec. 10 Nightly News story about breast cancer, logos for the drugs Fosamax, Actonel and Boniva were prominently displayed. Any regular viewer knows that Boniva (made by GlaxoSmithKline) is a heavy advertiser on Nightly News (if Boniva doesn't ring a bell, think Sally Field). Including it in a story is just a little "thank you" from NBC to their pals at Glaxo. Logos for Walmart, Sears, Kohl's, Target, JC Penney, Kmart and other retailers are regularly displayed during Nightly News stories. On Dec. 26, a story about post-Christmas shopping took this even further. As Walmart, Kmart and Kohl's logos filled the screen, Sharon Epperson told us all about the great bargains we can find in these stores. Walmart is offering a $50 gift card with the purchase of an X-box 360! Kmart is featuring 50% off on kids' coats! Kohl's is giving a $10 coupon for every $50 spent! I'm surprised Epperson didn't offer to drive us to the stores. Brian Williams and his pal Steve Capus (president of NBC News) should be ashamed of themselves for using their broadcast to reward sponsors and promote NBC shows. It's really disgraceful what Nightly News has turned into.

Loving His Country Almost As Much As His Ratings

From Brian Williams's Dec. 28 Daily Nightly blog: "If this lone the new face of terrorism, then we have to meet the challenge the same way we won the Second World War or went to the moon....I fly a lot, as does my family, and I love my country. So you might say I have a vested interest in this one."

Brian, please pass me the in-flight barf bag. After reading your blog, I think I'm going to be sick. Why don't you tell the truth? When terrorists strike, no matter how incompetent, the Nightly News ratings go up. And for you, that's the most important thing. If you continue to tell lies, your nose is going to grow back to its original, pre-surgical length.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Taking Flak

Here's an idea: Each night on the news, Brian Williams should wear the matching helmet-and-flak-jacket ensemble he wore when he was in Afghanistan recently for the Nielsen sweeps period. That way, he'll be appropriately dressed whenever he decides to devote a third of his broadcast to military stories, as he did on Wednesday. Another suggestion: Brian should affix his Military Challenge Coins to his flak jacket to make him appear more military-ish.

The Twelve Days Of Christmas (The Brian Williams Remix)

On the twelfth day of Christmas Brian gave his viewers

Twelve Springsteen updates
Eleven Bono interviews
Ten pipers piping Piper Palin stories
Nine Afghan orphans
Eight maids a-milking the Tiger Woods story
Seven swans a-swimming next to Michael Phelps

Six Susan Boyle songs
Five Olympic Rings (Be sure to tune in to the XXI Winter Olympics beginning Feb. 12
only on NBC!)

Four Walmart plugs
Three Military Challenge Coins
Two skateboarding bulldogs
And Petraeus on a pedestal

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nose Notes

With the ascent of Diane Sawyer to the ABC World News anchor chair, it can now be said that for the first time ever, all three network news anchors have had nose jobs. Such historic times we live in!

My Invitation Must Have Gotten Lost In The Mail

Here are some excerpts from Brian Williams's Dec. 17 Daily Nightly blog (about the Nightly News holiday party):

"We took over control (for the night, and not by force) of a Midtown Manhattan tavern, where I plugged my iPod into the house sound system..."

Of course he did. Because Brian's musical tastes are so much cooler and more sophisticated than everyone else's. And it's pretty much a certainty that none of the Nightly News staffers would dare to complain about King Brian commandeering the sound system. Not if they value their jobs, anyway.

"I've said it before: On many days, I'm the least of the [Nightly News] effort..."

On many days? How about every day?

Presidential Advis-aeiou-r

Saturday's Nightly News featured two separate promo spots for the following day's edition of Meet The Press. The first promo (at the 13 minute mark of the broadcast) informed us that Sunday's MTP would be featuring "White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod". The second MTP promo (nine minutes later) described Axelrod as "White House Senior Advisor". I imagine that if there was a third MTP promo on Saturday's Nightly News, Axelrod would have been described as "White House Senior Advisur". And on Sunday's Nightly News, a clip from that morning's MTP listed Axelrod as "Senior White House Advisor". I guess the producers thought that sounded much better than "White House Senior Advisor".

On Saturday's second MTP promo, Howard Dean was identified as "Governor of Vermont", despite the fact that he hasn't held that office since 2003.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is There A Doctorer In The House?

It's hard to believe that the Nightly News producers had the audacity to air their Dec. 3 story that was severely critical of French magazine editors who digitally alter photographs of models to make them appear younger and more attractive. At least eight times over the past 14 months, these same producers have digitally altered photos and video images in Nightly News stories to make the subjects appear older. The most recent occurrence was on the Dec. 13 broadcast, during a story about blues guitarist Honey Boy Edwards. Video that was supposed to represent 1930's Mississippi had obviously been doctored with specks of dirt, vertical lines, hairs and cigarette burns to make it appear older. And video of a freight train received the same treatment. The following Nightly News broadcasts also contained stories in which videos or photos were altered to make them look older:

>11/14/09--A story about Ohio special needs students who refurbish bicycles and donate them to needy members of the community contained three scenes that had been altered to appear older.
>8/18/09--A story about the H1N1 virus (which Nightly News is still calling Swine Flu) contained footage of a classroom that had been altered to make it appear older.
>6/10/09--A "What Works" segment about Donna Karan's "Urban Zen" charitable foundation contained footage of Karan and her husband that had been artificially doctored to make it look older.
>4/30/09--During a story about the H1N1 virus, footage of a hospital was altered to make it seem older.
>11/23/08--A story about old NYC subway cars that are recycled as underwater reefs contained footage of a subway car that was doctored to make it look older. The hilarious thing about this was that the subway car that was made to look older was actually new--the exterior of the subway car had a modern LED digital display and the people riding in the car were dressed in current fashions.
>10/25/08--During a story about layaway, videos of newspaper ads from the 1970's were doctored to make them appear much older.
>10/22/08--During a story about geothermal energy in Iceland, the camera panned across some still photos; the image was altered to make it seem older.

Altering magazine photos to make models appear younger is despicable. And altering news video images to make subjects appear older is equally despicable. Furthermore, it raises some serious ethical questions about Nightly News. In what other circumstances are the producers doctoring images? Are they digitally adding or removing people from videos or photos? Are Nightly News correspondents really where they claim to be? During election night 2008, Brian Williams bragged about NBC's great new technology. He told us that by standing in front of a green screen, a correspondent could be made to appear as if he or she was anywhere in the world. So has Richard Engel really been reporting from Afghanistan, or has he been standing in front of a green screen somewhere in the bowels of 30 Rock? Is Chuck Todd really standing in front of the White House? Is Kelly O'Donnell really reporting from the Capitol? Who knows? If the producers would try to deceive the viewers by altering footage to make it appear older, there's no reason to believe they wouldn't also try to deceive the viewers in other ways. Doctoring footage may be acceptable on Dateline or Today, but it's not acceptable on Nightly News. Nightly News has a higher standard to adhere to, and it's time the producers understood this. The producers owe the viewers an apology for altering Nightly News video images, and they owe us a pledge that they will never again engage in this deception. And by the way, it might also be nice if they stopped criticizing others for offenses that they themselves commit. That's called hypocrisy.

A Tale Of Two Anchors

From Brian Williams's Dec. 18 Daily Nightly blog: "I talked to Charlie Gibson this afternoon, and there's a letter waiting for him at his home with some personal thoughts and good wishes. He is leaving the anchor chair tonight, leaving ABC after more than three decades with the same company. He's a friend and a good guy and has been a world-class competitor every night. These three network evening newscasts are at their best when we're all good, every night. And Charlie has helped to keep us that way. I wish him happy trails, and only the best."

Brian's insincere faux-homage to Gibson is a joke. The only aspect of this situation that Brian cares about is how he and his producers can capitalize on Gibson's departure (and Diane Sawyer's arrival) to improve the Nightly News ratings. No doubt Brian and his producers have been feverishly huddling with the NBC News research department to figure out how to capitalize on the changeover. It's really a shame that Gibson is retiring. He is, perhaps, the last of the hardy journalist-anchors who once dominated evening newscasts. With his departure, all three evening network newscasts will be anchored by talking-head newsreaders.

The contrast between Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams is stark. Gibson was the consummate anchor. Night after night, Gibson sat in his chair and told us what was going on across the country and around the world. It was never about him, it was always about reporting the news. Until his final week, I never even knew if Gibson was married or if he had children, because he never mentioned them on the air. And that was appropriate. With Brian, the news is always about him and his family. News stories will include information about his wife's favorite charities or when his kids go off to college (or when they come home for break). There are the almost-nightly Springsteen updates. Brian has made a point of trying to impress viewers by boasting that he is a Supreme Court buff, a presidential history buff, an aviation buff, an American car buff, a military buff, a space travel buff--if he were any more buff-y, he could be a vampire slayer. Gibson never told us what his hobbies were, because it wasn't important to the broadcast. (In fact, it can be detrimental to the supposed neutrality of the anchor.) He simply reported the news. Brian is a carnival barker. He constantly peppers his broadcasts with what he thinks are interesting facts (to show us how much he knows) or amusing comments (to show us how funny he is). Gibson was informative. Brian is condescending and pandering.

Perhaps the most glaring difference between the two is apparent when they are not anchoring. When Gibson had the evening off, the ABC News announcer would introduce that night's anchor by saying, "Reporting tonight...." When Brian has the evening off, he has instructed the NBC News announcer to introduce that night's anchor with, "Substituting tonight...." Substituting, not reporting. Gibson understands that the news, not the anchor, is the star. He knows that anyone can sit in that chair and report the news. But Brian truly believes he is the star. He imagines himself irreplaceable. He has to let us know that anyone else who sits in his chair is just a substitute.

Under Gibson, ABC's World News was known as the serious evening newscast. Brian has transformed NBC's Nightly News into the light and fluffy broadcast. On any given night, more than half of Brian's broadcast is devoted to non-news items like cuddly animals, cute (or sick) kids, military families or people who feed the homeless. I can only hope that Diane Sawyer continues in Gibson's tradition and doesn't turn World News into another Nightly News.

Roger That

Roger O'Neil's flag-waving, eagle-soaring, ultra-patriotic "news stories" sound as if they were written by someone at Fox News. Or perhaps the Military Channel. That was true of his Sept. 4 story about golf tournaments that benefit people who lost a family member in the military, and it was true of his Friday "Making A Difference" story about Wreaths Across America. Here's how O'Neil began his story: "With respect and reverence, the graves of heroes bathed in the warm embrace of Christmas wreaths." Give me a break. And here's how he ended his story: "The wreaths will adorn the graves through Christmas, each to honor those who served, each to serve as a reminder that freedom is not free. In life they honored their country, today we honor them with gestures fitting for American heroes." Puh-leeze. Just a little bit over the top, I would say. As O'Neil finished his story, I expected flags to unfurl and fireworks to go off behind him as "God Bless America" played in the background. How about if O'Neil just reports the story, and leaves the hyper-patriotism to Glenn Beck?

Kevin Tibbles's Nose For News

Can someone please buy Nightly News correspondent Kevin Tibbles a dictionary? During Wednesday's urgent breaking news story about the deaf and blind dachshund, Tibbles said, "Like his red-nosed namesake, this pooch also uses his probiscis (sic) to guide the way." The word Tibbles was looking for was "proboscis". I think that Tibbles is smarter than a fifth grader, but only by a nose.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Orangutans, Tigers and Bears--Oh My!

I would like to thank the Nightly News producers for Sunday's story about Nonja the orangutan who takes photos of her fellow orangs in a Vienna zoo. Naturally, this story also included video of Tai Shan the panda, Knut the polar bear and the elephant who paints self-portraits. I think the producers should submit this story to the Peabody Awards evaluation committee in the category of breaking news coverage. No wait--on second thought, I think they should submit Thursday's story about spiral lights and UFO's. Better yet, they should submit Thursday's story about Christmas albums. A third of that story was devoted to interviews and clips of Barry Manilow--who just happened to be appearing on The Jay Leno Show later that night. So that entire "news story" was constructed for the sole purpose of promoting Jay's show. Excellent! And in the Peabody category of ongoing coverage, I would suggest submitting Nightly News's continuing coverage of the Tiger Woods saga. Friday's Tiger installment featured commentary from Jeremy Blacklow from Nightly News already features regular reports from Access Hollywood's Maria Menounos, so Blacklow will fit right in with the Nightly News team.

It's a shame that the Nielsen Media editors did not learn any tricks from the Nightly News producers. On Friday, Brian Williams informed us that Nielsen will be closing two of its magazines, Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews, presumably because of inadequate ad revenue resulting from low circulation. When the Nightly News producers anticipate that one of their broadcasts will have lower-than-desired ratings, they submit it to Nielsen's television ratings service intentionally misspelled as "Nitely News". That way, the low-rated (misspelled) show is counted separately from the rest of the week's higher-rated (correctly spelled) "Nightly News" shows and doesn't bring down the weekly Nightly News rating. So if the Nightly News producers can manipulate their show's ratings, couldn't the Nielsen people figure out a way to manipulate the circulation figures for their magazines in order to keep ad rates high?

Hang Onto Your Ego

Brian's ego is unbelievable. Night after night, the news is all about Brian Williams. This past week, we were treated to not one, but two stories (Sunday and Monday) about this year's Kennedy Center honors. Why? Because Bruce Springsteen was one of the honorees and Brian attended the ceremony. It was only because of Brian's fanaticism for Springsteen that he put this story on the air. Do you think Nightly News would have given this story the time of day if the honorees were "only" Dave Brubeck, Mel Brooks, Robert De Niro and Grace Bumbry? Of course not. And that's shameful. On Wednesday, for the second time in less than a week, Nightly News ran a story about a Medal of Honor winner who was told to take down his American flag by the local homeowners' association. Again, this story was given air time only because of Brian's infatuation with Medal of Honor winners. And after Thursday's report about the snowstorm in upstate New York (imagine that--snow in upstate New York in December! They should have slapped a "breaking news" tag on that one), Brian felt compelled for some reason to comment on the sirens that were heard in the background during the story: "From the sound of things behind you there it sounds like the East Aurora Volunteer Fire Department now has to go out and fight a fire in this weather..." Huh? That non sequitur had absolutely nothing to do with the story--it was just Brian showing off his obsession with firefighters. And during the intro to Friday's story about the Robin Hood Foundation, Brian just had to inform us that, "Those of us who are members of the board pay the cost to run the organization so that every last penny they raise goes to those who really need it." I sure hope he didn't hurt his shoulder patting himself on the back. And during the report, poor Rehema Ellis was forced to say, "Generous board members [meaning Brian, of course] pay all administrative costs." Wow--Brian Williams supports the Robin Hood Foundation, the Horizons program, the Afghan orphans...and he's so modest about it, too. Obviously, a network news anchor who earns an 8-figure salary is supposed to be supporting charities. Unfortunately, Brian's need to boast about his philanthropic endeavors is egotistic and inappropriate. I never hear Jim Lehrer bragging about his charitable contributions. Maybe Nightly News should start running a crawl across the bottom of the screen listing all the charities Brian supports. The first thing they teach in undergrad broadcast journalism 101 is that a news broadcast should always be about the news, never about the anchor. Oh yeah--I forgot. Brian never went to college.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Born To Run On And On And On...

I am bitterly disappointed in Nightly News. On Monday morning, Bruce Springsteen walked into a Starbucks and ordered a venti decaf vanilla soy extra-hot no-foam latte and Nightly News didn't do a story on it. That is outrageous! I have always assumed that NBC stood for "Non-stop Bruce Coverage", but now I'm not so sure. I may have to start watching ABC ("Always Bruce Coverage") or CBS ("Continuous Bruce Stories") to get all my Springsteen news. I thought that Brian Williams was born to run stories on Springsteen. So why has Brian been avoiding the Boss lately? Maybe if Bruce was awarded the Medal of Honor, Brian would start paying a little attention to him.

Nightly News With 31-Across

Congratulations to Brian Williams. He was the answer to clue 31-across in Monday's New York Times crossword puzzle (the clue was "News anchor Williams"). Interestingly, one of the other answers that intersected Brian's name in the puzzle was "robot". But that's probably just a coincidence. Probably.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Brian vs. Katie vs. Frankenstein

Although Brian Williams did not anchor Nightly News on Thanksgiving night, he gave an interview to an NBC producer in which he shared his thoughts about the publicity-desperate Salahis who scammed their way into the White House state dinner (which Brian attended). During his interview Brian said, "As far as I'm concerned, security couldn't have been tighter." But Brian's statement was directly contradicted by Katie Couric on the following night's CBS Evening News. Couric (who also attended the state dinner) said, "Well I was struck because when I go to the White House to do an interview, the security is much more elaborate to get a temporary press pass--and here [at the state dinner] it just seemed much more relaxed." So who should we believe--Brian or Katie? I'll leave it to the viewers to make up their own minds. Although it should be noted that ever since Brian hosted his fawning and obsequious "Inside the Obama White House" special earlier this year, he has been widely regarded as an apologist for the current administration and someone who is simply incapable of criticizing the President or even the White House staff. Furthermore, Brian's gung-ho rah-rah enthusiasm for the Secret Service is well known and thus raises questions about his ability to be objective on the matter. I don't think Brian would admit lax security at the White House even if he was waterboarded by a couple of Secret Service agents.

In his Thanksgiving night interview Brian also said, "If this turns out to be somebody's fifteen minutes--the equivalent of state dinner balloon boy and girl--I think that'll be tragic and almost pathetic...." Is he kidding us? The Salahis aren't getting their fifteen minutes of fame because they crashed the White House dinner. They're getting their fifteen minutes of fame because Brian Williams and his cohorts at MSNBC and the other networks won't stop talking about how the Salahis crashed the White House dinner. Brian Williams complaining about the Salahis' fifteen minutes of fame is like Dr. Frankenstein complaining that the monster he created is running amok and wreaking havoc in the village. In the past week, Nightly News has broadcast a virtual non-stop loop of Salahi videos and photos. The videos have also appeared ad nauseam on every MSNBC talk show. On Tuesday, the Salahis were given a prime spot on The Today Show despite the fact that they had absolutely nothing to say. And Brian Williams has the nerve to complain about them getting their fifteen minutes of fame? That is the height of hypocrisy. Brian Williams is part of the problem, not part of the solution. He gave them their fifteen minutes (and a few extra minutes for good measure). His network and his broadcast (of which he is the managing editor) aggressively promotes and fosters people like the Salahis and the Heenes. And let's not forget that NBC and Bravo (owned by NBC Universal) helped create and nurture the grotesque culture of reality shows that currently pervade American television. If not for the networks that gave rise to the reality show feeding frenzy, people like the Salahis and the Heenes would probably be channeling their energy towards auditioning for community theater or putting on puppet shows for the neighborhood kids. Clearly, NBC has an interest in promoting the Salahis, since they may appear on an NBC Universal show. But even if the Salahis aren't selected for Bravo's "The Real Housewives of D.C.", they've already been given more airtime (or at least more valuable airtime) on NBC than they would have received on Bravo, a third-tier cable channel. And we can, at least in part, thank Brian Williams for that.

Postscript: It seems that Michaele Salahi posed for a picture with every celebrity at the state dinner--except for Brian Williams (Mrs. Salahi's picture with Katie Couric has been widely circulated). So while the Salahis' judgment about how to become famous may be horribly skewed, their judgment about which evening news anchor makes a more valuable photo op appears to be quite sound.

Congratulations, Buddy!

Congratulations to Brian Williams on his fifth anniversary as anchor of NBC Nightly News. In that short period of time, Brian has managed to transform Nightly News from a serious and respected news broadcast to a quasi-reality show that devotes more than half its time to stories about cuddly animals, celebrities, weather, movies, terminally ill children (and the people who care for them), medal of honor winners and anything else that is of interest to Brian. Not to mention all the "news stories" about sponsors' products and other NBC Universal TV shows. Nightly News has become the ninth half-hour of Today. And then there are the "Making A Difference" segments. I would estimate that over the past five years, Nightly News has devoted over 2,000 minutes to these segments. That's about 35 hours worth of news time. And not one of those stories has ever contained any actual news. So keep up the good work, Brian. I can only imagine what Nightly News will look like in another five years. By that time, it will probably have merged with Access Hollywood and Extra (the shows that follow it in much of the country) to offer one big 90-minute celebrity-fest--anchored, of course, by Maria Menounos.

Now that Comcast is finalizing their purchase of NBC Universal, let's hope that NBC's new owners are serious about returning the NBC News division to its once-prominent place of respectability. In order to do that, Comcast will have to make some serious personnel changes, specifically with regard to the president of NBC News, the executive producer of Nightly News and the weekday anchor of Nightly News. But please--don't replace Brian with Maria Menounos. That was just a joke.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bottom Of The Ninths

On Sunday's Nightly News story about President Obama's impending decision on whether to add troops in Afghanistan, Mike Viqueira told us that the President has held nine meetings with top advisors over the last three months to decide on a strategy. As Viqueira said this, the screen split into nine boxes, each purporting to show a photo from a different strategy meeting. But on closer examination, each of the nine photos was identical. If the Nightly News producers had photos from each of the nine meetings, why didn't they show them? And if they didn't have those photos, why did they try to trick the viewers into thinking they did?

Saturday, November 28, 2009


This is Brian Williams's Daily Nightly blog entry from Nov. 25:

"At one point last night--at several points, actually--I turned to my wife and asked, 'What, exactly, are we doing here? Can you believe where we are?' I suppose there are people who are blasé about State Dinners, but we are not among them. I was honored to attend. It was a warm and glittery evening in a beautiful place...with better-than-average people! It was a thrill to see everyone--the boldface names, obviously--but more importantly: the members of the military stationed throughout the dinner, members of the uniformed and protection divisions of the Secret Service, and the outstanding White House servers and ushers--many of the great people I've come know over the years...they make the place go, and it was great to see all of them. Needless to say, it was wonderful to see the President and First Lady and to greet their distinguished honored guests from India. It's not something you ever get used to...nor is there a way to describe how strange it was just now--while typing this--to look up and see my wife and me on cable, in a clip from the arrival last night.

Back to life as usual--there are groceries to buy, houseguests who arrived while I was at work today, the annual family football game on Saturday (which means I'll be walking funny for 3-5 days next week) and football (and the parade, of course) on TV. I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving, I hope you spend it with your family--and I hope you grab a moment to think of all those serving this country in uniform and their families."

I had to have my blood sugar levels checked after reading this blog entry. There was so much saccharine and glucose present that I thought I was going to slip into a diabetic coma. First Brian starts out with the "Golly, gee, what are we doing here with all these important people" shtick. Then he heads right into his pandering-to-the-military routine, followed by more pandering to the secret service and the "outstanding" White House staff--the "great people" who "make the place go". Next, it was back to the "I'm just an average guy" persona (buying groceries and shining military challenge coins) followed by the reference to the Williams family football game--an intentional and obvious Kennedy comparison. He ends with more pandering to the military. The only thing missing is a pseudo-heartfelt plea for viewers to donate more money to an Afghan orphanage. Honestly, I'm surprised Brian brought his wife to the White House dinner--I was sure Jon Bon Jovi was going to be his plus one. I think I'm going to be sick--and it's not from too much turkey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nightly News Exploits Tragedy

Apparently, the Nightly News producers thought that Monday's story about the defective cribs that killed dozens of infants was the ideal time to reward some regular NBC sponsors with free advertising. Instead of simply listing some of the stores where the cribs were sold, the producers displayed full-color, full-screen logos of Target, Wal-Mart, Sears and K-Mart. The Wal-Mart logo even included the slogan "Save money. Live better". All together, these logos were on screen for 15 seconds. I'm curious: What does NBC charge for a 15-second commercial on Nightly News? Using a story about infant deaths as a way to reward advertisers is appallingly disrespectful to those families who suffered the loss of a child. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the story, the manufacturer of the cribs was identified on-screen as "Storkcraft" (one word), but at the end of the story it was identified as "Stork Craft" (two words). Well, which is it?

At least there's some good news. Now that Susan Boyle has released her solo album, we can expect Nightly News to once again cover her on a regular basis. When the Boyle stories from Sunday and Monday are added to the coverage she received in April and May, her total Nightly News air time is now in excess of 17 minutes. Congratulations, Nightly News producers. You're all doing a great job.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Educated Consumer

It appears that Brian Williams never gets tired of pandering to his viewers. During his Thursday obituary for clothing retailer Sy Syms, Brian noted Syms's ad slogan, "An educated consumer is our best customer." Brian's comment was, "Which I always thought applied just as much to this business." Really? So an educated viewer is Nightly News's best customer? If that's true, why does Brian feed his viewers a steady stream of garbage stories about skateboarding bulldogs, pink dolphins and kazoos? Why does he offer up a constant barrage of "Making A Difference" stories with zero news value? Is that what he thinks educated viewers want? And does he think those stories are helping to educate the viewers? When I think of news shows that attract educated viewers (or help to educate them), I certainly don't think of Nightly News. I think of The Newshour With Jim Lehrer or Worldfocus (both on PBS). I think of Democracy Now. I think of BBC World News. I think of Bill Moyers Journal. And I think of NPR. Interestingly, Friday's "All Things Considered" (on NPR) featured a piece about NBC. Specifically, it was about NBC Universal's "artist in residence" arrangement with Jon Bon Jovi. The piece was by Andrew Wallenstein, the senior TV reporter for The Hollywood Reporter. Here is an excerpt:

"Over the course of this month and next, Bon Jovi will have spent more time on NBC's air than the peacock logo. He'll be on the Jay Leno Show, the Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live, just to name a few. Jon was even featured on 'Inside The Actors Studio', which is kind of weird, considering he isn't exactly Meryl Streep...That's right folks, Bon Jovi can be shoehorned into any show. NBC calls them 'artists in residence'. Hmm--shills on the shelf is more like it. And I know it's just TV, but the problem is it doesn't stop at entertainment. NBC has even booked Bon Jovi on the evening news for a segment about the band's charity projects. [We hear Brian Williams's voice] 'We are back and it's time now for our "Making A Difference" report and tonight we begin with Jon Bon Jovi. He is one of New Jersey's favorite sons....' Look, I'm sure it's a swell cause, but it makes me want to take up a collection for the preservation of traditional news values. A slot on the evening news should not be for sale. But if this marketing arrangement tells us anything, it's that the rules of old no longer hold. The days when a band looked at TV as a place to buy a 30-second ad has given way to an age where the content and the commercial are one and the same. The least NBC Universal and Bon Jovi could have done was try some interesting integrations. I would have liked to have seen Jon flip any of his luxury homes on Bravo's 'Million Dollar Listing' or at the very least stand trial for crimes against decent music on 'Law & Order'."

A slot on the evening news should not be for sale. Now THAT'S educating the consumer. Here are some suggestions for other ways NBC Universal can integrate "artist in residence" Jon Bon Jovi into their programming over the next few months:

> He can play the weird intern on an episode of "The Office".
> He can play Liz Lemon's love interest on an episode of "30 Rock".
> He can substitute for Brian Williams as Nightly News anchor next month when Brian is receiving a prestigious award from the National Association of Television Advertisers. NATA will be honoring Brian as the evening news anchor who best uses his broadcast's news time to promote sponsors' products.
> He can guest star on "The Biggest Loser" and attempt to lose 2 pounds.
> He can be the singing weatherman on The Weather Channel.
> He can appear on "Heroes" and sing a cover version of David Bowie's "Heroes".
> He can be seen (with Jared) eating a foot-long Subway sandwich on the season premier of "Chuck: Presented by Subway".
> He can hold a flashlight under his chin and host a "Ghost Hunters" marathon on NBC Universal's SyFy Channel.
> He can shave his head and host the "Kojak" marathon on NBC Universal's Sleuth Channel.
> He can wear a cape and host the "Dark Shadows" marathon on NBC Universal's Chiller Channel.
> He can host a series of public service announcements on NBC to inform viewers where the heck they can actually find SyFy, Sleuth and Chiller. He can also inform viewers that The Law Channel and The Order Channel will be merging to form The Law & Order Channel.
> He can play Monk's more neurotic cousin on an episode of "Monk" on NBC Universal's USA Network.
> He can pay a surprise visit to "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" on NBC Universal's Bravo.
> He can fill in for Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" (and rename it "Stickball").
> He can get a prostate exam on MSNBC's "Dr. Nancy".
> He can offer an in-depth analysis of the health care bill on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports".
> "The Ed Show"? It's now "The Jon Show".
> He can host an episode of Chiller's "Scariest Places On Earth", visiting the New Jersey cities of Newark and Camden.
> He can fill in for David Gregory on "Meet The Press" and discuss the important issues of the day with members of Whitesnake, Poison and Def Leppard.

Sick Children And Dead Animals

On the Nov. 20 Nightly News, the "Making A Difference" segment was about children in a South Dakota hospital who watch zoo animals on a special closed circuit TV channel in their hospital rooms. (Let's forget about the fact that Nightly News is once again exploiting sick children to get ratings in yet another tear-jerker MAD segment.) The segment was sponsored by Beano, a GlaxoSmithKline product. Glaxo is one of the world's largest utilizers of animal testing. Does anyone from Nightly News want to tell the kids that the segment about them was sponsored by a company that kills lots of animals? Is anyone at Nightly News paying attention to the relationship between their stories and the sponsors who pay for them?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brian, Keith and Ted

From Brian Williams's Nov. 16 Daily Nightly blog: "Sharp-eyed viewers will notice we're in our Los Angeles bureau tonight–a remote broadcast necessitated by a visit we must pay to Arizona later this week." Sharp-eyed viewers? There was a huge sign reading "NBC News Los Angeles" above Brian's head throughout the entire broadcast. And concerning Brian's Arizona reference--give me a break! Obviously, that's Brian's not-very-subtle way of making sure viewers know that he will be traveling to Arizona State University to accept the Walter Cronkite Award. I don't want to get into a debate with the ASU Cronkite committee about their judging standards (or lack thereof), but I love the way Brian just dropped that right in the middle of his blog! Talk about crying out for attention! Brian is about as humble as his doppelganger Keith Olbermann. I hope he didn't injure his shoulder from patting himself on the back so much. Brian demonstrates over and over that he is the living embodiment of Ted Baxter. (Rumor has it that Brian will walk onto the ASU stage serenaded by a chorus of Afghan orphans.)

And it seems that Brian is not the only one at Nightly News who enjoys drawing attention to himself. For the second consecutive night, Andrea Mitchell treated viewers to the excerpt from Sarah Palin's book that talks about--Andrea Mitchell (and her fish-slimed waders). How many nights is Mitchell going to read that passage on the air? I hear that next week, Mitchell is going to be signing copies of Palin's book at the Fifth Ave. Barnes & Noble.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nightly News Disrespects Alicia Keys

During the week of Nov. 9-13, NBC wasted more than twenty minutes of valuable Nightly News time on "Making A Difference" stories about celebrities and their charities. (Obviously, the producers' goal was to use the lure of celebrities to attract viewers. The charity aspect was just the excuse that allowed them to put the celebrities on the air.) That's the equivalent of almost an entire broadcast. No surprise there--it's a sweeps period. But I can't help wonder how much actual news could have been reported in those twenty minutes. Of course, actual news isn't going to increase the ratings nearly as much as fawning stories about celebrities. Look--Brian Williams is hanging out with Jon Bon Jovi! And Anne Thompson is chilling with Glenn Close! And isn't that Natalie Morales with her BFF Halle Berry? Nightly News is so-o-o-o-o cool!

But there's an interesting--and appalling--subplot to Nightly News's Celebrity Week. On Nov. 10, the "Making A Difference" segment was about Alicia Keys and her "Keep A Child Alive" foundation. This is the foundation's mission statement from their website: "Keep a Child Alive is dedicated to providing life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, care and support services to children and families whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India by directly engaging the global public in the fight against AIDS." On Nov. 11, 12 and 13, the "Making A Difference" segments were sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline products. GlaxoSmithKline and its predecessor companies spent years fighting to prevent low-cost generic AIDS drugs from entering Africa because that would have undercut their profit margin on the AIDS drugs they were already selling. Glaxo refused to grant a license to other companies who wanted to manufacture a lower-priced generic version of the drugs to sell in Africa. In fact, in 2001, Glaxo actually sued Cipla, an Indian pharmaceutical company, to try to prevent them from introducing a low-cost AIDS drug into Ghana. Glaxo also sued the South African government over the Medicines Act, which would have allowed the government to obtain inexpensive AIDS drugs. And for years, Glaxo fought to keep their own AIDS drugs from being sold at low prices in Africa. In 2003, an AIDS advocacy group sued Glaxo to attempt to force them to allow low-cost AIDS drugs into South Africa. South Africa's Competition Commission eventually found Glaxo guilty of anti-competitive behavior, a decision that finally paved the way for the introduction of generic AIDS drugs into South Africa. In 2004, Glaxo was sued by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation over its AIDS drug pricing policies in South Africa. According to Michael Weinstein, AHF's president, "As a result of Glaxo's actions, thousands and thousands of South Africans were unable to afford or obtain Glaxo's life-saving AIDS drugs, and we believe thousands of those individuals have died of AIDS as a result." So while Alicia Keys is helping to save the lives of AIDS patients in Africa, Glaxo was actually responsible for thousands of AIDS-related deaths. It is obscene that the NBC producers would allow Glaxo to sponsor "Making A Difference" segments in the same week that Nightly News profiled the "Keep A Child Alive" foundation. Shame on them for disrespecting Alicia Keys.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Heeeeeere's Brian!

It was obscene that Brian Williams devoted more than four minutes of Monday's Nightly News to a fawning, obsequious interview with Jon Bon Jovi. More accurately, the story was about Brian hanging out with Bon Jovi and talking about all the great things the singer has done. Look how cool they are together! Meanwhile, on that same broadcast, a story about the historic health care bill was given less than three minutes of news time. I think we know where Brian's priorities are. Brian would much rather hang out (in his cool shades) with A-list celebs than report the news. In fact, each day this week, Brian will be doing a story about a different celebrity. Well, what do you expect? It's a sweeps month. Nightly News has become so much like an entertainment show that Brian might as well just drop the pretense and hire an Ed McMahon-type sidekick to sit next to him at the anchor desk. And Michael Douglas should start introducing Nightly News by saying, "Heeeeeere's Brian!"

But wait, there's more. Brian didn't mention that Bon Jovi's gig on Nightly News is part of an exclusive two-month "artist in residence" deal Bon Jovi arranged with NBC Universal as a way to promote his new album which will be released on Nov. 10 (the day after his Nightly News appearance). As part of the deal, Bon Jovi will also be appearing on Today, The Tonight Show, The Jay Leno Show, Saturday Night Live, and Inside the Actors Studio (which airs on NBC Universal's Bravo channel). So I guess that's the definition of a symbiotic relationship. Nightly News gets a ratings bump from Bon Jovi's appearance, and Bon Jovi gets to promote his new album. Sadly, Brian is taking Nightly News to a new low. We expect celebrities to go on Leno or Conan or SNL to promote their latest project. That's why those shows exist. But when a network news show invites a celebrity to appear for the purpose of promoting new material, that's just shameful. So from now on, every time we see Brian interviewing a celebrity on Nightly News, we should be wondering what type of promotional deal the celebrity devised with NBC. Brian, to paraphrase a Bon Jovi song, You Give News A Bad Name.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Fagin Of NBC

What part of Brian Williams's job description as the Nightly News teleprompter reader includes soliciting viewer contributions for his pet charities? It was grotesquely inappropriate to see Brian begging viewers to contribute to an Afghan orphanage that he profiled on Oct. 30 (and again in a follow-up story on Nov. 3). Common sense and logic tell us that most people have only a finite amount of money to give to charity. When they are coerced into donating to a particular cause, that money comes at the expense of other causes. So all the money that Nightly News viewers gave to the Afghan orphanage would have otherwise gone to orphanages in Bosnia, Zimbabwe or the United States, or to other equally needy causes. Would Brian like to explain to orphans in those countries that they won't be getting any money from his viewers because the Afghan orphans are more important? (But I certainly hope he continues to tell us again and again how generous Nightly News viewers are. We love to be pandered to.) And this isn't even the first time that Brian has used his broadcast to promote one of his favorite charities. On July 23, Nightly News aired a "Making A Difference" story about "Horizons", a summer school program that allows public school students to attend private schools. Brian introduced the story by saying, "It's popular, it's growing, it's a favorite cause in our household...." So that means we all need to know about it? News flash: Not every discussion between Brian and his wife has to be turned into a Nightly News story. It is completely inappropriate for an anchor to use a news broadcast to hawk a favorite charity. If Brian wants to promote his pet causes, he should do so in a different forum. Brian is supposed to be reporting the news, not telling us where to donate money. Nightly News is a news show, not a telethon. In fact, I'm surprised that Brian didn't borrow a page from Jerry Lewis and refer to the Afghan orphans as "Brian's kids". Maybe he should ask for a drumroll every time he announces his new donation total.

Of course, viewers haven't seen the last of the Afghan orphans. Brian introduced his Tuesday follow-up story by saying that the original segment "...has since become one of the most popular we have ever done in terms of viewer response." And that's really what matters to Brian and his producers--popular stories that increase the ratings (it's hardly a surprise that Brian chose to air this story during a sweeps period). Since the Afghan orphans spell good ratings, we can expect Brian to milk this story more than he did with Susan Boyle or the balloon boy. He will exploit those orphans like Fagin from "Oliver Twist". Maybe in his next visit to the Afghan orphanage, Brian can lead the kids in a rendition of "Food, Glorious Food".

Show Notes--Week Of Nov. 1

1) During Sunday's Nightly News story about the congressional race in upstate New York's 23rd district, we were shown some footage of former Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava, who had withdrawn from the race. Because the footage was not recent, the producers appropriately labeled it as "file" footage. On Tuesday's Nightly News, the exact same footage of Scozzafava was shown, but there was no "file" label attached to it. Why?

2) On Thursday's Nightly News story about the House health care bill, Kelly O'Donnell informed us that the bill would, "...create government-backed insurance called a public option." But the accompanying on-screen graphic read, "Create Government 'Public Opinion'." Is anyone paying attention?

3) On Tuesday's story about the H1N1 virus (which Nightly News is still calling Swine Flu), a calendar page from this past August showed Aug. 30 and 31 falling on a Friday and Saturday, respectively. In fact, those days fell on a Sunday and Monday.

4) On Tuesday's broadcast, Tom Costello reported on harmful BPA levels in plastic bottles and canned food liners. Costello told us that the chemical was present in "brand name foods from vegetable soup to tuna fish, green beans to corn and chili." But the accompanying graphic showed only generic cans labeled "chili", "vegetable soup", "green beans" and "tuna". Where are the name brands? Meanwhile, ABC's World News reported the same story on the same night. The ABC story showed canned goods from Del Monte, Progresso, Campbell's, Hormel, Hunt's, Bush's and Chef Boyardee. Clearly, Nightly News refrained from showing brand names as a favor to the many food companies that advertise on NBC shows. Just this past week, Nightly News ran commercials for Bush's Beans (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday), Progresso canned soups (Monday, Thursday and Friday), and Swanson chicken broth (Monday, Thursday and Friday). This is yet another appalling example of how the Nightly News producers adjust the content of news stories to please the sponsors.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Brian's Holiday In Afghanistan

Before anyone else nominates Brian Williams for sainthood because he spent a week in Afghanistan, there are some things that Nightly News viewers should know. Brian went to Afghanistan for completely self-serving reasons, both professionally and personally. For one thing, it's no coincidence that Brian went during the beginning of a sweeps period. Sweeps period ratings are used to set ad rates, so networks always try to schedule their most sensational and popular programming during sweeps. Hence, Brian Williams in Afghanistan. (Another example is how FOX successfully lobbied Major League Baseball to delay the beginning of the World Series until the last week in October. That was done to make sure the entire series was played during a sweeps period.)

But Brian's trip to Afghanistan was also made for personal reasons. Anyone who's watched Nightly News knows that Brian is obsessed with the military. He often brags about being on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. He has an eerily extensive collection of military challenge coins, which he was only too happy to display on the air during the Jan. 14 Nightly News. His interviews with high-ranking military brass are reverential, if not worshipful. When Brian sees stars on a uniform, he gets stars in his eyes. Brian went to Afghanistan so that he could play soldier. He got to dress like a soldier, travel like a soldier, talk like a soldier, eat like a soldier and sleep like a soldier. He got to mingle with the enlisted personnel and hobnob with colonels and generals. The trip to Afghanistan was like a fantasy camp for Brian. In fact, many civilians actually pay good money to "enlist" in fantasy boot camps where a former marine drill sergeant will put them through the rigors of boot camp-style life. Of course, Brian didn't have to pay for his military experience--he continued to draw his 8-figure salary while he was vacationing in Afghanistan. So let's not canonize Brian just yet for fulfilling one of his fantasies. Selfishness is not a virtue.

The Bard Of 30 Rock

Will someone please buy Brian Williams a reference almanac? During his intro to Monday's "Making A Difference" story about Chicago students who perform Shakespeare, Brian said of the Bard, "And while he's been gone for over 400 years...." Not quite. Shakespeare died in 1616, so he's only been gone for 393 years. I would expect this type of mistake from a lesser scholar, but et tu, Brian? Something is rotten in the state of 30 Rock. Remember: The fault, dear Brian, is not in our producers but in ourselves. A fact checker, a fact checker! My kingdom for a fact checker! Perhaps the studio lights were so bright that Brian couldn't read his teleprompter. If so, he should have proclaimed, "Out, damned spotlight!"

Saturday, October 31, 2009

No Coaching, Please

It's obvious that Andeisha Farid was coached before her Friday "Making A Difference" interview with Brian Williams. Farid, who runs an orphanage in Kabul, told Brian that, "I am sure I'm doing a difference for Afghan people." The awkward phrasing of that sentence indicates that either Brian or his producers informed Farid prior to the interview that since the segment is called "Making A Difference", she would be expected to use that phrase during the interview. Farid did the best she could to comply with the demand, but with her limited English skills "making a difference" became "doing a difference". This raises some disturbing ethical questions: How often do Nightly News producers, anchors or correspondents coach their subjects prior to taping an interview? Do they tell them what they are expected to say? Do they tell them what would make a good sound bite? If it happened once, it's a sure bet that it has happened before. It is a violation of the public trust to coach subjects before the interview begins. However, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the producers to end this deceitful practice.

Macho Man Brian

After watching Brian report from Afghanistan this week in his little flak jacket and matching helmet, my first thought was that he was dressing up as a soldier for Halloween. My second thought was that he had joined the Village People.

General Misspellings

From Brian Williams's Oct. 30 Daily Nightly blog: "While we didn't fly halfway around the world just to interview generals or ambassadors, its (sic) nonetheless notable that we've been in the region a week and we will depart for home having not been granted an interview with a single senior U.S. official...Tonight I was invited to a dinner at the official residence of U.S. Ambassador Eikenberry, where Generals Patreus and McCrystal were present..."

Maybe if Brian learned to correctly spell the names of Generals Petraeus and McChrystal, they'd be more willing to grant his interview requests.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pumping Irony

Beginning two weeks ago, the website posted three separate videos of Maria Shriver talking on her cell phone while driving, which is illegal in California (where Shriver was at the time). Virtually every local, national and cable news network ran the story and aired the videos. But not Nightly News. Now, this is exactly the type of story Nightly News loves--celebrity gone afoul of the law. And Shriver is a celebrity in many worlds. She's a noted journalist, a member of the Kennedy family (and niece of a president), married to a mega-star (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and the First Lady of California. So why didn't Nightly News run this story? The answer is obvious. The story broke just a week before Shriver was to begin her stint as host of the "A Woman's Nation" series on Nightly News. The producers refused to run her phoning-while-driving story so as not to detract from her upcoming appearances on their broadcast. Once again, the Nightly News producers allowed self-interest to influence their news coverage. Shame on them for their Kindergarten Cop-Out.

Our Man In Afghanistan

Starting Tuesday evening, Oct. 27, Brian Williams will be reporting the news from Afghanistan. Of course he will--the November Nielsen sweeps period starts on Oct. 29 this year, so that will put Brian in Afghanistan right at the beginning of sweeps month. How convenient. And as a special sweeps stunt, Brian will be riding along on army helicopter raids in a balloon designed by Richard Heene.

Mystery State

On Sunday's Nightly News story about the H1N1 virus (which they are still calling Swine Flu), John Yang told us that 27 states are short of hospital beds because of the virus. But the accompanying map only highlighted 26 states. So which is the super-secret mystery state that Nightly News refused to show? Perhaps it was the state of carelessness.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nightly News Loves Women!

All this week, Nightly News presented a series of stories they called "A Woman's Nation", purportedly about the role of women in American society. Here's what I think about the series: It was a huge waste of time. It was just filler. It didn't teach us anything. The Monday and Tuesday segments consisted of Maria Shriver sitting around a table with a group of people while they talked about themselves. That's not something that belongs on an evening news broadcast. The first of Wednesday's two segments featured Savannah Guthrie's interview with Pres. Obama. His anecdotal thoughts on gender roles were somewhat interesting, but certainly not news. Wednesday's second "A Woman's Nation" segment about women caregivers spent nearly all its time on the story of one particular woman. I can't imagine why the Nightly News producers felt that Helen Zabrowski deserved three minutes of network news time. (But I will say this: Ms. Zabrowski bears a slight resemblance to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Since Nightly News obviously has no intention of covering last month's German elections, viewers watching the segment on Ms. Zabrowski could squint and pretend she was Chancellor Merkel. That's certainly the closest we'll get to seeing Angela Merkel on Nightly News.) Thursday's segment was about gender roles in the workplace. It wasn't particularly enlightening, but it allowed NBC to take care of some important business. Nearly half the story dealt with Jan Fields, the chief operating officer for McDonald's USA. She was given the opportunity to talk about McDonald's "world-famous french fries" and to ruminate on what a great place McDonald's is to work. This was nothing more than a 75 second commercial for McDonald's. Friday's "A Woman's Nation" (which also doubled as a "Making A Difference" segment) was about Bea Stotzer, who offers financial counseling and other services to Latinas. It seems like she's doing good work. But it certainly isn't news.

All together, the six "A Woman's Nation" segments took up more than 20 minutes of Nightly News time. That's almost the equivalent of an entire broadcast. Meanwhile, the actual information in those segments could have been explained in less than two minutes. What an incredible waste of network news time. Imagine all the real news that Nightly News could have covered in those 20 minutes. Writing on his Wednesday Daily Nightly blog, Brian Williams said that he hopes to address some of the criticisms of the "A Woman's Nation" series. I would be very interested in hearing that. But I won't hold my breath.

Brian H.W. Williams

Someone should buy Brian Williams a calendar. During his intro to Friday's report about next month's elections, Brian said, "Depending on where you live in this country, an important election day is coming up this coming Tuesday..." Not quite. This coming Tuesday is Oct. 27. Election day is a week later, on Nov. 3. That reminds me of the time George H.W. Bush commemorated the 47th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day on Sept. 7, 1988, three months early. I only hope that Brian isn't going to be standing in his doorway ready to dispense Halloween candy on Oct. 24.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Show About Nothing

Once again, not surprisingly, there was no Nightly News last Saturday. Obviously, college football is more important to NBC than news. By "more important", of course, I mean "more profitable". But I have to wonder why NBC bothers to air a weekend edition of Nightly News at all. Last Sunday's broadcast was so devoid of any actual news that it didn't seem worth showing, despite the fact that it had been 48 hours since Nightly News had last aired. Sunday's broadcast led off, of course, with a three-and-a-half-minute story about the latest exploits of the balloon boy and his family. (So far, Nightly News has aired a total of thirteen minutes and forty seconds worth of stories about the balloon boy, which is only 32 seconds less than they devoted to Susan Boyle stories last April and May. But my money's on the balloon boy to soon overtake Boyle.) A shorter piece on health care followed, but it was just a recap of the past week's events. Other than a few brief quotes from the Sunday morning talk shows, there was no new information. Then Michelle Franzen spent nearly two minutes reporting the weather. I'm not quite sure why a national news show is broadcasting the weather, since most people get the weather from their local news. I guess NBC has to find some way to justify their purchase of The Weather Channel. Next, Lester Holt spent all of 20 seconds telling us about a suicide bomb in Iran that killed 42 people. Stephanie Gosk then reported from Pakistan, but her report was just a rehashing of the past week's events. (If Gosk's name doesn't ring a bell, viewers may recall her in-depth three-minute "news report" about the discomfort of wearing high-heeled shoes that aired on the June 24 Nightly News). A story about the Swine Flu presented no new information, but tried hard to scare us. We were then treated to a three-minute story about the 20th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake. Not exactly breaking news. Finally, we got a story about a painting that was determined to be a previously unknown Leonardo da Vinci. Interesting story, but not really news. And that was Sunday's Nightly News. The actual news from that broadcast could have fit into a two-minute segment. So if this is NBC's concept of weekend news, maybe we'd all be better off without it.

Interestingly, Dan rather was interviewed by Matt Frei on Friday's edition of BBC World News America. Rather spoke about the balloon boy story, and the state of network news in general. Here is some of what he said: "The pressure for demographics and ratings--don't be out of step--don't be old-fashioned--is extremely strong in nearly every news organization." "But if you weigh that [the balloon boy story] against what's happening with the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan--really important news--it speaks to the trivialization of news...and I don't think it speaks well for American journalism." "What's missing here is that sense of news being a public trust and news being a public trust should be operated at least some of the time in the public interest--not just in the profit interest." Rather didn't specifically mention NBC News by name, but then again he didn't have to.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Falcon and the Showman

It was obscene that Nightly News led off Thursday's broadcast with a four-minute-and-fifty-second story about the little boy who may or may not have been hiding in his father's helium balloon. This story deserved thirty seconds at most: The balloon became untethered and took off, six-year-old Falcon Heene may have been inside it, and as it turns out, he was safe and sound, hiding in his attic. End of story. But not for Nightly News. They stretched it out to almost five minutes, using two different correspondents. Of course, no regular viewer should be surprised by this. It is the Nightly News policy to emphasize the sensationalistic at the expense of real news. Interestingly, the balloon boy story was also the lead on many of the celebrity gossip shows. The Nightly News producers are obviously striving to make their show more and more like Extra. In fact, I'm surprised that Mario Lopez wasn't asked to sit in for the vacationing Brian Williams this week. Although Brian was not the anchor of Thursday's broadcast, his fingerprints were all over the balloon boy story. As the Nightly News managing editor, Brian is one of the main architects of the current broadcast and is largely responsible for shaping it into its present form. Whereas Nightly News once reported actual news, it is now an amalgamation of stories about light fare, human interest, cuddly animals, celebrity interviews, rah-rah patriotism, military idolization and do-gooders helping down-and-outers. In truth, Brian is not so much an anchor as he is an old-fashioned carnival showman. He is much more P.T. Barnum than E.R. Murrow. Rather than a suit and tie, Brian should be dressed in a carnival barker's outfit, complete with red-and-white striped blazer, spats, straw hat and cane. Night after night, he implores us to step right up and see the greatest show on earth, a broadcast full of two-headed cows, conjoined twins, bearded ladies, sword swallowers and fire eaters. And like all good showmen, Brian is motivated by self-promotion. Each night, Nightly News uses faux news stories to promote NBC shows, NBC/Universal properties, sponsors' products and anything or anyone that Brian happens to like. When NBC is airing a major golf tournament, Nightly News does stories about Tiger Woods. When it's football season, Nightly News airs stories to promote their Sunday Night Football. And during the Olympics--forget it. Nightly News relentlessly promotes the Games as news. Jay and Conan are often featured in Nightly News stories. And then there are Brian's favorites: Bruce. Bono. Firefighters. Medal of Honor winners. Aviation. High ranking military brass. American cars. All are featured prominently in Brian's broadcasts. One loses track of all the categories in which Brian describes himself as a "buff". Step right up, folks, and watch Nightly News. As P.T. Williams likes to say: "There's a sucker born every minute."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Caring About Those Who Care About Health Care

On Tuesday, Nightly News devoted two minutes and twenty seconds to a story about what three members of a California family think about the health care debate. Meanwhile, that night's broadcast did not bother to cover a single story from outside the U.S. But at least we know what three people in California think about health care. Great job. Keep up the good work.


Here's what Ann Curry said during Tuesday's Nightly News: "This was the scene in Southern Louisiana earlier today as the brand new USS New York left the shipyard headed for its namesake city." Someone should inform Ms. Curry that the ship is named for the State of New York, not the City of New York. As such, New York State, not New York City, is the ship's namesake.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Brian's Bad Hair Day

Brian Williams devoted three minutes and forty seconds of Thursday's Nightly News broadcast to a discussion with Chris Rock and Nia Long about hair care products for African-American women.

This is from Brian's Friday Daily Nightly blog: "I was disturbed to see that we received several negative emails overnight regarding last night's segment with Chris Rock."

What a joke. Brian should win an Emmy award for this performance--pretending that he was disturbed by all the viewers who were angry at the amount of time he devoted to his Chris Rock interview. I don't believe for a second that Brian was disturbed about the emails. I really don't believe he cares at all. Brian knows exactly what his broadcast is because he and his producers have spent years shaping it into its present form. I'm reminded of the scene in Howard Stern's movie "Private Parts" where the research director tells Howard that people who like him tune in to hear what he'll say next--and people who don't like him also tune in to hear what he'll say next. Brian doesn't care what viewers think of Nightly News, as long as they continue to watch. The ratings are all that matter. Brian presides over a broadcast that makes an intentional point of offering stories with no news value, because that's what attracts viewers. Remember the skateboarding bulldogs and the little girl who threw back a foul ball at a Phillies game? That's the Nightly News Brian and his producers want us to see.

Brian continues, "Some people just don't like Chris Rock, others felt that we used precious network news time for what I like to call an 'elective' feature topic–not among the most compelling events of our day. Actually, I feel (and have always felt) that we have the time, the room and the flexibility to offer such electives—whether it's highlighting our 'Making A Difference' stories—or generally bringing our attention to a topic we would normally not dial into."

Brian feels that he has the time to present such stories? That's a load of number two (as Brian so eloquently phrased it is his Wednesday breaking news story about what Bo left on Air Force One). A newscast of 22-24 minutes a night does not have a second to waste on these so-called electives. With so much going on in our country and around the world, even a full hour would not be enough. Brian and his producers simply choose to ignore important stories in favor of fluff pieces because those are the stories that bring in viewers. The same night that Brian devoted 3:40 to Chris Rock, he spent all of 20 seconds on a story about a car bomb in Kabul that killed 17 people. I guess Chris Rock is 11 times more important than the lives of those 17 people. Why won't Brian just admit that his broadcast panders for ratings by presenting a steady diet of celebrities and non-news stories? Brian's claim that Nightly News is a serious journalistic broadcast is like a troubled family that refuses to admit there's a problem. It's dysfunctional. Everyone will be better off if Brian just comes clean and fesses up. "My name is Brian and I pad my newscast with fluff." The viewers already know. The truth will set him free.

Brian concludes his blog with, "But it’s a conversation we will continue..."

No it isn't. Brian rarely acknowledges negative viewer comments. In fact, his Daily Nightly blog often refuses to print them. The first rule of public relations is "say nothing unless you absolutely have to". Nightly News is #1 in the ratings. So Brian and his producers aren't going to change a thing about their broadcast, and we shouldn't expect to hear Brian say anything else about the subject. Unless, of course, Bruce or Bono tell him to.

Helen Keller's Principal's Calendar

On Wednesday's Nightly News, a caption below a photo of Helen Keller identified her as "Hellen Keller".

On Friday's broadcast, a story about the H1N1 virus (which they still refer to as "Swine Flu") showed a September calendar page with 31 days. This is the third time in less than a month that they have shown a calendar page with the incorrect number of days.

Also on Friday, a story about the search for water on the moon identified Anthony Colaprete as the "LCROSS Principle Investigator". He is, in fact, the LCROSS Principal Investigator.

Is anyone at Nightly News paying attention to what they put on the air?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No TD, No Extra Point For NBC

Last week, a glitch in the TD Bank computer system caused major problems for many of the bank's 6.5 million customers. Some customers were unable to access direct deposit funds or log on to their on-line accounts. And some deposits were not credited to accounts in a timely fashion. But Nightly News did not even mention this story. Why? TD Ameritrade (of which TD Bank owns 39%) is a major advertiser on NBC. And during the month of September, TD Ameritrade was also a prominent sponsor of MSNBC's Daily Nightly blog. (Their logo was seen in the same place the MSN logo is seen this month.) It's clear that Nightly News did not report on the TD Bank problem because they were protecting a major sponsor. Of course, this is nothing new. Nightly News regularly airs favorable "news stories" about frequently-advertised products while refusing to report stories that are unflattering to regular sponsors. The TD Bank story is a perfect example of this. How can viewers trust a newscast that shows such favoritism towards sponsors? Answer: They can't.

Work One, NBC Zero

Welcome back, Work One! From January through April, anytime Nightly News ran a story about unemployment, they showed a clip of people waiting in line outside a Work One center (which is some sort of job placement center). They used that same clip dozens and dozens of times over that four-month period. They used it so often that I felt like I knew the people in line. Well, it's ba-a-ack. During the intro to Friday's Nightly News (10/2), there it was again--the Work One Center, just as I remember it from earlier this year. All my favorite people were there, slowly trudging through the door. Maybe this is some sort of retro throwback clip, like those commercials that use old ad footage of their products from decades past. Or perhaps it's a seasonal thing. Since everyone in the clip is dressed for winter, the producers may have put it on hiatus during the warm weather. Will we be seeing more vintage clips of the Work One center? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Air Plugs

From Brian's Oct. 5 Daily Nightly blog: "My wife and I had a weekend that resembled a MasterCard commercial." Nice plug for MasterCard, Brian. I wonder how much he charges to plug a product in his blog? Or is he just being a good NBC employee by rewarding a regular sponsor with a favorable mention?

Also from Brian's Oct. 5 blog: "Forgive me the short post, but I'm trying to focus my meager concentration on the broadcast tonight. We hope you can join us." Brian should have said, "...I'm trying to focus my concentration on the meager broadcast tonight." It would have made more sense that way.


Congratulations, Nightly News! On the Oct. 4 broadcast, they correctly identified Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On the Sept. 11 broadcast, her name was misspelled as "Dr. Ann Schuchet". At least someone at Nightly News seems to be trying.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Breaking News: Grilled Cheese

Thank you Brian Williams and Nightly News for Friday's "Making A Difference" segment about Betty Tucker, who works the overnight shift in the kitchen of Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital. Meanwhile, Nightly News has not even mentioned last Sunday's national election in Germany, but at least we know all about Betty Tucker's grilled cheese. Great job, guys. Keep up the good work.

Strictly Minor League

On Tuesday's Nightly News, Brian Williams sardonically noted that during the previous night's Yankee game, manager Joe Girardi rested some veteran players, and thus had benched $644 million worth of talent. Although Brian likes to pretend he's one of the regular folk, his eight-figure salary is more than three times the major league average and puts him close to the lofty salary level of A-Rod and Jeter. Brian's derisive comment about inflated major league salaries is like a weak pop out to the catcher.

Brother Brian

From Brian Williams's Sept. 30 Daily Nightly blog: "Chicago was this week in the news for a stomach-turning act of violence, and today I link to a thoughtful and edgy and provocative essay on our sister (or brother) website—not everyone will agree with its conclusion, but it will make people think."

What exactly does Brian mean by his use of the word "brother"? Since is a site devoted to the discussion of issues in the African-American community, it would seem that Brian's use of "brother" is intended to mock a word that has a specific meaning to African-Americans. Of course, this insensitivity is nothing new for Brian or Nightly News. On Jan. 26, Brian's Daily Nightly blog was titled "Old Man River At Obama's Inauguration". (The title refers to Capt. Chesley Sullenberger's appearance at the inauguration.) The original lyrics to the song "Old Man River" (also known as "Ol' Man River") were written by Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1927 play "Showboat". Unfortunately, the lyrics were extremely racist, and included multiple uses of the vile "N" word. Hardly an appropriate blog title to commemorate the inauguration of America's first African-American president. And on Sept. 15, a Nightly News story about race in politics identified Rep. Steny Hoyer (who is white) as the House Majority Leader, but identified Rep. James Clyburn (who is African-American) only as a Democrat from South Carolina, despite the fact that Clyburn is the House Majority Whip, the third most powerful position in the House. Why did Nightly News identify the white congressman by his prestigious House leadership position, but did not do the same for the African-American congressman? Clearly, Brian and his producers could use some counseling with regard to the issue of racial sensitivity.

Mary Had A Little Beef (With NBC)

In 1972, Paul McCartney & Wings released a song called "Give Ireland Back To The Irish". Because of the political nature of the song, the BBC promptly banned it from their airwaves. As a protest, McCartney then released a version of "Mary Had A Little Lamb", which was also banned by the BBC. The moderators of NBC's Daily Nightly blog have refused to print my last 8 comments, going back to mid-September. Many of my other comments to their blog over the past year have also been banned, although my comments have never violated any of the blog's posted rules. In the spirit of Paul McCartney, I submitted "Mary Had A Little Lamb" to the Daily Nightly. I wonder if they will print it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Brian's Exciting Day

From Brian Williams's Oct. 1 Daily Nightly blog: "Arriving at LaGuardia to take the Shuttle to Washington today (where I interviewed Gen. David Petraeus, the 4-star head of U.S. Central Command), I considered it a good luck charm when I caught a glimpse of 'Sully' at the USAirways terminal -- he was there for the media event preceeding his flight today to North Carolina."

Brian saw Capt. Chesley Sullenberger and Gen. David Petraeus on the same day? He must have peed himself from all the excitement. So to whom did Brian act more fawningly obsequious--Sully or Petraeus? By the way, His Exalted Anchorness misspelled "preceding" in his blog entry. I guess someone of his stature can't be bothered to spellcheck.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Extra Days For Everyone!

The Nightly News producers still don't get it. On Sept. 15, a story about the H1N1 vaccine showed a September calendar page that contained 31 days. And last Sunday (Sept. 27), a story about airfares showed a November calendar page with 31 days. Once again: "Thirty days has September, April, June and November...." I wonder if Nightly News employees are getting paid for those two extra days.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How About "Qam"?

On Friday's Nightly News, a story about Iran's nuclear program featured a map that identified the city of "Qom". Moments later, another map spelled the city as "Qum". How about picking a spelling and sticking with it?

And during Friday's obituary for Timothy J. Russert, Sr. (father of the late Meet The Press moderator), Ann Curry informed us that Russert was 85 at the time of his death. But the caption below Russert's on-screen photo read "1920-2009", which would have made him several years older. So which is correct? This error is especially egregious considering that NBC just won an editing Emmy for Dateline's obituary of Tim Russert, Jr. Out of respect for the Russert family, couldn't Nightly News get the facts straight?

Brian Williams Loves Your City!

From Brian Williams's Sept. 24 Daily Nightly blog: "I can't help but feel sad here in Pittsburgh, mostly because I love Pittsburgh. This is such a vibrant, proud, compact, loyal, strong and beautiful modern city...."

What a joke. Brian would offer these same generic words of praise for any city from which he happened to be anchoring. Brian's job is to pander to as wide an audience as possible in order to attract as many viewers as possible. Here are a few other recent examples of Brian's pandering:

> "And good evening from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one of the great American cities...." (9/24 Nightly News)
> "One of the most startlingly beautiful cities in the world...." (Speaking about Sydney, 9/23 Nightly News)
> "The city of Chicago has never looked better. Day or night it is simply breathtaking." (From Brian's 9/21 blog)
> "Tom Brokaw on Highway 50. His next stop by the way is the great American town of Emporia, Kansas." (9/9 Nightly News)
> "There's a great place to be--The scene tonight on the Navy Pier in Chicago--70 degrees going down to 55 tonight, 77 tomorrow afternoon." (9/4 Nightly News. This was a complete non sequitur--there was no actual story about the Navy Pier, just another excuse to pander.)
> "We thought it might also be because it looks like one of those beautiful Rhode Island beaches on the real Block Island." (8/4 Nightly News, after reporting that a rock on Mars was named "Block Island" by NASA)
> "The Great Lakes are spectacular." (7/17 Nightly News)
> "If your summer plans include the great city of Chicago...." followed by, "Luckily, Chicago is also beautiful when viewed from the sidewalk." (7/1 Nightly News, before and after a story about a glass-bottomed viewing area in the then-Sears Tower)

Chicago seems to be a particular beneficiary of Brian's fawning praise. I assume that the NBC News research department has informed Brian and his producers that viewership in the Chicago area has fallen off and thus is in need of some extra special pandering.

Also from Brian's Sept. 24 Daily Nightly blog: "I noticed the young woman in the TSA line in front of me. She was wearing flip-flops but had a pair of combat boots in her carry-on tote bag. As she placed her laptop in the plastic bin, I noticed the bumper sticker she had affixed to the lid. It read, 'ANARCHY.' And I thought: How brilliant...she's a protest commuter! She's able, conceivably, to wake up in New York, fly to Pittsburgh, protest against the G-20, and be home in time for Leno! It’s almost the same thing I'm doing -- except for the protest part -- and it struck me that we're both flying to Pittsburgh to utilize the First Amendment. What a country."

Here's another joke: Brian going on and on about the First Amendment. We all know that dissent and alternate points of view are not tolerated on Brian's broadcast. Nightly News only airs stories that support their specific point of view, which can best be described as flag-waving eagle-soaring jingoistic rah-rah pseudo-patriotism. Any newscast that uses phrases like "wounded warriors" and "fallen heroes" cannot be taken seriously as a reliable source of news. And by the way, if Brian believes so strongly in freedom of speech, why do his editors refuse to print so many comments submitted to his blog? I would estimate that 30% of the comments I submit to his blog are not printed. Brian is a hypocrite. But at least he managed to get in yet another plug for Leno. And that's what really matters. Well done, Brian.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mirror, Mirror On The Stand, Who's The Pettiest in All The Land? NBC!

NBC News is without a doubt the most absurdly petty news organization on the planet. On last Friday's Nightly News, Brian Williams described President Obama's upcoming weekend media blitz by telling us that the President would be appearing on, "Five Sunday morning political shows and entertainment--the Late Show on Monday night." But Brian refused to even mention David Letterman--the host of the Late Show. On Sunday's broadcast, Mike Viqueira took this absurdity one step further, saying only that the President would be appearing Monday on "late night television". This is insane. Perhaps the NBC executives have a bitter grudge against Letterman for leaving their network. But it's more likely that they are desperately trying to protect Conan O'Brien. Letterman's show is regularly beating the Tonight Show in the ratings, and so the executives decided that ignoring Letterman will help Conan. They have forbidden Brian and the Nightly News correspondents from ever saying "Letterman" on the air unless it is absolutely necessary. It wasn't until Monday that Brian finally relented and mentioned Letterman by name. But before showing a clip of Letterman's interview with the President, Brian said, "The President was asked about former President Jimmy Carter's comments TO US last week that racism is behind a lot of the vitriol we've been seeing at town hall meetings and protests across the country of late." Incredible. Brian actually tried to twist things around to make the President's appearance on Letterman seem as if it was all about Nightly News! But this fear of Letterman is nothing new. Last Nov. 12, Nightly News aired a story about John McCain shortly after he lost the presidential election. Kelly O'Donnell told us us that McCain's campaign had "kicked off on late-night television"--again refusing to mention Letterman or his show. (McCain had announced his candidacy on Letterman's show back in Feb., 2007.) Not only did O'Donnell refuse to mention Letterman's name, but during an excerpt from this show, only McCain could be seen. The Nightly News producers would not even show Letterman's face in an excerpt from his own program! And the on-screen credit read only "Worldwide Pants" (Letterman's production company). They wouldn't even display his name (or the name of his show) on the screen. This pettiness is beyond absurd.

While Nightly News strenuously avoids mentioning NBC's rivals, they are more than happy to air story after story promoting their own properties. On Sunday's Nightly News--the same broadcast in which Viqueira refused to mention Letterman or his show--viewers were treated to a two-minute-and-forty-second "news story" about the Dallas Cowboys' new $1.1 billion football stadium. Not coincidentally, this story ran just minutes before NBC aired a Sunday night football game between the Giants and--you guessed it--the Cowboys. In this segment, Matt Lauer strolled around the new stadium with former Cowboy Emmitt Smith. There's Lauer in the stands. There's Lauer opening the roof. There's Lauer showing off the luxury boxes. There's Lauer talking about the enormous new 2300 inch hi-def scoreboard. Of course, Lauer never mentioned the most-discussed fact about the new stadium: the scoreboard is low enough to be hit by a punt. I imagine the Cowboys' executives who granted access to Lauer made it clear they didn't want that mentioned. Lauer also didn't mention that some fans are required to shell out $150,000 for seat licenses in addition to the cost of their season tickets. It is truly disgusting that the Nightly News producers would use their broadcast to promote NBC's Sunday Night Football. And as if that wasn't bad enough, poor Lester Holt was forced to read football promos before and after Lauer's infomercial. Nightly News is allowing the way in which they report stories to be influenced by who they want to plug or by who they want to ignore. Clearly, this is unethical. This is a professional news organization?

But wait--there's more. On Monday's broadcast, Brian used 50 seconds of valuable news time for the sole purpose of boasting and crowing that the Cowboys-Giants game won Sunday night's ratings race with 21.7 million viewers. I hope he didn't hurt his shoulder from all that back-patting. That is one of the most undignified and unprofessional displays ever seen on a network newscast. Has Brian no shame?

Re: Re-election

Brian Williams should get his facts straight. On Monday's Nightly News story about the tension between President Obama and New York Governor David Paterson, Brian said, "Reports have it the President doesn't want the Governor to run for re-election and has said so because he doesn't like his chances." On Sunday's Nightly News, Chuck Todd also spoke of Paterson's bid for "re-election". Wrong. Paterson, who was the Lieutenant Governor when Eliot Spitzer resigned eighteen months ago, became Governor without ever having been elected to that office. In order to be re-elected, one must first be elected. Paterson was not. The managing editor and political director of Nightly News should know better.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Which States Does Nightly News Hate?

During Friday's Nightly News story about the H1N1 virus (which they are still referring to as Swine Flu), Robert Bazell informed us that the virus was present in all 50 states. But the accompanying map listed only 48 states by name, omitting New Mexico and Rhode Island. What does Nightly News have against those two states? This is very suspicious.

Racial Insensitivity At Nightly News

During Tuesday's Nightly News story about race in politics, Rep. Steny Hoyer was identified by an on-screen caption as "(D) House Majority Leader". Moments later, Rep. James Clyburn was identified only as "(D) South Carolina" despite the fact that Rep. Clyburn is the House Majority Whip, the third most powerful position in the House. Why was Hoyer, a white congressman, identified by his prestigious House leadership position, while Clyburn, an African-American congressman, was not? This would be a disrespectful omission under any circumstances, but to have it occur during a story about race in politics is truly appalling. I believe that Rep. Clyburn deserves an apology from Brian Williams, Kelly O'Donnell (who reported the story) and the producer who was in charge of the segment.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Country Or College?

Sometimes art imitates life imitating art. Or something like that. On Thursday, NBC unveiled a new comedy called "Community" (at least they claim it's a comedy). The main character in the show has to go back to college because his state bar suspended his law license when they found out that his undergrad degree came from Colombia (the country) and not Columbia (the Ivy League University). Flash back to last November 9. During a Nightly News story about how statins could reduce the risk of heart attacks, we were shown a list of all the countries where the medical trials were taking place. And one of the countries they listed was "Columbia". Really. I mean it. You can't make this stuff up.

Cult Member Brian

From Brian Williams's Sept. 17 Daily Nightly blog: "If you watch any NBC programming, you've seen them: The public service announcements on smoking prevention, good health, manners, child-raising and generally good things. They are hosted by recognizable faces from the NBC television family, and they are called 'The More You Know' (accompanied by a short jingle). They are among the best things our company does, they are well-produced and perform a true public service. I look forward to doing them every year, and I've just returned from this year's production shoot, where my place in the batting order was after Jimmy Fallon and before Dr. Nancy Snyderman. It is always a true pleasure being asked to be involved in such a worthy campaign, and I want to publicly thank Susan Haspel, who runs the operation, for treating me so well year after year."

Is he kidding us? What a load of crap. Among the best things NBC does? What good things does NBC do? It earns billions of dollars from stupid comedies, mindless reality shows, inane dramas and infomercials. NBC also airs news shows whose main goal is to earn money by pandering for high ratings. If Brian really thinks that NBC is doing good things, he's been drinking the Kool-Aid for way too long. Actually, Brian does sound a lot like a cult member. "The NBC television family...They perform a true public service...I look forward to doing them every year...It is always a true pleasure...such a worthy campaign." Wow. Brian needs some serious anti-cult therapy. He should visit the NBC Vice-President For De-Programming.

Foul Stench

It was disgusting that Nightly News devoted two minutes and fifteen seconds of Wednesday's broadcast to the story of a three-year-old girl who threw back a foul ball at a Phillies game. In what alternate universe does this qualify as news? Obviously, the Nightly News producers do not understand their responsibility to the viewers. Meanwhile, that night's broadcast did not contain a single story from anywhere outside the U.S. But at least we know all about the little girl who threw back a foul ball. Great job, guys. Keep up the good work.


During Tuesday's Nightly News story about the H1N1 virus, the producers displayed several calendar pages on screen to illustrate when the flu vaccine might be ready. Unfortunately, their September calendar page had 31 days. I guess no one at Nightly News has ever heard, "Thirty days has September, April, June and November...." I'm hoping that Brian Williams will explain this gaffe on his September 31 Daily Nightly blog entry.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Foot Fault Against Nightly News

On Sunday, Nightly News aired a story about Serena Williams's meltdown during her U.S. Open semi-final match with Kim Clijsters. Lee Cowan told us that Williams was called for a foot fault at match point. Wrong. When she was called for the foot fault, Williams was down 15-30 and trailing 6-5 in games. The foot fault brought the game to match point and then a code violation (resulting in the loss of a point) was assessed against Williams, costing her the match. What is truly incredible is that as Cowan was giving us the incorrect information, the correct information was right there for all to see. The video of the foot fault call shown by NBC clearly displayed the 15-30 score in the lower left corner of the screen. But Cowan still couldn't get it right. And how many Nightly News producers, editors and other personnel viewed this story before it aired without noticing the mistake? Almost every night, Nightly News makes some sort of error--grammar, spelling, mathematical, factual, etc. Sadly, it's as if no one at NBC News cares about what they put on the air. At the very least, a network news organization should be concerned with getting the facts straight. Although I noticed that Natalie Morales had all the facts straight on Sunday when she read a promo for Maria Bartiromo's CNBC special "1 Year Later: Reflections From The Street" (airing later that night) and when she signed off with a promo for NBC's Sunday Night Football. I guess we know where NBC's priorities are.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Across The Blogiverse

Last Tuesday, Andy Franklin, the editor of the Daily Nightly blog, wrote a lengthy piece contradicting Walter Cronkite's recollection that the Beatles had made their American television debut on his CBS Evening News program (and that Ed Sullivan learned of the Beatles from Cronkite's broadcast). I used this opportunity to voice my displeasure with how slow Franklin is to post comments to the Daily Nightly blog. Here is my response to Franklin:

Since you are the editor of the Daily Nightly blog, your comments are, of course, posted immediately. But the rest of us have to wait up to 3 weeks for our comments to be posted (assuming they are posted at all). That seems a bit unfair, doesn't it? Why are you being such a MEAN MR. MUSTARD? I'M DOWN about the HELTER SKELTER way your blog is edited. ISN'T IT A PITY that our posts often get NO REPLY? TELL ME WHY it takes such a LONG, LONG, LONG time. I have never IN MY LIFE had to WAIT so long for my posts to appear. YOU CAN'T DO THAT! I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER than to keep posting. Honestly, Andy, HOW DO YOU SLEEP? WHAT GOES ON with this blog, anyway? Please DON'T LET ME DOWN. I'M SO TIRED of waiting for comments to be posted--HELP us by posting them quickly. Please end the MISERY and MIND GAMES. Whatever the problem is, WE CAN WORK IT OUT. I hope the situation will be GETTING BETTER soon. I'VE GOT A FEELING that IT WON'T BE LONG. At least I IMAGINE so. YESTERDAY is over. And TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS. GOOD NIGHT. THE END.

Not Even Close

During Friday's story about the H1N1 virus (which Brian Williams is still calling Swine Flu), we saw an excerpt of a briefing by Dr. Anne Schuchat, Asst. Surgeon General and Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control. Unfortunately, a Nightly News on-screen ID line spelled her name as "Dr. Ann Schuchet". Incredibly, Nightly News managed to misspell both of her names despite the fact that during the briefing she was wearing a name tag! Well, at least they managed to spell "Dr." correctly. If anyone at Nightly News had bothered to google "Dr. Ann Schuchet", they would have been asked "Did you mean Dr. Anne Schuchat?" Then they would have found 69,500 entries under her correct name--including a transcript of a May 12 CDC Telebriefing on Investigation of Human Cases of H1N1 Flu in which a CDC moderator actually spells out Dr. Schuchat's name for members of the press. Is anyone at Nightly News even trying?

Why Brian Is Presidential

On Sept. 4, Brian Williams reported that the Associated Press printed a photo of an injured marine who later died of his wounds. Brian then earnestly pledged that, "NBC News, by the way, is not airing the image in question." What a joke. Nightly News would show any photo or video if Brian and his producers thought it would result in a ratings bump. If Nightly News isn't showing the picture, it's only because the NBC News research department has already informed Brian and his producers that there would be no perceptible ratings gain as a result of displaying the photo. And by the way--a pledge from Brian isn't worth the audio tape it's recorded on. This past Jan. 5, Brian pledged that Nightly News would not air any stories about Sasha and Malia Obama unless there is a compelling reason to do so. Fast forward to Aug. 17 when Nightly News aired a story Sasha and Malia are enjoying their totally awesome summer vacation. That's a compelling reason to report on Sasha and Malia? I don't think so. I guess Brian and I just disagree on the definition of "compelling".

Meanwhile, Brian fancies himself a scholar of presidential history. So he should be gratified to know that he has so much in common with many of his study subjects. Many presidents also made pledges that weren't true: "I am not a crook."(Nixon) "There is no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe."(Ford) "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."(Clinton) "Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction."(George W. Bush) "Read my lips--no new taxes."(George H.W. Bush) "We did not--repeat, did not--trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we."(Reagan) "I have previously stated and I repeat now that the United States intends no military intervention in Cuba."(Kennedy)

Bravo, Brian. You're in good company.

Supreme Court Buff(oon)

On Wednesday, Nightly News correspondent Pete Williams reported that the Supreme Court convened for an early session this week to hear arguments in a campaign finance case. We heard an audio portion of Justice Scalia's comments in which he said, "I don't know any small business in this country that isn't incorporated." But the printed transcript that Nightly News put up on the screen used the phrase "in the country" instead of "in this country". Apparently, the Nightly News producers think it's perfectly acceptable to change the words of a Supreme Court Justice. They're probably thinking, "It's only one word. No big deal." Well, it's a huge deal. The words of Supreme Court Justices govern the lives of every American. What they say matters. One word can make a big difference. Entire books have been written about the meaning of a single comma in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So I think that properly transcribing the words of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice is pretty important.

Brian Williams began his July 13 Daily Nightly blog by crowing, "I'm a Supreme Court buff...." If the managing editor of a network newscast is a Supreme Court buff, you'd think that he would be alarmed if his producers improperly transcribe the words of a Justice. Maybe Brian needs to be downgraded from buff to quasi-buff. He just doesn't seem very concerned with this situation. Or the situation. Whatever.