Saturday, March 28, 2009

La-Z-Boys And Girls

Without a doubt, NBC News has the laziest producers in the news industry. Nightly News shows the same clips over and over and over again. There's one clip of people waiting on line at a "Work One" center (a job placement office) that Nightly News has used dozens of times in the past few months. Dateline has also used it, and I'm sure the Today Show has used it, too. I think it's time for the producers to find a different clip. I don't want to say that this clip is old, but there's a guy on line wearing a mood ring and holding a pet rock.

But the most obvious example of the laziness of the NBC producers is their regular use of news stories that have been condensed from longer segments on other shows. Several times each week, Nightly News airs stories that are lifted from Dateline reports or from specials that will be appearing on CNBC or MSNBC. These stories serve a dual purpose. First and foremost, they offer the Nightly News producers an easy opportunity to air a ready-made segment that has already been produced. It's like a gift-wrapped present. All the producers need to do is to edit the story down to two or three minutes so it can fit neatly on Nightly News. This takes far less time than actually bothering to dispatch a crew to report on a story from scratch. But these edited versions of stories also serve as promos for the longer versions. They are always followed by full screen ad promos for the show which will inevitably be appearing later that night on CNBC, MSNBC or Dateline. They are, in effect, two or three minute commercials for upcoming NBC shows.

But Friday's Nightly News (March 27) took this practice to a new low. I must admit--Brian Williams did a good job of tricking the viewers into thinking they were about to see a legitimate story. Brian said, "We learned today officially what a lot of people already knew--incomes and wages were down again last month and now consumer debt in America stands at an astonishing $2.5 trillion. That debt has become a big industry--debt collectors are busier than ever...This is a story that dateline NBC is going to take on later this evening--we have a short portion--a preview--the brief story of one victim who happens to be a war veteran." Very clever. He made this sound as if it was an actual news story, then went into the Dateline pitch. We then saw 30 seconds of the story--a man (a war veteran, no less!) harassed by debt collectors and by someone claiming to be a military investigator. The clip ended as we hear a collection message and see a close-up of a phone while Chris Hansen says ominously, "But it turned out the (collection) calls weren't coming from an investigator!" The story then cut back to Brian who told us that we can see the full report on Dateline later that night. A full-screen promo for the show appeared next. This was nothing more than a commercial for Dateline. But this represents a new low in promos. Most other promos masquerading as news stories at least present a story with a beginning, a middle and an ending. There was no ending to this story. It was a cliff-hanger designed to make us tune in to Dateline to discover the shocking finale. Shame on Brian Williams and the lazy Nightly News producers. They are supposed to be presenting news, not airing two minute promos for other NBC shows. I wonder what the Nightly News producers do with all the time they save by using pre-packaged clips from other NBC shows. I imagine they use that extra time to tell Brian how nice his hair looks or how sharp his tie is.

The Late Show With ***** *********

I was thoroughly amazed last Monday when I heard Brian Williams mention that David Letterman had married his long-time girlfriend Regina Lasko. My amazement came not from Letterman's retreat from bachelorhood, but rather because the word "Letterman" had passed through Brian's lips. Brian spent a mere 15 seconds on the story, but it was nevertheless stunning. That's because NBC has implemented a virtual ban on mentioning Letterman's name or show. Apparently, the NBC execs are so concerned about the upcoming Tonight Show transition from Leno to Conan that they've decreed that Letterman's name may not be spoken.

We all know about Brian's infatuation with U2. He rarely misses an opportunity to mention them on his blog. He loves to give reviews of U2 concerts or albums, or just give a shout out to his pal Bono. So it seemed odd that when U2 played for five consecutive nights on Letterman's show (3/2 through 3/6), Brian never mentioned it. Even Brian's own appearance on Letterman's show in January did not merit a mention on Brian's blog. But Brian is the consummate company man. If NBC has a no-mention policy for Letterman, Brian will comply.

But here's where it gets really weird. Last Nov. 12, Nightly News did a story on John McCain's first public appearance after losing the presidential election. Not coincidentally, that appearance was on the Tonight Show (it's unlikely that Nightly News would have bothered with the story if it didn't involve Leno). The story showed plenty of footage of Leno. There's Leno hugging McCain. There they are joking with each other. There's a close-up of Leno. Hilariously, the producers even managed to insert a gratuitous clip of Conan, although he had nothing to do with the story. Then, we saw a clip of McCain announcing his candidacy on Letterman's show in Feb., 2007. But the clip showed only McCain making the announcement--Letterman was not even in the shot. And Kelly O'Donnell (who reported the story) was forbidden from even mentioning Letterman's name! She was only allowed to say that McCain's campaign had "...kicked off on late night TV." And when Nightly News posted the on-screen credit for Letterman's show, it read only "Worldwide Pants" (Letterman's production company). Letterman's name did not appear anywhere on-screen. But the credit line for the Tonight Show read "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno--Big Dog Productions". NBC is so terrified of losing late-night viewers that they wouldn't even allow Letterman's name to appear in print. This has to be the most small-minded display of pettiness ever on a network news show. But it raises another issue. Nightly News purposely omitted facts from a news story in order to protect their late-night audience. So what other facts have they omitted from news stories in order to protect NBC/Universal properties? What stories do they ignore altogether because they think it might promote one of their competitors' shows? I guess we'll never know. But there's one thing we do know. NBC is more concerned with protecting their properties than with reporting the news.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Goody For Nightly News

Sunday's Nightly News broadcast (March 22) was a scant 15 minutes on the east coast because obviously golf is more important (translation: more profitable) than news. And that 15 minute broadcast included four minutes of commercials. Even more infuriating--it also included a two-and-a-half-minute story about the death of Jade Goody, a British reality-TV personality. This is news? Shame on NBC. But maybe I shouldn't complain. Perhaps I should just be thankful for the fifteen minute broadcast. After all, the previous Sunday (3/15), there was no Nightly News at all on the east coast (again, golf was more important). Meanwhile, I read that NBC News president Steve Capus was considering expanding Nightly News from a half-hour to an hour. If NBC can't even fill a 15-minute broadcast with actual news, how can they possibly fill a full hour? With more skateboarding bulldogs, like the ones Nightly News reported on during the Jan. 1 broadcast? Here's a story idea: Instead of showing bulldogs skateboarding, how about showing them waterboarding? I'd like to see two bulldogs waterboarding a poodle. Or better yet, they could waterboard an Afghan Hound. Maybe they'd get some good intel on the Taliban.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fidelity Pays NBC To Bash AIG

It is incomprehensible that NBC would allow Fidelity Investments to sponsor the entire Nightly News broadcast for Tuesday, March 17. The first ten minutes of the broadcast was devoted to bashing AIG for distributing $165 million in bonuses after receiving more than $170 billion in government bailout funds. As Brian Williams introduced the AIG story, the on-screen graphic displayed the AIG logo with the word "Outrage" below it. Later, the phrase "Bonus Backlash" was shown below the AIG logo. For ten minutes, angry, unflattering comments from lawmakers, academics, journalists and people-on-the-street poured off the screen. Clearly, NBC's goal was to denigrate AIG in the harshest possible terms. But Brian Williams did not disclose that Fidelity (the broadcast's sole sponsor) and AIG are both involved in the insurance and financial services businesses. They are, in effect, direct competitors. This is from the website: "Investment Services are offered to high-net-worth clients, and include providing advice on Institutional Investment, Mutual Funds, Private Equity Investment, Real Estate Investment and Annuities." And the website clearly states that they sell insurance. Allowing Fidelity to sponsor a broadcast that bashes one of its competitors is a massive conflict of interest and a huge breach of ethical trust on the part of NBC.
Fidelity at one time held $4 billion in AIG stock (the current value may be less)--meaning that Fidelity could lose a ton of money as a result of AIG's problems. According to an on-line article in the 9/18/08 Boston Business Journal ( titled "AIG Could Cost Fidelity, Wellington, MFS Billions":

"Boston’s largest money managers and their clients could face billions in losses tied to the government bailout of American International Group, as local holdings that once exceeded $9 billion have lost more than 90 percent of their value in recent weeks. Fidelity Investments held $4 billion in AIG shares — by far the largest allotment among local investment houses — as of June 30 (2008), the most recent regulatory reporting period. It is unclear whether the mutual fund giant lightened its position during the rocky two-month period that has unfolded since its last filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission." Clearly, Fidelity has a right to be furious at AIG. Did the sponsorship money that Fidelity paid NBC for the March 17 "Nightly News" influence the way in which Nightly News covered AIG? That's certainly a possibility.
There was even an article in the March 21, 2009 edition of the newsletter titled "AIG massive payments to banks stoke bailout rage". Here is an excerpt: "The revelation on Sunday by American International Group Inc was another potential public relations nightmare, coming on the same weekend that the Obama administration expressed outrage over AIG's plan to pay massive bonuses to the people in the very division that destroyed the company by issuing billions of dollars in derivatives insuring risky assets....AIG, an embattled insurance giant that has received federal bailouts totaling $173 billion and is now paying $165 million in employee bonuses, is at the heart of a global financial crisis that President Barack Obama is trying to address with plans for trillions of dollars in spending. The fact that billions of dollars given to prop up giant insurer AIG were then transferred to European banks and Wall Street investment houses could raise new doubts about whether the rescue was really economically necessary. 'It doesn't to me seem fair that the American taxpayer has got to bear the 100 percent of the downside,' said Campbell Harvey, a finance professor at Duke University. (Lawrence) Summers -- speaking before the payments to banks were made public -- called the AIG bonuses 'outrageous' but said contracts must be honored, even though Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had 'negotiated very forcefully' with AIG and done all that was 'legally permissible' to limit the payments."

So Fidelity is on record--on their own website--bashing AIG. Was it appropriate for Nightly News to allow Fidelity to sponsor a broadcast that also bashes AIG? The answer, of course, is no. At the very least, Brian Williams should have disclosed the relationship between Fidelity and AIG. It appears as if NBC took sponsorship money from Fidelity in exchange for espousing Fidelity's views on AIG. NBC would no doubt argue that Fidelity's position on AIG had no bearing whatsoever on the way Nightly News presented the story. But as a news provider, NBC must avoid not only impropriety, but even the appearance of impropriety. It was the responsibility of NBC News to avoid the perception that for a certain amount of money, Brian Williams will speak on behalf of a sponsor. In that regard, NBC failed. I think that people have higher expectations for NBC News and Brian Williams.

REALLY Making A Difference

Something was different about Nightly News these past three days. David Gregory and Natalie Morales (who filled in for Brian Williams) had none of the arrogant, condescending, self-important, holier-than-thou attitude that Brian brings to the anchor chair each night. And I must say it was refreshing. Thank you, NBC for "Making A Difference" in my life.

Carolyn Who? Barney Who?

On March 17, Nightly News did a story about congressional outrage over the AIG bonus payments. Several senators and representatives were shown expressing their outrage over the bonuses. One clip showed Rep. Carolyn McCarthy saying, "We can legislate all we want. Unfortunately, we cannot legislate morality. And that is really a shame." What's really a shame is that Rep. McCarthy was identified on-screen as Rep. Carolyn Maloney. Apparently the Nightly News producers figured it was no big deal. After all--both congresswomen share the same first name. Their districts are just a few miles apart. They're both 60-ish and blond. I guess they're interchangeable as far as the Nightly News producers are concerned. The saddest part of this mix-up is that some of the Nightly News producers probably live in McCarthy's or Maloney's district. And this is no isolated incident. The very next night, an on-screen graphic identified Rep. Barney Frank as Rep. Paul Kanjorski. Barney Frank is one of the most recognizable members of the U.S. House, but Nightly News couldn't even properly identify him. This is shameful. But wait. It gets better.

During the same Nightly News broadcast that contained the McCarthy-Maloney mix-up, NBC aired a 20 second promo spot. In this spot, the camera pans across photos of Brian Williams, Matt Lauer & Meredith Vieira, Ann Curry, Al Roker, David Gregory and Lester Holt. Also seen are images of Pres. Obama, an American Flag, a store with a going-out-of-business sign, and a flag-draped military coffin. The words "extraordinary" and "hope" appear on-screen. The voice-over (read by Brian in his most earnest intonation) states, "We live in extraordinary times. Our nation's in crisis. And yet there's that uniquely American feeling of hope. This is the story of our nation. You rely on us to get it right. Every time. This is the tradition of NBC News." A few minutes later (after I stopped laughing) some thoughts occurred to me. First, does Brian understand the definition of "uniquely"? The Scribner-Bantam English Dictionary defines it as "limited to a region, class or time". So if hope is uniquely American, does that mean that the people of Japan, Sweden, Greece, Kenya or Latvia have no hope? And what about Canada or Argentina? Is hope unique to all of the Americas (both North and South), just to North America or just to the United States of America? I'd really like to know. But the most galling statement Brian made was "You rely on us to get it right. Every time." Does mis-identifying two U.S. Representatives in two days constitute getting it right? How about the constant misspelling of names by NBC News? Arnold Schwarzenegger? Chesley Sullenberger? Kay Hagan? Steven Spielberg? Was Nightly News getting it right when they misspelled those names? I must admit, I admire Brian's Clintonian parsing of words. Brian didn't say that NBC actually succeeds in getting it right. He merely said that we rely on NBC to get it right. That's absolutely true. It's also true that people relied on Bernie Madoff to invest their money wisely. It doesn't mean that he actually did so. This promo spot was hilarious, but it was also sobering, considering that it ran during the same broadcast in which Nightly News blatantly mis-identified a member of congress. The words "extraordinary" and "hope" seem important to Nightly News. I think it's EXTRAORDINARY that Nightly News makes these mistakes, and I HOPE they soon figure out a way to stop them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Spoonful Of Sugar

Brian Williams and the Nightly News producers should be ashamed of themselves for wasting our time with the endless parade of "Making A Difference" segments they've been presenting this past week under the title "Acts Of Kindness". Asking viewers for story suggestions is the basest form of pandering. It's the oldest trick in the book. Make the viewers feel connected by making them feel as if they have a say in what goes on the air. We see it every week on "American Idol". It is absolutely not the job of a producer or managing editor to attempt to balance the bad news with these warm-and-fuzzy stories. The news is what it is. NBC should be reporting the most important stories of the day. Period. They shouldn't be manipulating the news to try to make it seem more palatable. I'm reminded of that song from "Mary Poppins": "Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down". We don't need a spoon full of sugar when we're watching the news. And what actual news stories didn't NBC report this past week because they were so busy force-feeding us these silly "Making A Difference" segments? Nightly News reports precious little news as it is. Is NBC going to compensate the viewers for the 15 minutes that these MAD segments have taken up over the past week? Of course not. And on top of that, NBC is profiting from these stories. Five of these six segments (so far) have been sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline products. So Nightly News has earned a significant amount of money ($250,000? $500,000? $1,000,000?) from these segments. Let me get this straight: The viewers submit the story ideas and Nightly News gets the cash. Sweet! But I have to admit that it hardly seems appropriate for NBC to be sucking sponsorship money from stories about acts of kindness. That's sort of like profiteering, isn't it? As Mary Poppins might say: NBC isn't being very supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Hold The Curry

Why does Nightly News insist on using Ann Curry as a substitute anchor? To put it bluntly, she's not up to the task. I understand that being a news reader takes a certain amount of skill. Not everyone can do it. But on the other hand, it's not exactly brain surgery. The title is self-explanatory. News reader. Read the news. The words come across the teleprompter, and the news reader reads them. But Curry can't seem to manage this task. Each time she anchors, Curry commits a litany of flubs, gaffes and mispronunciations. She often skips syllables, merges words or omits them altogether. On Friday's broadcast, the phrase "Obama administration" became "Obaministration". When she introduced Pete Williams, the phrase "justice correspondent" became "just correspon". She regularly pronounces "Brian Williams" as "Brian Wi'ms", and "CNBC" becomes "CBC". Curry also regularly cuts off other NBC correspondents because she's so eager to get the microphone back. On Friday, she cut off Trish Regan in mid-sentence. And what's with her obsequious thank-yous? I once heard her thank Kelly O'Donnell three times in five seconds. NBC seems to have no shortage of young attractive anchor-types with good hair. So why do they continue to use Ann Curry?

In Case You Missed It...

If anyone out there didn't catch Monday's Nightly news (March 16), here's what you missed:

*Brian used his newscast to shamelessly promote an upcoming "Tonight Show" featuring Pres. Obama as the guest.
*Brian spent 30 seconds shamelessly praising the soon-to-be-reintroduced Chevy Camaro. Here are some of Brian's quotes: "This may be a case of a great name and a good car at a bad time"; "One of the great muscle cars of the past"; "Chevy engineers proudly point out that the base Camaro gets just under 30 miles per gallon." We all know about Brian's infatuation with American cars (because he mentions it almost every night). This was a nothing more than 30-second commercial for Chevy.
*During a story about the death of Ron Silver, Brian showed a 10-second clip from "The West Wing". Obviously, this was a shameless attempt to boost "West Wing" DVD sales.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Brian's Nose For News

To say that a reporter has "a nose for news" is a compliment. It means that the reporter is good at tracking down stories, digging up sources and following up on leads. I certainly don't think anyone would say that Brian Williams has a nose for news. He's a talking head, a cuddly house cat. He sits in his anchor chair each night and reads the words off the teleprompter. If a prominent politician or celebrity needs to be interviewed, Brian's your man (remember his three-and-a-half-minute interview with Jay Leno last Dec. 9?). When necessary, he'll travel. Washington for the inauguration, Beijing for the Olympics, New Orleans post-Katrina. He'll sometimes report from L.A. to get an early start on his vacation. And if the Nightly News ratings are slipping a bit in Cleveland or Detroit or Chicago, Brian will dutifully spend a day or two in one of those cities. He'll schmooze the local affiliate execs, film some promos with the local on-air talent, read the news from a local landmark and then fly back to New York in time to catch the Knicks game. But all that air travel can be tedious. Sometimes Brian will simply hop on the 30 Rock elevator to pursue a story. Last Nov. 3, he spent almost four minutes interviewing SNL head writer Seth Meyers. The on-screen caption for that interview read "Brian Williams Reporting". Um...okay--if you say so. I remember five or so years ago when NBC first announced that Brian would eventually be replacing Tom Brokaw as the Nightly News anchor (I can only imagine the behind-the-scenes lobbying and maneuvering that Brian must have done to get the nod). Until that time, Brian had been anchoring a nightly newscast on MSNBC. So after anointing Brian as the anchor-in-waiting, the NBC execs immediately dispatched Brian to the India-Pakistan border to give him some street cred. They wanted to show us what an intrepid and fearless reporter he is. That was funny. I'm sure that Brian ate some good local food, saw a few local flicks, talked to some local pols and filed a few reports. No biggie. Suffice it to say that then or now, Brian will never be mistaken for a reporter or a journalist.

Which explains a lot. I always thought that the phrase "a nose for news" was a metaphor. You can't really sniff out a story. Or can you? Maybe I was wrong. How else to explain Brian's recent nose job? Perhaps he honestly believes that a new nose will help him become more of an actual reporter. And maybe it will. So all I can say to Brian is: good luck with your nifty new news nose.

Barbie & Brian

I was very disappointed that Nightly News didn't do a story on Barbie's 50th birthday, which occurred this week. After a report about military challenge coins on the Jan. 14 Nightly News, Brian Williams dutifully displayed his wicked cool collection of challenge coins for the viewers. So I was hoping that Nightly News would report on Barbie's birthday so that Brian would have the chance to show us his awesome collection of Barbie dolls.

Plugging Away

During a March 3 "We The People" segment about how advertisers target America's Spanish-speaking community, Nightly News showed 15 seconds of a Cheerios commercial, and almost 30 seconds of promotional/advertising material for M & M's (including an ample excerpt from a TV commercial). In addition, there was another 5 seconds of the M & M's commercial shown at the top of the broadcast as part of the intro. The segment also managed to show portions of ads for Coke and Wal-Mart. In fact, Nightly News devoted almost 30% of the entire story to commercial clips. This wasn't just a coincidence. Clearly, NBC was giving a great big on-air "thank you" to their pals at General Mills, Coke, Wal-Mart and M & M/Mars. So how much does 45 seconds of commercial time sell for on Nightly News? $100,000? $150,000? And this is not an isolated incident. On Jan. 31, Nightly News did a story purportedly about 3-D technology in commercials. This "news story" featured 4 separate clips of a commercial for Lifewater--a product that would be advertised the next day during the Super Bowl (which would air, of course, on NBC). The story even managed to show a promo for an upcoming 3-D episode of the NBC show "Chuck". Nice. And on the Feb. 23 broadcast, Kevin Tibbles presented a story that amounted to a two-and-a-half minute infomercial for how spotlessly clean United Airlines planes are (and just to drive the point home, Tibbles wrote more about United's cleanliness on the Daily Nightly blog). Obviously, NBC aired this story as a way of thanking United for all their advertising dollars over the past years. Shameful. But wait--it gets better. This "What Works" segment about United was sponsored by Detrol LA. So NBC actually got paid by Pfizer for the gratuitous story they did on United. Brilliant. If only Tibbles had figured out a way to include a clip from "The Office" in his story, he would have hit the trifecta. After watching that two-and-a-half minute infomercial for United, I felt like I needed an airline barf bag. It would be nice if NBC spent more time reporting actual news and less time rewarding their sponsors with commercials masquerading as news. And this wasn't the first time Nightly News has acted as a shill for United Airlines. Last Aug. 21, Brian Williams devoted a good part of his Daily Nightly blog to heaping saccharine praise on United. He wrote, "While we're tough on the airline industry these days, our experience on United Airlines en route to China and en route home was enough to restore one's faith in the commercial airlines business...I've never seen flight attendants work harder to treat all passengers with the same respect and level of service." (As if every passenger gets treated like Brian Williams.) Brian went on to laud the "incredible" O'Hare ground supervisor who, "...loves his great city, United Airlines and the Chicago Bears." Cue the patriotic music and the stars and stripes background. Clearly, the NBC executives have made a conscious decision to use portions of their news broadcast to plug products for their advertisers.

Double shameless. On the March 4 Nightly News, Brian Williams spent two full minutes desperately trying to prop up GE's falling stock price. Brian (speaking to CNBC's David Faber) earnestly informed us that GE was, "Founded by Thomas Edison. Why is it important in modern-day America as the last surviving member of the original Dow--and was it the victim of a feeding frenzy these past few days?" Faber then told us that, "GE says we have more than enough capital--more than enough financial flexibility--we are simply the victim at this point of a feeding frenzy." It is absolutely inappropriate for Brian Williams to use his position as a network news anchor to try to bolster confidence in NBC's parent company. Nightly News is spending so much time promoting their sponsors and their own self-interest that it's surprising they have any time left to broadcast the news. And when they do broadcast the "news" it's often about skateboarding bulldogs or other ridiculous stories. It's been said that the demise of the network evening news broadcast is imminent. I think it's already happened.

Shamelessly Shilling

Sometimes Nightly News is so shameless that even I am astounded. On the Sunday, March 8 broadcast, they devoted two minutes to a "news story" about what a great time it is to fly due to low airfares. Lester Holt told us about, "Bargains some may find too good to pass up!" George Lewis crowed that, "Airfares on the 100 most popular routes are down 40% compared to last summer!" This is just NBC shamelessly shilling for their pals in the airline industry. If NBC can get more people to fly, then the airlines will have more money to pay for ads on NBC. Nightly News did the same thing recently for their pals in the auto industry. On Jan. 10, they gave us a story about what a great time it is to buy a car. Most of the story consisted of excerpts from auto ads (Cadillac, Chrysler, Hyundai) and of Kevin Tibbles telling us about all the fantastic bargains the auto dealers are offering. Great prices! Free gas when you buy a car! Buy one car, get one free! Buy a Hyundai, and they'll refund your money if you lose your job! I'm surprised Tibbles didn't say, "What do I have to do to put you in this car today?" This is NBC shilling for the auto industry (anyone remember Brian Williams's "interview" with Chrysler exec Jim Press from November of 2007?). The more cars that get sold, the more money the auto industry has to advertise on NBC. Is there anything Nightly News reports on that isn't somehow self-serving? It seems not.

Mum's The Word

What a surprise. Nightly News completely ignored two of the day's biggest stories. First, they didn't bother to mention that Standard & Poor's downgraded GE's credit rating from AAA to AA+ (GE is NBC's parent company). On the March 4 Nightly News, however, Brian Williams and David Faber spent two minutes praising GE, desperately trying to prop up GE's falling stock price. But tonight, NBC had nary a word about GE's downgraded credit rating.

Nightly News also "neglected" to mention Jon Stewart's drubbing of Jim Cramer and CNBC. According to the AP, "Jon Stewart hammered Jim Cramer and his network, CNBC, in their anticipated face-off on The Daily Show, repeatedly chastising the Mad Money host for putting entertainment above journalism...Stewart said he and Cramer are both snake-oil salesman, only The Daily Show is labeled as such. He claimed CNBC shirked its journalistic duty by believing corporate lies, rather than being an investigative 'powerful tool of illumination.' And he alleged CNBC was ultimately in bed with the businesses it covered — that regular people's stocks and 401Ks were 'capitalizing on your adventure'." Apparently, reporting on these stories would have been a downer to NBC's karma. I guess the Nightly News producers only want to think about good things. Like the Phish reunion.

Regular Guy Brian

Can you believe Brian Williams? On Thursday's Nightly News, Brian said, "And if we're all feeling poorer, the Federal Reserve put some actual numbers on that today." We? Golly, I sure hope that Brian doesn't have to go on food stamps or sell his collection of military challenge medals. There is nothing more condescending than a wealthy elitist trying to sound like a "regular guy". It was just plain thoughtless for Brian Williams (with his 8-figure salary) to say that "we're all feeling poorer". Maybe Brian should spend more time picking out his on-air ties, and less time pretending that he's "one of us". Considering that many of his viewers are out of work or barely making ends meet, that insensitive comment made Brian seem like even more of a pompous ass than usual.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Shameless #2

During Carlos Quintanilla's March 3 story about how advertisers are targeting America's Spanish-speaking population, Nightly News included 15 seconds of a Cheerios commercial and almost 30 seconds of advertising and promotional material for M & M's candy. Clearly, NBC did this to show their appreciation to General Mills and M & M/Mars for all the advertising dollars they have spent over the years. Padding their news stories with ads for their sponsors is offensive and inappropriate. Nightly News should spend more time reporting the news and less time using "news stories" to thank their sponsors.

Shameless #1

On last Wednesday's Nightly News (March 4), Brian Williams spent two minutes desperately trying to prop up GE's falling stock price (GE is NBC's parent company). He told us all about how GE was founded by Thomas Edison and how it is the last surviving member of the original Dow. Then David Faber of CNBC told us that, "GE says we have more than enough capital--more than enough financial flexibility--we are simply the victim at this point of a feeding frenzy." It is absolutely inappropriate for a network news anchor to use his position to try to prop up the stock price of his network's parent company.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why Start This Blog?

As you might have guessed from the title, this blog is dedicated to analysis and criticism of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. I am starting this blog because I am sick and tired of finding that the moderators of the official NBC News blog (The Daily Nightly) refuse to print comments that are in any way critical of NBC News. And there is a lot to criticize.

Viewers might think that the primary goal of Brian Williams and Nightly News is to present the most important news stories of the day. Not true. The primary goal of Nightly News is to attract the most viewers, which allows them to earn the highest ratings and ultimately charge the highest ad rates. Nightly News is first and foremost a promotional tool for itself and other NBC/Universal properties (which include the TV networks CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, Chiller, Oxygen, SciFi, Sleuth, USA and The Weather Channel, as well as Universal Studios and their parent company, General Electric). And make no mistake--Nightly News does attract the most viewers. They win the ratings race most weeks, although ABC's World News with Charles Gibson does win some weeks. Nightly News attracts the most viewers by pandering to their viewers' lowest common tastes. They offer lots of stories about funny animals, cute children and popular culture. These stories have no news value, but they succeed in drawing and keeping viewers tuned to NBC. In recent months, Nightly News has offered stories about skateboarding dogs, Spam (the luncheon meat, not the e-mail annoyance), kazoos, text messaging, left-handed presidents, the board game Clue and a man who sells vegetable peelers on the street. They have presented stories about centenarians, Michelle Obama's fashion sense and half a dozen stories about the movie "Slumdog Millionaire". In the past week, they did four stories about Tiger Woods, which was obviously related to the fact that NBC was televising Woods's first comeback tournament after his surgery. Keep in mind that Nightly News has only 22 minutes a night to present news, so every story they offer about skateboarding dogs means that an actual news story has to be omitted.

Here's another fact: Brian Williams and the Nightly News producers are dirty--like cops on the take. Nightly News regularly allows advertisers to sponsor news segments (like "What Works" or "Making A Difference"). Sometimes, an entire edition of Nightly News is sponsored by a single company. The most frequent segment sponsors are pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline. And of course, when you allow a company to sponsor a segment, they own it. They likely have the right to add input to the segment, and perhaps even to determine which topics will appear in the segments. So on NBC, we have portions of the news being controlled by the big pharmaceutical companies. This sponsorship manifests itself in other ways, as well. Nightly News frequently uses their "news" stories to praise their sponsors' products. Medical stories are often designed to show Nightly News advertisers in a positive light. Similarly, stories that show sponsors' products in a negative light are rarely reported. When congress held hearings last year about the pharmaceutical industry's underhanded advertising methods, NBC News did not cover it. During last summer's Beijing Olympics, Nightly News (which was already devoting more than half its broadcast to promoting NBC's coverage of the Olympics) actually ran a "news story" about Olympic advertisers. This was, of course, just an excuse to give more (free) air time to Coke, Nike and other major Olympic sponsors. Last Aug. 21, Brian Williams devoted a good part of his Daily Nightly blog to heaping praise on United Airlines for the job they did in flying the NBC News crew home from Beijing. Not coincidentally, United was one of the biggest sponsors of the Olympics. And just this past month (Feb. 23), Nightly News did a story about how well United cleans its planes. This was nothing more than a two-and-a-half minute infomercial for United Airlines. It was NBC thanking one of their largest sponsors with some free air time. If you scratch NBC's back, they'll certainly scratch yours.

As managing editor, Brian Williams has a huge say in what stories make it onto the air. In effect, he controls the news. We know that Brian is a fan of American cars, so we see lots of rah-rah stories about the U.S. auto industry. On Jan 10, Nightly News ran a story about what a great time it was to buy a car. The story contained excerpts from Cadillac, Hyundai and Chrysler/Jeep/Eagle ads. It highlighted the great deals that were available from car dealers. The clear objective of this "news story" was to get people to buy more cars. That way, the car companies would have more money to spend on advertising with NBC. There is little that NBC News reports on that is not self-serving.

Any regular viewer of Nightly News is aware that they frequently misspell names and make other errors. Over the past months, they have misspelled the names of hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, NTSB member Kitty Higgins, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Kay Hagan, Gov. David Paterson, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. They also misspelled the names of the country of Colombia and the city of New Delhi. Brian himself (on his blog) misspelled the names of Alison Krauss and Condoleezza Rice. Another NBC anchor (Amy Robach) once misspelled Barack Obama's name on her blog--after he had been elected. It's like no one at NBC News cares the slightest bit about spelling. And this is a professional news organization? During a story about the increase in America's Latino population on tonight's broadcast (March 2), Lee Cowan told us that, "Wisconsin's Latino population has boomed to more than a quarter of a million." The accompanying on-screen graphic read "217,830". Sorry, NBC, but that is less, not more, than a quarter of a million.

On the Feb. 23 Nightly News (and on his blog), Brian sardonically reported that when Sen. Jim Bunning apologized to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for inappropriate comments about her recent pancreatic surgery, Bunning spelled Ginsburg's name wrong. Brian has some nerve commenting on Bunning's spelling! I would remind Brian that anchors who work in glass studios shouldn't throw dictionaries.

On the Feb. 22 Nightly News, a story on the development of a flu vaccine used flipping calendar pages to indicate the passage of time. Unfortunately, seven out of the twelve calendar pages contained errors. The April calendar contained only 29 days (instead of 30), and the September page contained 31 days, instead of 30. Some months had missing days, and in some months the same day appeared twice. Someone should remind the NBC producers that, "Thirty days has September, April, June and November. All the rest have thirty-one, except February which is great with twenty-eight. And in a leap year it's fine with twenty-nine."

I welcome all comments about NBC News, or any other news organization. It's really a shame what NBC is getting away with, and it's especially shameful that they refuse to allow criticism on their own blog. And it's certainly ironic that NBC News earns a ton of money based on freedom of information, yet they refuse to offer the same freedom to their viewers who want to post on the NBC News blog.