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.