Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mommy, Why Does Nightly News Hate Animals?

It is absolutely inconceivable that Nightly News would allow Vesicare (a GlaxoSmithKline product) to sponsor Monday's "Making A Difference" segment about a woman who uses her Arizona ranch as a rescue shelter for animals that are unwanted or unable to be cared for. Did anyone at NBC even think about this? Did it occur to any of the producers that Glaxo is one of the world's largest utilizers of animal testing? You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes or a PETA member to know that Glaxo tests its products on animals. Obviously, the NBC producers knew that Glaxo does animal testing. They simply chose to ignore it. More animals probably died in order to bring Vesicare to market than have been rescued by Deborah Wilson! This is from Maria Menounos's Monday Daily Nightly blog: "Visiting Dr. Wilson's ranch outside Phoenix, I immediately saw just how much she loves animals...She is so passionate about the plight of animals that she's scheduled another day of surgery into her full-time job as a gynecologist to help pay for all the expenditures. She has forgone luxuries and vacations as well, all to finance the animals...Her belief is that animals are God's creatures and we are supposed to help them, too. They provide us with love, companionship and even healing as proven with therapy animals. So why not save them?" Why didn't Maria Menounos ask Ms. Wilson what she thinks of Glaxo's use of test animals? I wonder if Menounos even informed Ms. Wilson that her story would be sponsored by a company that tortures and kills animals.

Amazingly, this is not the first time Nightly News has allowed the animal torturers at Glaxo to sponsor a MAD segment about animal rescue. Last Jan. 2, Glaxo sponsored a segment about Jon Wehrenberg's organization "Pilots 'N Paws", which flies dogs from crowded animal shelters to other less crowded shelters where they can more easily be adopted. And last Nov. 21, Glaxo was allowed to sponsor a MAD segment about Lorita Lindemann, who rescues former race horses and keeps them from being euthanized or turned into dog food. I wonder what Mr. Wehrenberg and Ms. Lindemann thought of the fact that their stories were sponsored by Glaxo. Is anyone at NBC paying attention? Why is no one at Nightly News connecting the dots here? Allowing Glaxo to sponsor these segments is so inappropriate that it boggles my mind. I guess it's just a question of money. If NBC was paid enough, they would probably allow Anheuser-Busch to sponsor a segment about families that have lost loved ones to drunk drivers. NBC obviously doesn't care about the morality or appropriateness of their sponsorships. This is inexcusable. Brian Williams is always talking about how much he loves dogs. This makes me wonder. Brian and the Nightly News producers owe apologies to Deborah Wilson, Jon Wehrenberg and Lorita Lindemann. They also owe an apology to the viewers.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

In Case You Missed It

In case there is anyone out there who was unable to watch Friday's Nightly News, here is some of what you missed:

*A three minute segment on the U.S. auto industry. The segment could have been done in half that time, but we all know how much Brian loves American cars.
*A discombobulated three minute segment from Ann Curry in Iraq. I think it would really help if she was given a teleprompter instead of making her rely on her written notes. Also, it would help the viewers if Curry's comments could be subtitled. She speaks so fast that it's often difficult to understand what she's saying.
*A two-and-a-half minute segment from Luke Russert on the difficulty in finding jobs even for people who have college and graduate degrees. That was actually the entire story. Russert could have said it in fifteen seconds. I had to laugh when Russert asked one woman, "So you thought going to grad school would better your job prospects?" Her response was, "Isn't that pretty much why everybody goes to grad school?" If there was a cartoon bubble over her head, it would have read "DUH!" Brian introduced Luke as "a special member of our family." Why is he special? Because his father worked for NBC? It reminds me of a plot line from "The Sopranos". When Christopher's father died, Tony brought Christopher into the "family". I wonder if we'll ever see the secret video from when Luke was "made". I've heard that he had to place his hand on Brian's collection of military challenge coins and swear his allegiance to the NBC family.
*Another two-and-a-half minute segment on some Londoners who want to slow things down. I'm not sure what the point was. This story was mostly about Dawna Friesen. There's Dawna gazing at some flowers! There's Dawna writing a letter! There's Dawna eating lunch (twice)! There's Dawna switching off her phone! There's Dawna sunbathing! This is what airs on a network news broadcast? It looked more like a reality show than a news story. How about showing Dawna reporting some news?
*A forty second story about some robins that hatched in a bush on the White House lawn. I guess Bo was unavailable.
*Brian read a twenty second promo for Matt Lauer's interview with Capt. Richard Phillips that will air next week.

Meanwhile, there was no mention of the South African election, the protests going on in Bangkok or the fighting in Sri Lanka. But at least we know all about Dawna Friesen. Well done, NBC!

An Apology From The Executive Producer

From the April 24 Daily Nightly (the NBC News blog):

by Bob Epstein, Executive Producer
We understand there may have been a technical problem for some of our viewers watching Nightly News Friday night. You may have missed Michael Okwu’s Making a Difference report on bringing health information to barbershops.
We apologize and if you want to see the report, you can watch it below.

My response to Bob Epstein:
Of all the major shortcomings, pandering and conflicts of interest that regularly comprise Nightly News, this is what you choose to apologize for? How about an apology for presenting dozens of "Making A Difference" segments with zero news value while ignoring actual news stories? How about an apology for allowing your news content to be influenced by all the pharmaceutical sponsorship money NBC accepts? How about an apology for choosing to pursue high ratings at the expense of reporting real news? How about an apology for allowing Brian Williams to turn the broadcast into his own personal forum for promoting his friends (Jack Jacobs, Yo Yo Ma) and his interests (American cars, Medal of Honor recipients)? How about an apology for frequently pre-empting the east coast weekend edition of Nightly News because of golf or football? Or for censoring and delaying comments on your blog that are critical of NBC? And most important--how about an apology for "Howie Do It"?

The Natinal Interest

On Saturday's Nightly News, Lester Holt read a story about two players for the Washington Nationals who had taken the field Friday night wearing jerseys that were misspelled as "Natinals". It is hardly appropriate for NBC (and Holt specifically) to point out errors made by others. NBC regularly misspells names on Nightly News. And we only notice the recognizable errors like Arnold "Schwarznegger" or "Stephen" Spielberg. There's no telling how many other names they've misspelled that were not caught because the misspelled names did not belong to well-known people. On the same night that Holt read the story about the misspelled Nationals jerseys, he mispronounced the name of flight 1549 pilot Chesley Sullenberger (he pronounced it as "Sullenberg"). And that's not even the first time that Holt has sullied Sully's name. On the Jan. 17 Today show, Holt referred to Capt. Sullenberger as "Chelsey" Sullenberger (at least he got the last name right that day). On Holt's Daily Nightly blog for April 11 & 12, he referred to Maersk Alabama Captain Richard Phillips as Capt. "Phillip". And during a broadcast of Nightly News last year, Holt referred to NBC correspondent Mara Schiavocampo as "Maria". Considering the many, many misspellings and mispronunciations that regularly plague Nightly News (and Lester Holt specifically), perhaps they shouldn't be so quick to point out the errors of others. Let he who is without syntax cast the first stone.

The Mortal Of The Story

I think Brian Williams needs a larger type font on his teleprompter. Or maybe he should start wearing his glasses on the air. On Wednesday's Nightly News, Brian informed us that Hillary Clinton had called the instability in Pakistan a "moral threat" to world peace. Meanwhile, over Brian's left shoulder we saw a picture of Ms. Clinton along with the words "Mortal Threat" (Thursday's New York Times confirmed that Ms. Clinton had used the word "mortal" rather than "moral"). Maybe Brian is suffering from eye strain as a result of spending too much time playing his favorite video game--Moral Kombat.

Going Green

This week, NBC has been making a big deal about going green for Earth week. All this week, the NBC logo in the bottom left corner of the screen is green, so I guess they must really mean it. I'll say this much: NBC is by far the leading network when it comes to recycling. Recycling old news footage, that is. For starters, there's the footage of people on line at the "Work One" job placement center. They use that clip every time they do a story about unemployment. In the past few months, they must have used that same clip several dozen times. I don't want to say the clip is old, but there's a guy on line wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers hat and an "I Like Ike" button.

And then there are the recycled news reports. Every week, Nightly News airs stories that have been condensed from specials that have aired (or will soon air) on CNBC or MSNBC, or from segments produced for Today or Dateline. These segments are a great way to fill time and save money, since they don't require a news crew. All the producer has to do is edit the segment and add a voice-over. Voila--instant story! NBC seems really proud of how green they are. But the producers should keep in mind that green is also the color of mold.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The LCD Evening News

Are the executives at NBC aware that their 30-minute evening newscast is called "Nightly News"? Based on the vapid pointlessness of many of the Nightly News stories, it appears not. A recent example was Friday's "news" story about Youtube and Twitter (April 17). Nightly News took almost three minutes to tell us what could have been said in five seconds. "People like to use Youtube and Twitter." That's it. That's the entire news content of the story. Maybe they should have attached a "Breaking News" banner to the story. Of course, the Nightly News producers had their own reasons for airing the story:

>It provided the producers with yet another opportunity to show the clip of Susan Boyle singing "Cry Me A River" on "Britain's Got Talent" (this is the third time in a week that Nightly News has shown this clip). They also showed the clip of Domino's employees doing disgusting things while preparing food. These are currently among the most-googled clips on the internet, so NBC included them in the story to pander to the audience. The producers believe that viewers don't really want new information, they just want the same familiar material over and over again.
>Many of the Twitter tweets shown in this segment are about how great Jimmy Fallon's new show is. This is just a shameless attempt to use a "news" story to promote another NBC show.
>The story included an unintentionally hilarious interview with David Gregory. Gregory had absolutely no relevance to this story, but he is nevertheless interviewed as if he is some sort of Twitter expert. Nightly News is simply using this gratuitous interview to promote "Meet The Press". Again--shameless.
>This story also featured a clip of Oprah interviewing Ashton Kutcher. It was included because...people love celebrities! NBC knows that the more celebrities they show in their news stories, the more people will watch. (During Sunday's story on diamonds, we were treated to clips of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Hurley.) Would Ann Curry bother going back to Darfur if George Clooney or Brad & Angelina weren't also there? Of course not!

Nightly News aired this story not because it had any news value, but because the featured Youtube clips and celebrities would attract and hold the viewers' attention. By feeding the viewers a steady diet of the same pop culture icons over and over again, NBC believes the viewers will keep tuning in. And they're probably right. When they ring the bell, we salivate. This is LCD news. It's designed to appeal to the viewers' lowest common denominator.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Brian Williams Of Sportscasting

The four worst words in baseball (other than "The Yankees are eliminated") are "Yankee baseball on FOX". Most Yankee games appear on the Yankee-owned YES Network, and they do a pretty good job of broadcasting the games. Michael Kay is an excellent announcer, and he is complemented in the booth by a competent group of former players. Not so with FOX. They air Yankee games once or twice a month and their announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver are not exactly Harry Caray and Ernie Harwell. McCarver isn't bad--he's quite knowledgeable, in fact. And he's quite honest about pointing out deficiencies in players or teams--something others are usually reluctant to do. But as a former catcher, he seems convinced that his entire viewing audience is comprised of former major league pitchers and pitching coaches. We don't really need to know that if the pitcher's fingers had been two centimeters further apart, the ball would have sunk at a six degree greater gradient. But Buck is another story. He's a pompous, arrogant, narcissistic ass. In other words, he's the Brian Williams of sportscasting. Buck is convinced that he's exceedingly clever and witty. Ditto Williams. Buck believes that everything that comes out of his mouth is a bon mot or a pearl of wisdom. Ditto Williams. Buck acts as if he owns the game and he is doing us a great favor by telling us about it. Likewise, Williams acts as if he owns the news and he is also doing us a great favor by sharing it with us. Both men are ridiculously vain--Buck about his Rogaine-enhanced hair and Williams about his surgically-reduced nose. Here's another similarity: Both men work for companies who care more about money than quality programming. When baseball is on FOX, the actual game is not the most important consideration. Advertising and promotional dollars are much more important to FOX than baseball. Every half inning, the viewers are bombarded with promotional messages. Updates from other games are sponsored. The strike zone is sponsored. The batting lineup is sponsored. Instant replays are sponsored, usually by something called Valspar (I don't really know what that is, but I think it's an ointment used to treat the symptoms of Herpes). Sometimes, we miss the first pitch or two of the inning because FOX extended the break in order to show us extra commercials. And at NBC News, the programming is also secondary to commercials and sponsored segments. Earning money trumps the news. Segments are often sponsored--usually by pharmaceutical companies whose industry or products are regularly reported on by NBC. This is a huge conflict of interest for a news organization that is supposed to be impartial. But Williams doesn't care. His main goal is to pander to the audience with soft news stories about cuddly animals, cute children and people who do good deeds. (Any relation to actual news is strictly coincidental.) That way, Nightly News can gain the most viewers and get the highest ratings. And NBC can then charge the highest ad rates. And that's what's really important. On the other hand, Buck doesn't really have any effect on FOX's ratings. Any positive effect, that is. Most people seem to dislike him intensely. So he may actually be causing FOX to lose viewers. Maybe Buck and Williams should switch jobs. I wonder if anybody would care. Or even notice, for that matter.

I hear that Buck will be getting his own show on HBO next month. I wonder what he'll he call it. "The Greatest" and "I Am Legend" have already been used. And I hear that Williams will be calling his forthcoming biography "Anchorman: The Legend Of Brian Williams". Which is entirely appropriate for an anchor who is a cross between Ted Baxter and Ron Burgundy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Conflict Of Interest Rates

On the April 6 Nightly News, Lisa Myers reported on a conflict of interest involving presidential advisor Larry Summers. She told us that prior to becoming chief economic advisor to President Obama, Summers had received $8 million in speaking fees from Wall Street firms and hedge funds. Meanwhile, Nightly News has accepted tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship fees from pharmaceutical conglomerates like GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer while continuing to report on the pharmaceutical industry, and even on these companies' specific products. Summers accepted his fees before he knew he would be named as chief economic advisor to the president and he presumably has stopped accepting corporate money now that he is part of the Obama administration. NBC continues to accept pharmaceutical sponsorship money while they report on the drug industry--sometimes even on the same broadcast. So which is the bigger conflict of interest?

Cue Bert Parks

Congratulations to Brian Williams on winning this year's Walter Cronkite award. I understand that the competition was close, but Brian prevailed based on his performance in the swimsuit portion of the competition. I also understand that Bill O'Reilly was named Mr. Congeniality.


On the April 8 Nightly News, Brian Williams devoted a portion of that night's "Making A Difference" segment to Jay Leno. He lauded Leno for performing free comedy shows for Detroit auto workers and also for being an all-around great guy. Of course, this was really just a 60-second promo for Leno and a not-very-subtle way of reminding viewers that Leno will be moving to prime time this fall. Brian should have just said what he meant: "Watch Jay weeknights at ten, starting this fall! Only on NBC. We'll N-B-See you there!" But wait--it gets better. The Leno "Making A Difference" segment was sponsored by NBC's pals at GlaxoSmithKline. So NBC actually got paid by Glaxo to air a 60-second promo for Jay Leno. That is absolutely brilliant.

Mettle Of Honor

It must be great to have your own newscast. You can report on anything you want. Take Brian Williams, for example. He's on the board of directors for the Medal Of Honor Society. So every time a Medal Of Honor recipient sneezes, Brian reports on it. I guess if Brian was on the National Cheese Council board, he'd be reporting on cheese all the time. Too bad Brian isn't on the American News Society board of directors. If he was, maybe he'd report more actual news each night.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

NBC's Golden Geese

These are dire economic times for most Americans. But not at Nightly News. When ad rates drop or advertisers purchase fewer ads, Nightly News simply turns to their golden goose. Geese, actually. I'm speaking, of course, about the big pharmaceutical companies. Whenever Nightly News needs to increase their cash flow, they call their buddies at Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline. During the month of March, 2008, Nightly News had three sponsored segments by Glaxo ("What Works" or "Making A Difference") and two broadcasts that were entirely sponsored (one by Pfizer and one by Fidelity Investments). During March 2009, however, Nightly News featured 11 sponsored segments (ten by Glaxo and one by Pfizer) in addition to one broadcast that was entirely sponsored by Fidelity. It's likely that these twelve sponsorships brought more than $1 million to Nightly News's coffers. (Keep in mind that this amount is for sponsored segments only--it is in addition to the millions and millions of dollars that Nightly News earns for the sale of commercials.) It would be nice if we could all turn to Glaxo and Pfizer when we needed a little extra cash.

But NBC's acceptance of pharmaceutical sponsorship money raises an important ethical issue. What else does this sponsorship money buy? The answer is favorable news coverage. Nightly News often uses news stories to promote their advertisers' products. On July 18, 2007, Nightly News reported a "news story" about Restless Leg Syndrome. Although many doctors insist that RLS is not a real medical syndrome, Nightly News used this story to legitimize RLS solely for the purpose of promoting Requip, a medication used to treat RLS. Requip (made by GlaxoSmithKline) is a frequent advertiser on Nightly News. And it's not only the pharmaceutical companies who get beneficial treatment from NBC. On Nov. 13, 2007, Brian Williams anchored Nightly News from a Chrysler plant in Detroit. His comments about Chrysler were completely without objectivity. He praised Chrysler products, and conducted an "intereview" with the Jim Press (Chrysler's #2 executive) that can only be described as fawning and sycophantic. Less than three months later, Chrysler paid for the sponsorship of an entire Nightly News broadcast. It would be naive to believe that there is no relation between Chrysler's sponsorship and Brian's coverage. Nightly News often uses advertisers' products and logos in their news stories--McDonald's, M & M/Mars, United Airlines, Coke, Nike. Clearly, NBC includes these products in news stories as a way of thanking their sponsors. There is no line between news and advertising. If Nightly News uses their news stories to promote their sponsors'products, how can we trust what we see on their broadcast? The answer is: We can't. Viewers never know if they are watching a legitimate news story or a paid product placement. In the process of selling sponsorship after sponsorship, NBC News has sold their credibility.