Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Weekend Update

1) On Saturday's Nightly News, an on-screen caption identified Charlie Beck as the Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles Police "Deparment" (sic). The correct spelling is "department".

2) Also on Saturday's broadcast, an on-screen promo informed us that Senior White House "Adviser" David Axelrod would be a guest on that Sunday's Meet The Press. On Sunday's Nightly News, a clip from Axelrod's MTP appearance identified him as a Senior "Advisor". Both spellings are correct, but it might be nice if NBC News picked one spelling and stuck with it.

3) On Sunday, Nightly News spent two-and-a-half minutes on the death of TV infomercial pitchman Billy Mays. On that same broadcast, news about the protests in Iran and the coup in Honduras were given a combined total airtime of one minute.

But without a doubt, my favorite moment from this weekend's Nightly News was the promo on Saturday that emphatically stated "MSNBC--The Place For Politics". Meanwhile, several minutes earlier, Lester Holt had informed us in a "program note" (which is weasel-speak for "self-promoting commercial") that the "Living With Michael Jackson" special would be airing later that night at 7 PM, 10 PM and 11 PM--on MSNBC. MSNBC--The Place For Politics. And Michael Jackson.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


For some reason, Brian Williams felt that the recently released Nixon tapes deserved nearly four minutes of air time on the June 23 Nightly News. I guess it's easier to air 40-year-old news than to report on current news. Here's another excerpt from the Nixon tapes that was reported in the June 24 New York Times (from a Feb. 21, 1973 phone conversation between Pres. Nixon and Billy Graham):

(Pres. Nixon speaking): "Anti-Semitism is stronger than we think. You know, it's unfortunate. But this has happened to the Jews. It happened in Spain, it happened in Germany, it's happening--and now it's going to happen in America if these people don't start behaving....It may be they have a death wish. You know that's been the problem with our Jewish friends for centuries."

Now here's an excerpt from a speech that Brian Williams gave earlier this month at the Nantucket Film Festival (as reported on the June 22 bostonherald.com website):

"Welcome to the Nantucket Film Festival--where Jews come to be honored. Nantucket is actually a Yiddish word meaning where the WASPS live."

Let's try an experiment. Let's substitute the word "African-Americans" for "Jews" and the word "Swahili" for "Yiddish". Would Brian consider those comments to be acceptable? In this age of political correctness, most people seem to understand that it's inappropriate to make derogatory comments based on a person's skin color. Yet many of those same people think it's okay to insult people of the Jewish faith. Nixon believed that he would be able to invoke presidential privilege to keep his tapes from being released. Maybe Brian thought he could invoke anchor's privilege to keep his comments from being heard. Obviously not. Brian owes an apology to his viewers (and everyone else) for his insensitive remarks.

You Give Us 80 Seconds, We'll Give You The World

I would like to sincerely thank Brian Williams and the Nightly News producers for the 80 seconds of non-Michael Jackson news that they presented on Friday's broadcast. I truly feel that in those 80 seconds, I was given a full and comprehensive portrait of all the important events going on in our country and around the world. I am glad to see that Nightly News is achieving its goal of becoming indistinguishable from the shows that follow it (in the New York market): Extra and Access Hollywood.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Except for those 80 seconds, all of Friday's Nightly News was about Michael Jackson. Meanwhile, during the "Fun Facts" segment of that night's Late Show With David Letterman (which appears to have been taped before Jackson's death), Letterman said this: "On Feb. 21, 2003, every story on the NBC Nightly News dealt with chocolate milk." I wouldn't doubt it for a second.

The most unintentionally ironic part of Thursday's Nightly News broadcast was when Brian Williams was discussing Michael Jackson with Lester Holt (as if Holt is some sort of an expert on Jackson). At one point, Williams noted that over the years, Jackson had "virtually changed his entire physical appearance." Since they were facing each other, Williams and Holt were seen in profile, meaning that Brian's nose job was clearly obvious. I guess Michael Jackson isn't the only one who felt the need to change his physical appearance.

Finally, NBC announced on Friday that they would be indefinitely postponing the debut of Jay Leno's prime time show. Instead of giving the Monday-through-Friday 10 PM slot to Leno, NBC plans to use that time to broadcast Michael Jackson specials five nights a week in perpetuity.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Bloody Hands Of Brian Williams

Does Brian Williams have a conscience? Yet again, Brian and the Nightly News producers have allowed GlaxoSmithKline to sponsor a "Making A Difference" segment about rescued animals. Monday's segment (June 22) was about surfers who rescued abandoned dogs, taught them to surf, and then displayed their dogs' surfing skills in exhibitions for charity. The segment was sponsored by Breathe Right Strips--a Glaxo product. Doesn't Brian (and the Nightly News producers) get it? Glaxo is one of the world's largest utilizers of animal testing. They test virtually all their products on animals. The Glaxo labs are filled with animals--including dogs--with electrodes in their heads. Their labs are filled with animals who have been blinded just so that we can enjoy a new kind of contact lens solution. Their labs are filled with animals whose skin is bloody and raw so that we can have a new cream that will make wrinkles disappear. Of course, those animals are the lucky ones. They're still alive. Allowing Glaxo to sponsor segments about rescued animals is like some sort of sick joke.

Incredibly, this is the fifth time in the past seven months that Glaxo has been permitted to sponsor a MAD segment about rescued or trained animals. A May 13 MAD segment highlighted Lori Stevens and her organization Patriot Paws, which trains dogs to assist disabled veterans. An April 27 MAD segment was about Deborah Wilson's Arizona ranch for animals who can no longer be cared for by their owners. Last Jan. 2, Nightly News aired a MAD segment about Jon Wehrenberg's "Pilots 'N Paws" organization, which flies dogs from crowded animal shelters to other less crowded shelters where they can more easily be adopted. And last Nov. 21, a MAD segment told us about Lorita Lindemann, who rescues former race horses and keeps them from being euthanized and turned into dog food. All of these MAD segments were sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline products.

Over the years, Glaxo has killed far more animals than the people in these MAD segments have rescued or trained, so it is unconscionable that Brian Williams and the Nightly news producers continue to allow Glaxo to sponsor these segments. Brian Williams claims to love animals. He has introduced many a segment by saying, "For those of us who love dogs..." Unfortunately, Brian's claim to be an animal lover is just part of his carefully crafted on-air persona. Brian knows that Glaxo tests their products on animals. He knows that there are thousands and thousands of dogs who have endured permanent physical and psychological damage as a result of Glaxo's testing. And many more who died. But he chooses to ignore this. If Brian really loved animals, he would use his authority as the Nightly News Managing Editor to insist that Glaxo (or any other company that tests products on animals) be prohibited from sponsoring Nightly News segments. At the very least, they should be banned from sponsoring segments about animals. But he hasn't done this. Because for Brian, the Glaxo sponsorship money is far more important than any moral issues associated with the way they treat animals. Shame on Brian Williams. The blood of the Glaxo test animals is on his hands. I wonder how he sleeps at night. And when he counts sheep, do they have electrodes attached to their heads?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

NBC--Ambassadors Of Hypocrisy

On the June 13 Nightly News, Lisa Myers reported on the Obama administration's practice of awarding ambassadorships to people who had contributed large sums to the Obama presidential campaign. The examples Myers cited were Louis Susman (appointed as ambassador to Great Britain), who had donated $400,000 to the Obama campaign; Charles Rivkin (France), who had donated $800,000; and John Roos (Japan), who had donated $500,000. First of all, it's obvious why Nightly News aired this report. In recent weeks, NBC News has been harshly criticized for their soft and compliant coverage of Pres. Obama. This was especially obvious when Brian Williams tossed softball questions at the President during his "Inside The Obama White House" special. So in light of this criticism, the NBC News producers scrambled to find a story that could be considered critical of the Obama administration. Hence the story on ambassadorships.

But the contrivance of this story pales next to its hypocrisy. Nightly News frequently airs stories solely for the purpose of giving positive news coverage to their regular advertisers and sponsors. Recent examples include Robert Bazell's May 12 story about Cheerios, a May 5 story about the launch of McDonald's new gourmet coffees, a Feb. 23 story on how spotlessly clean United Airlines keeps their planes and a Jan. 31 pre-Super Bowl story prominently featuring Lifewater, a sponsor of the following day's Super Bowl. And of course, there is Brian Williams's unforgettable fawning interview with Chrysler executive Jim Press that aired a year-and-a-half ago. That interview set the all-time gold standard for rewarding advertisers with positive news coverage.

It is unbelievable that NBC has the nerve to accuse the Obama administration of doing what they themselves do for their advertisers on a regular basis. Offering ambassadorships in exchange for campaign contributions is no different than airing "news stories" that laud the products of high-paying advertisers. Both practices are corrupt. Of course the meager six-figure amounts that Susman, Rivkin and Roos donated in exchange for their ambassadorships pale in comparison to the millions of dollars paid by NBC advertisers who were in turn given favorable segments on Nightly News. Somewhere, an NBC executive is laughing at the Obama administration for accepting so little in exchange for an ambassadorial appointment. Meanwhile, I wonder if Jim Press is interested in becoming an ambassador. It's probably less stressful than his current job, Deputy CEO of Chrysler. I'm sure Brian can use his influence to arrange a meet-and-greet between Mr. Press and President Obama. And here's an idea: Jim Press could even use some of that Chrysler TARP money to pay for his ambassadorship. Now that's thinking outside the box.

The Not-Quite-News

Brian Williams began the June 17 Nightly News by telling us (in his most earnest anchor voice) that thanks to a full-show sponsorship, "Tonight's broadcast is coming to you with limited commercial interruption--that means more time for news...." Meanwhile, that night's broadcast included the President Obama fly-swatting incident (for the second consecutive night) and a two-and-a-half minute "news story" about healthy food available at ballparks. Good thing there was more time for news. Maybe next week, Nightly News will report about the cleaner rest rooms at ballparks.

And on tonight's broadcast, Lester Holt told us about the new Pentagon report acknowledging that last month's U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan had actually killed 86 civilians, triple the original estimate. That story was given the same amount of airtime as a story about the release of the official portrait of Bo, the White House dog. It's nice that the producers have their priorities straight. NBC News. Making sense of it all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

NBC And General Mills: Mutual Back Scratchers

I think that NBC and General Mills must have drawn blood from scratching each other's backs so hard. On the May 12 Nightly News, Robert Bazell did a story that was purportedly about how the FDA had reprimanded General Mills for making false claims about Cheerios. The story was supposed to expose the FDA's criticism of Cheerios, but in reality, the story contains far more praise than criticism. Two days after this story aired, Cheerios commercials began appearing regularly on Nightly News. And on the June 10 broadcast, just before the first commercial break, we heard the following announcement, "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams--brought to you in part by Cheerios." A large Cheerios logo accompanied the announcement. It's obvious what's going on here. The May 12 story treated Cheerios with kid gloves. NBC did their pals at General Mills a huge favor by turning the FDA story into a fluff piece, and in return General Mills bought a nice chunk of advertising and sponsorship space on Nightly News.

Robert Bazell's May 12 report intentionally minimized the FDA aspect of the story and instead spent a significant amount of time promoting the positive attributes of Cheerios--a major NBC sponsor. Here's the first line of Bazell's story: "It is one of America's iconic products--Cheerios." We are then shown 20 seconds of Cheerios commercials while Bazell tells us that, "Soluble oat fiber--a key component--can help reduce cholesterol." In other words, Bazell makes a claim that the FDA has expressly forbidden General Mills from making. He then briefly interrupts his Cheerios love-fest to mention the FDA reprimand: "A letter from the FDA to General Mills, the manufacturer, says that the health claims have gone too far. The big problem is those claims about how much cholesterol can be reduced in how many weeks. They are repeated on the box. The FDA says those are drug-like claims that can only be made after studies have been submitted to the agency and approved." As Bazell says this, he is sitting at a table with a bowl of Cheerios in front of him, and at least six boxes of Cheerios neatly stacked next to him. He looks like he's in a Cheerios commercial. Bazell continues, "In a statement, General Mills said, 'The science is not in question and we look forward to discussing this with the FDA and reaching a resolution.'" Bazell does not question the General Mills statement--he simply accepts it as fact. The General Mills statement also appears on screen alongside a pleasing graphic of a breakfast table with a bowl of Cheerios, a box of Cheerios and a glass of orange juice. We then see a close-up of milk being poured into a bowl of Cheerios. There is a brief interview with a doctor who says that three grams of soluble fiber is not really going to help you, but that it's better than eating something that's high in fat. Bazell then twists this statement into, "Food industry experts say there is no question that Cheerios is a healthy product but the FDA seems to be paying more attention to the claims that companies make." No question! Bazell's commercial--I mean news story--ends with boxes of Cheerios going by on a conveyor belt, a slow pan down a box of Cheerios, and a mother pouring some Cheerios for her toddler. That is unbelievable. The actual point of the story--the FDA's reprimand of General Mills--is completely dwarfed by the positive images and Bazell's unabashed praise of Cheerios.

There seems little doubt that before preparing this story, the NBC producers collaborated with the Cheerios marketing team to devise a strategy that best highlights the positive qualities of the product, while also minimizing the FDA reprimand. And the strategy seems to have worked. There are so many positive images of Cheerios in this story that a viewer could not be blamed for missing the fact that General Mills has been reprimanded by the FDA for misleading consumers. Bazell treats General Mills' violation as if it were nothing more than a minor paperwork error, while relentlessly championing the positive aspects of the product.

And this is not the first time that Nightly News has given Cheerios free air time. On a March 3 "We The People" story about Spanish-language advertising, Nightly News showed 15 seconds of a Cheerios ad. This is hardly surprising. General Mills spends millions and millions of dollars each year advertising with NBC, so it is makes sense that NBC would return the favor by giving General Mills free publicity on Nightly News stories. And it is certainly not surprising that Nightly News would soften a negative story about Cheerios with a non-stop barrage of positive images.

Three days after the May 12 story aired, General Mills began running 15-second Cheerios ads on Nightly News. And a month later, Cheerios became a sponsor of Nightly News. Thanks to the way Bazell reported the story, General Mills dodged a bullet. They got positive publicity from what could have been a negative story. General Mills did pretty well for themselves, but NBC is clearly the big winner here. Cheerios is now buying extra ads and sponsorships, so the network is making even more money. This is a blatant case of "I'll do you a favor if you do me a favor".

Here's an interesting postscript: On May 14, two days after the Cheerios story ran, Robert Bazell did a story about the presence of salmonella in frozen pot pies. A more in-depth story on the front page of that day's New York Times told us that in 2007, five million Totino's and Jeno's pizzas were recalled because of an E. coli outbreak. And who owns Totino's and Jeno's? General Mills--the same company that makes Cheerios. But the Nightly News story on salmonella never said that General Mills products had been recalled. I guess Bazell must have forgotten to mention it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Do The Math. Please.

Can someone please teach the NBC producers how to do basic math? Last Sunday, Nightly News ran a story about the great bargains that are available on Chrysler cars because of their bankruptcy and impending merger with Fiat. Michael Okwu gave us a few examples of these great deals. He told us that a Chrysler Town & Country with a sticker price of $29,455 could be bargained down to $25,054, a savings of 18%. Wrong. That's actually a 15% savings. Okwu then told us that a Chrysler 300 LX with a sticker price of $27,415 could be purchased for $22,527, a 22% savings. Wrong again. That figure represents an 18% savings. Finally, Okwu told us that a Dodge Ram with a sticker price of $23,525 could be bargained down to $17,744, a 33% savings. Not even close. That would actually be a savings of only 25% off the sticker price. It is appalling that no one at Nightly News can do these basic calculations. No wonder children in the U.S. are lagging far behind children of other countries in math skills.

Here's a basic tutorial for the Nightly News producers. If you want to calculate a percentage drop, the first step is to divide the smaller figure by the larger figure. The next step is to subtract the resulting number from 1 to yield the final answer. Here's an easy example: Imagine an item with a regular price of $100 is reduced to $80. 80 divided by 100 is .8. And 1 - .8 = .2, so that would represent a 20% savings. In the case of the Dodge Ram, that would mean first dividing $17,744 by $23,525. That gives us .7543 (rounding off to four places). And doing the second step, 1 - .7543 = .2457, or 24.57%. And that's the savings amount as a percentage. It's pretty easy, actually. Next week, I'll show the Nightly News producers how to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators.

MAD As Hell

I almost choked on my Cap'n Crunch when I heard Brian Williams close Friday's Nightly News by saying, "Our 'Making A Difference' reports have had to give way to a little other news of late but we're surely still in that business...." What exactly is this "other news" that has prevented Brian and the producers from showing MAD segments? Was it the 14 minutes of Susan Boyle stories that Nightly News aired in April and May? Was it Tom Brokaw's seemingly endless saga about the Maryland crab industry that ran on May 27? Was it the May 15 story about Farrah Fawcett's battle with cancer? Was it the May 5 story about McDonald's new gourmet coffees? Was it the many, many minutes of promos that ran in recent weeks for the "Inside The Obama White House" special? What an outrage! On any given broadcast, Nightly News devotes half its airtime to non-news stories and then Brian has the nerve to complain that he doesn't have enough time to air MAD segments--which are themselves non-news stories! Is this some sort of bizarro catch-22? "Because of all the fluff pieces we air, we didn't have enough time to air our other fluff pieces," is what Brian is saying. On Friday's broadcast, viewers were treated to a story about George H. W. Bush's skydiving exploits, a tribute to Tim Russert and an Access Hollywood-type story about the feud between Sarah Palin and David Letterman. This is news? These three stories alone took over seven-and-a-half-minutes--a third of the broadcast! And Brian says that because of all the news stories Nightly News is airing they're too busy to bring us MAD stories. Puh-leeze. If Brian tells another lie, his surgically-reduced nose will begin to grow back to its original size.

And speaking of the Tim Russert piece, here's how Brian closed that story: "That was, of course, a blatant plug for Luke Russert's alma mater Boston College...." So does this mean that going forward Brian and the other Nightly News anchors and reporters will be disclosing their frequent on-air plugs for advertisers' products and NBC/Universal shows? Will Brian now be informing us whenever he inserts a gratuitous plug for Conan or Jay? Will Brian now be telling us that the preceding "news story" was shown as a favor to United Airlines, Nike, McDonald's, Cheerios, Coca-Cola or some other NBC advertiser? Or maybe the producers could just run a blinking "gratuitous plug" graphic at the bottom of the screen whenever Brian is shamelessly promoting an NBC property or advertiser. Then again, that may not be such a good idea. The blinking graphic would be on screen so often that it might cause retinal damage to the viewers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Tonightly News Show

Brian Williams has no shame. His main goal appears to be finding ways to insert gratuitous plugs for other NBC properties into the Nightly News broadcast. On Monday, there was a two-and-a-half-minute "news story" about The Weather Channel's tornado chasers. Apparently, Brian "neglected" to mention that The Weather Channel is owned by NBC/Universal, and that this story was just a plug for one of NBC's sister networks. I guess full and honest disclosure was never Brian's strong suit. And on Tuesday, Brian introduced a story about sleep deprivation among teenagers by saying, "For millions of us of a certain generation, it was all about staying up late for Carson. Of course, times have changed and Carson is now Conan, but staying up late has always been a big deal to kids...." Huh? How on earth does Conan fit into that equation? It is shameful how desperately far Brian will reach to make a gratuitous plug. Meanwhile, here's a news flash: Conan will never be Carson. And Brian Williams will never be Tom Brokaw. Conan O'Brien and Brian Williams are not endowed with a fraction of the talent or charisma possessed by their predecessors. As Nightly News anchor, Tom Brokaw was first and foremost a journalist. Brian Williams is a talking head, a cuddly studio cat. Tom Brokaw was primarily concerned with informing us about what was happening across the country and around the world. Brian Williams is primarily concerned with promoting other NBC properties, pandering to the viewers and attracting lucrative sponsorship deals for Nightly News. Tom Brokaw was deeply concerned with the makeup of his broadcast. Brian Williams is deeply concerned that his makeup, hair and tie look good for his broadcast.

In 100 years, Tom Brokaw will be remembered as one of the last of a breed of hardy journalist-anchors. Johnny Carson will be remembered as perhaps the greatest late-night talk show host ever. Brian Williams and Conan O'Brien will be remembered primarily as the men who presided over the decline, and eventual dissolution, of Nightly News and The Tonight Show.

If A Tree Falls At The White House, Is It More Important Than A Bombing?

It is astounding that Brian Williams had the nerve to write the following on today's Daily Nightly blog: "Yesterday a bomb went off outside a hotel in Peshawar in Pakistan. It may say a lot about our world, our culture or our business that the story merited only a scant few seconds on our broadcast last night." This is truly unbelievable. What it says a lot about, actually, is the way Brian and his producers run Nightly News. I would remind Brian that the reason this story merited "only a scant few seconds" is because that's all he chose to give it. Brian talks as if there are secret external forces controlling the makeup of a Nightly News broadcast. HE is the managing editor. HE decides (with his producers) what goes on the air. HE is the reason this story was given only a few seconds. Meanwhile, there was apparently enough time on Tuesday's Nightly News to air a pointless two-and-a-half-minute "What Works" segment about Miami Gardens, Florida. This report did not contain the slightest bit of actual news, but Brian chose to run it instead of devoting more time to the Peshawar bombing. The reason is obvious: The Miami Gardens story was sponsored by Aricept, a Pfizer product. There was no way Brian or his producers were going to bump a sponsored segment and forego that Pfizer money just so they could spend more time reporting on a bombing halfway around the world. It should also be noted that on Tuesday, Brian spent more time telling us about the tree that fell on the White House lawn than he did on the Peshawar bombing. It is shocking and inappropriate for Brian to blame "our world, our culture or (the news) business" for his own corrupt decisions. But at least Pfizer got their name on the "What Works" segment, and NBC got paid. And at Nightly News, that's all that really matters. I bet that if the Peshawar bombing had been sponsored by Pfizer, Brian would have given it a lot more air time.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Brian Williams Reports And Reports And Reports

NBC was so pleased with the recent special "Inside The Obama White House: Brian Williams Reports" that the network has commissioned additional Brian Williams special reports, some of which have already been completed. Here's what we can expect to see in the coming months:

> "Brian Williams Reports: Inside Jon & Kate Plus Eight...And Brian Makes Nine!"--In this NBC News special, Brian is granted unprecedented access to Jon & Kate and their eight children. Brian asks important questions like: What is Hannah's favorite ice cream flavor? What is Leah's favorite crayon color? Does Aaden prefer SpongeBob SquarePants or Dora the Explorer? Was Cara ever convicted of a crime? Brian's crew filmed over 150 hours of footage including 13 hours of interviews with Shooka and Nala, the Gosselins' German Shepherds. In the second installment, Brian takes the sextuplets to the dentist.

> "Brian Williams Reports: Inside Knut's Cage"--In this six-part series, Brian spends a week living with Knut the polar bear, a favorite profile subject of Nightly News. Brian interviews Knut on a wide variety of issues ranging from the effects of global warming on the polar bear population to the difficulty of finding fresh walrus meat at Zabar's. With the help of Dr. Phil, Brian asks a tearful Knut how it felt to be abandoned by his parents. In the final hour, Brian takes Knut to Nobu for some seal sashimi, where Knut gets harassed by the PETA people because he's wearing fur.

> "Brian Williams Reports: Inside Susan Boyle"--Brian follows SuBo around as she prepares for her first European tour. Highlights include Susan having a meltdown and insulting Brian's tie, and a forty-minute tutorial on haggis. In the final episode, Brian duets with Susan on "I Dreamed A Dream".

> "Brian Williams Reports: Inside Tyson And Tillman"--Brian hangs ten with the skateboarding bulldogs (first profiled on the Jan. 1 Nightly News) and asks probing questions like: What makes them tick? And do they have ticks? Find out as Brian takes a flea bath with the bulldogs.

> "Brian Williams Undercover: Inside The Counterfeit Market For Military Challenge Coins"--Brian dons a multitude of disguises to expose the counterfeit market for Military Challenge Coins. With the help of "Dateline" correspondent Chris Hansen, Brian uses his prized personal collection of Military Challenge Coins (which he proudly displayed on the Jan. 14 Nightly News) to lure a counterfeiter into a sting operation, where the perp is mildly rebuked by a Deputy Sheriff before being released with a desk appearance ticket.

> "Brian Williams Reports: Inside Brian Williams"--Brian follows himself around for a week and asks himself important questions like: "Is my hair okay?", "How does my tie look?" and "Has Bono called?" Unfortunately, Brian is too busy to grant himself an interview. In the final episode, Brian duets with himself on "I Dreamed A Dream".

> "Brian Williams Retorts: Outside The Obama White House"--Brian Williams stands outside the White House fence and answers critics who claimed he was way too soft in his recent interviews with President Obama. Some of Brian's retorts include: "Oh yeah, says who?", "Nuh-uh, was not!", "That's what YOU think!", "So's your old man!" and the always reliable, "I'm rubber and you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you."

> "Brian Williams Repots: Inside The Obama Greenhouse"--Brian is joined by Michelle Obama as he repots all the plants on the White House grounds. This will lead to a ten-part Nightly News expose on root rot. Special guest: Martha Stewart.

> "Brian Williams Repos: Inside The Automobile Repossession Industry"--Brian spends a week working the night shift with two Newark repo men. In the first installment, Brian is chagrined when he mistakenly repos the car of Newark Mayor Corey Booker. In the final episode, Brian duets with Mayor Booker on "I Dreamed A Dream".

> "Brian Williams Reposts: Inside The Daily Nightly Blog"--Brian goes undercover as a harsh critic of Nightly News and attempts to leave unflattering messages on the Daily Nightly blog. When the moderators refuse to post Brian's negative comments, he is forced to repost them over and over again.

> "Brian Williams Repents: Inside The Evangelical Movement"--Brian spends a month with several Evangelical congregations. In one installment, Brian is instructed to exorcise his demons, but he misunderstands and instead travels to a U.S. Naval base where he exercises with seamen. (Note: Portions of this broadcast will be subtitled when Brian begins speaking in tongues.)

In addition to these upcoming NBC News specials, Brian will also be starring in three new shows from the NBC Entertainment Division:

> "CSI: 30 Rock"--In this drama, Brian Williams stars as Brian Wilton, a network news anchor who uses his amateur forensic sleuthing skills to solve mysteries in and around NBC headquarters. In the pilot episode, Brian and his sidekick Stevie, a nerdy high school science teacher (played by Robert Bazell) use their knowledge of forensics to determine that the furry green blob in the Nightly News refrigerator is actually a tuna sandwich left there by John Chancellor in 1966. Special guest star: Tina Fey. Premieres this fall--Thursdays at 9:00 (8:00 Central). And don't forget to stay tuned for Jay!

> "Anchors Away!"--In this comedy, Brian Williams plays William Bryan, a network news anchor who yearns for a less hectic life. So he packs up his stuff and moves his family to Fargo, where he takes a job anchoring the 6 & 11 PM newscasts of the local NBC affiliate. The laughs ensue as William has to deal with a temperamental weather girl (Lindsay Lohan), an arrogant investigative reporter (Stephen Colbert) and an indecisive executive producer (Jason Alexander). In the pilot episode, William discovers that the hotshot sportscaster Tony Denzi (Tony Danza) has been taking naps in his anchor chair. Special guest star: Candice Bergen. Premieres this fall--Tuesdays at 9:30 (8:30 Central). Right before Jay!

> "Brian's Got Talent"--In this variety/reality/competition/news show, Brian Williams duets with special guests and aspiring singers on "I Dreamed A Dream". And in the regular "The Week In Revue" segment, Brian sings the news of the week with Nightly News correspondents Andrea Mitchell, Jim Miklaszewski and Martin Fletcher. Special guest co-host: Sanjaya. Premieres this fall--Wednesdays at 8:00 (7:00 Central). Only two hours before Jay!

Lee What's-His-Name

Lee Iacocca is one of the most iconic executives of his generation. His fame extended beyond the business world and crossed over into American popular culture, partly as a result of the Chrysler commercials he appeared in during the 1980's. So it was astounding to see a Nightly News on-screen graphic identify Iacocca as "James Bell" during Tuesday's story about the auto industry. Iacocca now joins those lucky few who have recently been mis-identified by Nightly News. This elite group includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy. In his TV commercials, Iacocca's trademark phrase was, "If you can find a better car, buy it." Funny, but I've never heard anyone from Nightly News say, "If you can find a better newscast, watch it."

An Ace For NBC

Over the years I've seen some low-down shameless things on Nightly News, but this takes the cake. During Tuesday's story about the crash of Air France flight 447, Lester Holt made sure to include some gratuitous footage from the French Open Tennis Tournament, where a moment of silence was observed for those who lost their lives. Meanwhile, NBC just happens to be broadcasting the semi-finals and finals of the French Open this weekend. So Nightly News used the Flight 447 tragedy to promote NBC's upcoming tennis coverage. Well done, Lester. Game, set and match, NBC.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Boyle-ing Point

On Monday, Nightly News aired yet another "news story" about Susan Boyle. This was the seventh Susan Boyle story they've aired in the past six weeks. Altogether, Nightly News has devoted more than fourteen minutes of valuable news time to Susan Boyle. That's the equivalent of more than half of an entire Nightly News broadcast. All for a story that even by the widest possible definition doesn't qualify as news . This is disappointing, but certainly not surprising. We all know that the goal of Brian Williams and the Nightly News producers is to attract the most viewers by pandering to the widest possible audience. Instead of airing actual news, they air easily digestible feel-good stories that people can watch without thinking too much. That way, Nightly News can achieve the highest ratings and therefore charge the highest ad rates. And that's really what it's all about for Nightly News: money. So in keeping with that formula, Monday's Susan Boyle story was just more sugar-coated fluff. It was comprised mostly of hearsay and unproven accusations. Here are some excerpts from Dawna Friesen's story:

> "But as quickly as she shot to fame came reports she was cracking."
> "So on the night of the final of 'Britain's Got Talent', many wondered if she could hold it together."
> "Boyle seemed gracious in defeat, but there were reports she collapsed in tears backstage."
> "It's reported Boyle then threw a glass of water on a floor manager and shouted, 'I hate this show!'"
> "Then last night after reportedly acting strangely in her hotel, the police and paramedics were called..."
> "She's said to be exhausted and emotionally drained."

"Came reports". "Many wondered". "But there were reports". "It's reported". "After reportedly acting strangely". "She's said to be exhausted". This is what passes for reporting on NBC? Unsubstantiated rumors and unattributed allegations? That's just shameful. Friesen ended her story by telling us that perhaps the producers shouldn't have allowed Boyle to go on because, "She's a vulnerable woman who was exploited for the sake of ratings." Is Friesen kidding us? That's exactly what Nightly News has been doing--exploiting Boyle for the sake of ratings! Talk about people in glass houses throwing stones! Brian Williams' closing comment to this story was "Poignant ending." Ending? I doubt it. I'm pretty sure that we'll be seeing plenty more of Susan Boyle on NBC. After all, she'll be releasing a record and going on tour soon. And Nightly News will be there to cover all of it.

Last October, NBC aired a 30-second infomercial for Nightly News. It started off with Brian (in his most earnest voice-over) saying, "We've got a big job in explaining some big issues. This is one of the few places left where you're gonna find journalism and journalists." Yes sir, Brian. You prove that every night.

Bait Und Switch

At around the 12-minute mark of Monday's broadcast, just before the first commercial break, Brian Williams read a brief promo for an upcoming story about California's ongoing budget crisis. The promo clip showed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger leaning over a desk in a classroom, apparently checking on the work of a student. But when the story aired a few minutes later, Gov. Schwarzenegger was nowhere to be found. He wasn't featured anywhere in the story. This type of bait-and-switch reporting is one of the worst forms of yellow journalism. Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most recognizable figures not just in politics, but in all of popular culture. Brian and the NBC producers intentionally used Schwarzenegger as bait to lure the viewers in (and keep them from switching channels), even though they never had any intention of including him in the story. That's a clear example of bait-and-switch. Shame on Brian and the producers. The viewers deserve better.


In Monday's Nightly News story about the disappearance of Air France flight 447, Tom Costello told us that the plane went down in an area near the equator known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone. Unfortunately, an NBC on-screen graphic identified the region as the "Inter Tropical Covergence (sic) Zone". Aside from the fact that "intertropical" is supposed to be one word, Nightly News misspelled "convergence". Clearly, no one at Nightly News cares about accuracy in spelling. So why should we believe that they care about accuracy in reporting?