Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I laughed so hard I almost choked on my wad of Bazooka gum when I heard Brian Williams offer this teaser at the top of Monday's broadcast: "Sarah Palin's parting shot and when we might hear from her again." Is he kidding me? Apparently, we'll be hearing from Palin quite a bit on Nightly News. We've already seen Palin stories for four straight days, even when there's nothing new to report. Why? The answer is obvious. More than anything else, the Nightly News producers are concerned with attracting viewers so they can achieve the highest ratings and charge the highest ad rates. Therefore, the producers make a point of airing stories based not on their news value, but based on their ability to attract viewers. By using focus groups, google searches, Q score testing and other evaluation tools, the NBC News research department is constantly determining which subjects and stories the viewers want to see. Obviously, the researchers have informed the producers that Sarah Palin tests very high in viewer interest. So naturally, the producers make a point of showing plenty of Sarah Palin stories. That's why it was so funny to hear Brian suggest that Nightly News airs Palin stories only when there is some newsworthy reason for doing so. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum. It's true that Nightly News features Palin frequently because she's popular, but it's also true that part of the reason she's popular is because Nightly News features her so frequently. So which comes first--the chicken or the egg?

Remember "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire"? At one point, when the viewer interest was high, it was airing four nights a week in prime time. But as soon as interest waned, the show was cancelled. That's how Nightly News determines what stories to air. Whatever is popular becomes the news (and whatever is news becomes popular). Of course, that method may be acceptable for programming a game show, but it is certainly not appropriate for prioritizing a news broadcast.

The same is true of the Henry Louis Gates/Cambridge Police Department racial profiling case. The story will remain prominent on Nightly News as long as the researchers determine that there is high viewer interest. On Saturday, Nightly News ran two stories (totalling more than five minutes) on the Prof. Gates/Sgt. Crowley situation. And Nightly News continued to run stories on the subject on Sunday and Monday. Sunday's story about the Cambridge Police Department ended with the camera following a police car as it rode down the street. But there was one problem. The police car was from the Somerville Police Department, not the Cambridge Police Department. Somerville is a separate and distinct city from Cambridge and had absolutely no connection with the incident involving Prof. Gates. So why did Nightly News show a Somerville Police car? I guess as far as the producers are concerned, all police cars look alike. Especially around the tires. Clearly, the Nightly News producers are guilty of radial profiling.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fool Me Once

Most of the footage from Friday's Sarah Palin story--including a few seconds of teaser footage shown at the top of the broadcast--was from a July 7 interview that Andrea Mitchell conducted with Palin. All the shots of Palin on a boat or standing on shore in waders came from that interview. A clip of Palin from July 3 was labeled as such, but the producers made no attempt to label the July 7 footage as file footage. Why? This was not just an omission on the part of NBC. From the way the July 7 footage was integrated into the story, it's clear that the producers were attempting to fool the viewers into thinking that the footage was new. The Nightly News producers owe the viewers an apology for this intentional deception.

Mistakes? NBC?

This is from Brian Williams's Daily Nightly blog for July 22: "Mistakes are awful in our business -- whether it’s NBC News, US News or The New York Times -- we try mightily to avoid them, and try to cop to them when we discover them. As long as there's a human element in journalism, mistakes will happen. So it was with that in mind that we noticed the mother of all corrections in this morning's New York Times -- and of all things, it had to do with their coverage of the death of a man who was a stickler for detail: Walter Cronkite....So -- with the 'glass houses' rule fully in effect -- we will proceed with our broadcast in hopes that we get it all right. If not, we'll run a correction!"

What a joke. Brian Williams wouldn't run a correction even if he reported that the moon was made of green cheese. Last Nov. 6, Brian earnestly reported that Sarah Palin didn't know that Africa was a continent. That story turns out to have been a hoax. But Brian never issued a retraction, much less an apology. And when it was revealed that NBC's paid military analysts were also accepting money from companies whose products and strategies the analysts were endorsing on the air, Brian never issued an apology.

And as long as we're on the subject, how about an apology for the current state of Nightly News? How about an apology for the ridiculous non-news pieces that clog up the broadcast each night? And when is Brian going to apologize for turning the broadcast into his personal megaphone to promote Medal of Honor winners, firefighters, American cars and his newest pet project, the Horizons program? And how about an apology for using valuable news time to run favorable stories about Nightly News sponsors like United Airlines, General Mills or McDonald's. I won't hold my breath waiting for those apologies. But I'm sure it won't be long before Brian again sticks it to the New York Times for making errors. Funny thing--I didn't notice Brian catching the Times errors until they themselves ran the correction.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Zelig Of Newscasting

As an anchor, Walter Cronkite was genuine. People who knew him say that he was the same man on camera as he was off camera. He did not need to put on a persona. He was as we saw him. On the other hand, Brian Williams is constantly striving to appear not as he is, but as he desperately wants to be seen. Brian Williams is the Zelig of newscasting. He strives to be as much like he imagines the viewers want him to be as often as he possibly can. He is always using pandering phrases such as "For those of us who love American cars" or "For those of us who love dogs" or "For those of us who love aviation". Please love me, Mr. & Mrs. Viewer! I'll try to be whatever you want me to be. Have you ever noticed how often Brian uses the word "folks" instead of "people"? "The good folks from Milwaukee" or "The brave folks who fight fires" or "All the folks on the West Coast". Obviously, the people in the NBC Research Department informed Brian that "folks" tests higher with focus groups and makes him seem less elitist. Sometimes, Brian just blatantly panders to viewers: "The Great Lakes are spectacular" (July 17). "If your summer plans include the great city of Chicago..." "Luckily, Chicago is also beautiful when viewed from the sidewalk." (Those last two are from the July 1 broadcast.) I guess Brian's producers must have told him that there was a ratings decline in the Chicago area.

And That's The Way It Is At NBC News

This is from Brian Williams's statement about Walter Cronkite from the July 20 Nightly News: "He taught everyone how this job should be done and then some and we will strive constantly to live up to the standards he set and we will miss him every day."

"NBC News Standards" is an oxymoron. NBC News has no standards. The organization's goal is simply to pander to the viewers and gain the highest ratings so that they can charge the highest ad rates. Raking in money is all that matters.

I wonder what Walter Cronkite would think of the Nightly News practice of rewarding regular sponsors (such as McDonald's, United Airlines and Chrysler) with two-and-a-half-minute product placements masquerading as news stories. I wonder what Cronkite would think of the way Nightly News wastes their viewers' time with ridiculous non-stories about people who live to be 100, high heeled shoes, kazoos, students who like to hug each other, pink dolphins or skateboarding bulldogs. I wonder what Cronkite would think about the way NBC uses Nightly News to relentlessly promote other NBC/Universal properties. I wonder what Cronkite would think about NBC's deceitful practice of intentionally misspelling Nightly News (as "Nitely News") when they submit certain shows to the Nielsen ratings service (so those low-rated broadcasts will be counted separately from the rest of the week's shows).

Brian Williams and his sleazy crew are without integrity. They're like cops on the take. They are morally bankrupt. Anything is okay at NBC News as long as the ratings stay high and the money keeps rolling in. Brian Williams has shamed the anchor desk from which Walter Cronkite so honorably reported. Brian Williams does not have the right to offer an opinion on Walter Cronkite.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Phoenix Rising

The July 13 broadcast of Nightly News was brought to us with "limited commercial interruption" courtesy of the University of Phoenix, the broadcast's sole sponsor. Four days later, during a July 17 Nightly News story about Western Governors University (an on-line non-profit university), Tom Costello made a point of telling us that, "The biggest for-profit (on-line) schools include the University of Phoenix...." while the screen displayed a clear picture of the school's logo. Come on, now. Are we supposed to believe that this is some sort of a coincidence? The University of Phoenix sponsors an entire Nightly News broadcast and four days later they just happen to get a prominent on-air plug during another Nightly News broadcast? It's obvious what's going on here. The money spent by the University of Phoenix on the sponsorship also entitles them to plugs on future Nightly News broadcasts. The University of Phoenix is now part of an exclusive club of NBC advertisers. NBC News does this for all their high-spending "partners"--McDonald's, Coke, Nike, General Mills, Pfizer, Glaxo, United Airlines--the list goes on. But in the future, NBC might want to be a little less obvious about it. They might want to wait more than four days before offering a free plug to one of their new full-show sponsors.

Old Man Williams

On Friday's Nightly News, this is how Brian Williams introduced a story about the 100th anniversary of the NAACP: "It's so old, its title contains a phrase we don't use anymore." On Jan. 26, this was the headline to Brian's Daily Nightly blog: "OLD MAN RIVER AT OBAMA'S INAUGURATION." (The post referred to Capt. Chesley Sullenberger attending Pres. Obama's inauguration.) The lyrics for the song "Old Man River" (also known as "Ol' Man River") were written by Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1927 play "Showboat". Unfortunately, the song's original lyrics were quite racist and even contain the vile "n" word to describe African-Americans. If Brian is so sensitive to the word "colored" from the NAACP title, why on earth would he use the title of a racist song as the headline for one of his blogs?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NBC Weasels Manipulate The Ratings

I think we all know that Brian Williams and his producers are consumed with one goal above all others--achieving high ratings. To Brian and his team, having the highest ratings is far more important than delivering the most newsworthy stories of the day. Each evening, the Nightly News producers select stories based on their ability to attract viewers, rather than on their newsworthiness. That would explain why Nightly News recently transformed itself into Access Hollywood to cover Michael Jackson's death. It would also explain recent Nightly News non-stories about high heels, the Colorado elk population, a ladybug infestation (also in Colorado), Susan Boyle, and my personal favorite--high school students who like to hug each other (that breaking news story aired on May 28). But I had no clue about the depths to which Brian and his producers would descend just for the purpose of gaining a few ratings points. I had no idea about their total lack of scruples and how easily they would just toss morality out the window. The following is an excerpt from a June 23 story on the tvnewser.com website. It describes the ratings for the previous week's evening news broadcasts:

"NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams won the week with a 3-day (Mon-Wed) average, but also lost more than half a million viewers from the week prior.

NBC averaged 7.75m Total Viewers Mon-Wed but on Thursday and Friday gave their program a different Nielsen code -- 'Nitely News.' (The correct spelling is 'Nightly News'). This is despite the fact that the network had regular coverage on those days. We're trying to determine if the U.S. Open Golf Championship had something to do with the coding change. Had Thursday and Friday been included, the average would have been lower. On Friday 'Nightly' averaged 6.29m Total Viewers.

An NBC insider tells us, even though the broadcast had full national coverage, the U.S. Open tends to affect viewership so the Thursday and Friday shows were not in the average. NBC says this is normal procedure."

Let's be clear about what happened here. The producers of Nightly News intentionally misspelled the name of their broadcast when they submitted it to the Nielsen ratings service on June 18 & 19 so that those two newscasts wouldn't be counted as part of the week's Nightly News ratings. That way, the lower ratings on those two days wouldn't bring down the average weekly rating of the broadcast for Monday through Wednesday. (It should be noted that on both of those days, Nightly News aired at its regularly scheduled time.) This is unbelievable. This is shocking and reprehensible. This is the equivalent of giving a false name to the police so that their computers can't detect any prior arrests. This is manipulating the stats. This is cheating. For their weasely actions, Nightly News should be banned from participating in the Nielsen ratings service. But this was not a one-time occurrence. The following excerpt is from the July 7 tvnewser.com website:

"NBC Nightly News won the week, but lost about 40,000 Total Viewers from the week prior. The Brian Williams broadcast still had a 1.19M viewer lead over #2 ABC World News. The Charles Gibson broadcast gained 160,000 viewers week-to-week and had its best delivery since the week of May 4.

And for the fifth time this year, NBC News has coded one of their shows differently, which takes it out of the Nielsen average. Despite having full coverage last Thursday, Nightly News was called 'Nitely News.' NBC has also done this on June 9, 12, 18 and 19.

NBC experienced low coverage due to sports on June 9 (84%) and June 12 (83%). But the other three days they had regular coverage but those were either a Thursday or Friday, the two lowest rated days of the week. The practice, however, is within Nielsen's guidelines."

For five days in June, NBC producers intentionally misspelled the name "Nightly News" when they submitted it to Nielsen in order to avoid lowering their weekly ratings. Of course, the question is: How many other times has NBC pulled this stunt? Maybe any night the producers feel their viewership might be low, they submit Nightly News as "Nitely News". Perhaps they have a whole slew of aliases: Nightlee News, Nightleigh News, Nightly Nooz, Nightly Nuze, Nightly Nughes, etc. Obviously, this is okay with Brian. He and his producers have sold their souls to the devil for the sake of a few ratings points. I don't understand how Brian Williams (or Bryan Williams or Brian Willyums) can look at himself in the mirror without feeling a deep sense of shame over this unethical practice. Clearly, there is an integrity gap at NBC. Brian owes his viewers an apology and a promise that he and his producers will immediately end this vile deception.

Brian Recuses Himself

From Brian Williams's July 13 Daily Nightly blog entry:

"Full disclosure: I had agreed to participate in the all-day msnbc.com live blog [about the Senate confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor], but found I didn't have a thing to say that would add to the conversation...so I held off."

As a self-professed "Supreme Court buff", I guess Brian was attempting to imitate one of the Justices by recusing himself. So what's Brian's excuse for all the other times when he doesn't recuse himself from commenting on a wide variety of subjects despite having nothing to add to those conversations? Brian should stick to reading from his teleprompter and leave the expert commentary to the experts.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Can someone please buy Brian Williams a thesaurus? During his intro to Tuesday's Nightly News, Brian informed us that, "Sarah Palin--the Alaska Governor now a short-timer--gives us unprecedented access...." Unprecedented? In the NBC story, Andrea Mitchell interviewed Gov. Palin (and her husband Todd) on a fishing boat in Bristol Bay and later on shore. Meanwhile, on ABC's World News that night, Kate Snow also interviewed Gov. Palin and her husband on a fishing boat in Bristol Bay and later on shore (in fact, during Mitchell's NBC interview, Snow can be clearly seen standing right next to Todd Palin). Gov. Palin also gave similar boat & shore interviews to CNN and FOX. Roget's Thesaurus and The Scribner-Bantam English Dictionary both define "unprecedented" as "unique". So if three other networks aired an identical interview with Gov. Palin, how can Brian claim that NBC's access was "unprecedented"? Perhaps Brian's gaffe was the result of jetlag after he rushed out to Los Angeles to offer his expert opinion on the Michael Jackson memorial.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Brian's Wonderful Life

On his Wednesday Daily Nightly blog, Brian Williams yet again proclaimed himself to be a dog lover (for the 1,346th time). Meanwhile, on the same day, a Nightly News "Making A Difference" segment was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline--one of the world's largest utilizers of animal testing. Brian's right hand may be patting a dog's head, but behind his back his left hand is being greased with all that lucrative Glaxo sponsorship money. We all know the line from "It's A Wonderful Life"--"Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings." Well, every time Glaxo sponsors a MAD segment, a poor dog has given its life.