Saturday, October 31, 2009

No Coaching, Please

It's obvious that Andeisha Farid was coached before her Friday "Making A Difference" interview with Brian Williams. Farid, who runs an orphanage in Kabul, told Brian that, "I am sure I'm doing a difference for Afghan people." The awkward phrasing of that sentence indicates that either Brian or his producers informed Farid prior to the interview that since the segment is called "Making A Difference", she would be expected to use that phrase during the interview. Farid did the best she could to comply with the demand, but with her limited English skills "making a difference" became "doing a difference". This raises some disturbing ethical questions: How often do Nightly News producers, anchors or correspondents coach their subjects prior to taping an interview? Do they tell them what they are expected to say? Do they tell them what would make a good sound bite? If it happened once, it's a sure bet that it has happened before. It is a violation of the public trust to coach subjects before the interview begins. However, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the producers to end this deceitful practice.

Macho Man Brian

After watching Brian report from Afghanistan this week in his little flak jacket and matching helmet, my first thought was that he was dressing up as a soldier for Halloween. My second thought was that he had joined the Village People.

General Misspellings

From Brian Williams's Oct. 30 Daily Nightly blog: "While we didn't fly halfway around the world just to interview generals or ambassadors, its (sic) nonetheless notable that we've been in the region a week and we will depart for home having not been granted an interview with a single senior U.S. official...Tonight I was invited to a dinner at the official residence of U.S. Ambassador Eikenberry, where Generals Patreus and McCrystal were present..."

Maybe if Brian learned to correctly spell the names of Generals Petraeus and McChrystal, they'd be more willing to grant his interview requests.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pumping Irony

Beginning two weeks ago, the website posted three separate videos of Maria Shriver talking on her cell phone while driving, which is illegal in California (where Shriver was at the time). Virtually every local, national and cable news network ran the story and aired the videos. But not Nightly News. Now, this is exactly the type of story Nightly News loves--celebrity gone afoul of the law. And Shriver is a celebrity in many worlds. She's a noted journalist, a member of the Kennedy family (and niece of a president), married to a mega-star (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and the First Lady of California. So why didn't Nightly News run this story? The answer is obvious. The story broke just a week before Shriver was to begin her stint as host of the "A Woman's Nation" series on Nightly News. The producers refused to run her phoning-while-driving story so as not to detract from her upcoming appearances on their broadcast. Once again, the Nightly News producers allowed self-interest to influence their news coverage. Shame on them for their Kindergarten Cop-Out.

Our Man In Afghanistan

Starting Tuesday evening, Oct. 27, Brian Williams will be reporting the news from Afghanistan. Of course he will--the November Nielsen sweeps period starts on Oct. 29 this year, so that will put Brian in Afghanistan right at the beginning of sweeps month. How convenient. And as a special sweeps stunt, Brian will be riding along on army helicopter raids in a balloon designed by Richard Heene.

Mystery State

On Sunday's Nightly News story about the H1N1 virus (which they are still calling Swine Flu), John Yang told us that 27 states are short of hospital beds because of the virus. But the accompanying map only highlighted 26 states. So which is the super-secret mystery state that Nightly News refused to show? Perhaps it was the state of carelessness.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nightly News Loves Women!

All this week, Nightly News presented a series of stories they called "A Woman's Nation", purportedly about the role of women in American society. Here's what I think about the series: It was a huge waste of time. It was just filler. It didn't teach us anything. The Monday and Tuesday segments consisted of Maria Shriver sitting around a table with a group of people while they talked about themselves. That's not something that belongs on an evening news broadcast. The first of Wednesday's two segments featured Savannah Guthrie's interview with Pres. Obama. His anecdotal thoughts on gender roles were somewhat interesting, but certainly not news. Wednesday's second "A Woman's Nation" segment about women caregivers spent nearly all its time on the story of one particular woman. I can't imagine why the Nightly News producers felt that Helen Zabrowski deserved three minutes of network news time. (But I will say this: Ms. Zabrowski bears a slight resemblance to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Since Nightly News obviously has no intention of covering last month's German elections, viewers watching the segment on Ms. Zabrowski could squint and pretend she was Chancellor Merkel. That's certainly the closest we'll get to seeing Angela Merkel on Nightly News.) Thursday's segment was about gender roles in the workplace. It wasn't particularly enlightening, but it allowed NBC to take care of some important business. Nearly half the story dealt with Jan Fields, the chief operating officer for McDonald's USA. She was given the opportunity to talk about McDonald's "world-famous french fries" and to ruminate on what a great place McDonald's is to work. This was nothing more than a 75 second commercial for McDonald's. Friday's "A Woman's Nation" (which also doubled as a "Making A Difference" segment) was about Bea Stotzer, who offers financial counseling and other services to Latinas. It seems like she's doing good work. But it certainly isn't news.

All together, the six "A Woman's Nation" segments took up more than 20 minutes of Nightly News time. That's almost the equivalent of an entire broadcast. Meanwhile, the actual information in those segments could have been explained in less than two minutes. What an incredible waste of network news time. Imagine all the real news that Nightly News could have covered in those 20 minutes. Writing on his Wednesday Daily Nightly blog, Brian Williams said that he hopes to address some of the criticisms of the "A Woman's Nation" series. I would be very interested in hearing that. But I won't hold my breath.

Brian H.W. Williams

Someone should buy Brian Williams a calendar. During his intro to Friday's report about next month's elections, Brian said, "Depending on where you live in this country, an important election day is coming up this coming Tuesday..." Not quite. This coming Tuesday is Oct. 27. Election day is a week later, on Nov. 3. That reminds me of the time George H.W. Bush commemorated the 47th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day on Sept. 7, 1988, three months early. I only hope that Brian isn't going to be standing in his doorway ready to dispense Halloween candy on Oct. 24.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Show About Nothing

Once again, not surprisingly, there was no Nightly News last Saturday. Obviously, college football is more important to NBC than news. By "more important", of course, I mean "more profitable". But I have to wonder why NBC bothers to air a weekend edition of Nightly News at all. Last Sunday's broadcast was so devoid of any actual news that it didn't seem worth showing, despite the fact that it had been 48 hours since Nightly News had last aired. Sunday's broadcast led off, of course, with a three-and-a-half-minute story about the latest exploits of the balloon boy and his family. (So far, Nightly News has aired a total of thirteen minutes and forty seconds worth of stories about the balloon boy, which is only 32 seconds less than they devoted to Susan Boyle stories last April and May. But my money's on the balloon boy to soon overtake Boyle.) A shorter piece on health care followed, but it was just a recap of the past week's events. Other than a few brief quotes from the Sunday morning talk shows, there was no new information. Then Michelle Franzen spent nearly two minutes reporting the weather. I'm not quite sure why a national news show is broadcasting the weather, since most people get the weather from their local news. I guess NBC has to find some way to justify their purchase of The Weather Channel. Next, Lester Holt spent all of 20 seconds telling us about a suicide bomb in Iran that killed 42 people. Stephanie Gosk then reported from Pakistan, but her report was just a rehashing of the past week's events. (If Gosk's name doesn't ring a bell, viewers may recall her in-depth three-minute "news report" about the discomfort of wearing high-heeled shoes that aired on the June 24 Nightly News). A story about the Swine Flu presented no new information, but tried hard to scare us. We were then treated to a three-minute story about the 20th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake. Not exactly breaking news. Finally, we got a story about a painting that was determined to be a previously unknown Leonardo da Vinci. Interesting story, but not really news. And that was Sunday's Nightly News. The actual news from that broadcast could have fit into a two-minute segment. So if this is NBC's concept of weekend news, maybe we'd all be better off without it.

Interestingly, Dan rather was interviewed by Matt Frei on Friday's edition of BBC World News America. Rather spoke about the balloon boy story, and the state of network news in general. Here is some of what he said: "The pressure for demographics and ratings--don't be out of step--don't be old-fashioned--is extremely strong in nearly every news organization." "But if you weigh that [the balloon boy story] against what's happening with the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan--really important news--it speaks to the trivialization of news...and I don't think it speaks well for American journalism." "What's missing here is that sense of news being a public trust and news being a public trust should be operated at least some of the time in the public interest--not just in the profit interest." Rather didn't specifically mention NBC News by name, but then again he didn't have to.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Falcon and the Showman

It was obscene that Nightly News led off Thursday's broadcast with a four-minute-and-fifty-second story about the little boy who may or may not have been hiding in his father's helium balloon. This story deserved thirty seconds at most: The balloon became untethered and took off, six-year-old Falcon Heene may have been inside it, and as it turns out, he was safe and sound, hiding in his attic. End of story. But not for Nightly News. They stretched it out to almost five minutes, using two different correspondents. Of course, no regular viewer should be surprised by this. It is the Nightly News policy to emphasize the sensationalistic at the expense of real news. Interestingly, the balloon boy story was also the lead on many of the celebrity gossip shows. The Nightly News producers are obviously striving to make their show more and more like Extra. In fact, I'm surprised that Mario Lopez wasn't asked to sit in for the vacationing Brian Williams this week. Although Brian was not the anchor of Thursday's broadcast, his fingerprints were all over the balloon boy story. As the Nightly News managing editor, Brian is one of the main architects of the current broadcast and is largely responsible for shaping it into its present form. Whereas Nightly News once reported actual news, it is now an amalgamation of stories about light fare, human interest, cuddly animals, celebrity interviews, rah-rah patriotism, military idolization and do-gooders helping down-and-outers. In truth, Brian is not so much an anchor as he is an old-fashioned carnival showman. He is much more P.T. Barnum than E.R. Murrow. Rather than a suit and tie, Brian should be dressed in a carnival barker's outfit, complete with red-and-white striped blazer, spats, straw hat and cane. Night after night, he implores us to step right up and see the greatest show on earth, a broadcast full of two-headed cows, conjoined twins, bearded ladies, sword swallowers and fire eaters. And like all good showmen, Brian is motivated by self-promotion. Each night, Nightly News uses faux news stories to promote NBC shows, NBC/Universal properties, sponsors' products and anything or anyone that Brian happens to like. When NBC is airing a major golf tournament, Nightly News does stories about Tiger Woods. When it's football season, Nightly News airs stories to promote their Sunday Night Football. And during the Olympics--forget it. Nightly News relentlessly promotes the Games as news. Jay and Conan are often featured in Nightly News stories. And then there are Brian's favorites: Bruce. Bono. Firefighters. Medal of Honor winners. Aviation. High ranking military brass. American cars. All are featured prominently in Brian's broadcasts. One loses track of all the categories in which Brian describes himself as a "buff". Step right up, folks, and watch Nightly News. As P.T. Williams likes to say: "There's a sucker born every minute."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Caring About Those Who Care About Health Care

On Tuesday, Nightly News devoted two minutes and twenty seconds to a story about what three members of a California family think about the health care debate. Meanwhile, that night's broadcast did not bother to cover a single story from outside the U.S. But at least we know what three people in California think about health care. Great job. Keep up the good work.


Here's what Ann Curry said during Tuesday's Nightly News: "This was the scene in Southern Louisiana earlier today as the brand new USS New York left the shipyard headed for its namesake city." Someone should inform Ms. Curry that the ship is named for the State of New York, not the City of New York. As such, New York State, not New York City, is the ship's namesake.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Brian's Bad Hair Day

Brian Williams devoted three minutes and forty seconds of Thursday's Nightly News broadcast to a discussion with Chris Rock and Nia Long about hair care products for African-American women.

This is from Brian's Friday Daily Nightly blog: "I was disturbed to see that we received several negative emails overnight regarding last night's segment with Chris Rock."

What a joke. Brian should win an Emmy award for this performance--pretending that he was disturbed by all the viewers who were angry at the amount of time he devoted to his Chris Rock interview. I don't believe for a second that Brian was disturbed about the emails. I really don't believe he cares at all. Brian knows exactly what his broadcast is because he and his producers have spent years shaping it into its present form. I'm reminded of the scene in Howard Stern's movie "Private Parts" where the research director tells Howard that people who like him tune in to hear what he'll say next--and people who don't like him also tune in to hear what he'll say next. Brian doesn't care what viewers think of Nightly News, as long as they continue to watch. The ratings are all that matter. Brian presides over a broadcast that makes an intentional point of offering stories with no news value, because that's what attracts viewers. Remember the skateboarding bulldogs and the little girl who threw back a foul ball at a Phillies game? That's the Nightly News Brian and his producers want us to see.

Brian continues, "Some people just don't like Chris Rock, others felt that we used precious network news time for what I like to call an 'elective' feature topic–not among the most compelling events of our day. Actually, I feel (and have always felt) that we have the time, the room and the flexibility to offer such electives—whether it's highlighting our 'Making A Difference' stories—or generally bringing our attention to a topic we would normally not dial into."

Brian feels that he has the time to present such stories? That's a load of number two (as Brian so eloquently phrased it is his Wednesday breaking news story about what Bo left on Air Force One). A newscast of 22-24 minutes a night does not have a second to waste on these so-called electives. With so much going on in our country and around the world, even a full hour would not be enough. Brian and his producers simply choose to ignore important stories in favor of fluff pieces because those are the stories that bring in viewers. The same night that Brian devoted 3:40 to Chris Rock, he spent all of 20 seconds on a story about a car bomb in Kabul that killed 17 people. I guess Chris Rock is 11 times more important than the lives of those 17 people. Why won't Brian just admit that his broadcast panders for ratings by presenting a steady diet of celebrities and non-news stories? Brian's claim that Nightly News is a serious journalistic broadcast is like a troubled family that refuses to admit there's a problem. It's dysfunctional. Everyone will be better off if Brian just comes clean and fesses up. "My name is Brian and I pad my newscast with fluff." The viewers already know. The truth will set him free.

Brian concludes his blog with, "But it’s a conversation we will continue..."

No it isn't. Brian rarely acknowledges negative viewer comments. In fact, his Daily Nightly blog often refuses to print them. The first rule of public relations is "say nothing unless you absolutely have to". Nightly News is #1 in the ratings. So Brian and his producers aren't going to change a thing about their broadcast, and we shouldn't expect to hear Brian say anything else about the subject. Unless, of course, Bruce or Bono tell him to.

Helen Keller's Principal's Calendar

On Wednesday's Nightly News, a caption below a photo of Helen Keller identified her as "Hellen Keller".

On Friday's broadcast, a story about the H1N1 virus (which they still refer to as "Swine Flu") showed a September calendar page with 31 days. This is the third time in less than a month that they have shown a calendar page with the incorrect number of days.

Also on Friday, a story about the search for water on the moon identified Anthony Colaprete as the "LCROSS Principle Investigator". He is, in fact, the LCROSS Principal Investigator.

Is anyone at Nightly News paying attention to what they put on the air?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No TD, No Extra Point For NBC

Last week, a glitch in the TD Bank computer system caused major problems for many of the bank's 6.5 million customers. Some customers were unable to access direct deposit funds or log on to their on-line accounts. And some deposits were not credited to accounts in a timely fashion. But Nightly News did not even mention this story. Why? TD Ameritrade (of which TD Bank owns 39%) is a major advertiser on NBC. And during the month of September, TD Ameritrade was also a prominent sponsor of MSNBC's Daily Nightly blog. (Their logo was seen in the same place the MSN logo is seen this month.) It's clear that Nightly News did not report on the TD Bank problem because they were protecting a major sponsor. Of course, this is nothing new. Nightly News regularly airs favorable "news stories" about frequently-advertised products while refusing to report stories that are unflattering to regular sponsors. The TD Bank story is a perfect example of this. How can viewers trust a newscast that shows such favoritism towards sponsors? Answer: They can't.

Work One, NBC Zero

Welcome back, Work One! From January through April, anytime Nightly News ran a story about unemployment, they showed a clip of people waiting in line outside a Work One center (which is some sort of job placement center). They used that same clip dozens and dozens of times over that four-month period. They used it so often that I felt like I knew the people in line. Well, it's ba-a-ack. During the intro to Friday's Nightly News (10/2), there it was again--the Work One Center, just as I remember it from earlier this year. All my favorite people were there, slowly trudging through the door. Maybe this is some sort of retro throwback clip, like those commercials that use old ad footage of their products from decades past. Or perhaps it's a seasonal thing. Since everyone in the clip is dressed for winter, the producers may have put it on hiatus during the warm weather. Will we be seeing more vintage clips of the Work One center? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Air Plugs

From Brian's Oct. 5 Daily Nightly blog: "My wife and I had a weekend that resembled a MasterCard commercial." Nice plug for MasterCard, Brian. I wonder how much he charges to plug a product in his blog? Or is he just being a good NBC employee by rewarding a regular sponsor with a favorable mention?

Also from Brian's Oct. 5 blog: "Forgive me the short post, but I'm trying to focus my meager concentration on the broadcast tonight. We hope you can join us." Brian should have said, "...I'm trying to focus my concentration on the meager broadcast tonight." It would have made more sense that way.


Congratulations, Nightly News! On the Oct. 4 broadcast, they correctly identified Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On the Sept. 11 broadcast, her name was misspelled as "Dr. Ann Schuchet". At least someone at Nightly News seems to be trying.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Breaking News: Grilled Cheese

Thank you Brian Williams and Nightly News for Friday's "Making A Difference" segment about Betty Tucker, who works the overnight shift in the kitchen of Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital. Meanwhile, Nightly News has not even mentioned last Sunday's national election in Germany, but at least we know all about Betty Tucker's grilled cheese. Great job, guys. Keep up the good work.

Strictly Minor League

On Tuesday's Nightly News, Brian Williams sardonically noted that during the previous night's Yankee game, manager Joe Girardi rested some veteran players, and thus had benched $644 million worth of talent. Although Brian likes to pretend he's one of the regular folk, his eight-figure salary is more than three times the major league average and puts him close to the lofty salary level of A-Rod and Jeter. Brian's derisive comment about inflated major league salaries is like a weak pop out to the catcher.

Brother Brian

From Brian Williams's Sept. 30 Daily Nightly blog: "Chicago was this week in the news for a stomach-turning act of violence, and today I link to a thoughtful and edgy and provocative essay on our sister (or brother) website—not everyone will agree with its conclusion, but it will make people think."

What exactly does Brian mean by his use of the word "brother"? Since is a site devoted to the discussion of issues in the African-American community, it would seem that Brian's use of "brother" is intended to mock a word that has a specific meaning to African-Americans. Of course, this insensitivity is nothing new for Brian or Nightly News. On Jan. 26, Brian's Daily Nightly blog was titled "Old Man River At Obama's Inauguration". (The title refers to Capt. Chesley Sullenberger's appearance at the inauguration.) The original lyrics to the song "Old Man River" (also known as "Ol' Man River") were written by Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1927 play "Showboat". Unfortunately, the lyrics were extremely racist, and included multiple uses of the vile "N" word. Hardly an appropriate blog title to commemorate the inauguration of America's first African-American president. And on Sept. 15, a Nightly News story about race in politics identified Rep. Steny Hoyer (who is white) as the House Majority Leader, but identified Rep. James Clyburn (who is African-American) only as a Democrat from South Carolina, despite the fact that Clyburn is the House Majority Whip, the third most powerful position in the House. Why did Nightly News identify the white congressman by his prestigious House leadership position, but did not do the same for the African-American congressman? Clearly, Brian and his producers could use some counseling with regard to the issue of racial sensitivity.

Mary Had A Little Beef (With NBC)

In 1972, Paul McCartney & Wings released a song called "Give Ireland Back To The Irish". Because of the political nature of the song, the BBC promptly banned it from their airwaves. As a protest, McCartney then released a version of "Mary Had A Little Lamb", which was also banned by the BBC. The moderators of NBC's Daily Nightly blog have refused to print my last 8 comments, going back to mid-September. Many of my other comments to their blog over the past year have also been banned, although my comments have never violated any of the blog's posted rules. In the spirit of Paul McCartney, I submitted "Mary Had A Little Lamb" to the Daily Nightly. I wonder if they will print it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Brian's Exciting Day

From Brian Williams's Oct. 1 Daily Nightly blog: "Arriving at LaGuardia to take the Shuttle to Washington today (where I interviewed Gen. David Petraeus, the 4-star head of U.S. Central Command), I considered it a good luck charm when I caught a glimpse of 'Sully' at the USAirways terminal -- he was there for the media event preceeding his flight today to North Carolina."

Brian saw Capt. Chesley Sullenberger and Gen. David Petraeus on the same day? He must have peed himself from all the excitement. So to whom did Brian act more fawningly obsequious--Sully or Petraeus? By the way, His Exalted Anchorness misspelled "preceding" in his blog entry. I guess someone of his stature can't be bothered to spellcheck.