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."

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