Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Fagin Of NBC

What part of Brian Williams's job description as the Nightly News teleprompter reader includes soliciting viewer contributions for his pet charities? It was grotesquely inappropriate to see Brian begging viewers to contribute to an Afghan orphanage that he profiled on Oct. 30 (and again in a follow-up story on Nov. 3). Common sense and logic tell us that most people have only a finite amount of money to give to charity. When they are coerced into donating to a particular cause, that money comes at the expense of other causes. So all the money that Nightly News viewers gave to the Afghan orphanage would have otherwise gone to orphanages in Bosnia, Zimbabwe or the United States, or to other equally needy causes. Would Brian like to explain to orphans in those countries that they won't be getting any money from his viewers because the Afghan orphans are more important? (But I certainly hope he continues to tell us again and again how generous Nightly News viewers are. We love to be pandered to.) And this isn't even the first time that Brian has used his broadcast to promote one of his favorite charities. On July 23, Nightly News aired a "Making A Difference" story about "Horizons", a summer school program that allows public school students to attend private schools. Brian introduced the story by saying, "It's popular, it's growing, it's a favorite cause in our household...." So that means we all need to know about it? News flash: Not every discussion between Brian and his wife has to be turned into a Nightly News story. It is completely inappropriate for an anchor to use a news broadcast to hawk a favorite charity. If Brian wants to promote his pet causes, he should do so in a different forum. Brian is supposed to be reporting the news, not telling us where to donate money. Nightly News is a news show, not a telethon. In fact, I'm surprised that Brian didn't borrow a page from Jerry Lewis and refer to the Afghan orphans as "Brian's kids". Maybe he should ask for a drumroll every time he announces his new donation total.

Of course, viewers haven't seen the last of the Afghan orphans. Brian introduced his Tuesday follow-up story by saying that the original segment "...has since become one of the most popular we have ever done in terms of viewer response." And that's really what matters to Brian and his producers--popular stories that increase the ratings (it's hardly a surprise that Brian chose to air this story during a sweeps period). Since the Afghan orphans spell good ratings, we can expect Brian to milk this story more than he did with Susan Boyle or the balloon boy. He will exploit those orphans like Fagin from "Oliver Twist". Maybe in his next visit to the Afghan orphanage, Brian can lead the kids in a rendition of "Food, Glorious Food".

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