Saturday, January 30, 2010

Orphans = Ratings

One of the most important and fascinating stories of the week, the month and perhaps the year is former Prime Minister Tony Blair's testimony on Friday at an official inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war. But Nightly News did not even mention Blair's testimony. They were too busy bringing us three stories (taking up almost seven minutes) about Haitian orphans. What is happening in Haiti is extremely important. But Nightly News is not covering important stories. Instead of reporting actual news from Haiti, Nightly News is reporting feel-good tear-jerker stories that resemble the plot of a soap opera. Friday's "Making A Difference" story was about a California nurse who had a hard time leaving Haiti and the orphan she bonded with. That's not news, that's a Lifetime movie. Friday's other two Haiti stories were also about orphans, and were designed to strike an emotional chord with viewers, not to convey information. Apparently, the producers have determined that orphans equal ratings. This is a frequent tactic on Nightly News. By showing stories that reach viewers emotionally (but that have no news value), the producers attract large audiences, gain high ratings and ultimately earn more advertising dollars. And although Brian Williams did not have enough time to report on the Tony Blair story, he did have enough time to tell us about the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner and the ice storm in Oklahoma. On his Tuesday blog, Brian wrote, "While other legitimate stories compete for our time and attention, I'm proud that our coverage of Haiti on tonight's broadcast -- and this week in general -- is about at the same level its (sic) been for days." Unfortunately, that level is quite low. Brian continues, "(A)nd I hope those previously unfamiliar with Haiti and Haitians learn something from this tragedy: about their work ethic, their faith, their stoicism and seemingly endless capacity to endure." Give me a break. That drips with insincerity. Brian should just be honest and admit that his goal is to earn high ratings, not to report news. Perhaps if Tony Blair was an orphan, Brian Williams would have reported on him.

Calculator, Dictionary, Eyeglasses

Can someone please buy Brian Williams a calculator? During Tuesday's Nightly News story about the President's proposed spending freeze, Brian informed us that after exempting defense, medicare, social security and the other untouchable departments, "That leaves just 17% of a $3.5 trillion budget subject to this spending freeze...." An accompanying pie chart graphic gave us the same information: The $3.5 trillion budget "pie" had a slice sticking out that was labeled "17%" and "$477 billion". If Brian had bothered to check his math, he would have realized that 17% of $3.5 trillion is $595 billion, not $477 billion. Any third grader with a calculator could have figured that out. My advice to the Nightly News producers: Go out and hire a third grader with a calculator.

And can someone also buy Brian a dictionary? At the 7-minute mark of Wednesday's broadcast, Brian gave us "one last reminder" about NBC's coverage of the State of the Union speech later that night. Then, at the 28-minute mark, Brian again gave us "one last reminder" about the State of the Union. If Brian doesn't understand the meaning of the word "last", he should check with Mr. Webster.

Finally, someone should buy the Nightly News producers some eyeglasses. On Friday's story about the Toyota recall, we saw an interview with Matt DeLorenzo, who was identified as the "Road And Track Editor-In-Chief". Meanwhile, the wallpaper behind DeLorenzo clearly read "Road & Track". If the company chooses to use an ampersand as part of their title, the Nightly News producers should use one, too.

So Little Time

In his Jan. 27 Daily Nightly blog, Brian Williams apologized for not having enough time in his broadcast to offer a proper obituary for Sen. Charles Mathias, and other departed newsmakers: "Because our air time is limited, because we have to find space for such stories alongside a slate of coverage from Haiti, a new NBC poll and a preview of the State of the Union speech, there were details about Senator Mathias I had to leave out."

Brian, it's totally understandable that you don't have enough time to properly eulogize those who have passed away. After all, Nightly News has to present its usual slate of stories about skateboarding bulldogs, popular youtube videos, little girls who throw back foul balls at Phillies games, birthday messages to Springsteen, blind and deaf dachshunds, the Second City comedy troupe, teenage jazz singers, military challenge coins, pink dolphins, McDonald's new gourmet coffees, Susan Boyle, White House party crashers, inspirational Olympic tales, children who like to hug each other and how painful it is to dance in high heeled shoes. Then there is the large chunk of time that Nightly News must devote to "news" stories about movies, celebrities, regular NBC sponsors and NBC Universal TV shows. We completely understand your frustration at not being fully able to discuss Sen. Mathias's life and accomplishments. At least you managed to use a correct photo of Sen. Mathias, which is more than can be said for your obituary of James Brady.

Another Brian Williams quote: "In our newsroom, it’s well known that I write the obituaries."

I think there's a Barry Manilow song in there somewhere.

"I think it’s safe to claim that of the three network evening broadcasts in our time slot, we air the most obituaries."

Which means you air the least amount of actual news.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Brian's Suggestions

In case you somehow missed it, Brian Williams discovered last week that his Daily Nightly blog is read at the Pentagon. And he kvelled over the fact that the Air Force is implementing his suggestion to have Creole-speaking personnel on flights out of Haiti. But because of Brian's extreme modesty, he didn't mention the other suggestions he has made to the U.S. government and the U.S. military. Here are some of Brian's suggestions that we can expect to see implemented in the near future:

1) Bruce Springsteen's birthday will become a national holiday.
2) All Medal of Honor winners eat free at Denny's before 4 PM (some restrictions may apply--check with local franchises).
3) The FCC will declare that every American must watch a minimum of 100 hours of Olympic coverage. (Tune in to the XXI Winter Games from Vancouver beginning Feb. 12--only on NBC Universal stations!)
4) A Presidential Executive Order will officially decree that dogs are superior to cats.
5) A proposed Constitutional Amendment will, if ratified, require all Americans to Make A Difference at least once a week.
6) Hillary Clinton will appoint Tina Fey as the official U.S. Ambassador of Comedy.
7) Brian's Daily Nightly blog will be featured as a column in Stars & Stripes.
8) The FCC will mandate that Nielsen stop rating 10 PM shows until NBC can come up with some decent programming for that time slot.
9) The Joint Chiefs of Staff will appoint Brian as the music director for Armed Forces Radio.
10) By order of the Secretary of Transportation: Firefighters can cut to the front of the line at any Department of Motor Vehicles.
11) In a modest ceremony, the U.S. Supreme Court will officially recognize Brian as a Supreme Court buff. Brian will also be officially recognized as an aviation buff, a military history buff, a presidential history buff and an American car buff.
12) Locations from MTV's "Jersey Shore" will be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

An "F" For NBC

If the entity of Nightly News was a grade-school student, it would get an "F" in spelling. Night after night the viewers are forced to witness a litany of misspelled names, places and words, as well as calendar mistakes, grammatical errors, improper transcriptions, misidentified people and other mistakes. On Saturday's broadcast, a Greek rescue team in Haiti was identified as the "Helenic (sic) Rescue Team". The team's own website identifies it as the "Hellenic Rescue Team". (Last Oct. 7, Nightly News spelled Helen Keller's first name as "Hellen". The producers really should work on their Helen/Hellen situation.) Also on Saturday, we were shown a list of charities that benefitted from the previous night's Hope For Haiti Now Telethon. One of the charities listed was the "World Food Progamme (sic)" which obviously should have been spelled as "Programme". Also, the Red Cross appeared on the list twice. A Meet The Press promo during Saturday's Nightly News identified Valerie Jarrett as a presidential "adviser", while a MTP promo that aired on Friday's Nightly News identified Jarrett as a presidential "advisor". During a story about Mark McGwire on the Jan. 11 broadcast, "steroids" was spelled as "steriods". On Jan. 10, Deputy National Security Advisor (and NSC Chief of Staff) Denis McDonough's first name was spelled as "Dennis". And on the Jan. 6 broadcast, Richard Engel interviewed a man identified as the director of the "Saana (sic) Institute for Arabic Language" (it should have been spelled "Sana'a"). Honestly, these are way too many mistakes for a network news broadcast.

Last March 8, NBC aired a promo during Nightly News that featured Brian Williams saying, "You rely on us to get it right. Every time. This is the tradition of NBC News." If that's the case, why are they making so many mistakes? And if they can't get the small stuff right, how can we trust them with the big stuff?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Brian Williams Is Forced To Do His Job

In his intro to the story about the Massachusetts senate election on Tuesday's Nightly News, Brian Williams said, "Now we are forced to turn our attention to a mammoth political story playing out in this country tonight...." Forced? This is the biggest political story since the presidential election. Brian's job is to bring us the most important news stories from across the country and around the world. Why is he "forced" to report this story? That's like walking into a restaurant and hearing, "Hi. I'm John and I'm forced to be your waiter tonight." If Brian feels like he's being forced to do his job, maybe he should look for another line of work.

Help Haiti. And Watch The Olympics.

To use one of Brian's favorite phrases, "sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed" that throughout the entire broadcast of Friday's Haiti Relief Telethon, NBC prominently displayed the Olympic logo on the screen, right next to the web site and phone number for donations. NBC actually used the disaster in Haiti as a way to promote their coverage of next month's Olympics. That is beyond shameless.

Fact Checker Position Available. Apply At NBC.

On Wednesday's Nightly News, Chuck Todd told us that Ayla Brown, daughter of Senator-elect Scott Brown, had been a finalist on American Idol in 2005. In fact, she only advanced to the semi-final round, and that was in 2006. On Thursday, a story about the excessive Goldman Sachs bonuses included a clip of Joseph Stiglitz. He was identified on-screen as a "Nobel Prize Winner", but we were not told in what category. Did he win the Nobel Peace Prize? Did he win for Physics? Chemistry? Literature? I guess we'll never know. (In that same story, Anne Thompson informed us that this past year, Goldman Sachs paid out $16.2 billion in salaries and bonuses--which amounts to an average of just under $500,000 per employee. That average salary is 1/20 of Brian Williams's annual salary.) On Friday's story about relocating Haitian orphans, we were shown a clip featuring the director of an orphanage known as "God's Littlest Angels". A moment later, Mark Potter refers to the organization as "God's Littlest Angel". Is anyone at Nightly News paying attention?

Brian's Fans In The Military

From Brian Williams's Jan. 22 Daily Nightly blog: "I heard from a high-ranking Air Force official last night. It seems they read this blog in the Pentagon."

Of course they read Brian's blog in the Pentagon. They also read it in the CIA, NSC, EPA, DEA and the WWE (I hear Vince McMahon is a big fan). Brian recently told us that Paul Harvey had been a secret confidant of J. Edgar Hoover. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Brian has the ear of Adm. Mullen, Gen. Petraeus and Sgt. Slaughter. If only he could get Capt. Crunch to return his phone calls.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti Notes

I'm confused. Brian Williams began Monday's Nightly News by saying, "On our broadcast tonight, the earthquake in Haiti, the massive job to get help to those who need it--food, water, medical care and hope...." And that evening's final story (about the USS Carl Vinson) was introduced with an on-screen graphic that read "Ray of Hope". But several times last March, NBC aired a ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious promo spot for Nightly News that began with Brian (in his most anchorly voice) saying, "We live in extraordinary times. Our nation's in crisis. And yet there's that uniquely American feeling of hope." If hope is uniquely American, then by definition we're the only country that has it. So how can the Haitians have hope? I certainly "hope" Brian can explain this.

And how's this for tacky: On Thursday's broadcast, right in the middle of all their earthquake coverage, the Nightly News producers took a long moment to thank some regular NBC advertisers. A segment about companies that are donating money to Haitian earthquake relief prominently displayed the logos of NBC sponsors American Airlines, Kellogg's, FedEx, Lowe's, Home Depot, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, UPS and of course, parent company GE, along with the amounts each company donated. And as if that wasn't enough, Rehema Ellis gave a special mention to American Airlines and Bank of America (a mock check with the Bank of America logo in the amount of "one million dollars" was prominently displayed on screen). Using the earthquake as an excuse to give screen time to sponsors is in really poor taste. Apparently, for the Nightly News producers, there's no such thing as inappropriate.

But without a doubt, my favorite moment from Nightly News's Haiti coverage was also on Thursday's broadcast, when Brian was reporting from the side of the road as hundreds of Haitians streamed by him, desperately searching for food and water. As Brian began his report, he realized that he was holding a bottle of water, so he quickly and awkwardly hid the bottle in his pocket, rather than offering it to one of the thirsty children running past him. It was pretty thoughtless of Brian to be holding a bottle of water while reporting in a country with a massive water shortage. Then on Monday's broadcast, as we saw footage of Haitian children receiving bottles of water from U.S. soldiers, Brian said, "Did you hear those thank-yous? There's a lesson for every child--incredible politeness after waiting six days for one bottle of water." Maybe if Brian had shared his water on Thursday, they wouldn't have had to wait six days. Water, water everywhere, but only for Brian Williams.

The Diary Of Brian Williams

As I listened to Brian Williams read the obituary for Miep Gies (who hid Anne Frank and her family during WW II) on the Jan. 12 Nightly News, I couldn't help but wonder what Gies would think of the inappropriate Jewish jokes that Brian told last summer when he emceed the Nantucket Film Festival.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Building A Better Broadcast

I regularly submit comments to Brian Williams at his Daily Nightly blog (at pointing out factual errors, spelling mistakes and inappropriate behavior by the Nightly News producers, anchors and correspondents. But unfortunately, the moderators of that blog usually refuse to print my comments. Here are some recent comments I have submitted that were not published:

>Earlier this week, I attempted to point out three recent spelling errors on Nightly News broadcasts: On Jan. 11, during a story about Mark McGwire, "steroids" was spelled as "steriods"; On Jan. 10, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough's first name was spelled as "Dennis"; and on Jan. 6, the Yemeni city of Sana'a was spelled as "Saana". It is perfectly legitimate to point out these errors, but the NBC blog moderators seem to disagree.

>On Jan. 8, Brian Williams appeared on The Jay Leno Show. When Jay asked Brian about Nightly News's coverage of the Tiger Woods story, Brian said, "We have done the Tiger Woods story I think twice and the second time was just the business impact...." I wrote to the Daily Nightly blog to say with certainty that Nightly News has done at least five Tiger Woods stories (possibly more) starting with the initial report of his accident on Nov. 27. Brian Williams intentionally understated the number of Tiger Woods stories Nightly News reported in order to make his broadcast (and himself) appear less sensationalistic. Why wasn't I allowed to make this observation?

>On Jan. 4, I attempted to point out that in 2009, NBC did not air a Nightly News broadcast on 18 out of 104 weekend days. My comment was not printed.

>On Dec. 29 (and again on Jan. 8) I commented that Brian's Dec. 28 profile of the Second City comedy troupe amounted to a nearly-four minute promotional piece for NBC's "30 Rock". The moderators refused to print my comment.

>On Dec. 25, I submitted a humorous parody of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" dedicated to Brian. Needless to say, it wasn't published.

>On Dec. 21, I submitted a post explaining that the two "Meet The Press" promos that aired on the Dec. 19 Nightly News alternately described David Axelrod as a presidential "adviser" and then as a presidential "advisor". This comment was not printed.

>On Dec. 18, I attempted to post a comment (for the second time) about a Dec. 3 Nightly News story that was critical of French magazine editors who digitally alter models' photos to make them appear younger and more attractive. I accused the Nightly News producers of hypocrisy because they themselves often alter their own video images to make the subjects appear older. The Daily Nightly moderators refused to print my comment.

>Also on Dec. 18, I tried to post a comment explaining that in a Dec. 16 story about a blind and deaf dachshund, Kevin Tibbles used the word "probiscis" instead of "proboscis". The comment was not printed.

>I attempted several times to comment on a Dec. 10 story about musicians who record Christmas albums. A third of the story was devoted to Barry Manilow, who just happened to be appearing on Jay Leno's show later that night. The story seemed contrived to promote Manilow's Leno appearance. Not surprisingly, the moderators did not print this comment.

>I also tried several times to comment on the Salahis. On Thanksgiving night, Brian said that security for the White House state dinner "couldn't have been tighter". But the following night, Katie Couric said that security had been lax at the state dinner. I believe it was entirely appropriate and relevant to point out this discrepancy, but the Daily Nightly moderators obviously didn't agree.

I absolutely believe that viewers have the right to comment on errors, gaffes, contradictions and inappropriate behavior by Brian, his producers and the Nightly News correspondents. But unfortunately, the Daily Nightly moderators frequently refuse to publish such comments. Perhaps they think they are doing Brian and his producers a favor by protecting them from critical comments. They are not. Their refusal to print critical comments is similar to the faulty argument made by strict protectionists who believe that high tariffs on imported cars is helpful to the American automobile industry. These people argue that high tariffs level the playing field and give U.S. buyers an incentive to buy American cars. In truth, high tariffs on imports hurt the U.S. auto industry by removing incentives for them to build better cars. Why build better cars when high tariffs ensure that people will buy American? But when tariffs are erased from imports, the U.S. auto manufacturers discover that they have to build better cars in order to compete. And the same is true for comments on the Daily Nightly blog. If the Nightly News producers and the Daily Nightly blog moderators want viewers to stop criticizing Nightly News, they should turn out a better broadcast. Stop making spelling errors. Stop making factual errors. Stop using their broadcast to shamelessly promote NBC shows and sponsors. By allowing criticism, the blog moderators would give the Nightly News staff an incentive to produce a better broadcast. Furthermore, the producers should be big enough to take criticism. If a viewer doesn't like Nightly News, the producers shouldn't be scared to hear why. If they make a mistake, they should own up to it and allow the viewers to comment on it. To be blunt, Nightly News makes way more errors than it should. Refusing to allow viewers to comment on these mistakes will not prevent them from happening and it certainly will not help the producers to reduce the frequency with which they occur. Why are the moderators of the Daily Nightly blog so scared of viewer criticism? I think it's time for them to do away with Nightly News tariffs.

7.0 = 10.0 For Nightly News?

As I watched Brian Williams and Ann Curry reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Friday's Nightly News, I couldn't help but think that these two are the absolute best in the business at exploiting the misery and suffering of others for the sake of a few ratings points. Undoubtedly, Brian and everyone else at Nightly News is hoping that the 7.0 earthquake will translate to a 10.0 Nielsen rating (or higher) for the week, and perhaps a Peabody Award or two. And it was unbelievably tacky (and tactless) to hear Brian end his broadcast by bragging that for the third time in five years, NBC News was at the site of a natural disaster before the first responders (the other two times were the Banda Aceh tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005). Apparently, Brian is under the impression that they give out Peabody Awards for promptness.

Let's All Feel Bad For Ann!

This is Ann Curry's Jan. 14 Daily Nightly blog from Port-au-Prince, Haiti:

"All hotels are down, so we are sleeping on the tarmac... Brian in a tent, me in a Canadian Air luggage container, many others on metal grates. In all cases, the ground is hard, so we are using blankets, pieces of foam, some of us even suitcases to sleep on top of. We are worried about rats, which are numerous. There are lots of mosquitoes. Hard to sleep because the planes are so loud, especially the c130s. We have to negotiate for bathrooms in nearby buildings, and are currently without one. We brought in water, but are running out of food, which now consists of MREs. We hope for more supplies tomorrow. Tonight we have a luxury... the crew of one plane gave us all airline pillows. We are definitely not comfortable, but we are also in the lap of luxury compared to so many here in Haiti. How are we successful? There are no whiners amongst us. We are all focused on getting the story out that must be told."

OMG, Ann! Your story is so tragic. No place to sleep, mosquitoes, rats, lots of noise, inadequate bathroom facilities, little food and water--I feel so bad for you. Perhaps you should ask the Haitian people for some help. You spend your entire blog entry complaining and then end by saying, "There are no whiners amongst us." Give me a break. You are an incredibly selfish person.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Bad Spell

On Monday's Nightly News, an on-screen transcript of a quote by Mark McGwire spelled the word "steroids" as "steriods". At the end of Sunday's broadcast, Deputy National Security Advisor (and NSC Chief of Staff) Denis McDonough was identified on-screen as "Dennis" McDonough. Last Wednesday (Jan. 6), Richard Engel interviewed a man who was identified as the director of the "Saana (sic) Institute for Arabic Language". These careless mistakes should not be happening on a national network newscast. Are any of the Nightly News editors or producers actually paying attention to what they put up on the screen? It would appear not.

The Inappropriate Anchor

It's really a shame that even after five years, Brian Williams doesn't understand the function of an evening newscast or what the role of an anchor is supposed to be. In his intro to Monday's Nightly News, Brian crowed that, "'The Fleecing of America', our popular series, is back on the air by popular demand." Popular demand? A newscast should air segments because they are newsworthy, not because they are popular. Unfortunately, Brian and his producers are obsessed with ratings, so they air segments designed to attract viewers, rather than to report the news. (Later in the broadcast, Brian again described "The Fleecing of America" as, "...back by popular viewer and taxpayer demand..." It's pretty funny to see Brian try to position himself as a populist hero--I guess he fancies himself the Bruce Springsteen of network news anchors.)

Introducing the first story about Mark McGwire's admission that he used steroids, Brian said, "Because this is a family broadcast, we probably can't say what we'd like to about the news today...." But saying what he'd like is not Brian's job. An anchor's job is to report the news, not to offer his or her opinion about it. It seems that Brian doesn't understand the difference between Nightly News and MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olbermann or The Rachel Maddow Show. People tune into those shows to hear the host's opinion. People tune into Nightly News to hear facts. The only opinions an evening news broadcast should be airing are those expressed by the pundits or experts being interviewed. Unfortunately, night after night, Brian lets us know exactly what he thinks of the stories that air on Nightly News. And that is inappropriate.

Continuing on the Mark McGwire story, Brian said, "For those of us who were raising young baseball fans and baseball players who looked up to Mark McGwire, that summer of '98 was magical...." Yet again, Brian has violated a cardinal rule of anchoring by telling us how the news affects him, instead of simply reporting the story. "For those of us" is not an appropriate way for an anchor to begin a story, but it is an all-too-common part of Brian's vernacular.

The NBC News executives should take a cue from their comrades at NBC Entertainment, who seem to have, in effect, ousted Conan O'Brien from The Tonight Show in order to reinstate Jay Leno as host. NBC News president Steve Capus should oust Brian Williams and reinstate Tom Brokaw as anchor of Nightly News. That way, we could all get to hear Brian say, "For those of us who used to work at NBC...."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fudging The Numbers

It was amusing to see Brian Williams trying to fudge the numbers on Friday's Jay Leno Show. When Jay asked Brian about Nightly News's coverage of the Tiger Woods story, Brian said, "We have done the Tiger Woods story I think twice and the second time was just the business impact...." Let me refresh Brian's memory: Nightly News has recently done at least five Tiger Woods stories--11/27, 12/2, 12/11, 12/12 and 12/13. (They may have actually done more.) In golf, shooting a five and calling it a two is grounds for disqualification. Shame on Brian for cheating on his scorecard.

What About Saana'a?

On last Tuesday's Nightly News, a map of Yemen identified the capital city as "Sanaa". A moment later, a caption below Richard Engel indicated that he was reporting from "Sana'a". The following day, Engel interviewed a man who was identified on screen as the director of the "Saana Institute for Arabic Language". So which is it--Sanaa, Sana'a or Saana? I'll give the Nightly News producers a moment in case they want to call a lifeline. Perhaps the producers just need to calm down a bit and switch to decaf. I'd recommend Sanka'a.


I sincerely hope that none of the various U.S. intelligence agencies rely on Nightly News for any sensitive information. According to the State Department, the misspelling of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's name was one of the security lapses that allowed him to board the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day. Considering the frequency with which spelling errors appear on Nightly News, I can only imagine the mangled names they would provide to the CIA, the NSC and other agencies. Some of the names recently misspelled on Nightly News include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chesley Sullenberger, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Barack Obama (spelled as "Barak" on Amy Robach's 12/28/08 blog), Sen. Kay Hagan, Dr. Anne Schuchat and Helen Keller. Brian Williams himself (on his blog) has misspelled the names of Alison Krauss, Paul Volcker, Condoleezza Rice, Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal. (These last two are particularly appalling considering Brian's self-appointed status as a military buff.) So let us all hope that Nightly News is not called upon to provide any information to the U.S. government. Our security agencies are in enough of a state of disarray as it is.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Nightly News Year In Review--Part 2

Here are some of the Nightly News "highlights" from the second half of 2009:

>July 17--In a story about on-line universities, Tom Costello makes prominent mention of the University of Phoenix (as their logo is displayed on-screen). Four days earlier, the University of Phoenix was the sole sponsor of Nightly News. That's called quid pro quo.
>July 23--At the insistence of Brian Williams, Nightly News profiles the "Horizons" charity because "it's a favorite cause in our household."
>July 25--Nightly News devotes two-and-a-half minutes to the YouTube dancing wedding video.
>July 30--Brian reports a story about a seven-year-old boy who took the family car for a drive before informing us that the family will be on the following day's Today show. The same broadcast includes a story about a mother and son who are rescued by two off-duty firemen. After the story, Brian informs us that this family will also be appearing on the Today show.
>Aug. 4--Nightly News presents a story about people who donate kidneys to strangers. Afterward, Brian informs us that one such donor and recipient will be appearing on the next day's Today show.
>Aug. 16--Nightly News presents a story about llamas being used as golf caddies.
>Aug. 17--Ann Curry introduces a story about Sasha and Malia Obama's totally excellent summer vacation. In January, Brian Williams had pledged not to do any stories on Sasha and Malia unless "there is a compelling reason to do so." Also on this broadcast, we saw a three-and-a-half minute story about a Serbian girl who met the members of U2. The meeting was arranged by NBC correspondent Martin Fletcher.
>Aug. 24--In a Nightly News story about CIA torture, the word "humiliation" is spelled as "humilation". That same night, Nightly News starts a special series about education.
>Sept. 6--A story purportedly about internet search engines quickly becomes a story about the advantages of Bing. Bing is made by Microsoft--NBC's partner in MSNBC.
>Sept. 11--A story about the H1N1 virus (which Nightly News is still calling Swine Flu) manages to misspell both names of Anne Schuchat, the Director of the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (her name was spelled on-screen as "Ann Schuchet" despite the fact that she was wearing a visible name tag).
>Sept. 13--In a story about Serena Williams's U.S. Open meltdown, Lee Cowan tells us she foot faulted on match point to lose the match. She actually foot faulted at 15-30 and was then assessed a penalty point that cost her the match.
>Sept. 15--In a Nightly News story about race in politics, Rep. Steny Hoyer, who is white, is identified as the House Majority Leader. Moments later, Rep. James Clyburn, who is African American, is not identified as House Majority Whip (the third most powerful post in the House) but only as a Democrat from South Carolina.
>Sept. 16--Nightly News does a story about a three-year-old girl that throws back a foul ball at a Phillies game.
>Sept. 17--Brian Williams spends 55 seconds talking about the fact that Nightly News White House Correspondent Chuck Todd sneezed while interviewing President Obama.
>Sept. 20--Correspondent Mike Viqueira tells us that the President will be appearing on "late night television" but refuses to mention David Letterman's name because he doesn't want to hurt Conan's ratings. Also on this broadcast, Matt Lauer spends 2:42 on a story about the new Dallas football stadium. The story airs just before NBC's Sunday Night Football.
>Sept. 21--Brian Williams brags about the high rating for NBC's Sunday night football game.
>Sept. 23--Brian Williams, a supposedly professional news anchor, spends 45 seconds delivering a fawning 60th birthday message to Bruce Springsteen. The message concludes with, "Let's also not forget he's the head of a huge organization--what he calls the heart-stopping pants-dropping house-rocking earth-shaking booty-quaking Viagra-taking love-making E Street Band."
>Sept. 25--In a story about Iran's nuclear production, an Iranian city is spelled variously as both "Qom" and "Qum".
>Sept. 27--A story about airline surcharges shows a Nov. calendar page with 31 days.
>Oct. 2--Nightly News devotes an entire story to profiling a woman who works the overnight shift as a cook at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
>Oct. 7--Helen Keller's name is spelled as "Hellen".
>Oct. 9--In a story about the H1N1 virus, a Sept. calendar page is shown as having 31 days. In a story about the rocket fired into the moon in search of water, a NASA employee is identified as a "principle investigator" instead of a "principal investigator".
>Oct. 23--Brian tells us that, " important election is coming up this coming Tuesday..." Actually, the election is the following Tuesday.
>Oct. 27--Brian begins reporting from Afghanistan--just in time for sweeps month. He always appears on-screen in his little helmet and flak jacket ensemble.
>Oct. 30--Brian reports from an Afghan orphanage and then shamelessly begs viewers to donate money. On his Daily Nightly blog, military buff Brian misspells the names of Gen. David Petraeus (as "Patreus") and Gen. Stanley McChrystal (as "McCrystal").
>Nov. 2--Brian informs us that Shakespeare has "been gone for over 400 years" when in fact the Bard has only been gone for 393 years.
>Nov. 3--During a story about high BPA levels in bottles and cans, Nightly News does not identify any specific brands in order to protect their sponsors. Brian does another story about the Afghan orphanage.
>Nov. 5--In a story about the health care bill, a Nightly News graphic tells us that the bill would contain a "public opinion" (it should have read "public option").
>Nov. 9--Nightly News does a week of celebrity stories about Jon Bon Jovi, Alicia Keys, Glenn Close, Halle Berry and Tim Mcgraw & Faith Hill.
>Nov. 15--Lester Holt finds it necessary to inform viewers that at a concert, Bruce Springsteen confused Ohio and Michigan.
>Nov. 16--Brian does a third story about the Afghan orphanage.
>Nov. 20--A story about hospitalized kids who watch a zoo on closed circuit TV is sponsored by the animal torturers at GSK.
>Nov. 21--Nightly News is pre-empted by football.
>Nov. 23--A story about a crib recall shows prominent logos of Target, Wal-Mart, Sears and Kmart.
>Nov. 27--Katie Couric (talking about the White House party crashers) says that the White House security had been lax. The previous night, Brian said the security "couldn't have been tighter".
>Dec. 3--Under the premise of reporting on the potential takeover of NBC by Comcast, David Faber does a three-minute story about how great NBC is.
>Dec. 6--Nightly News reports about an orangutan in an Austrian zoo that takes photos.
>Dec. 7--Brian reports for the second straight night that Bruce Springsteen was honored at the Kennedy Center.
>Dec. 10--A story about Christmas songs spends one third of its time on Barry Manilow--the same night he will appear on The Jay Leno Show.
>Dec. 11--Nightly News does a story about the Robin Hood charity because Brian is on their board.
>Dec. 15--A story about defective window shades includes prominent logo placement for Wal-Mart, JC Penney, Pottery Barn, Ikea and Target. Brian spends 30 seconds talking about the Golden Globe nominations before announcing that they will air live on NBC.
>Dec. 16--Nightly News airs a story about a blind and deaf dachshund.
>Dec. 19--In two separate Nightly News promos for Meet The Press, David Axelrod is identified first as a presidential "adviser" and then as a presidential "advisor".
>Dec. 24--NBC News charters a jet to fly David Goldman and his son Sean home from Brazil. This will bring strong criticism from the Society of Professional Journalists.
>Dec. 26--A story about post-Christmas shopping tells viewers about great deals at Wal-Mart, Kmart and Kohl's.
>Dec. 28--Brian Williams does a 3:45 story about the 50th anniversary of the Second City comedy troupe. Most of the story focuses on Tina Fey and 30 Rock.
>Dec. 31--Brian Williams does a 3:35 story about a 15 year-old jazz singer.

Weekend Wimps

Of the 104 weekend days in 2009, NBC did not air Nightly News on 18 of them (on the East Coast, and perhaps even nationally). Obviously, the NBC executives believe that golf, horse racing, hockey, football and other sports are much more important than the weekend edition of Nightly News. (By more important, of course, I mean more profitable.) The Kentucky Derby (which NBC broadcast on May 2) was a two minute race, yet they allotted it a three-hour block of time. On Aug. 23, the golf match NBC was televising ended before 6:00, but they chose to air an additional half hour of highlights and interviews instead of Nightly News. NBC's commitment to weekend news is so tenuous that they will pre-empt it for virtually any sporting event. An NBC source tells me that in the coming months, NBC will be pre-empting weekend newscasts in order to bring us the U.S. Indoor Tiddlywinks Championships, the National Collegiate Thumb Wrestling Finals, the PBA Underwater Bowling Tour, World Cup Uphill Skiing, the Ironman Backwards Triathlon, Ice Dancing With the Stars, the Sarah Palin Invitational Alaskan Trout Fishing Championships, the Kickball World Cup Finals, the Masters Miniature Golf Tournament, Canadian Junior Curling, Beach Hockey and Penultimate Frisbee. And of course, in a few months, it will be March Madness, so NBC will be airing the sweet sixteen and final four of NCAA Tetherball. Furthermore, if NBC's coverage of the India-Sri Lanka Cricket test match on Saturday, June 5 lasts longer than 19 hours, it will run right into that evening's Nightly News. And that would present the NBC execs with quite a sticky wicket.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Jazz Singer

I would like to thank Brian Williams for his three-and-a-half minute profile of 15-year-old jazz singer Nikki Yanofsky that aired on Thursday's Nightly News. Meanwhile, that night's broadcast did not even mention the Finnish man who massacred five people at a mall near Helsinki before killing himself. But at least we know that Nikki Yanofsky dedicated a song to her dog.

I would also like to thank Brian for the great stories he presented on Friday: Health updates on Rush Limbaugh and snowboarder Kevin Pearce, new laws that take effect Jan. 1 and the story about the real-life corporate downsizer similar to the character portrayed by George Clooney in "Up In The Air". Of course, Brian did not mention the mudslides near Rio de Janeiro that have killed dozens of people over the past few days. But there's only so much time in a thirty-minute broadcast. At least we got to see some cool clips of George Clooney. Thanks, Brian. Keep up the great work.

The Nightly News Year In Review--Part 1

Here are some of the Nightly News "highlights" from the first half of 2009:

>Jan. 1--Nightly News starts the year off strong by devoting 2:25 to a story about Tyson and Tillman, the skateboarding bulldogs.
>Jan. 2--Nightly News does a story about an organization that saves shelter dogs from being euthanized by flying them to cities where they can be adopted. The story is sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world's largest utilizers of animal testing.
>Jan. 11--In a story about celebrities who were swindled by Bernie Madoff, Nightly News manages to misspell the names of Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg (as "Stephen" and "Jeffry").
>Jan. 14--Brian Williams forces his producers to air a story about Military Challenge Coins, and then ends the broadcast by displaying his personal collection of Challenge Coins.
>Jan. 18--Brian interviews Bono.
>Jan. 23--In a moment worthy of Claude Rains's Capt. Renault from Casablanca ("I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"), Brian reports that Yo Yo Ma's quartet had been "finger-synching" to pre-recorded music at the Presidential Inauguration three days earlier. Meanwhile, that day's New York Times reported that NBC News producers were aware before the inauguration began that Ma's quartet would be "finger-synching". Brian only reported the story after the Times outed Ma and the NBC News producers.
>Jan. 26--Nightly News misspells Arnold Schwarzenegger's name as "Schwarznegger".
>Jan. 26--Brian titles his Daily Nightly blog "Old Man River At Obama's Inauguration" (a reference to Capt. Chesley Sullenberger attending the inauguration). The song "Old Man River" (as originally written by Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1927 musical Showboat) was extremely racist and contained multiple uses of the vile "N" word to describe African-Americans. A very poor choice of a blog title to describe the inauguration of our country's first African-American president.
>Jan. 28--As Brian announces the death of columnist James Brady, the photo behind him shows former Reagan press secretary James Brady--who is still alive.
>Jan. 31--A Nightly News story purportedly about 3-D ad technology shows multiple clips of a commercial for a beverage called Lifewater--which would be advertising on the following day's Super Bowl (to be broadcast on NBC).
>Feb. 6--Nightly News devotes 2:12 to a story about Spam luncheon meat.
>Feb. 9--A Nightly News on-screen graphic misspells hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger's name as "Chelsey". On the same day, Brian misspells Alison Krauss's name (as "Allison Kraus") on his blog.
>Feb. 22--In a story about the Swine Flu vaccine, calendar pages are flipped to show the passage of time. Seven out of the twelve pages have errors (April is shown having 29 days, Sept. is shown having 31 days).
>Feb. 23--Nightly News devotes 2:45 to a story about how thoroughly United Airlines cleans their planes. United is a frequent NBC advertiser.
>March 4--Brian Williams and David Faber spend two minutes desperately trying to prop up NBC parent company General Electric's stock price by talking about what a solid company it is.
>March 17--U.S. Rep Carolyn McCarthy is mis-identified as Carolyn Maloney.
>March 18--U.S. Rep Barney Frank is mis-identified as Paul Kanjorski.
>March 28--During a story about airline bird strikes, Nightly News misspells the word voluntary (as "volunatry") in an on-screen statement from an FAA spokesperson.
>April 4--Nightly News devotes two-and-a-half minutes to a story about pink dolphins.
>April 8--Jay Leno is profiled as part of a "Making A Difference" segment.
>April 14--Nightly News airs its first Susan Boyle story. Over the next six weeks, they would air a total of seven stories on Boyle. By year's end, Nightly News will have devoted almost 17 minutes of air time to Boyle.
>April 22--Hillary Clinton calls Pakistan a "mortal threat" to the security of the world. Brian Williams reports that she said "moral threat".
>April 24--Dawna Friesen spends two-and-a-half minutes reporting on a London movement imploring people to "slow down" and enjoy life.
>April 27--Maria Menounos reports on Deborah Wilson, a woman who rescues and cares for animals that are unwanted, abused or in danger. The story is sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, who test many of their products on animals.
>May 5--Ann Curry introduces a story about the "delicious brew" (her words) sold by McDonald's and Starbucks. The story amounts to a 2:15 commercial for McDonald's and Starbucks coffees.
>May 12--During a story about the veracity of Cheerios' health claims, Robert Bazell spends two minutes offering unqualified praise for Cheerios, a regular Nightly News advertiser.
>May 13--A story about dogs that are trained to assist disabled veterans is sponsored by the animal testers at GlaxoSmithKline.
>May 19--Nightly News devotes 2:45 to a story about Chicago schoolchildren who are learning ballroom dancing.
>May 27--Chris Jansing devotes 2:20 to a report about high school students who like to hug each other.
>June 2--In a story about the auto industry, former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca is identified on screen as "James Bell".
>June 17--During a broadcast that is entirely sponsored by Trilipix (with limited commercial interruptions), Brian Williams says, "That means more time for the news..." He then devotes two and a half minutes to a story about healthy food available at ballparks. Also on this broadcast, Brian introduces Richard Engel as NBC's "Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent" (Andrea Mitchell's job) rather than "Chief Foreign Correspondent" (Engel's actual job).
>June 22--A story about abused dogs who are rescued and taught to surf is sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline.
>June 24--Stephanie Gosk spends three minutes reporting on how painful it is to dance while wearing high heeled shoes.

My Friends At Nightly News

It is hilarious (and also quite sad) that of the 22 comments I submitted to the Nightly News Daily Nightly blog in December, only one was published. Apparently, the moderators believe that if my comments are read by a few hundred people, it will spell the end of Nightly News as we know it. This stands in stark contrast to October (when 21 of my 26 comments were published) and November (when 9 of my 13 comments were published). It seems that the moderators have determined that since they don't like me, they're not going to print any of my comments (instead of evaluating my comments on a case-by-case basis). That is quite ironic considering that NBC News thrives as a direct result of the free access to information enjoyed by news organizations in this country. Yet at the same time, they severely censor their viewers' comments. I wonder what David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow would say about a news organization that refuses to print comments simply because they are critical. They would probably say "shame on you". At any rate, I would like to wish a very happy new year to all my friends at Nightly News, and especially to those who moderate the Daily Nightly blog.