Saturday, February 27, 2010

NBC: Trusted Less By Journalists Of Color

This is from (Feb. 26):

"It seems there's a new poll or survey every week naming this or that network 'the most trusted' in some category. The latest comes from (with UNITY: Journalists of Color), which 'asked journalists of color to share their views on racial coverage in the news.'

Among the questions posed was one asking which media outlets journalists trusted to 'provide fair and unbiased reporting of racial and cultural issues.' 69% of respondents said they highly trust or somewhat trust CNN, the highest percentage of any news organization."

Meanwhile, only 47% of respondents said they highly trust or somewhat trust NBC. Breaking news: Journalists of color trust CNN significantly more than they trust NBC. Please don't tell!

Nightly News Gets A Gold Medal For Incompetence

It is incomprehensible that Brian Williams and his Nightly News producers would allow GlaxoSmithKline's Vesicare to sponsor the Feb. 19 "Making A Difference" segment about Hannah Teter's charitable work. Chris Jansing tells us that Teter's "Hannah's Gold" charity has been providing assistance to people in Kenya, including helping one village "buy land for a health clinic in an area ravaged by the AIDS epidemic." On her "Hannah's Gold" website, Teter says that she is focusing on buying "plots of land for homeless AIDS victims that we met in Kirindon, Kenya, the town that we've been sponsoring for three years." Her charity has "purchased home base care kits and trained home visitors in home care of HIV patients." Teter's charity is doing admirable work on behalf of people affected by AIDS in Africa. Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline and its predecessor companies spent years fighting to prevent low-cost AIDS drugs from being sold in Africa because that would have undercut their profit margin on the AIDS drugs they were already selling. In 2001, Glaxo actually sued Cipla, an Indian pharmaceutical company, to try to prevent them from introducing low-cost AIDS drugs into Ghana. And Glaxo refused to grant a license to other companies who wanted to manufacture a lower-priced generic version of those drugs to sell in Africa. For years, Glaxo fought to keep their own AIDS drugs from being sold at low prices. Glaxo even sued the South African government over the Medicines Act, which would have allowed the government to obtain inexpensive AIDS drugs. In 2003, an AIDS advocacy group sued Glaxo to attempt to force them to allow low-cost AIDS drugs into South Africa. South Africa's competition commission eventually found Glaxo guilty of anti-competitive behavior, a decision that finally paved the way for the introduction of generic AIDS drugs. In 2004, Glaxo was sued by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation over its AIDS drug pricing policies in South Africa. According to Michael Weinstein, AHF's president, "As a result of Glaxo's actions, thousands and thousands of South Africans were unable to afford or obtain Glaxo's life-saving AIDS drugs, and we believe thousands of those individuals have died of AIDS as a result." So while Hannah Teter is helping people affected by AIDS in Africa, Glaxo was actually responsible for thousands of AIDS-related deaths. Allowing GlaxoSmithKline to sponsor a "Making A Difference" segment about Hannah Teter's charitable work in Africa seems like some sort of cruel joke. Apparently, no one at Nightly News is the least bit concerned about the relationship between advertisers and the stories they sponsor. Shame on Brian Williams and his producers. They owe Hannah Teter an apology.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Which One Is Married To Alan Greenspan?

Can someone please give Brian Williams a roster of Nightly News correspondents and their titles? On Saturday, Brian introduced Andrea Mitchell as the NBC News "chief foreign correspondent". She is actually the chief foreign affairs correspondent. Last June 17, Brian introduced Richard Engel as the NBC News "chief foreign affairs correspondent." He is actually the chief foreign correspondent. Brian sometimes appears in Nightly News promos in which he says, "You rely on us to get it right. Every time." Well, maybe not every time.


Brian Williams and the Nightly News producers must have been faced with quite a dilemma on Saturday when the Senate released a report stating that Avandia, a diabetes drug manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, has been linked to heart attacks and heart disease. Furthermore, according to the report, Glaxo failed to warn patients about the dangers of Avandia and attempted to cover up the link between Avandia and heart disease. The story was too big to ignore, but Brian and his producers certainly wanted to protect Glaxo, a major Nightly News and NBC sponsor. So Brian did not introduce the Avandia story until after three-and-a-half minutes of Olympics coverage. And when he finally got around to the story, it was clearly underreported. The Nightly News Avandia story clocked in at under two minutes, much less time than the other networks devoted to it. During her report, Nancy Snyderman, NBC's chief medical editor, only mentioned GlaxoSmithKline twice, and the second time it was by the initials "GSK". The Glaxo logo never once appeared on screen. There is no doubt that Brian and his producers went out of their way to report the Avandia story in a manner that was minimally harmful to GlaxoSmithKline. Once more, Nightly News allowed their economic interests to affect their news coverage. But then again, what are friends for?

Mr. Lucky

From Brian Williams's Feb. 22 Daily Nightly Blog: "Last night at the [U.S.-Canada men's Olympic] hockey game, I thought of Al [Michaels]. We knew watching it (I was lucky enough to be there) that it was one of the best, and perhaps the most exciting, that we would ever see."

Brian was "lucky" enough to be at the hockey game? He is the evening news anchor for the network that purchased the broadcast rights to the Vancouver Olympics. Did he think he would have to scalp a ticket? Luck had nothing to do with it. It's called "privilege". Brian should stop acting like he's Joe the Newsguy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Maalox Moment

On Thursday, Nightly News reported a story about an FDA warning concerning Maalox. Apparently, some people had serious adverse reactions after mistakenly taking Maalox Total Relief (an anti-diarrheal) instead of regular Maalox (an antacid). The aspirin-like ingredient in Maalox Total Relief can be harmful to people who have ulcers, are taking blood thinners or to children or teens recovering from a viral infection. Novartis, the maker of Maalox, announced that to avoid further confusion, they would soon be removing the name Maalox from the product. Meanwhile, the same day, some other networks reported that the zinc in Super Poligrip has caused some users to have trouble walking and to experience numbness in their extremities. GlaxoSmithKline announced that they will be pulling the product from the market until they can manufacture a zinc-free formula. These stories seem closely related. But Nightly News reported only the Maalox story, not the Poligrip story. Why? Because GlaxoSmithKline is a heavy advertiser on Nightly News and other NBC programs. Clearly, the Nightly News producers did not want to risk offending their pals at Glaxo. (Novartis is a less frequent advertiser.) Once again, the Nightly News producers have allowed advertising concerns to influence their decision on which stories to report.

Brian's Golf Lie

Tiger Woods's re-emergence as the lead Nightly News story raises two very important questions: 1) How many more Tiger Woods stories will Nightly News report, and 2) How many Tiger Woods stories will Brian Williams admit to reporting? On Jan. 8, Brian was a guest on The Jay Leno Show. When Jay asked Brian about Nightly News's coverage of Tiger Woods, Brian said, "We have done the Tiger Woods story I think twice and the second time was just the business impact...." That was not a truthful response. Let me refresh Brian's memory: From the time of Woods's car crash on Nov. 27 through Brian's appearance on Leno's show, Nightly News did at least five Tiger Woods stories (11/27, 12/2, 12/11, 12/12 and 12/13) although they may have actually done more than that. Brian intentionally understated the number of Tiger Woods stories Nightly News reported in order to make his broadcast appear less celebrity-oriented and sensationalistic. In golf, shooting a five and calling it a two is grounds for disqualification. Shame on Brian for fudging his scorecard.

The current incarnation of Nightly News is largely a creation of Brian Williams and NBC News president Steve Capus. Since Brian has made the conscious decision to turn Nightly News into a soft broadcast that relies less on actual news and more on cute animals, sick children, people who are "Making A Difference" and celebrity gossip, he should at least have the integrity to own up to it when asked.

Halfpipe Brian Williams

When Brian Williams reported from Afghanistan for the Oct./Nov. sweeps period, he usually appeared on camera wearing his little helmet and flak jacket ensemble. Now that Brian is devoting up to half his Nightly News broadcast to the Olympics, I think it would be nice if he dressed in the outfits of the athletes he's reporting on. We could see bobsled Brian, figure skater Brian, hockey player Brian, halfpipe Brian, etc.

From Brian's 2/19 Daily Nightly blog: "Last night, after my wife and I attended figure skating, we got into the hotel elevator and I looked over and saw that the man with us was Dick Button. The one and only Dick Button. We got off at the same floor, and he gave us a world-class 10-minute instant analysis of the night's skating."

Note to Brian: Be very careful when Dick Button gets off the elevator at your floor. He could be a Mossad agent.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Death = Ratings

Shame on Brian Williams and his producers for ghoulishly exploiting the death of Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in order to increase Olympic viewership. By relentlessly reporting this story, Nightly News is sending the not-so-subtle message that people should tune in to the luge, skeleton and bobsled events because they might get to see someone die. And shame on NBC Sports for reducing the men's downhill skiing competition to a disappointing half-hour of selected taped highlights in prime time instead of showing it live on Monday afternoon (eastern time). The downhill is one of the most thrilling Olympic events, but NBC made it seem about as exciting as a high school chess tournament.

Balloon Man

Some people look up facts and some people make up facts. Brian Williams makes up facts. On Saturday, Brian once again took time during his Nightly News broadcast to brag about NBC's ratings. He told us that, "By the way, as opening ceremonies go, last night was the most-watched ever for a non-U.S. Winter Olympics--an estimated TV audience of 68 million people." Meanwhile, in Sunday's New York Times, Richard Sandomir wrote, "The opening ceremony on NBC Friday night attracted an average of 32.6 million viewers, the second most for a non-United States Winter Olympics carried by an American network." Brian's figures were more than twice those reported in the Times! So who should we believe? Sandomir is a highly-regarded writer for the most trusted newspaper in the country. Brian Williams is NBC's head cheerleader who regularly uses his newscast to promote NBC and their shows (including his own). Last March 4, Brian spent two minutes talking with CNBC's David Faber about what a great company General Electric is--for the sole purpose of trying to prop up GE's sagging stock price. And let's not forget that Brian and his producers make a practice of submitting their broadcast to Nielsen intentionally misspelled as "Nitely News" when they think a particular broadcast will have lower-than-expected ratings. That way, the lower-rated "Nitely News" won't bring down the ratings for "Nightly News". So Brian Williams and his producers don't exactly have any credibility when it comes to ratings. Brian inflated NBC's Olympic ratings so much that Falcon Heene could have floated away in them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Most Important Question

Brian Williams, Chris Jansing and the Nightly News producers were negligent in their coverage of the Georgian luger who died on Friday. They failed to ask the most important question. It has been widely reported that the Canadian Olympic Committee and the governing bodies for the various Canadian Olympic sports have been severely limiting the amount of practice time for non-Canadian athletes at the Olympic sports facilities in order to provide an advantage to Canadian athletes (familiarity with the facilities is a definite advantage). Someone at Nightly News should have asked whether Nodar Kumaritashvili's crash could have been a result of his unfamiliarity with the luge track due to his inability to get enough track time. If a luger is given fewer practice runs than he wants, it's certainly possible that he might try to ride too fast too soon, instead of having the luxury of gradually working his way up to top speed. If this is the case, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Luge Association may be partly responsible for Kumaritashvili's death. But no one at Nightly News raised this possibility. That's not surprising. They don't want to anger their host. Suggesting that the Canadian Olympic Committee may bear some of the responsibility for the accident would certainly be provocative, and ultimately that could cause the COC to look unfavorably on NBC--perhaps even restricting NBC's access to portions of the Games or certain Olympic-related events. And NBC would never do anything that might jeopardize their access, since that could affect their ratings and ultimately their ad revenue. So Brian Williams, Chris Jansing and the Nightly News producers will talk about the fast track, the unpadded steel beams and the inherent danger involved in luge. But they will not risk asking the most important question. And that's a shame.

Nightly News With Bon Jovi And Springsteen

Watching Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy on "30 Rock" making fun of NBC's "artist-in-residence" program was hilarious. And Jon Bon Jovi sitting at the Nightly News anchor desk strumming his guitar under a graphic that reads "Nightly News With Bon Jovi"--now that's comedy. Art truly imitating life. So is NBC really owned by Sheinhardt Wigs?

On Thursday's Nightly News story about Bill Clinton's heart stent procedure, Brian Williams told us that "The former president (is) 63" and that he is a "very active former president". This immediately brought to mind Brian's overly reverential (and somewhat creepy) Sept. 23 birthday ode to Bruce Springsteen, in which he said, "He's an active 60..." before going on to tell us that Springsteen is "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." I guess if you changed "E Street" to "K Street", that would pretty much describe Bill Clinton, too.

Olympic Notes

It's been widely reported (everywhere except on NBC, that is) that NBC is expected to lose $250 million on the Vancouver Olympics, as a result of the recession and overbidding (NBC reportedly paid $820 million to broadcast the Vancouver Games). That's bad news for NBC. But it's really bad news for the viewers. Obviously, in an effort to offset some of that expected loss, NBC will pad their Olympic coverage with even more commercials than usual. In previous Olympics on NBC, some of the commercial breaks lasted longer than the Olympic coverage that followed them. I can only imagine how long the commercial breaks will last during these Olympics. NBC's expected monetary loss also means that Brian Williams will be spending even more time hyping the Olympics than he did in 2008 and 2006. If Brian can manage to increase Olympic viewership even slightly, then it's possible that NBC may be able to charge higher rates for commercials. Beginning with the Jan. 23 story on figure skater Sasha Cohen, Nightly News has devoted 38 minutes of broadcast time to Olympic stories--and that's just through last night, before the opening ceremony even took place. Yesterday's Nightly News devoted a whopping 13 minutes (half of the entire broadcast) to the Olympics. Brian spent four minutes and forty seconds alone on a profile and interview with Lindsey Vonn. By comparison, a story about the one-month anniversary of the Haiti earthquake was given less than a minute. Using Nightly News to promote the Olympics is completely inappropriate, but NBC doesn't care about propriety when dollars are at stake.

The Nightly News producers are also hard at work using their broadcast to promote Olympic sponsors. During a Feb. 4 "news story" about the new Heinz ketchup packages, Brian went out of his way to insert a gratuitous plug for McDonald's--a major Olympic sponsor. During last night's story about Vancouver, a close-up of a British Columbia license plate pulls back to reveal the back of the car--which (hilariously) has a huge Chevy logo. Chevy just happens to be a major Olympic sponsor. (How long did the producer have to search before she found a Chevy?) Over the next two weeks, Nightly News viewers can expect many more "news stories" promoting Olympic sponsors. Inappropriate? Of course. Does NBC care? Of course not.

Note to the Nightly News producers: Alan Abrahamson isn't helping the broadcast. On Feb. 7, he described Lindsey Vonn by saying, "she's blond, she's pretty". That doesn't give him much credibility as an analyst. He should be downgraded to cheerleader. Or beauty pageant judge.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Brian Vs. Katie Part II

Last Sept. 21, Brian Williams, a supposedly professional anchor, took almost a minute out of his Nightly News broadcast for the sole purpose of bragging that NBC had won the previous night's ratings race with 21.7 million viewers for the Cowboys-Giants football game. Meanwhile, on Monday's CBS Evening News, Katie Couric took less than ten seconds to casually mention that Sunday's Super Bowl had attracted over 106 million viewers--the largest American audience ever for a TV show. I can only imagine what kind of display Brian would put on if NBC ever carried a Super Bowl that drew that many viewers. If Brian takes 50 seconds to brag about 21.7 million viewers, then by extrapolation we can assume that he would take more than four minutes to brag about 106.5 million viewers. Good thing the game was on CBS.

But although there was no Super Bowl for Brian to brag about, he still managed to do his share of chest-thumping and back-patting. Over the course of Monday's broadcast, Brian told us four times that the doctor being profiled on that night's "Making A Difference" segment had decided to go to Haiti because of reports he had seen on previous Nightly News broadcasts. And Ann Curry mentioned it yet again when she began her story. That's five times we were told that a doctor had been inspired by Nightly News. I think two or three times would have been sufficient. Brian constantly panders to his viewers by telling us how smart we are, but the way he often talks to us clearly indicates that he believes otherwise.

Brian likes to complain on his blog that he doesn't have enough time each day to cover all the news he'd like to cover. For example, on Monday's broadcast, he didn't have time to mention that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered Iran's Atomic Energy Organization to begin the process of producing higher-enriched uranium, which could bring Iran closer to the production of a nuclear weapon. But Brian did have time for a 1:25 story about the charges against Michael Jackson's doctor, a 2:15 story about Sarah Palin (that was essentially the same story Nightly News had reported on Sunday) and a 2:20 story about Super Bowl ads. And since Friday, Nightly News has devoted more than 17 minutes to the snowstorm that hit Washington D.C. and the Middle Atlantic states. It's just too bad that Brian didn't have enough time to cover that Iran nuclear story. Perhaps if Ahmadinejad had announced his nuclear program in a snow drift, at a Tea Party convention or in a Super Bowl ad (maybe sitting on a couch with Dave, Jay and Oprah), then Brian would have reported it.

NBC Honors Black History Month

Here's something you're not going to see on Nightly News. In case anybody missed it, this is how NBC is celebrating Black History month (from Friday's New York Post website,

"A special NBC Black History Month lunch spread -- featuring fried chicken, collard greens and black-eyed peas -- sparked a commissary controversy yesterday, but the African-American chef who planned it doesn't understand the fuss.

'All I wanted to do was make a meal that everyone would enjoy -- and that I eat myself,' NBC cook Leslie Calhoun told The Post last night. Calhoun's proudly planned feast, which she began last year, hit a snag when Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson, the drummer for Jimmy Fallon's 'Late Night' show band, The Roots, shot a photo of the menu outside the network's Rockefeller Center cafeteria and posted it on Twitter. The menu quickly
spread across the Internet and sparked a fury.

But Calhoun is confused. 'Questlove, who I serve every day and who enjoys my food, requested the neck bone [cooked in] the black-eyed peas and fried chicken, then got off the line, saying, "This is racist," ' she said.
'The next thing you know, people were taking pictures of the sign and asking all the other black people in the cafeteria if this was racist. They said that it wasn't.'

Thompson, who has 1.2 million Twitter followers, clearly realized he'd started a food fight. An hour after he circulated the menu, he tweeted, 'i think i need a twitter break. i done started something. and now i must put out fire.'

An NBC Universal spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment. But Kevin Goldman, NBC's vice president of communications, tweeted: 'The sign in the NBCU cafeteria has been removed. We apologize for anyone who was offended by it.'

A disappointed Calhoun, who has worked at NBC for eight years, said she's been begging for years to make special entrees in honor of Black History Month, and got her wish last year. The plan was to have one special meal every Thursday during February -- although she said she's nervous about next week.

Asked if she understood why some people might find her menu concept offensive, Calhoun said, 'I don't understand it at all. It's what I eat.' "

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Watching Ann Curry dance alongside Bill T. Jones on Tuesday's Nightly News was nothing short of grotesque. But it was hardly surprising. Regardless of who she interviews, any Ann Curry story is first and foremost about Ann Curry. Perhaps she should audition for that ABC show--Dancing With People Who Think Of Themselves As Stars.

The Politics Of Ketchup

It was appalling (but hardly surprising) that Brian Williams devoted 25 seconds of Thursday's Nightly News (and his Thursday blog) to Heinz's new ketchup package. Brian called Heinz's new packages "The biggest development in the fast-food business in generations". Really? So this is more important than the introduction of salads, the changeover to zero-trans-fat french fry oil or the posting of calorie counts in fast-food restaurants? That seems dubious. Furthermore, it's obvious that Brian's rave was meant to offer some free publicity to a regular advertiser. In addition to their ketchup and baked beans, Heinz markets a large array of food brands including Lea & Perrins, Classico, Smart Ones, Ore-Ida frozen potatoes and Weight Watchers frozen foods. It's safe to say that Heinz spends a significant amount of ad dollars with NBC Universal and Brian was rewarding a long-time sponsor with some lucrative free ad time. But wait--it gets better. Brian also managed to work in a gratuitous plug for McDonald's: "The days of squeezing out the contents of 29 separate ketchup packs on your McDonald's wrapper will soon come to an end." Obviously, Brian could have used the phrase "hamburger wrapper" but he chose to specifically mention McDonald's. If anyone thinks this was coincidental or unintentional, they should recall the 5/5/09 Nightly News broadcast. That night, viewers were treated to a 2:15 "news story" all about the launch of McDonald's new gourmet coffees. It is the policy of NBC to use news stories to profile products as a way of thanking regular sponsors. After all, product placement isn't just for entertainment shows anymore.

Also on Thursday's broadcast, Brian said that the earthquake in Haiti took place "three weeks and one day ago". In fact, the earthquake had occurred three weeks and two days earlier.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Where's Blair?

It has been four days since former British Prime Minister Tony Blair testified at the Chilcot Panel's inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war. Blair was forced to defend his decision to send British troops into Iraq in 2003, and was grilled about whether he was too easily persuaded to do so by Pres. Bush. It was fascinating political theater, and it was all televised. But Nightly News did not even mention this story. However, in the days since Blair's testimony, Nightly News managed to find time to report on snowboarder Shaun White, skier Daron Rahlves, Kurt Warner's retirement, pandas, the 25th anniversary of the "We Are The World" song and an 81-year-old actress who recently made her Broadway debut (the producers should have put a "Breaking News" banner on that story). Monday's story about a church group that attempted to take children out of Haiti was virtually identical to Sunday's story. But Nightly News had no time for Tony Blair. I guess if Blair wants to get some screen time on Nightly News, he'll have to compete in this month's Vancouver Olympics.

And I'd like to thank the Nightly News producers for Monday's story about Command Sergeant Major Teresa King. Meanwhile, CBS News did a profile of Sgt. Maj. King three months ago. Oh well, better late than never, I guess.

Diane Sawyer

I'm really fed up with networks that put incompetent people in anchor jobs just because they're celebrities. Let's take ABC, for example. Diane Sawyer is not a news anchor. She's a television personality. She's horrible at the anchor job. Sometimes she's artificially treacly sweet, sometimes she's aggressive and combatant. She begins sentences with the name of the last person she spoke with, even though that person's segment is over and he/she is off camera ("John, the Attorney General announced today..."). That is not professional. Thanks to Sawyer, I switched to CBS, which would have been unthinkable a few months ago. Charles Gibson was the consummate news anchor. It was always about the news, never about him. With Sawyer, it's always about her. Ted Koppel would have been an excellent choice for anchor, or even George Stephanopoulos. It would have signaled that ABC is ready to continue as a network that cares about news, not celebrity. I am deeply disappointed in ABC.