Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kerry Sanders--Baseball Fan

Can someone please buy Kerry Sanders a baseball almanac? On Sunday's Nightly News story about survivors of Saturday's tornado in Mississippi, Sanders told us that one woman who survived is the mother of Houston Astros pitcher "Ray" Oswalt. Actually, his name is Roy Oswalt.

And on Monday's story about the rapidly increasing murder rate in Chicago, Kevin Tibbles told us that, "Two-year-old Cynia Cole (was) killed in the crossfire while sitting in the back seat of a car." A moment later, Cynia Cole's grandmother, Cynthia Lyons, was identified by a Nightly News graphic as "Cynia Lyons' Grandmother". It is appalling and disrespectful that Nightly News cannot even manage to correctly identify this poor little girl who was tragically murdered. The Nightly News producers owe her family an apology.

Does anyone at Nightly News bother to fact check? Does anyone there even care anymore?

Et Tu, Lester?

From Lester Holt's April 25 Daily Nightly blog: "There is also news from the destroyed oil rig off the coast of Louisiana. After first hoping they had dodged a major environmental disaster, officials are facing a steady leak of oil into the ocean. Our environmental affairs correspondent Ann Thompson is in the region tonight to tell us what happens now."

Actually, her name is Anne Thompson.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Little Rock, Alaska

During Tuesday's Nightly News story about how European air travel has been disrupted by the volcanic ash cloud, a large on-screen graphic proclaimed "63,000 Flights Cancelled". The very next night, a similar story included a graphic that announced "100,000 Flights Canceled". So were the flights cancelled or canceled? It's hard to believe that a supposedly professional news broadcast cannot manage to spell a word the same way two nights in a row.

On Friday's broadcast, a story about severe weather featured The Weather Channel's Mike Seidel. At the beginning and end of the segment, a caption under Seidel informed us that he was reporting from "Little Rock, AK". No. The state abbreviation for Arkansas is AR. AK is the abbreviation for Alaska. How is it possible that the producers and editors could make a mistake like this? Is anyone at Nightly News paying attention to what goes on the air? Does anyone care? This is not OK (that's Oklahoma, by the way).

Buddy The Hero Dog

When Brian Williams ended Friday's Nightly News broadcast by announcing that Buddy the hero dog from Alaska would be appearing on Saturday's Today Show, I must admit I was concerned. Will Lester Holt and Amy Robach ask Buddy the tough questions, or will they do a superficial, ingratiating interview? Will they ask Buddy what newspapers he reads (or at least what newspapers he was paper trained on)? Will they question his controversial statement that he can see a Russian Wolfhound from his doghouse? Will they ask about his exorbitant wardrobe expenses, like his $5,000 flea collar? Why does Buddy dislike Bo so much? Is one of Buddy's puppies pregnant and unmarried? Is it true that Buddy chases cars--especially Ford Mavericks? Since Buddy is a German Shepherd, does he have a birth certificate to prove that he was born in the U.S.? Why did Buddy quit halfway through his first term as Alaska's state mascot? Did Buddy ever take steroids when he raced in the Iditarod (and should steroid use be expected in a race whose name ends with "A-Rod")? These are the kind of questions to which viewers demand answers. I hope Lester and Amy won't disappoint.

Brian's White Board

From Brian Williams's April 21 Daily Nightly blog: "So we have this white board in our conference room...The white board is a place for story ideas—not the big stuff to which we have correspondents assigned (volcanoes, presidents, and the like) but the smaller, more optional items—that many nights are my favorite elements of the broadcast, and certainly the most fun to write and deliver."

I get it. White board stories are stories that have absolutely no news value and don't belong on a news broadcast but are put on the air in order to pander to viewers by offering them warm and fuzzy items--stuff that's fun to watch and easy to digest (like "America's Funniest Home Videos"). So the viewers keep tuning in night after night to see skateboarding bulldogs, pink dolphins and clips from Leno's monologue. That way, more people watch the broadcast, the ratings go up and ultimately you get to charge higher ad rates. White board stories. I totally get it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jeff Rossen Gets An "F" In Math

Can someone please buy Jeff Rossen a calculator? On Saturday's Nightly News, Rossen told us that the year-to-date murder rate in Chicago had risen from 81 last year to 97 this year, a 16.5% increase. Wrong. That actually represents a 19.75% increase. Here's a tutorial for Rossen and his producers: Let's say the murder rate in Metropolis increased from 100 in year 1 to 150 in year 2. Common sense and logic tell us that that represents an increase of 50%. The way we get that mathematically is to take the difference in murders from year 1 to year 2 (50) and divide that by the number of murders in year 1 (100). 50 divided by 100 is .5, so that means the murder rate increased by 50%. Now let's apply that formula to Rossen's Chicago figures. The difference in murders from year 1 to year 2 is 16. We divide that by the number of murders in year 1 (81). 16 divided by 81 is .1975, so the murder rate went up by 19.75%, not 16.5%. This isn't rocket science. It's junior high school algebra. If Rossen and his producers can't calculate a simple increase in a murder rate, how can we trust them with the really difficult stuff?

Cheerleader Brian Williams

Great news for NBC! According to an article in Saturday's New York Times, the Peacock Network only lost $223 million on the Vancouver Olympics, which is less than the estimated $250 million they thought they were going to lose. Of course, you won't see that story on Nightly News. That's because when it comes to reporting on NBC and its parent company GE, Brian Williams is a cheerleader, not a reporter. On Feb. 13, Brian could barely contain himself when he announced that the previous night's Olympic Opening Ceremony had attracted 68 million viewers (Nielsen put the rating at 32.6 million--less than half of what Brian claimed). On March 1, Brian bragged that the previous day's USA-Canada gold medal hockey game was "one of the most-watched sporting events in television history...." (a claim that is dubious at best). And of course, we all remember March 4, 2009, when Brian spent more than two minutes with CNBC's David Faber desperately trying to prop up GE's falling stock price by talking about what a great and solid company GE is.

I think that whenever Brian reads a story about NBC or GE, he should pick up a pair of pompoms. After all, that's what cheerleaders do.

Animal Testing...1...2...3

The "Making A Difference" segment on Monday's Nightly News was about the three daughters of Dr. Peggy Clark, a woman who was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing 15 years ago. Dr. Clark's oldest daughter, Rosslyn Biggs, is a veterinarian just like her mother was. They both became veterinarians because they wanted to spend their lives caring for animals. This story was sponsored by Avodart, a GlaxoSmithKline product. Glaxo is one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, which means they are also one of the world's largest utilizers of animal testing. It is obscene and disrespectful to allow a company that profits from animal testing to sponsor a story about women who devote their lives to caring for animals. (This is at least the fifth time in the past 18 months that Nightly News has allowed Glaxo to sponsor a story about people who rescue or care for animals.) The Nightly News producers owe Dr. Clark's daughters an apology.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Covering The World

From Brian Williams's April 15 Daily Nightly blog (writing about the volcanic cloud covering Western Europe): "We'll cover it tonight, along with the rest of our world."

The rest of our world? Did I miss something? Aside from the story on the volcanic cloud, the only other foreign story Nightly News covered was the breaking news story about the oh-so-many candles being used by the Poles to mourn their late president. (That story contained this gem from Jim Maceda: "Poles love flickering candles." Wow--that's Peabody material.) The newscast did not contain a single story from South America, Africa or Asia. Is that what Brian considers covering the world? Well, at least we know all about the Poles and their flickering candles. Keep up the great work.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

At The Movies With Brian Williams

Over the past month or so, the Nightly News producers have been aggressively padding their broadcasts with clips from movies and TV shows (even more so than usual). Here are just a few recent examples:

*April 11--A story about the Los Angeles budget crisis included a clip of Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" monologue. A story about Tiger Woods used a clip from the previous night's "Saturday Night Live". And an obituary for Dixie Carter featured a clip from "Designing Women".
*April 8--A story about a smoking ban on U.S. Navy submarines included a clip from the movie "Crimson Tide".
*April 7--A story about an airline charging a fee for carry-on luggage used clips from "Meet the Parents" and "Home Alone".
*April 5--A story about Butler University playing in the NCAA finals featured a clip from "Hoosiers".
*April 4--A story about a toddler who fell into New York's East River included a clip from "Manhattan".
*April 2--A story about the Republican National Committee used clips from Jay Leno's monologue. A story about the iPad used clips from David Letterman, Stephen Colbert and the TV show "Modern Family". An obituary for John Forsythe included clips from "Charlie's Angels", "Dynasty" and "Bachelor Father".
*March 31--A story about the death of Jaime Escalante featured clips from "Stand and Deliver".
*March 29--A story about the death of Ford Mustang designer Donald Frey used a clip from the Steve McQueen movie "Bullitt".
*March 24--An obituary for Robert Culp included clips from "I Spy".
*March 18--An obituary for Fess Parker featured clips from his TV portrayals of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.
*March 13--A story about WW II hero John Basilone included clips from HBO's "The Pacific".
*March 11--An obituary for Merlin Olsen used clips from "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy".

And since the beginning of the year, Nightly News has also featured clips from "The Hurt Locker", "White Squall", "Dear John", "Avatar" (on at least five different broadcasts), "Up in the Air", "Transformers", "Iron Man", "Sex and the City 2", "The Hangover" and one of the "Harry Potter" movies. (I'm surprised that Nightly News's ongoing coverage of the Vatican scandal hasn't included clips from "A Man For All Seasons" and "The Tudors".) And I lost count of how many Leno and Conan clips Nightly News ran in the weeks and months leading up to Conan's last "Tonight Show" appearance. It's obvious why Nightly News runs so many clips of Jay, Conan, "Saturday Night Live" and Tina Fey. Brian Williams and NBC News President Steve Capus have decreed that one of the Nightly News commandments is "Thou shalt relentlessly promote other NBC shows". They did it when Conan was preparing to take over "The Tonight Show" from Jay, and they did it when Jay was preparing to take the show back from Conan. Promote, promote, promote. Night after night after night. Shoehorning clips of Leno or SNL into news stories is just shameless self-promotion. Never mind that those clips have no relevance to the stories. Promote first and ask questions later. In February, Nightly News featured 160 minutes of Olympic-related stories. That's the equivalent of seven entire broadcasts (when you factor out the commercials). And it's certainly no coincidence that on Nightly News, the majority of TV actor obituaries are for actors who starred in NBC shows. Pernell Roberts ("Bonanza"--NBC), Merlin Olsen ("Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy"--both on NBC), Fess Parker ("Daniel Boone"--NBC), Robert Culp ("I Spy"--NBC). At Nightly News, obituaries are just a way to promote DVD sales for NBC Universal TV shows. Using actors' deaths to sell DVD's--that's pretty shameless.

And as far as all those movie clips are concerned--well, that's just a way to maintain and increase viewer interest (which translates to higher Nielsen ratings and ultimately higher ad revenue). Why just show a news story when you can show a news story that features Gene Hackman, Catherine O'Hara, Ben Stiller, Woody Allen, Edward James Olmos, Steve McQueen, George Clooney or an avatar of Zoe Saldana. When a company wants to increase sales for one of its products, they get a celebrity spokesperson to appear in their ads. When news producers want to increase viewership for one of their broadcasts, they get a bunch of celebrity spokespersons to appear on their shows. The NBC research department has obviously determined that soft news and tear-jerker stories about cute animals, sick children, orphans, the weather, military families, popular culture and people who are "Making A Difference" attract more viewers than hard news stories about the economy, politics and suicide bombings. People like seeing Hollywood stars on the news. It makes them feel comfortable and relaxed. Susan Boyle, the Salahis, Tiger Woods, the balloon boy--more comfort news. Clearly, the Nightly News producers are trying to make their broadcast more and more like the shows that follow it--"Extra" and "Access Hollywood". And there's no doubt that they are succeeding. In the not-too-distant future, these shows will probably merge into one mega-spectacular production called something like "The Extra Nightly Access Hollywood News Hour". You heard it here first.

Jim Maceda Gets An "F" In Government

Can someone please buy Jim Maceda an almanac? On Sunday's Nightly News lead story about the plane crash that killed the president of Poland, Maceda referred to Vladimir Putin as the "Russian president". Putin is not the Russian president, he's the prime minister. It's appalling that a correspondent for a major network news broadcast doesn't know this. And it's equally appalling that none of the editors, producers or other Nightly News staffers who saw Maceda's report caught this glaring error before the story aired. Because the misstatement was made in a voice-over (rather that in a talking head shot), it would have been easy to fix. But no one at Nightly News even noticed. In the very next story, Tom Aspell correctly referred to Putin as the Russian prime minister. Maybe if the producers had been paying attention to Aspell's report before the broadcast went on the air, they would have realized that Maceda had made an error. I guarantee you that if Sarah Palin had referred to Putin as the Russian president, Nightly News would have played the gaffe over and over and over. Andrea Mitchell would have spent an entire hour of her MSNBC show parsing the statement. Somehow, I doubt they'll do this for Maceda's gaffe. Maybe Maceda should borrow a page from Palin's playbook and write important stuff down on his hand. Or better yet, Maceda should move to Alaska. Then he could keep an eye on Putin right from his front porch.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor--Read By Brian Williams

From Brian Williams's April 6 Daily Nightly blog: "Yes, I've had Cinnabon in Iraq. And Burger King, and Taco Bell. And I loved every bite, every minute of it."

I'm just wondering: How much did those companies pay Brian and NBC for that great plug? (What a coincidence--there's a Cinnabon and a Burger King located right inside 30 Rock. I think it's safe to say that Brian won't be paying for his cinnamon rolls or Double Whoppers anytime soon.) And how much did Burger King, Popeye's and Pizza Hut pay for Thursday's Nightly News story about fast food outlets on U.S. military bases in Afghanistan? That story was basically a two-and-a-half minute commercial for those franchises. Of course, on-air plugs from Brian are nothing new. Recently, he's offered plugs for Heinz Ketchup (2/4 Nightly News), Kleenex and Xerox (talking with Al Michaels during the 2/16 Olympics afternoon show) and Kraft Foods (3/17 Nightly News). And on 3/19, Ann Curry effusively plugged Walmart ("Walmart today confirmed it's about to slash grocery prices," she gushed). (Curry is good at shilling. Who can forget last May 5 when she introduced a "news story" about McDonald's new gourmet coffees by calling them "delicious brew"?) And these examples are just from the past few months. Brian and his producers make a point of offering gratuitous plugs (masquerading as news stories) for products that regularly advertise on Nightly News. Call it the NBC rewards program--it is clearly the policy of the NBC News executives to thank regular sponsors by plugging their products. After all, product placement isn't just for entertainment shows anymore. In the news business, there is supposed to be a clear line between advertising and news content. The NBC executives not only ignore that line, but they flagrantly encourage their producers, anchors and reporters to cross it. And that is a violation of the viewers' trust. NBC is acting improperly and they owe their viewers an apology as well as a promise that they will stop engaging in this type of unethical behavior.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

If A Two-Year-Old Falls Into The East River, Did California Still Have An Earthquake?

Why didn't Natalie Morales (who anchored Sunday's Nightly News) mention the 7.2 earthquake that hit Southern California and Northwestern Mexico? The quake hit just after 3:30 PM Pacific time (6:30 PM Eastern), so there would have been plenty of time to get the story on the air. This seems like a fairly important piece of news. New York's local WCBS newscast ran the story before leaving the air at 7:00 PM, so why didn't Nightly News run it? Maybe the producers just weren't aware of the earthquake. They may have been too busy getting their Starbucks order together or planning where to go for drinks that evening. Or perhaps they just weren't paying attention to the incoming news feed. Another possibility is that the producers were aware of the quake, but chose not to air it because the prepared story about the two-year-old girl who fell into the East River was much more important. So what's their excuse? I believe the Nightly News producers owe the viewers an explanation as to why they didn't run the earthquake story on Sunday's broadcast.

Meanwhile, since Sunday's Nightly News was only twelve minutes long (because NBC's golf coverage ran over), you'd think that the broadcast wouldn't contain any errors, right? Wrong. (Actually, it was only a 9-minute broadcast because NBC still managed to cram in 3 minutes of commercials despite the late start.) The story about where the Obama family attended Easter services featured some comments from a member of the church visited by the First Family. The man was identified as "Elmer Douglass Eliss" who was described onscreen as a "parishoner". There is a prominent Washington attorney named Elmer Douglass Ellis. Perhaps that's what the producers meant to write in their graphic. (And by the way, the word is spelled "parishioner".) Moments later, in a clip from "Meet the Press", a Nightly News graphic identified Christina Romer as the "White House Council of Economic Advisors Chair". However, the "Meet the Press" graphic had identified her as the "Chair, White House Council of Economic Advisers". So which is she--an advisor or an adviser? At least Ms. Romer was identified. A subsequent clip of Larry Summers on CNN's "State of the Union" didn't even bother to identify him. Oh well, he's only the chairman of the National Economic Council. Not really that important. Fortunately, the Nightly News producers didn't make any mistakes in their story about the two-year-old who fell into the East River. And that's what really matters.

Breaking News: Brian Williams Does His Job!

From Brian Williams's April 5 Daily Nightly blog: "Not since the grave illness of former Chief Justice Rehnquist have we realized this far in advance that the president will have an upcoming vacancy to fill on the Supreme Court. I follow the court fairly regularly, and this kind of public airing of his life is in keeping with the straight-ahead approach of John Paul Stevens. It will be interesting to see how it accelerates the 'pre-debate' over the president's selection."

Why does Brian feel the need to brag about following the Supreme Court? He's supposed to. That's his job as a news anchor. That would be like a USPS letter carrier bragging about delivering the mail. Brian should spend a little less time boasting about how he does his job, and a little more time actually doing it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Brian Williams Hates Your City!

Once again, Brian Williams has renewed his bizarre and inappropriate habit of pandering to certain cities. This is what Brian said on Thursday's Nightly News: "And is there any place more spectacular on a beautiful day than Chicago, Illinois?" I don't know--why don't we ask the people of Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Denver, Boston, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Philadelphia, Memphis, Omaha, San Diego, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Francisco, Albany, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., Portland or Seattle? I think they might have something to say about it. Does Brian really believe that part of his job is to announce what he thinks is the most spectacular city in the U.S.? What an appalling display of ego. Not to mention stupidity. Praising one city at the expense of every other city isn't exactly a great way for a news anchor to endear himself to viewers outside of Chicago. Here are some other recent examples of Brian's pandering:

> "And good evening from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one of the great American cities...." (9/24 Nightly News)
> "One of the most startlingly beautiful cities in the world...." (Speaking about Sydney, 9/23 Nightly News)
> "The city of Chicago has never looked better. Day or night it is simply breathtaking." (From Brian's 9/21 blog)
> "Tom Brokaw on Highway 50. His next stop by the way is the great American town of Emporia, Kansas." (9/9 Nightly News)
> "There's a great place to be--The scene tonight on the Navy Pier in Chicago--70 degrees going down to 55 tonight, 77 tomorrow afternoon." (9/4 Nightly News--this was a complete non sequitur--there was no actual story about the Navy Pier, just another excuse to pander)
> "We thought it might also be because it looks like one of those beautiful Rhode Island beaches on the real Block Island." (8/4 Nightly News, after reporting that a rock on Mars was named "Block Island" by NASA)
> "The Great Lakes are spectacular." (7/17 Nightly News)
> "If your summer plans include the great city of Chicago...." followed by, "Luckily, Chicago is also beautiful when viewed from the sidewalk." (7/1 Nightly News, before and after a story about a glass-bottomed viewing area in the then-Sears Tower)

Good News For Glaxo

Brian Williams and his producers have again shown that they are truly the drug companies' best friends. On Wednesday, Robert Bazell couldn't wait to tell us that GlaxoSmithKline's Avodart may soon be approved to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, in addition to its currently approved use for shrinking non-cancerous enlargements of the prostate. And Bazell could barely contain his joy at announcing that the FDA is now allowing AstraZeneca to market their "blockbuster drug" Crestor to millions of people with normal cholesterol levels. When there's good news for the large pharmaceutical companies (especially Glaxo), Nightly News announces it quickly and loudly. But when the news isn't so good, well--that's a different story. Last month, the U.S. Senate released a report stating that the diabetes drug Avandia (made by Glaxo) 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. To protect Glaxo, Brian and his producers buried this story on a Saturday (when fewer people are watching the broadcast). Their 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 only by the initials "GSK". The Glaxo logo never once appeared on screen. (During Wednesday's story about Avodart, the Glaxo logo appeared on screen twice in large letters). But at least Nightly News reported the Avandia story. On Feb. 18, it was revealed that the zinc in Poligrip (also a Glaxo product) was causing some users to experience numbness in their extremities and to have trouble walking. Glaxo announced that they will be pulling the product from the market until they can manufacture a zinc-free formula. Brian Williams did not even bother to report this story (although Katie Couric did). Once again, Brian and his producers did Glaxo a favor by squelching a negative story about one of their products.

Postscript: On Friday, two days after Nightly News reported their glowing story about Avodart, Glaxo's Vesicare sponsored the "Making A Difference" segment. Are we supposed to believe that these events are unrelated? Clearly, this is a case of "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours."