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.