Saturday, June 5, 2010

115 Rescued, 116 Dead

Does Brian Williams really think that he's "Making A Difference" by devoting 2/3 or 3/4 of each Nightly News broadcast to the Gulf oil spill? We get it. It's a horrible situation. Oil in the water. Oil in the marshes. Oil on the beaches. Oil on the birds. We get it. Really. But I don't think Brian gets it. He has 22 minutes each night to bring us all the news from across the country and around the world, and he's not doing that. On Friday, he spent two minutes on a story about how the crew of the ship Damon B. Bankston rescued 115 people when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20. First of all, this was just a promo for a longer piece that would be airing on "Dateline" later that night. So its purpose was to generate ratings (and ad dollars) for "Dateline". Meanwhile, also on Friday, 116 people died in a fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh. But Brian didn't report that story. Obviously, the tragedy in Bangladesh isn't important to Brian, because it doesn't help generate ratings for his broadcast. Oil spill equals ratings. Bangladesh tragedy does not. This past week, the Prime Minister of Japan resigned. The President of Germany resigned. But Brian didn't report either of those stories. He was too busy showing us the same images over and over of birds coated in oil. Although somehow, Brian managed to find time this week to air an obituary for Rue McClanahan (including 30 seconds of clips from "Golden Girls", which aired on NBC). Not coincidentally, the on-line NBC Universal Store is currently selling all 7 seasons of "Golden Girls" on DVD, as well as "Blanche Is My Nana" T-shirts, which prominently feature a picture of McClanahan (only $25 each or 3 for $65!). Using McClanahan's obituary to sell T-shirts is crass and shameful. Also this week, Brian found time to air a two-minute story about Al and Tipper Gore separating; a three minute story about a blown call that cost a pitcher a perfect game; a speech by Sonia Sotomayor in which she fondly remembers eating burgers at a White Castle in the Bronx; and footage of an asteroid hitting Jupiter. And on Thursday, Brian managed to spend 30 seconds showing us (and explaining all about) a picture of a rainbow that he took with his cell phone camera. But deaths in Bangladesh? Not important enough for Nightly News. Maybe if those 116 people were covered in dark, sticky oil, Brian would have reported it.

The Gulf oil spill is important news. But reporting on it shouldn't come at the expense of other stories. Nightly News has an obligation to report all the day's news. Brian and his producers are not fulfilling their obligation to the viewers.

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