Once again, Brian Williams has shown his willingness (eagerness?) to plug a sponsor's product on Nightly News. Here's what Brian said on Wednesday's broadcast:
"Turning to health news briefly--We've noticed this week a new sponsor on this broadcast is a certain type of replacement knee. Knee surgery is suddenly a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business in this country--especially among us aging warriors--and a new study out that followed some amateur soccer players with ACL injuries says they fared no better with ACL surgery than they did with rehab and physical therapy."
It's obvious what's going on here. Brian and his producers wanted to plug a new sponsor (Smith & Nephew Replacement Knees) so they came up with a contrived a "news report" that would allow Brian to mention the sponsor. He didn't mention them by name, but he didn't have to. Just discussing them as "a new sponsor" undoubtedly caused many Nightly News viewers to take notice and to pay attention to their commercial (which aired only 13 minutes after Brian's plug). Let's be clear: The only reason Brian read this "news report" about knee surgery was so that he could mention the sponsor's product. He would have read a "news report" about knee surgery in pink elephants if it allowed him to make a gratuitous plug. Of course, this isn't the first time Nightly News has used a contrived "news report" to plug a sponsor's product. Here are a few other times (this list is by no means complete):
7/18/07--Nightly News airs a story about Restless Leg Syndrome. The sole purpose of the story is to establish the legitimacy of RLS because many doctors do not acknowledge it as a legitimate medical condition. One of the main drugs used to treat RLS is Requip, a frequent Nightly News advertiser (Requip was specifically mentioned in the story). And in addition to their regular advertisements, Requip (manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline) sponsored nine "Making A Difference" segments from April 2007 to January 2008 (the dates were 4/20/07, 5/25/07, 6/22/07, 7/6/07, 7/27/07, 8/3/07, 9/14/07, 1/11/08 and 1/18/08). There is absolutely no doubt that the story on Restless Leg Syndrome was done as a special favor to Nightly News's pals at Glaxo.
11/13/07--Brian Williams anchors Nightly News from a Chrysler plant in Detroit. This broadcast is a thinly-disguised 30-minute commercial for Chrysler, a frequent Nightly News and NBC advertiser. At the end of the broadcast, Brian interviews Chrysler executive Jim Press. Brian's interview is made up of softball questions that allow Press to talk about how great his cars and trucks are (Brian even gets in on the act of praising Chrysler products: "This is going to make some buyer somewhere very happy."). Less than three months later (2/5/08), Chrysler sponsored the entire Nightly News broadcast.
1/31/09--A story about 3-D ads during the Super Bowl prominently featured Lifewater beverages--a product that advertised on the following day's Super Bowl (which aired, of course, on NBC).
2/23/09--Nightly News features a "news story" about how thoroughly United Airlines cleans their planes. United is a frequent Nightly News advertiser. This story is just a big thank-you from NBC to United.
5/5/09--Nightly News airs a "news story" about McDonald's new gourmet coffees. McDonald's is a major advertiser on Nightly News and other NBC shows. Ann Curry introduces the story by calling McDonald's coffee a "delicious brew". More than a third of this story is comprised of excerpts from McDonald's commercials and interviews with McDonald's spokespersons. This story is simply a commercial for McDonald's new gourmet coffees.
5/12/09--Robert Bazell's story about FDA claims regarding Cheerios' health claims turns into a two-minute commercial for Cheerios.
7/13/09--The entire Nightly News broadcast is sponsored by the University of Phoenix, an online university. Four days later, Nightly News airs a report about Western Governors University (also an online university). This story featured a gratuitous plug for the University of Phoenix as well as a prominent graphic displaying their logo. This is no coincidence. University of Phoenix's July 13 sponsorship also bought them a plug on the July 17 broadcast.
9/6/09--A story about search engines becomes a story about Bing. Bing is a Microsoft product, and Microsoft is NBC's partner in MSNBC. This story is just a plug for one of NBC's corporate partners.
2/4/10--Brian reads a 30-second story about the new Heinz ketchup packages (he also manages to mention McDonald's in the story). This is just a plug for Heinz.
3/17/10--Brian reads a 30-second story about how Kraft Foods will be reducing the sodium in their products. Another plug for a regular advertiser.
5/14/10--Brian Williams spends 90 seconds interviewing Sally Field solely about her Boniva commercial (Boniva advertises on Nightly News every night). Three days later, Brian again interviews Field and again mentions Boniva. An interesting sidebar to the Sally Field interview--Brian mentions all of her early TV roles--Gidget, The Flying Nun, Sybil--but he never once mentions her current Emmy-winning role in "Brothers & Sisters". The following night, a profile of Eva Longoria Parker makes no mention of her role on "Desperate Housewives". This is truly unbelievable. Brian and his producers refuse to allow any mention of "Brothers & Sisters" and "Desperate Housewives" because they are on ABC. The are actually scared that mentioning these shows will result in lower ratings for the NBC shows airing opposite them. So it's okay for Nightly News to use Field and Parker to try to increase the broadcast's ratings during a sweeps period, but they won't allow any mention of those ABC shows because they don't want those shows to get plugged...during a sweeps period. That is pure hypocrisy.
6/8/10--Nightly News airs a report about an obscure Danish medical study that concluded that Aleve can reduce the risk of heart attacks. Aleve (and its parent product Bayer) advertise every night on Nightly News. A week later, Campbell's recalled 15 million pounds of Spaghettios because undercooked meatballs could pose a health risk to children. Nightly News didn't mention the recall because they didn't want to offend Campbell's, a regular sponsor.
6/10/10--Brian introduces a ridiculous "news story" about whether or not Chevys should be referred to as Chevrolets. Clearly, this is a two-minute-and-ten-second thank-you to the Chevy people for all the advertising dollars they have given NBC over the years.
6/14/10--Lester Holt reads a "news story" about how Starbucks and McDonald's are now providing free Wi-Fi in their stores. Interestingly, this is the second time Nightly News has paired these two companies in a fake news story whose sole purpose is to promote them as sponsors.
6/22/10--Nightly News shows a 30-second clip of Jimmy Fallon playing Microsoft's new Kinnect video game. Again, since Microsoft is a partner of NBC, this is just a plug for one of NBC's corporate friends.
If your product advertises on Nightly News and you want Brian Williams to mention your product in a "news story", just ask Brian. He'll be glad to do it.
UPDATE (Aug. 31)--On the Aug. 26 Nightly News, Brian read a "news story" about a recall of Johnson & Johnson hip replacement implants. Once again, this story was planted on Nightly News for the sole purpose of helping Smith & Nephew--a regular sponsor who also make artificial hips. If it were not for the fact that Smith & Nephew are regular Nightly News sponsors, Brian never would have mentioned the Johnson & Johnson recall. Brian's obvious goal was to steer people away from J & J artificial hips and towards those made by Smith & Nephew.