Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Brian Williams Reports On Hurricane Narcissus

During the intro to Sunday's Nightly News, the NBC announcer solemnly informed us that, "This is a special edition of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams reporting tonight from New Orleans." That's a laugh. I'm sorry, but NBC does not get to arbitrarily declare that a Nightly News broadcast is a "special edition". In order to be considered a special edition, a broadcast must either be on at a different time than usual, or be on for longer than usual. Sunday's Nightly News was neither. Regular time, regular length. Apparently, Brian Williams believes that his presence alone can qualify a Nightly News broadcast as a "special edition". Sorry, but no.

Five years ago, Brian Williams had been the anchor of Nightly News for less than a year. He had no identity, no style, and he was desperately struggling to emerge from the tall shadow of Tom Brokaw (a shadow from which he has yet to emerge). When Hurricane Katrina came along, Brian saw it as his chance to create an on-air identity. Brian decided that he would become the "caring and concerned" anchor. He would disregard the cardinal rule of journalism and cover Katrina emotionally, rather than objectively. And it worked. Brian won an undeserved Peabody award for his sobby, narcissistic coverage of Katrina. So it was Brian's good fortune that Katrina came along when it did. It made him. It gave him an identity, and he stuck with it. But it could have been a different identity. It's often said that if Rupert Murdoch thought he could have made more money by establishing FOX as a liberal media outlet, he would have done so. The same is true for Brian. If Brian thought he could have achieved higher ratings with a different on-air persona, he would have adopted that persona. For a different story, he might have become a different anchor. Perhaps the angry anchor. Or the muckraking anchor. Or the internationally-oriented anchor. Or the anti-administration anchor. But because it worked for Katrina, he decided to become the emotional anchor who pretends to care about the people of New Orleans. It was a gimmick five years ago, and it's still a gimmick today. Five years ago, Brian's reporting on Katrina was mostly about himself. And five years later, nothing has changed. It's still all about him. A typical example: Brian's Monday story in which he revisits the people of Katrina five years later began this way: "Five years ago this morning, I rose at five AM and in the dark eight stories below I saw water flowing down the street below my hotel room." I, I, my. Brian's ego is insatiable. His narcissism has no limit. This week, he decided that he was going to host Meet the Press and anchor Sunday's Nightly News. He had absolutely nothing to offer those shows that David Gregory and Lester Holt couldn't have offered, but when you're Brian Williams, you get to do whatever you want. I wonder how David Gregory and Lester Holt felt about being tossed off their regular gigs because Brian wanted more screen time. By the way--is there a single person out there who believes that Brian was allowed to anchor Sunday's Nightly News because he had important things to say? Of course not. Brian was allowed to anchor Sunday's broadcast because the NBC programming executives wanted their Emmy Awards show to get a good lead-in. And they felt that Brian would be a better lead-in than Lester Holt. (Although it didn't seem to make much of a difference--this year's overall Emmy ratings were virtually the same as last year's, but in the important 18-49 demographic they were down slightly.)

The past five days have been a low point even for the much-diminished Nightly News. For five straight days, we got a litany of emotionally charged anecdotes about Katrina from Brian and other NBC correspondents. We got a bunch of then-and-now stories about people and structures five years later. Mostly, we got Brian talking about himself. It's shameful that a broadcast titled Nightly News was allowed to transform itself into a Katrina memorial program. On most days, a 22-minute Nightly News broadcast contains around 8-10 minutes of actual news interspersed among the stories about cuddly animals, sick children, celebrities and people who are "Making A Difference". For each of the past five broadcasts, we were lucky to get five minutes of actual news, lest it interrupt the flow of sappy Katrina stories. Honestly, the FCC should revoke NBC's license to broadcast news. There's barely any news in Nightly News. Maybe NBC should change the program's title. Since NBC already has The Today Show and The Tonight Show, Nightly News could become The Evening Show. By removing the word "news" from the show's title, NBC would no longer be obligated to pretend that Nightly News is a news program. Brian and his producers would then be free to devote the entire broadcast to stories about Brad Pitt, Sally Field, Bruce Springsteen and Knut the polar bear. They could devote minutes each night to promoting NBC entertainment shows. They could run story after story about their sponsors. (Nightly News currently airs frequent stories about NBC shows and sponsors, but as The Evening Show they could do even more of these stories.)

The funny thing is that Brian actually thinks his coverage of the Katrina story (both then and now) is any better (or different) than what the other networks put on the air. That's absurd. All three networks covered the story in virtually the same manner. They visited the same places and interviewed the same people. There's Brian talking to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. There's Diane Sawyer talking to Landrieu. There's Brian in and around New Orleans. There's Diane in and around New Orleans. There's Brian revisiting the people he talked to five years ago. There's CBS news doing the same. Same old, same old. Despite what Brian thinks, there's little difference in what appears on the evening broadcasts of NBC, ABC and CBS. (He also thinks that NBC's coverage of the BP oil spill was better than that of the other networks. Again, it's all the same. One night, David Camardelle is on NBC, another night he's on CBS and another night he's on ABC. Same with Billy Nungesser.) Even Brian's interviews with President Obama and Brad Pitt added little to the Katrina discussion.

Every night, Brian reports extensively on his favorite subject--himself. Perhaps the Peabody Committee should introduce a new category--Best Reporting About Brian Williams. I think Brian would be a lock to win that award.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Brian Williams Exploits New Orleans. Again.

In a typically tacky move, Nightly News has been airing promos for itself all this week. Promos for their coverage of the Katrina fifth anniversary. Promos for Brian Williams's "Dateline" special (which is being re-broadcast this week on MSNBC). Promos for Brian hosting "Meet The Press" this Sunday (I wonder how David Gregory feels about that). Promos for Friday's "Making A Difference" segment featuring Brad Pitt. Promos for Sunday's Nightly News interview with President Obama. Promos for msnbc.com, where all the Nightly News Katrina stories can be seen. Altogether, these promos took up nearly three minutes of Nightly News time this week. Brian Williams and his producers could have used those three minutes to report actual news instead of promoting their own broadcast. But they didn't. And as if that's not bad enough, more than half of Thursday's and Friday's Nightly News broadcasts were devoted to Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. Brian and his producers could have used some of that time to report on current news stories instead of reporting on an event that happened five years ago. But they didn't. Broadcasts like The CBS Evening News and BBC World News America had the good sense to moderate their coverage of Katrina. While they included stories about Katrina, they did not allow that five-year-old story to dominate their broadcasts. But not Nightly News. Brian made sure to devote more than half his broadcast to Katrina. The reason for that is obvious.

Brian Williams exploited the Katrina anniversary for ratings. Does anyone actually believe that Brian cares the slightest bit about what happened to the people of New Orleans five years ago? Or what they're going through now? Brian is covering the Katrina anniversary story because the NBC News Research Department has informed him (and NBC News President Steve Capus) that viewers will tune in to watch. If the research department informed Brian that more viewers would tune in to see him host a dogfight, that's what he'd be doing this week on Nightly News. Brian will do whatever results in high ratings because having the #1 rated newscast is the absolute most important thing in his life. He has the George W. Bush syndrome. W was generally considered to be a major screw-up compared with his father and brother Jeb. So after W managed to get himself elected president (appointed, actually), he constantly struggled to live up to his father's legacy. W made a point of invading Iraq and capturing Saddam Hussein mainly because that allowed him to one-up his father, who failed to capture Saddam during Desert Storm. For Brian Williams, his George H.W. Bush is Tom Brokaw. Brokaw is everything Brian isn't (and never will be). A journalist, a reporter, a man of integrity, one of the most well-liked and well-respected news figures of his era. Brian is just a news reader. A talking head. A cuddly house cat. The words crawl across the teleprompter and Brian reads them. Brian spends his days desperately trying to live up to Tom Brokaw's legacy. He goes on Letterman. He goes on Leno. He goes on Charlie Rose. He appears on 30 Rock. He hosts Saturday Night Live. Please, please like me! Look how funny I am! But, of course, he can never be a fraction of the newsman--or the person-- that Brokaw was (and still is). So Brian settles for the only thing he can--keeping Nightly News as the #1 rated broadcast by pandering to the viewers with soft "news stories" about celebrities, cuddly animals, sick children, military heroes and people who are "Making A Difference". These stories have no news value, but Nightly News airs them because a story (or three) about Betty White or Dora the Explorer or Susan Boyle or Brad Pitt or Sally Field or Chelsea's wedding will attract more viewers than a story about the Australian election, the new Kenyan constitution or the civil war in Sri Lanka. It's a push strategy rather than a pull strategy. Nightly News airs stories about things viewers want to see, rather than things that are important. The Nightly News producers get their ideas for news stories by trolling search engines like Yahoo and looking at what's trending. If it's popular, they send out a news team to cover it.

So that's why Brian is in New Orleans this week. That's why he was there five years ago. His research has shown that New Orleans stories will attract viewers. And of course, as with all things on Nightly News, the Katrina coverage is about Brian's massive ego. It's about his narcissism. If Brian pretends something is important to him, it gets air time. Afghan orphans. Medal of Honor winners. Firefighters. Wounded warriors and fallen heroes. Springsteen and Bono. People who are "Making A Difference". Brian gets to put anything he wants on Nightly News because he's Brian. So this week, he will pretend to care about the people of New Orleans. He will lecture us (again) about how we were able to put a man on the moon, but we couldn't handle the post-Katrina emergency (or the BP oil spill). He will make it all about himself. Here's how HE sees it. Here's how it affected HIM. Here are the horrors HE witnessed. Here's what HE thinks should have been done. Him, him, him. Look how concerned Brian is! Look how much he cares about New Orleans! See how many celebrities he's with! Wow. He must really care. He does care. About his ratings.

The Brian Sleeps Tonight

Based on Brian Williams's glowing obituary for songwriter George Weiss (which he read on Tuesday's Nightly News), it sounds as if Weiss could be a candidate for sainthood. According to Brian, "George Weiss gave us many [songs] including 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'--inspired by a Zulu song--it became a huge hit for the Tokens." "Inspired by a Zulu song" is not quite accurate. Weiss took an existing tune, changed some lyrics (and added some others) and called the song his own. For all intents and purposes, Weiss stole the song.

The history of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is long and complicated. It was originally written (as "Mbube", Zulu for "lion") by a South African songwriter named Solomon Linda in the 1920's and first recorded in 1939. Because blacks in South Africa were not entitled to songwriting royalties at that time, Linda received a small one-time payment for the song from his publishing company's executives, who kept the rights for themselves (and earned plenty of money when the song sold over 100,000 copies). In the early 1950's, the song (now called "Wimoweh") was a hit for the Weavers (featuring Pete Seeger), and in 1961 it was a bigger hit for the Tokens (singing Weiss's version). While Seeger donated his portion of publishing royalties to Linda, Weiss was not nearly so generous and fought vigorously throughout his life to deny royalties to Linda and his heirs. Solomon Linda died penniless of kidney disease in 1963, while Weiss earned millions from Linda's song (by some estimates, the song earned millions just for appearing in "The Lion King"). After Solomon Linda's death, Weiss continued to fight Linda's daughters' claim on their father's song. (In 2006, Linda's daughters were finally awarded some rights to the song.)

There was an excellent documentary by Francois Verster called "A Lion's Trail" made about this song. It aired several years ago on PBS as part of their Independent Lens series. Information about this film can be found at http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/lionstrail/index.html.

In 2000, South African journalist Rian Malan (in collaboration with Verster) wrote an in-depth article for Rolling Stone about the origin of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".

Brian Williams should see Verster's film and read Malan's article before he offers any more glowing tributes to George Weiss.


At the beginning of Wednesday's Nightly News story about violence in Iraq, a map of that country showed the city of "Basra". A minute later, during the same story, another map identified the city as "Basrah". Do we need any further evidence that the Nightly News producers just don't give a crap anymore? If so, there's this:

On Thursday's broadcast, Princeton University Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell was identified by an on-screen graphic as "Melissa Harris Lacewell" (without the hyphen). Perhaps if any of the Nightly News producers had bothered to check Prof. Harris-Lacewell's website (http://www.melissaharrislacewell.com/), they would have found the correct spelling of her name. The Nightly News producers are, without a doubt, the laziest producers in the entire news industry.

On the Aug. 21 Nightly News story about false rape charges made against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Karin Rosander is identified on-screen as being from the "Swedish Prosecuter's Office". The correct spelling is "prosecutor". (On a July 7 story about the U.S.-Russia spy swap, a Nightly News graphic identified Pat Rowan as a "Former Federal Porsecutor". Maybe one of these days they'll get it right.) The Nightly News producers really, really, really don't care.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NBC Nightly News: Promos, Promos, Promos

In case you didn't watch Sunday's (8/22) Nightly News, here's what you missed:

* A "news story" about Betty White winning an Emmy Award. The story showed clips of White's appearance on "Saturday Night Live", so this was a promo for SNL. Lester Holt told us that, "She was honored for her acclaimed hosting job on Saturday Night Live last May and also had blockbuster ratings." Bragging about ratings--how dignified. At the end of the story, Lester also told us that, "The main prime time Emmy Awards will be presented live here on NBC next Sunday night." So not only did this story serve as a tacky promo for SNL, it was also a tacky promo for NBC's Emmy Awards broadcast.

* Next, we were treated to a 2:50 story about the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, reported by Brian Williams. Actually, the story wasn't about Katrina--it was about Brian. Most of Brian's sentences began with "I" or "We". What HE saw. How HE felt. What it meant to HIM. This was just another exercise in narcissism for the most egocentric of all news anchors. The story ended with Lester telling us that, "Brian's Dateline special--'Hurricane Katrina--The First Five Days'--airs tonight at 7--6 central--here on NBC. And starting Thursday on Nightly News, Brian will report live from New Orleans as NBC News presents special coverage of Hurricane Katrina five years later." Of course, both the Dateline and Nightly News promos included graphics. A promo for Dateline and a promo for Nightly News all rolled into one. Awesome--a double promo!

* Finally, Lester narrated an "inspiring" story that had aired earlier on The Today Show about three wounded veterans climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (what ever happened to letting the viewers determine what is and isn't inspiring?). So not only was this story a promo for Today, it was also a rerun. When the story ended, Lester told us, "Stay tuned for Brian's Dateline Special, followed by NBC Sunday Night Football--Brett Favre and the Vikings taking on the San Francisco Forty-Niners." So how many promos is that? Let's count them: SNL, the Emmy Awards, Dateline (twice), Nightly News's Katrina Coverage, The Today Show, Sunday Night Football. Seven promos for six different shows! Nightly News isn't a news broadcast, it's a vehicle to promote other NBC shows.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Brian Williams Admits Theft

From Brian Williams's Aug. 19 Daily Nightly blog: "A number of you wrote us to thank us for last night's story about the die-hard Yankees fan. Even some of my hardened, world-weary media buddies said it made them cry. A tip of the hat is in order: to Bruce Beck of WNBC-TV, Channel 4 here in New York -- who aired it at 11 the night before -- and, because I watch everything, I saw it and commissioned it for us the next day."

I am totally astonished. Nightly News steals stories from other sources all the time, but this is the first time I have ever heard Brian Williams offer any credit to the source. Of course, he was not so generous in offering credit to WNBC at the time he broadcast the story. I guess it's one thing to admit who you're stealing from in a blog post that's read by a few hundred people, but mentioning it to the 7 million or so Nightly News viewers is a horse of a different color. By the way, as long as Brian is in a charitable mood, he should also thank The New York Times for the dozens of stories they provide Nightly News with every month. Here's the morning routine for most Nightly News producers: Enter office. Make coffee. Scan New York Times (and Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, L.A. Times, etc.) for good stories. Select several stories for that night's broadcast. Assign an NBC News crew to cover the stories first reported in the Times. Air stories on that night's Nightly News. Take credit for stories. That's the simple formula that has kept Nightly News #1 in the ratings.

By the way, here's a question for Brian: If he "watch(es) everything" (as he boasted in his blog), why didn't he get the idea for this story from watching Tuesday's Yankee game, instead of stealing the story from WNBC? During Tuesday's game, the Yankee broadcasters did their own in-depth story about how some of the Yankees surprised long-time fan Jane Lang. So if Brian was truly "watch(ing) everything", he could have stolen the story from its primary source--the Yankees' YES Network--instead of stealing it from WNBC. I guess he doesn't really "watch everything".

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

NBC Nightly News Show Notes Aug. 12-16

If you haven't been watching Nightly News lately, here are a few things you may have missed:

Thursday 8/12:

*During the intro to the lead story on the economy, the graphic to the right of Ann Curry read "UPs & DOWNS". The "s" in "UPs" was lower case, but in "DOWNS" it was upper case. Why?

*Nightly News presented its second consecutive story about "America's newest singing sensation"--a 10-year-old girl who appeared on NBC's "America's Got Talent". These stories were nothing more than promos for an NBC entertainment show.

Friday 8/13:

*During a story about an Iowa girl who drowned when her car was caught in a flood, an on-screen transcript of her call to the police had the heading "9-1-1 Call". During an Aug. 4 story about a Connecticut man who killed eight co-workers at a beer distributorship, an on-screen transcript of a wounded employee's call to the police was given the heading "911 Emergency". For the drowning story, they used hyphens, but for the shooting story they didn't. It should also be noted that in the Aug. 4 story, the way the 911 call was transcribed in the intro at the top of the broadcast was very different from the way it was transcribed during the actual story about the shooting. Here's how the transcript appeared during the intro:

Operator: "911"
Hollander: "I Need The Cops Here, Hartford Distributors, Right Away, Shooting"
Operator: "What's going on? Who got Shot"
Hollander: "Somebody Got Shot, I Got Shot"

And here's how the transcript appeared during the story:

911: 9-1-1.
Steve Hollander: I need the cops here at Hartford Distributors right away...shooting.
911: What's going on? Who got shot?
Steve Hollander: Somebody got shot. I got shot.

The two transcripts are very different. During the intro, the 911 operator was identified by the Nightly News producers as "Operator". During the story, she was identified as "911". During the intro transcript, all statements by the 911 operator and the caller were in quotation marks. During the story transcript, no quotation marks were used. During the intro, the caller was identified as "Hollander", during the story he was identified as "Steve Hollander". During the intro, all of Mr. Hollander's words had the first letter capitalized. During the story, only the first letter of a sentence and proper names (such as "Hartford Distributors") were capitalized. During the intro, the 911 operator asks, "Who got Shot?" During the story, she asks, "Who got shot?" During the intro, there are no periods at the end of Mr. Hollander's sentences, but during the story, periods are used. And during the intro, three commas are used in Mr. Hollander's first sentence, while no commas and one ellipsis (...) are used during the story. It's bad enough to have inconsistencies like these from one day to the next, but to have them occur in the same day is inexcusable. It's like no one at Nightly News is paying the slightest bit of attention to what they are doing.

*During a story about new rules for bank overdraft fees, the phrase "OPT-IN" uses a hyphen, while "OPT OUT" does not.

*During a story about racial slurs used by Dr. Laura Schlessinger in an exchange with a caller, the Nightly News transcript of the conversation has the caller saying N-word (no quotes, but with a hyphen) to refer to the slur. But the transcript of Dr. Schlessinger's apology the next day has her saying "N" WORD (the letter "N" was in quotes, but no hyphen was used). Also, the transcript of Dr. Schlessinger's conversation with the caller uses lower case letters (except for the first letter of a sentence or proper names), while the transcript of Dr. Schlessinger's apology uses all upper case letters. Again, this is horribly, horribly inconsistent. Again, none of the Nightly News producers are paying any attention to what goes on the air.

Saturday 8/14:

*During a story about the flooding in Iowa, an on-screen transcript informs viewers that Ron Allen is reporting from "Aimes, IA". The correct spelling is "Ames". On Aug. 5, an on-screen graphic informed us that Ron Mott was reporting from "Metarie, LA". The correct spelling is "Metairie". I guess the Nightly News producers took the first "i" from Metairie and gave it to Ames. Maybe some day they'll tell us why.

*During a story about the Alaska plane crash that killed former senator Ted Stevens (and four others), an on-screen graphic identified Deborah Hersman as the "NTSB Chairman". On Friday, Hersman was identified as the "NTSB Chairwoman". So which is she?

Sunday 8/15:

*Viewers were treated to a 2:45 "news story" about food trucks in L.A. and other cities. Maybe the Nightly News producers should have put a "Breaking News" banner across the screen.

Monday 8/16:

*An obituary for newspaper columnist James J. Kilpatrick included a Saturday Night Live clip of Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin doing a parody of the "Point-Counterpoint" segments that Kilpatrick and Shana Alexander used to do on 60 Minutes. It can be said with certainty that Nightly News never would have aired the obituary for Kilpatrick if not for the opportunity to include a promo for SNL. Sadly, this is what Nightly News has become. The producers air certain stories solely as a way to promote other NBC properties. Last Wednesday's "news story" about the new Johnny Carson website was simply a way to promote Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon. (Not to mention that NBC almost certainly makes some sort of profit from the sale of Carson DVDs.) And Sunday's story about violence in Chicago was just a promo for a Dateline story that would be airing later that night. And let's not forget the two stories Nightly News aired last week to promote "America's Got Talent". This is just business as usual for the Nightly News producers.

Brian Williams's Father Was More Important Than Dan Rostenkowski

One way to gauge a person's importance is by the length of his or her obituary. On Aug. 9, Ann Curry ended Nightly News by narrating a 45-second obituary for Brian Williams's father, Gordon, who had recently died. On the Aug. 11 broadcast, Curry narrated a 25-second obituary for former Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski. Rostenkowski had been a U.S. Representative for 36 years and had been one of the most powerful people in the U.S. House. For 13 years, he served as chairman of the important House Ways and Means Committee. Infamous as well as famous, Rostenkowski served 15 months in federal prison for mail fraud. From Rostenkowski's Wikipedia entry: "The book 'Chicago and the American Century' credited Rostenkowski with securing billions of dollars for projects in Chicago and throughout Illinois. The book named him the sixth most significant politician to come from Chicago in the twentieth century." Dan Rostenkowski was a pretty important guy. But Gordon Williams's Nightly News obituary was almost twice as long as Rostenkowski's. Good thing they don't play favorites on Nightly News.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Brian Williams Is Howard Beale

The biggest hugest irony of all time ever:

During Tuesday's obligatory coverage of Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater's run-in with a passenger (and subsequent escape via the plane's emergency exit chute), Nightly News included a clip of Peter Finch's character from "Network" screaming, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"


Apparently not. The UBS Evening News, the fictional news broadcast in "Network", IS NBC Nightly News. "Network" is about the depths to which a network (and its news division) will sink in order to achieve high ratings. When Howard Beale (Finch) learns that he is going to be fired, he announces that he will blow his brains out on the air--and claims that should be good for a fifty share in the ratings. After being yanked off the air, Beale is soon reinstated as anchor because his ratings go through the roof. His news show is transferred to the entertainment division (where Nightly News should be, since it's more entertainment than news). At one point in the film, Diana Christensen, the UBS VP of Entertainment Programming (played by Faye Dunaway) describes the UBS News by saying, "I watched your six o'clock news today--it's straight tabloid. You had a minute and a half of that lady riding a bike naked in Central Park. On the other hand, you had less than a minute of hard national and international news. It was all sex, scandal, brutal crimes, sports, children with incurable diseases and lost puppies." I repeat--that's Nightly News! Christensen even gives a TV show to the Ecumenical Liberation Army (a terrorist group based on the Symbionese Liberation Army). Obviously, NBC would give a weekly show to Al Qaeda or the Taliban if the network brass thought it would earn high ratings. Paddy Chayefsky seems like Nostradamus in the way that his script eerily predicted what Nightly News would become under Brian Williams and NBC News President Steve Capus.

Apparently, the Nightly News producer that decided to show the "Network" clip had absolutely no idea about the irony of that decision.

Friday, August 13, 2010

NBC News: Pimps & Liars

On Wednesday's Nightly News broadcast, Ann Curry was absolutely thrilled to tell us about "America's newest singing sensation"--a 10-year-old girl who sang on Tuesday's "America's Got Talent". Since "America's Got Talent" airs on NBC, this "news story" amounts to nothing more than a 30-second promo for the show. But of course, that wasn't the end of it. The following night, we were treated to an additional two-and-a-half-minute story about little Jackie Evancho. Curry introduced this story by saying, "And finally tonight that little girl behind that astonishing voice that has people shaking their heads in wonder all over the world". (Actually, Curry said "extonishing", but that's a subject for a different blog.) Correspondent Kristen Welker began the story by saying, "America couldn't believe its ears when this very big and seemingly seasoned soprano voice came out of a very small girl on NBC's 'America's Got Talent'". Look--there's Jackie's audition tape! There's an interview with AGT judge Howie Mandel! There's a clip of Susan Boyle! Wow! Sadly, this is what passes for news on Nightly News. A promo clip for an NBC show. This would be like a doctor referring patients to an MRI facility that the doctor owns. Or a city housing inspector telling a business owner that she needs structural work done, and then offering her the services of his own construction company. It is corrupt, unethical and completely inappropriate. NBC is basically using their news broadcast to pimp for their other shows. It's surprising that the American news-viewing public hasn't stormed the Nightly News soundstage with torches and pitchforks, demanding that they stop using their news broadcast to shamelessly promote NBC entertainment shows. (Another example: On Wednesday's broadcast, we were shown a 2:15 story about the new Johnny Carson website, where Carson DVDs are for sale. I think it's a safe bet that NBC earns some money from the sale of Carson DVDs. This "news story" also featured clips of Jay Leno and "expert" commentary from Jimmy Fallon, so it also served as a promotional vehicle for The Tonight Show and Late Night.)

During Thursday's "America's Got Talent" story, Welker told us that "on any given night, there are 12 million people watching". But according to one of NBC's very own press releases (reprinted on the website for TV By The Numbers [http://tvbythenumbers.com/2010/08/17/nbc-primetime-results-for-the-week-of-aug-9-15/60225#more-60225]) NBC claims that the Tuesday (8/10/10) AGT had 10.5 million viewers, and the Wednesday (8/11/10) AGT had 10.7 million viewers. Additionally, also according to TV By The Numbers, the Tuesday (8/3/10) AGT had 9.56 million viewers (from 9-10 PM) and 10.81 million viewers (from 10-11 PM). The Wednesday (8/4/10) show had 9.96 million viewers. None of those shows reached 12 million viewers. So Welker's claim is disputed by NBC's own press release, as well as by Nielsen. I guess Welker and her producers are just plain old liars.

But of course lying about ratings is nothing new for Nightly News. Last Feb. 13, Brian Williams took time out from his broadcast to crow that the previous night's Olympic Opening Ceremony had attracted 68 million viewers. Nielsen puts the viewership for that night at 32.6 million, less than half of what Brian claimed. On March 1, Brian said that the U.S.-Canada gold medal hockey game was "one of the most-watched sporting events in television history" with "just under 35 million viewers". (Nielsen puts the NBC viewership for that game at 27.6 million.) Brian's unsubstantiated claim is dubious at best. Every Super Bowl has had more than 35 million viewers, so the gold medal hockey game was not likely to be "one of the most-watched sporting events in television history". In fact, it wasn't even the most-watched Olympic hockey game. According to Nielsen, U.S. network viewership for both the 1980 U.S.-Soviet Union semi-final game (the "Miracle on Ice") and the U.S.-Finland gold medal game exceeded the viewership for the 2010 Vancouver hockey final. But why should Brian let the facts get in the way of his chest-thumping and bragging. By the way, Brian never reported that NBC lost $223 million on the Vancouver Games. I guess he must have forgotten to mention it.

But what I really love the most is when Nightly News lies about their own ratings. As I'm fond of pointing out, whenever Brian and his producers anticipate that any of their broadcasts will achieve a lower-than-expected rating (such as when Brian has the night off), they will submit those shows to Nielsen intentionally misspelled as "Nitely News". When that happens, Nielsen tabulates the lower-rated "Nitely News" broadcasts in a separate category from the higher-rated "Nightly News" broadcasts. That way, the lower-rated shows don't detract from the higher-rated shows. So if Monday and Tuesday's "Nightly News" with Brian Williams earns an average 8.0 rating and Wednesday through Friday's "Nitely News" (with substitute anchors) earns an average 6.0 rating, the weaselly producers will claim that "Nightly News" had an average rating of 8.0 for the entire week. Since higher ratings translate to higher ad rates, the network benefits financially from this deception. So next time you hear Brian Williams or anyone on Nightly News claim a particular rating for an NBC program, take it with a grain of salt. In fact, take it with a twenty-pound bag of salt.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Congratulations PBS And CBS!

Congratulations to PBS for earning 37 Emmy nominations in this year's news and documentary categories. And congratulations to CBS for earning 31 nominations. HBO received 20 nominations and National Geographic received 19, while NBC received 17 and ABC received 9. So NBC received fewer nominations than HBO or National Geographic. That sounds about right.

CBS Evening News With Katie Couric received 8 nominations while NBC Nightly News received only 6. (ABC's World News Tonight trailed the pack with one nomination.) Funny thing--I didn't hear Brian Williams bragging about this on his broadcast. I guess Brian is just too darn humble to brag about his Emmy nominations. When he is humiliated by Katie, that is.

NBC Breaking News: Owl Cam

Within the space of 48 hours (Saturday to Monday), Nightly News presented two different "news stories" about a California man who set up an on-line owl cam in a birdhouse to so internet viewers could watch the owls hatch their young. Actually, it wasn't two different stories--Monday's story was virtually identical to Saturday's (with a few edits and some new voice overs thrown in). And Monday's story also added a few extra shots of Pandas and puppies to further pander to the viewers. Great job, Nightly News producers. This is what passes for news on their broadcast. Four minutes and ten seconds about the owl cam. Honestly, the FCC should revoke NBC's license to broadcast news.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

NBC Nightly News Show Notes Aug. 3-6

Here's what happened on NBC Nightly News this week in case you missed it:

Tuesday: Nightly News did yet another story about obesity in America. They do the same story over and over and over again despite the fact that there's no new information on the subject. Robert Bazell began his report by saying, "One way to look at obesity--in ten years the number of Americans who undergo obesity surgeries has skyrocketed almost tenfold to a current 220,000 a year. There is no mystery why." Bazell seems to think that an increase in obesity surgeries automatically means there has been an increase in the number of Americans who are obese. This is faulty logic. Bazell never considers the fact that over the past ten years, obesity surgery has likely become more effective and less expensive, resulting in more people having the surgery. That is what generally happens as medical procedures improve over time. Bazell's assumption is faulty--it would be like saying that the increase in laser eye surgery means that Americans' eyesight is getting worse.

Also on Tuesday, during a story about how the Gulf oil spill is affecting children in the region, a social worker named Donna Usner is identified by an on-screen graphic as "Joe Jimenez".

Wednesday: In a story about the shooting rampage by a disgruntled beer-truck driver in Connecticut, we are shown an on-screen transcript of the 911 tapes. The transcript identifies the 911 operator as "9-1-1", but immediately after that it shows her starting the phone conversation by saying "911". Is it 9-1-1 or 911? Nightly News has misspelled plenty of words, but here they manage to misspell a number.

Also on Wednesday, during a story about the gay rights ruling in California, we are shown an on-screen transcript of Judge Robert Walker's ruling. The transcript reads in part, "Prop 8 makes it no more likely that opposite-sex couples will marry and have children." But when Pete Williams reads this part of the ruling, he says "raise children" instead of "have children". He also says "proposition" instead of "prop". What makes Pete Williams think he can change the judge's exact words? Does Williams know better than the judge?

Thursday: At the beginning of a story about the safety of Gulf seafood, an on-screen graphic informs us that Ron Mott is reporting from "Metarie, LA". The correct spelling is Metairie. (The graphic at the end of the story spells the name correctly. If the Nightly News producers can get the spelling right once, why can't they get it right twice? Well, it's nice to know that at least one person is awake in the NBC newsroom.)

Friday: Nightly News ran a story about Koua Fong Lee, who was released from jail after serving 2 1/2 years of an 8-year sentence when his Toyota crashed into another car and killed three people in 2006. An on-screen transcript of statements made by Lee included the following: "Its (sic) a long time, a really long time and they don't know me." The "its" at the beginning of the sentence should have been given an apostrophe ("it's"). And Lee actually said "a very long time", not "a really long time".

Also, during a story about the flooding in Pakistan, we hear a volunteer say, "When the flood came here from the start, only the local support organizations supported these people." But the accompanying on-screen transcript reads, "When the flood came here from the start, only the local organizations supported these people." The transcript omitted the word "support". This is sloppy, sloppy work by the Nightly News producers. In other words, business as usual.

Chelsea & Benny

From July 3 to August 2, Nightly News presented eight "news stories" (totalling almost 12 minutes) about Chelsea Clinton's wedding. (They would have done more, but NBC did not air Nightly News on the weekend of the wedding because apparently golf was more important. I can only imagine how many Chelsea stories Nightly News would have done on that Saturday and Sunday.) Also in July, Nightly News aired three separate stories about an animal shelter in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana that is caring for pets left there by people who have financial hardships due to the Gulf oil spill. (Benny the dog was prominently featured in all three stories.) The three stories were virtually identical and shared much of the same video footage. This story is not newsworthy enough to be shown once, let alone three times (for a total of almost 8 minutes). When added together, the Chelsea Clinton wedding stories and the Louisiana animal shelter stories took up more than 19 minutes of valuable news time. We can only wonder how much actual news could have been covered in those nineteen minutes. But unfortunately, we'll never know. But at least we know all about Chelsea's wedding dress. And Benny the dog. Great job, Nightly News producers. Keep up the good work.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In Case You Missed It

Here's a recap of the second half of Monday's Nightly News, in case you missed it:

>We saw a story about a bridge across the Mississippi River (from Illinois to Iowa) being renamed for a Medal of Honor winner. No surprise--Nightly News runs several stories a week about MOH winners. Every time a MOH winner coughs, Brian Williams reports it. He obviously has some sort of obsessive hero-worship complex for MOH winners (he even serves on their board of directors). This story is not news and it's of no interest to anyone other than Brian. But it's his broadcast, so he reports what he wants.

>We were treated to a 3:10 story about Afghan orphans in the U.S. for medical treatment. Again, this is not news, but Brian has been reporting on these Afghan orphans since last Oct. 30 (although he tells us he first met them "just about a year ago", Oct. 30 was actually only nine months ago). Again--his broadcast, his stories.

>We then got a combined 90 seconds about the sale of Newsweek, how the Miami Heat have sold out the coming season because of LeBron James, and Chelsea Clinton's wedding. This was the eighth story Nightly News has done on Chelsea's wedding in the past month. Of course, they would have done more, but NBC did not air any Nightly News broadcasts on the weekend of Chelsea's wedding because obviously golf was more important.

>Nightly News ended with a two-and-a-half minute story about the death of Mitch Miller. We were reminded several times that Miller's sing-along show had aired on NBC from 1961-1966. We saw interview clips with Miller's son, who was sitting in front of a vintage NBC camera. We saw lots of photos and clips from the era--Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Johnny Carson. This story was just an excuse to promote NBC and to feature celebrity footage. Every week, Nightly News does multiple stories featuring clips of celebrities. Viewers like to see celebrities on the news. It keeps people tuning in. It helps blur the lines between Nightly News and the shows that follow it--"Access Hollywood" and "Extra". In the past few weeks, Nightly News has featured clips or photos of Daniel Craig, Alec Baldwin on "30 Rock", Mick Jagger, the "Inception" movie, Marlon Brando, "Celebrity Apprentice", "M*A*S*H", "Seinfeld", Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and The Blues Brothers, to name just a few. Of course, many of these clips are from NBC Universal TV shows or movies. Why bother to have a Nightly News broadcast if you can't use it to promote your other properties? When "Law & Order" was cancelled, Nightly News did four stories on it.

So that's what aired during the second half of Monday's Nightly News. I sure hope you didn't miss these exciting news stories!

Brian Williams Exploits Afghan Orphans. Again.

On Monday, Brian Williams did his fifth story about the Afghan orphans he first profiled last Oct. 30 (that doesn't include how he awkwardly shoehorned them into his May 17 story about Sally Field). Here's a news flash for Brian: Afghan orphans are not news. There is no reason for them to be on Nightly News once, let alone five times (so far, that is). Unfortunately, Brian Williams doesn't understand the purpose of an evening news broadcast. The purpose of a news broadcast is to report the most important news stories from across the country and around the world. But for Brian, the purpose of his broadcast is to pander to the viewers with sappy stories about homeless puppies, Chelsea Clinton's wedding, saving the sea turtles and Afghan orphans. By pandering to the viewers' emotions, Brian gives the viewers a steady diet of soft, easy-to-digest stories instead of providing real news. The NBC News Research Department has undoubtedly informed Brian and his producers that soft stories are more attractive to the viewers and therefore those are the type of stories that cause viewers to tune in. Real news is scary. Soft news is friendly. The Afghan orphan saga is like a soap opera. Viewers keep tuning in to see what's happened to them. Now they're in the U.S.! How wonderful. By showing viewers what they want to see, instead of what they should see, Nightly News has managed to remain the #1 rated evening newscast. They've managed to stay on top with stories about Afghan orphans instead of real news. Brian and his producers should be real proud of themselves.

Of course, the Afghan orphan story is also about Brian's ego. What isn't? This is Brian's pet project. HE first reported the story. HE kept bringing us updates. HE made it his cause to beg viewers to donate money to the orphanage. He's done before, of course, with his other favorite charities. On Dec. 11, 2009, the Nightly News "Making A Difference" segment was about the Robin Hood Foundation. Brian introduced the segment by bragging that he is a member of that charity's board (poor Rehema Ellis, who reported the story, was forced to say, "Generous board members pay all administrative costs."). And on July 23, 2009, another "Making A Difference" segment profiled the Horizons program which allows inner-city students to attend private summer school. Brian introduced this segment by saying, "It's popular, it's growing, it's a favorite cause in our household...." The news is always about Brian, all the time. When he reports on the Afghan orphans, Brian is reporting about his favorite subject--himself. The stories feature him prominently. There's Brian playing with the orphans. There's Brian interviewing the orphans. There's Brian giving his glasses to an orphan. There's Brian again and again and again.

And there's Brian exploiting the orphans. That's what this is really all about. Exploiting the orphans for ratings. The first Afghan orphan story came during a sweeps period. Since sweeps period ratings determine the ad rates for the coming quarter, stories are carefully designed and chosen for their ability to attract the most viewers. During every sweeps period, Nightly News does a week's worth of celebrity profiles. There's Will Ferrell! There's Usher! There's Sally Field! And the orphan stories are no different. That story never would have aired during a sweeps period if Brian and his producers didn't think it would bring in viewers. And they wouldn't do follow-up stories if they didn't think those stories would also attract viewers. On Friday, Ann Curry made a point of telling viewers about Monday's upcoming story on the Afghan orphans. Obviously, Nightly News promotes the stories that they think will attract the most viewers. Promote the Afghan orphans. Exploit the Afghan orphans. That's what Brian Williams does.