Tuesday, August 3, 2010

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.

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