Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nightly News Producers Manipulate Stories To Highlight Sponsors

It is outrageous that Nightly News has once again used the premise of a news story as an excuse to feature a product placement for one of their regular sponsors. Friday's story about how American shoppers are relying less on credit cards (and more on debit cards and cash) was little more than a commercial for Cheerios.

The story begins in a Target store as Kristen Welker tells us that, "Every cent counts when Sarah and David Winfrey go shopping." As she says this, the Winfreys are in the cereal aisle in front of a massive wall of Cheerios. By my count there are at least 50 facings of Cheerios cereals. Now, I have been in my share of Targets in my life, but I have never, ever seen one displaying 50 facings of the same brand of cereal. It's obvious what's going on here. The Nightly News producers staged this scene to promote Cheerios. They arranged with (and possibly paid) Target management to clear out other brands of cereal and stock the shelves entirely with Cheerios. This is even more apparent when Sarah takes a box off the shelf, revealing that the boxes are stocked only one or two deep. This is a classic retail trick to make shelves appear more full than they really are. So why would the Nightly News producers rearrange the shelves to have 50 facings of Cheerios? Because Cheerios advertises regularly on Nightly News, sometimes twice a night. And in the past three months, Cheerios has been an in-show sponsor of Nightly News five times, including twice as the broadcast's sole sponsor (the partial sponsor dates were 9/1, 8/4, and 7/20; the sole sponsor dates were 6/24 and 6/21). The producers staged the supermarket scene to thank General Mills for all the ad dollars they have spent with NBC over the years. Or perhaps this is a paid sponsorship. Maybe the Nightly News advertising sales department approached General Mills and said that for a fee, they would prominently include Cheerios in a Nightly News story. Maybe it's part of a package deal that comprises commercials, broadcast sponsorship and inclusion in a news story.

Unfortunately, the placement doesn't end there. Welker continues, "The young parents...are always looking for discounts and learning to live within their means." By saying this (and her previous statement about how "every cent counts"), Welker is reinforcing to the viewers that Cheerios are a good value. After they leave the cereal aisle, we see the Winfreys walking through the store with their box of Cheerios prominently sticking out of their shopping basket. Then, at the checkout, the cashier grabs the Cheerios box first (of course) and holds it at just the right angle for the camera to get a good shot of it. The Winfreys then exit the store with the yellow Cheerios box clearly showing through their Target bag. The first 45 seconds of this story is a non-stop product placement for Cheerios. In fact I wonder: Did the Nightly News producers instruct the Winfreys to buy Cheerios? Are the Winfreys even a real couple, or are they actors hired by the producers for the purpose of advertising Cheerios. And just in case we didn't get the point, the second-to-last shot of the story is an extreme close-up of Sarah feeding Cheerios to her baby. It is mind-boggling that the producers have the audacity to include Cheerios as part of a news story.

Of course, this isn't the first time that Nightly News has promoted Cheerios in a this way. On 5/12/09, they did an entire story on Cheerios. The premise of the story was to refute some FDA accusations regarding health claims General Mills made about Cheerios. In fact, Nightly News used this as an excuse to run an entire story praising Cheerios. Here's how Robert Bazell began the story: "It is one of America's iconic products--Cheerios." We are then shown 20 seconds of vintage Cheerios commercials while Bazell tells us that, "Soluble oat fiber--a key component--can help reduce cholesterol." In other words, Bazell makes a claim that the FDA has expressly forbidden General Mills from making. As Bazell says this, he is sitting at a table with a bowl of Cheerios in front of him, and at least six boxes of Cheerios neatly stacked next to him. He looks like he's in a Cheerios commercial. Bazell continues, "In a statement, General Mills said, 'The science is not in question and we look forward to discussing this with the FDA and reaching a resolution.'" Bazell does not question the General Mills statement--he simply accepts it as fact. The General Mills statement also appears on-screen alongside a pleasing graphic of a breakfast table with a bowl of Cheerios, a box of Cheerios and a glass of orange juice. We then see a close-up of milk being poured into a bowl of Cheerios. Bazell then tells us that, "Food industry experts say there is no question that Cheerios is a healthy product but the FDA seems to be paying more attention to the claims that companies make." Bazell's commercial--I mean news story--ends with boxes of Cheerios going by on a conveyor belt, a slow pan down a box of Cheerios, and a mother pouring some Cheerios for her toddler. That is unbelievable. The actual point of the story--the FDA's reprimand of General Mills--is completely dwarfed by the positive images and Bazell's unabashed praise of Cheerios. In fact, there are so many positive images of Cheerios in this story that a viewer could not be blamed for missing the point that General Mills has been reprimanded by the FDA for misleading consumers. Bazell treats General Mills' violation as if it were nothing more than a minor paperwork error, while relentlessly championing the positive aspects of the product. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that General Mills collaborated with the Nightly News producers on that story. Nightly News also featured Cheerios in a 3/3/09 "We The People" story about Spanish-language advertising, during which they showed 15 seconds of a Cheerios commercial.

Nightly News certainly likes to promote their favorite sponsors in news stories. But they also like to protect their sponsors from negative publicity. On the 11/3/09 broadcast, Tom Costello reported on harmful BPA levels in plastic bottles and canned food liners. Costello told us that the chemical was present in "brand name foods from vegetable soup to tuna fish, green beans to corn and chili." But the accompanying graphic showed only generic cans labeled "chili", "vegetable soup", "green beans" and "tuna". Where are the name brands? There were none--the producers obscured them all. Meanwhile, ABC's World News reported the same story on the same night. The ABC story showed canned goods from Del Monte, Progresso, Campbell's, Hormel, Hunt's, Bush's and Chef Boyardee. Clearly, Nightly News refrained from showing brand names as a favor to the many food companies that advertise on NBC shows. Over the years, Nightly News's sponsors have included Bush's Beans, Progresso, Swanson and Chef Boyardee. And any regular Nightly News viewer knows that Campbell's is a heavy advertiser.

How many more times are the Nightly News producers going to feature Cheerios (or Chrysler, McDonald's, United Airlines, Aleve, Boniva, Requip, Microsoft, etc.) in news stories before they understand that it is completely inappropriate to do so? This practice clearly crosses an ethical line and should stop immediately. In fact, I think the Nightly News producers owe the viewers an apology for intentionally bombarding us with advertising images in news stories.

Nightly News Disrespects James Clyburn. Again.

Yet again, Nightly News has disrespected House Majority Whip James Clyburn. Thursday's story about the Republicans' Pledge to America included a response from Rep. Clyburn. In the clip, the caption identified Clyburn only as a Democrat from South Carolina, not as the House Majority Whip. As Majority Whip, Clyburn is the third most powerful person in the House, behind only the Speaker and the Majority Leader. The Nightly News producers routinely identify white members of Congress by their prestigious House leadership posts, but they refuse to do the same for Clyburn, who is African American. (On Sunday's broadcast, a clip from "Fox News Sunday" carried a Nightly News caption identifying Steny Hoyer as the House Majority Leader.) This is at least the third time in the past year that the producers have failed to properly identify Clyburn. Why? Is there a racial component to this omission? I would like the Nightly News producers to explain their actions.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pass The Barf Bag

This was Brian Williams's Daily Nightly blog post for Sept. 24: "I'm sitting in my office watching the in-house closed circuit feed of SNL rehearsals for tomorrow night's season premiere, with guest host (and returning SNL veteran) and all-around great person Amy Poehler. Suddenly, all seems right with the world. I will be watching, along with fans of the show everywhere, when showtime arrives on Saturday night. In the meantime, what apears to be a respiratory illness is sweeping through our newsroom -- those of us who aren't sick are paranoid, and those of us who are left here...are working like dogs. So off I go, while wishing you a good weekend. We hope you can join us tonight."

Does Brian write or say anything that does not have some promotional value either to him, to Nightly News or to an NBC show? Shameless.

And someone should tell Brian how to spell "appears".

Nightly News Protects Glaxo. Again.

On Thursday's Nightly News, Brian Williams read a 25-second story about FDA restrictions on the diabetes drug Avandia. This story contained no video--it was just Brian talking to the camera with a photo of an Avandia bottle over his left shoulder. He also did not mention GlaxoSmithKline, Avandia's manufacturer. It's obvious that Brian was protecting Glaxo (a frequent Nightly News sponsor) by severely abbreviating this story and refusing to mention the drug's manufacturer by name. On Friday, The New York Times ran the Avandia story on their front page. Here are some facts from the Times story that Brian "neglected" to disclose:

*From 1999 to 2009, more than 47,000 Avandia users "needlessly suffered a heart attack, stroke or heart failure, or died".
*The FDA "ordered Glaxo to conduct an independent assessment of the Record trial" after an FDA medical officer found that Glaxo's records of the Avandia medical trials were "riddled with...unpardonable errors that seriously biased the trial's conclusions".
*"Senate investigators found that GlaxoSmithKline spent years hiding from regulatory authorities clear indications that Avandia increased heart risks".
*Glaxo recently paid a $2.3 billion "liability charge related to legal cases involving Avandia and another medicine, Paxil".

Compare Thursday's brief story about Avandia with the story about Avodart (also a Glaxo product) that aired on the March 31 Nightly News. In this story, Robert Bazell took more than two minutes to tell us that Avodart may soon be approved to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, in addition to its currently approved use for shrinking non-cancerous enlargements of the prostate. (During this story, the Glaxo logo appeared on screen twice--in large letters.) When the news is bad for Glaxo, the story lasts 25 seconds, but when the news is good, the story lasts much longer. But at least Nightly News reported the Avandia story. Last Feb. 18, it was revealed that the zinc in Poligrip (also a Glaxo product) was causing some users to experience numbness in their extremities and to have trouble walking. Glaxo announced that they would be pulling the product from the market until they can manufacture a zinc-free formula. Nightly News did not even bother to report this story. Once again, Brian and his producers did Glaxo a favor by squelching a negative story about one of their products.

And then there's Aleve. On June 8, Bazell reported a story about an obscure Danish medical study that concluded that Aleve may reduce the risk of heart attacks among its users. Aleve is a frequent advertiser on NBC Universal stations (they advertise on Nightly News almost every night--sometimes twice a night). It's obvious that Bazell and his producers chose to air this story as a favor to their friends at Bayer (Aleve's manufacturer). It was a two-and-a-half minute commercial for their product. So as far as Brian and his producers are concerned, if a sponsor's product causes heart attacks, it only gets 25 seconds of air time. If a sponsor's product reduces heart attacks, it gets two-and-a-half minutes. Nightly News should spend the same amount of time reporting negative stories about their sponsors as they do reporting positive stories.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lester Holt's Shourd Of Secrecy

From Lester Holt's Sept. 19 Daily Nightly blog: "We'll also let you hear what Sarah Shroud, the American freed from Iranian captivity had to say at a news conference here in New York today."

Actually, Lester, her name is Sarah Shourd. Maybe you're confused because she was always pictured wearing a shroud on her head while being held captive in Iran. But Shourd, shroud--what's the difference, right?

At Nightly News, Every Month Has 31 Days

On Monday's Nightly News lead story about the economy, a series of six calendar pages flipped by on the screen to illustrate that the recession technically lasted from December, 2007 through June, 2009. But there were a few problems. The June, 2009 and April, 2008 calendar pages showed 31 days instead of 30. And four of the six months shown began on the wrong day. In fact, all six calendar pages were identical. Each page started on a Tuesday and contained 31 days--regardless of how many days the pictured month should have actually contained or on what day the month was actually supposed to begin. But here's the big surprise--one of the calendar pages was actually correct! January, 2008 really did begin on a Tuesday and it really did contain 31 days. Like the saying goes: Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Note to the Nightly News producers: Thirty days has September, April, June and November. If only this they could remember....

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pfizer Pulls Nightly News's Puppet Strings

On Wednesday, Nightly News aired a report about health concerns associated with the weight loss drug Meridia. Robert Bazell told us that Meridia was ineffective (people lost an average of only five pounds) and dangerous (there was a 16% increase in heart attacks and strokes among its users). Bazell also told us that an FDA advisory panel recommended that Meridia be pulled from the market or severely restricted. It sounds like a pretty bad drug. But who was really behind this report? The story was sponsored by Toviaz, a Pfizer product. Pfizer is a direct competitor of Abbott (Meridia's manufacturer) and recently attempted to develop their own weight loss drug but abandoned it in the trial phase. To what extent was Pfizer allowed to influence the story about Meridia? Did Pfizer provide Bazell with any of his information? Was Pfizer consulted for input on this story by the Nightly News producers? Allowing Pfizer to sponsor any story related to the pharmaceutical industry is a major conflict of interest. Allowing them to sponsor a negative story about a drug they attempted to compete with is unethical. By running this story, Nightly News did a huge favor for their pals at Pfizer. Pfizer paid NBC for the privilege of sponsoring the Meridia story, and in exchange for that payment, Nightly News ran a negative story. Simply put, Pfizer bought the right to trash one of their competitors. It is unbelievable that the Nightly News producers would allow this to happen. But hardly surprising. Nightly News has a history of running stories that are favorable to their big pharmaceutical sponsors, especially Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline. Brian Williams and his producers go out of their way to report positive stories about their sponsors' products, and also go out of their way to report negative stories about their sponsors' competitors. This is not just inappropriate, it's corrupt.

NBC's Education Summit: The Irony

During Wednesday's Nightly News lead story about Christine O'Donnell's victory in the Delaware Republican senate primary, Michael Steele was identified by an on-screen caption as the "Repulican (sic) National Committee Chairman". Moments later, Nightly News ran a story about the need for education reform in the District of Columbia's drastically underperforming schools, followed by a promo (read by Brian Williams in his most anchorly voice) for NBC's upcoming series of reports they call Education Nation, which will "shine a spotlight on education in America". Are they kidding us? NBC News is focusing on education while they misspell words almost every night? That is the very definition of irony. It seems obvious that the Nightly News producers could greatly benefit from their own education reports. It might help them learn how to spell "Republican", not to mention all the other words that they have misspelled on Nightly News over the years.

Speaking of which, this is from Brian Williams's Sept. 16 Daily Nightly blog: "Imagine my surprise this morning, minding my own business, doing what America does every morning: Watching Today on NBC. The guest? John Hamm. The great Don Draper of 'Mad Men' fame. The host: Meredith Viera. Take it away, Mr. Hamm."

Okay--for now let's just ignore Brian's vomit-inducing plug for Today. The big news here is that Brian Williams doesn't even know (or care) how to spell the name of his fellow NBC anchor Meredith Vieira. Worse yet, he also misspelled Jon Hamm's name. Appalling. This is a network anchor? I only hope Brian doesn't decide to write about Mika Brzezinski.

Wednesday's Nightly News broadcast also included an obituary for NBC newsman Edwin Newman. Newman was known as a protector of the English language and a stickler for proper grammar and usage. One can only wonder what Mr. Newman would think of all the errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling and math that Nightly News makes on a regular basis. Come to think of it, that may be what killed him.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

NBC Disrespects 9/11

What did Nightly News do last Saturday to honor the memory of those who were killed nine years ago in the World Trade Center attack? Nothing. Nada. Zip. There was no Nightly News on Saturday. That's because the thoughtful geniuses at NBC decided that it was more important (meaning more profitable) to air Notre Dame football than to air Nightly News. Sept. 11 is the most solemn day of remembrance on the American calendar. For most Americans, the wounds from that day nine years ago are still raw. But NBC didn't think that a Nightly News broadcast was needed to report on the day's events at the three 9/11 sites. Instead, they decided to pay tribute to those who died by showing football and earning lots of ad dollars. Great job, NBC. Real sensitive.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stand Up 2 Brian Williams

On Friday, Brian Williams took part in the "Stand Up 2 Cancer" telethon. Here's a quiz for Nightly Daily readers:

Brian Williams participated in "Stand Up 2 Cancer" because:
A) He lost his mother and sister to cancer
B) Using his fame to battle cancer is the right thing to do
C) It gave him lots of extra network face time to feed his massive ego and allowed him to bask in his ratings superiority over Katie and Diane

Obviously, the correct answer is C. Regarding choice A, I would like to see the paperwork on that. It wouldn't surprise me a bit to learn that Brian lied about his mother's and sister's causes of death in order to make himself appear as a more sympathetic character (I would lose the "sym" and just describe him as "pathetic").

Here's a great idea for a network telethon. It's called "Stand Up 2 Brian Williams". It would feature singers, actors, comedians and other entertainers who would implore viewers to pledge money to NBC News so they could hire producers, editors and a News Division President who have the cojones to stand up to Brian Williams. Make no mistake--this is an important issue. Every edition of Nightly News is about WBW--Whatever Brian Wants. It's all about HIM. How HE sees things. How stories affect HIM. His favorite expression is "For those of us...." ("For those of us who love dogs...", "For those of us with kids in college..."). That allows him to transform a news story into a news story about HIM. Night after night, he ignores important news events so that he can tell us the latest about Bruce, Bono, Medal of Honor winners, firefighters, American cars, brave men and women of the military and anything else that interests him (actually, the military is not just an interest of Brian's, it's an obsession). He doesn't understand (or care about) the difference between a story that's important and a story that's important to him. His agenda is to promote himself (relentlessly), promote his broadcast, promote NBC shows and promote his sponsors. He panders to the viewers with stories that are chosen solely to boost his ratings (celebrities, cute animals, courageous sick children, families with someone serving overseas in the military), rather than provide information or report news. He will report on the most obscure story if it allows him to promote a sponsor's product or an NBC TV show. Similarly, he will ignore a story if it portrays an NBC sponsor in a negative light. He shamelessly brags about his broadcast's ratings (and the ratings of other NBC shows). He offers self-congratulatory back pats to himself and his network for Emmys and other awards (and he makes sure to tell us when the awards are for him). His faux-humility can make viewers gag. He tells us how we won't want to miss this or that story and then says, "See? I told told you it was important," or "That's why we do this." Self-righteous does not even begin to describe Brian Williams. He constantly mentions his wife and his children on the air--unprofessionalism at its most extreme. He is always trying to impress us by name-dropping his good friend so-and-so. Every place he mentions is preceded with the pandering preface "the great city of..." (or "my beloved Jersey Shore"). Sickening. On an ongoing basis, he makes sure to let us know about his vast knowledge of music, movies, television and a host of other subjects. He frequently refers to himself as a "buff"--a presidential history buff, a Supreme Court buff, an American car buff, a military buff, an aviation buff, a NASA buff. If he were any more buff-y, he could be a vampire slayer. He appears on sitcoms and talk shows to impress us with his comedic wit and vast knowledge of all subjects. His ego is out of control and his narcissism runs wild.

And he gets away with this crap every night because no one at NBC News has the courage to stand up to Brian Williams. No one has the nerve to tell him about how inappropriate his behavior is night after night. No one calls him on his bullshit. Ever. So please--let's have a "Stand Up 2 Brian Williams" telethon. Do it for NBC. Do it for broadcasters everywhere. Do it for the viewers. But most of all, do it for the children--it's their future that's at stake.

The Most Shameless Thing Brian Williams Has Ever Done?

What's the most shameless thing thing Brian Williams and his Nightly News producers have ever done? That's a tough one. There are so many choices. There was the 7/18/07 story on Restless Leg Syndrome which was solely intended to promote Requip--manufactured by NBC sponsor GlaxoSmithKline. There was Brian's 11/13/07 "interview" with Chrysler executive Jim Press in which Brian lauded Chrysler as much as Press did. There was the 1/31/09 story about Lifewater--a day before that product advertised on the Super Bowl (which aired on NBC). There was the 2/23/09 story about how thoroughly United Airlines (a regular NBC advertiser) cleans their planes. There was the 3/4/09 discussion between Brian and CNBC's David Faber in which they desperately tried to prop up parent company GE's falling stock price. There was the 4/8/09 "Making A Difference" story about Jay Leno. There was the 5/5/09 story about the new McDonald's gourmet coffees. There was the 5/12/09 fawning tribute to Cheerios (a frequent Nightly News sponsor). There was the 7/17/09 on-air plug given to the University of Phoenix--four days after that university sponsored an entire Nightly News broadcast. There was the 9/6/09 story on search engines that was a thinly-disguised promo for Microsoft's Bing (NBC is partnered with Microsoft in MSNBC). There was the 2/4/10 story Brian read about Heinz's great new packaging and the 3/17/10 story about how Kraft will be reducing the sodium in their products. There was the 5/14/10 interview Brian did with Sally Field in which he spent 90 seconds talking about her Boniva commercials (which air every night on Nightly News). There was the 6/8/10 story about how Aleve (a regular Nightly News advertiser) can reduce the risk of heart attacks. There was the 6/10/10 story which was a two-minute plug for Chevrolet. There was the 6/14/10 story about how McDonald's and Starbucks are providing free Wi-Fi for their customers. There was the 6/22/10 story that showed Jimmy Fallon playing a Microsoft video game. There was the 160 minutes that Nightly News devoted to the Vancouver Olympics last February. There are the multiple stories that Nightly News has aired about rescued animals--sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world's largest utilizers of animal testing. There are the stories Nightly News has done about AIDS, also sponsored by Glaxo--a company that fought desperately to keep low-cost and generic AIDS drugs out of Africa. And of course, there are the dozens and dozens of times that Brian and his producers have inserted gratuitous clips from NBC shows (such as Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, The Office and The Tonight Show) and Universal movies into "news stories" just for the sake of promotion.

These are all examples of how Brian Williams and his producers shamelessly used their broadcast to reward frequent sponsors. But the absolute most shameless thing Brian has ever done may have been on Wednesday, when he used a "Making A Difference" story to promote NBC's coverage of Thursday's Vikings-Saints game. The story was purportedly about Vikings safety Madieu Williams and his foundation, which, in part, helps provide medical care to needy people in his native country of Sierra Leone. Here's part of Brian Williams's introduction to the story: "He just happens to be a pro football player and you'll see him on NBC tomorrow in the season opener as his Vikings take on the world champion Saints in New Orleans...." And Brian ended the story by telling us that, "Madieu Williams and his teammates take on the Saints tomorrow night." Is there one person on this planet who believes that Nightly News reported this story for any other reason than to plug NBC's coverage of the Vikings-Saints game? Brian shamelessly exploited the poverty-stricken people of Sierra Leone solely to plug a football game. For shame. But it doesn't end there. On Thursday, he continued to plug the game by anchoring Nightly News from New Orleans. The broadcast included a 2:50 "news story" about that night's game on NBC. Brian ended the broadcast with another shameless "reminder" about the game. Meanwhile, also on Thursday, seventeen people were killed by a car bomb in southern Russia and a suicide bomber set off a car bomb in Mogadishu, Somalia. Nightly News did not mention either of those stories. But at least we know all about the Vikings-Saints game on NBC. Great job, Brian. But wait, there's more. On Friday, Brian spent 40 seconds talking about the game, including boasting that it was the highest-rated regular season NFL game in 13 years. Altogether, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Brian spent more than seven minutes of Nightly News time promoting and bragging about the game. Is this the most shameless thing Brian Williams has ever done? I'll let you decide.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--Sept. 1-Sept. 7

Sept. 1--Nightly News ran a 45-second "news story" about gossip in the workplace. Fifteen seconds of this story consisted of a clip from the NBC show "The Office". It's obvious that Brian Williams chose to air this story for one reason and one reason only--because it allowed him to plug "The Office". In fact, Nightly News stories are often selected solely because they allow Brian to plug an NBC entertainment show. A July 27 story on bedbugs began with a clip of Alec Baldwin from "30 Rock". An Aug. 16 obituary for James J. Kilpatrick featured a clip from Saturday Night Live, as did an Aug. 22 story on Betty White. And certainly no one can forget the two stories Nightly News did (Aug. 11 & 12) about "America's newest singing sensation"--a 10-year-old girl who had appeared on "America's Got Talent". That show airs (of course) on NBC.

Also on Sept. 1, Nightly News aired a 2:50 story about Michael Douglas's battle with throat cancer. The story consisted mainly of clips from Douglas's movies and his recent appearance on David Letterman's show. Does anyone really believe that this story deserved nearly three minutes of air time? Would this story have run at all if it was not for the fact that it was Douglas's voice that introduced Brian each night? (They actually played Douglas's voice-over--"This is NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams"--at the beginning of the story.) Brian's seemingly endless intro to this story began with, "You hear that voice at the top of this broadcast every night--it is, of course, the voice of our friend the great Michael Douglas--actor, producer, Academy Award Winner..." Our friend. This is just another FOB story (that stands for "Friend of Brian"). If you're an FOB, Brian will do a story about you. Earlier in the broadcast, Brian had said, "When we continue in just a moment, a familiar voice around here on Nightly News--a beloved Academy Award winning actor Michael Douglas talks about his throat cancer diagnosis." He should have just called Douglas "a beloved FOB..."

Footnote: During the clips from Douglas's appearance on David Letterman's 8/31 show, the on-screen credit read "CBS/Late Show With David Letterman". Compare that with the 11/12/08 Nightly News story about John McCain's first post-election appearance on Jay Leno's Tonight Show. During that story, Kelly O'Donnell told us that McCain's presidential campaign had "kicked off on late night TV". We were then shown a clip of McCain announcing his candidacy on Letterman's show in February of 2007. That clip did not contain a single shot of Letterman and the on-screen credit read only "Worldwide Pants" (Letterman's production company)--it didn't even mention Letterman's name. By contrast, the clips of McCain on The Tonight Show featured multiple shots of Jay, and the on-screen credit read "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno/Big Dog Productions". NBC was so fanatically obsessed with plugging the Tonight Show transition from Jay to Conan (which would take place six months later) that they wouldn't even show Letterman's face or mention his name (or even print it on the screen) for fear that that might take viewers away from The Tonight Show. That is the most despicable, pathetic and petty display I have ever seen--even from NBC.

Sept. 5--Nightly News runs a 2:55 story on movies. The story was ostensibly about how American movies need foreign box office receipts to succeed financially, but it was really just an excuse to show movie stars and plug NBC/Universal films like "Inglourious Basterds" and "Mamma Mia". Ninety-three seconds--more than half the story--consisted of movie clips. There was 34 seconds from George Clooney's new movie "The American", 30 seconds combined from "Inglourious Basterds"/"Mamma Mia"/"Avatar" and 29 seconds from "G.I. Joe". (And there was an additional 25 seconds of movie clips--mostly of George Clooney--that ran as promos during earlier parts of the broadcast.) There was plenty of footage from an interview with David Kosse, president of Universal Pictures International--all the while with a huge "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" movie poster over his right shoulder. (An interview with the president of Fox Pictures International did not show any movie posters behind him.) This is what passes for news on NBC. A story featuring movie clips. Why even bother to create a story around the clips? Why don't the producers just tell the truth and say, "We're now going to give you two minutes of movie clips featuring Brad Pitt and George Clooney because we know that you'd rather see that instead of actual news. Also, it will attract people to our broadcast and help our ratings." Did I mention that "Mamma Mia" and "Inglourious Basterds" are now available on DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, a division of NBC?

Sept. 7--Nightly News aired yet another story on the Mexican drug wars. This story contained not a shred of new information, but it allowed the producers to show us some of their old stock footage of explosions and bloody bodies. Mark Potter made sure to tell us that, "The savagery is hard to imagine with mass killings, beheadings and corpses strewn in public." Cool! Also, Nightly News aired their second consecutive story about the color film footage of the 1940 London Blitz that had recently been discovered. This story was interesting when it first aired on Monday, but two consecutive nights is really stretching it.

And of course, Nightly News continues to challenge Fox News for Most Patriotic Broadcast. Almost every night, Brian makes sure to air a story about someone from the military who is "Making A Difference". On Sept. 1, we were treated to a touching story about the family of an Iowa National Guardsman who is about to be deployed to Afghanistan. Apparently, this is news. I don't understand why--I guess it's over my head. The following day, there was "a story you will want to see", according to Brian. Here's how he introduced the story: "Finally tonight, it was 65 years ago today that World War II finally came to a close--Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender on board the USS Missouri--it was anchored in Tokyo Bay--it changed the world and it was witnessed by very few men--even fewer of them are still alive--just a handful. I happened to meet one of them in New Orleans last weekend, but tonight we meet another one--he witnessed the signing and today he went back for what he knows will be his last visit. His remarkable story of making a difference and those who are now doing that for him from NBC's Lee Cowan in Pearl Harbor." Another example of Brian airing stories not because they're newsworthy, but because of his ridiculous obsession with the military. Every time a Medal of Honor winner coughs, Brian does a story about it. At Nightly News, it's WBW--whatever Brian wants. Brian ended the story by saying, "That's why a friend of mine famously called them the Greatest Generation." As usual, it's all about Brian. A friend of HIS (presumably this refers to Tom Brokaw, who I don't think likes Brian at all). And I love how Brian shoehorns in the reference to someone he met in New Orleans, even though that has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. It's just another opportunity for him to make the story about himself.

On Sept. 3, there was another flag-waving story (literally), this time from NBC's pseudo-patriotic hack Roger O'Neil. He told us about a flag from the World Trade Center site that is being repaired for next year's tenth anniversary remembrance of the attack. Somehow, everything O'Neil says sounds like it was taken from a really bad Hallmark card. Here's how he began his story: "It's torn and tattered from a day of terror, but it survived what cement and steel couldn't." And here's what he ended with: "Stitches to repair---to heal. Fifty thousand stitches for Old Glory to be whole again when it returns to Ground Zero a year from now." This is the kind of junk prose that makes 8th grade English teachers cringe. O'Neil tries so hard to be so patriotic all the time that he might as well just dress up like Uncle Sam when he delivers a report.

And on Sept. 7, the "Making A Difference" report was about an Air Force wife who started a website so that other military wives can share their thoughts with each other. Actually, Nightly News aired an identical report last March 4. That story was courtesy of our old friend Roger O'Neil. Here's how it began: "Whenever the warrior leaves, the glue holding the family together has always been the military spouse." Somewhere, an English teacher just became nauseous. Obviously, Brian Williams and Roger O'Neil share the same fawning, obsequious obsession for the military. They should seek psychological help, maybe together in a group session. If left untreated, I suspect that Brian will start anchoring Nightly News dressed in full military regalia. Sort of like the way Andy Kaufman became obsessed with wrestling women and used to wear his wrestling clothes under his street clothes. I don't know the psychological term for someone who's obsessed with the military, but whatever it is, it describes Brian Williams. I'm pretty sure that when he was a kid, his Halloween costume was always a military outfit.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Brian Williams: Promisebreaker

Yet again, Brian Williams has broken his promise. On the Jan. 5, 2009 Nightly News, Brian solemnly promised not to do any stories on the Obama children unless "there is a compelling reason to do so." Barely seven months later (8/17/09), Nightly News aired a story about Sasha and Malia's totally excellent summer vacation. Seven months after that (3/25/10), we got another story about the girls' spring break. Six weeks ago (7/16/10), we were treated to a story about the Obamas' trip to Acadia National Park--with a special focus on Sasha and Malia.

And now, on Friday, Nightly News presented their fourth story about Sasha and Malia. In this nearly-three-minute story, Norah O'Donnell told us everything we could possibly want to know about the girls. They're up early (6:00 AM!), their schedules are jam packed, they watch no TV during the week, they're not on Facebook or MySpace, they don't text, and don't own cell phones. This isn't a news story--it's just gossip. People Magazine would be proud of this story. So what happened to Brian's pledge not to report on Sasha and Malia? What was the "compelling reason" to do this story? I know that Brian is a regular reader of this blog. I would like to hear him explain to all the Nightly Daily readers why he once again broke his promise to his viewers.

Brian Williams Is Chicken Little

Did anyone else burst out laughing when Brian Williams began Friday's Nightly News by saying that, "Last night at this time, it was the biggest storm on the planet. But in a fortunate and welcome turn of events, the Hurricane named Earl, once a raging and grinding category 4, is tonight barely a category 1." If people were so worried about Earl, it's because Brian made them that way by building it up to gigantic proportions. All week long, he huffed and puffed about the "monster hurricane" that was going to destroy us all. On Wednesday he said, "We have a major storm making its climb up the east coast tonight...This storm is back up to a category 4--it has not made the turn to the north--30 million people give or take along the east coast have got to now hope for that turn to the north to avoid a direct hit in any one place." And on Thursday he said, "It's heading north--it's a storm as big as the state of California. Ocean waves at the center of this have been 29 feet high." This is sensationalism at its worst. But of course, that was Brian's intention. By scaring viewers, rather than reporting in a balanced manner, he ensures that more people will tune in to his broadcast to find out about Earl. Fear and panic equal ratings. And let's not forget the CYA (cover your ass) factor. The rule of the news industry is to always make a storm sound much worse than it is. It is a far more egregious error for a news broadcast to underreport a storm than to overreport it. If Brian underreported Earl, he would look like an idiot for failing to recognize the storm's power. Furthermore, he would alienate viewers who would be angry that Brian neglected to give them fair warning about the storm. But exaggerating Earl's effects (as Brian did all week) carries no penalty. It's easy to build the storm up as a huge monster, and then just say never mind--it took a turn out to sea and failed to cause any major damage. This is Brian's philosophy regarding all news. Sensationalize it. Make people scared so they keep tuning in. Simply reporting the facts won't attract nearly as many viewers as screaming that the sky is falling. Brian Williams is Chicken Little.

Brian W Loves Mickey D's And JetBlue

On Friday, CBS Evening News ran a story about a new Consumer Reports reader survey of fast-food burgers. Twenty-eight thousand Consumer Reports readers rated the best and worst burgers. Some of the best burgers were from Fuddruckers, In-N-Out Burger and Five Guys Burgers & Fries. The worst burgers? McDonald's. They came in dead last. I can guarantee that we will never, never, EVER see this story on NBC Nightly News. They would never report a story that gives bad publicity to McDonald's--a major NBC advertiser. Of course, if the survey found that McDonald's burgers were the best, Nightly News would report it as top-of-the-broadcast breaking news. That's because Brian Williams and his Nightly News producers are hypocrites. They have a documented history of airing favorable "news stories" about their sponsors, while ignoring or downplaying news that casts their sponsors in a negative light. I wouldn't be surprised to see Brian chomping on a Big Mac in some future Nightly News broadcast. I mean, if they can air a two-minute-and-fifteen second "news story" about the launch of McDonald's "delicious" new gourmet coffees (as they did on 5/5/09), they can certainly show Brian chowing down on a McDonald's burger. Hey Brian, do you want fries with that?

Meanwhile, on his Aug. 31 Daily Nightly blog, Brian thanked JetBlue for getting him back from New Orleans. This week, Nightly News began airing a commercial for GE Capital that features...JetBlue. It features JetBlue planes. It features JetBlue CEO Dave Barger. It features a joint GE Capital/JetBlue website. The entire commercial is devoted to JetBlue. Are we supposed to believe that Brian's shout-out to JetBlue is somehow unrelated to the ads? Clearly, Brian plugged JetBlue as a thank-you for their partnership with NBC's parent company GE. Once again, Brian is using his blog to reward a sponsor. How corrupt and inappropriate is that? The only thing worse is when Brian uses his Nightly News broadcast to reward a sponsor (which he often does).