Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Anchor's (Tiresome) Speech

In his Nov. 8 Daily Nightly blog, Brian Williams raved about a new movie he had seen called "The King's Speech" about King George VI, Queen Elizabeth's father (of course, he made sure we knew it was a VIP sneak preview). Brian wrote, "...it may be the best film I've seen in years." He predicted Oscar nominations for Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. "It is superbly written, directed, shot and acted--and I can't recommend it highly enough. You'll be seeing a lot of advance publicity...." Maybe so, but I had no idea that the advance publicity would come on Nightly News. Lo and behold, Monday's broadcast featured a 2:40 story all about the movie. Gee, it must be great to be a news anchor. See a film, like a film, put the film on your broadcast. I guess it was easy enough to cut out some of that boring WikiLeaks story to make room for the piece on "The King's Speech". So when is Brian going to do a story about Dwayne ("The Rock") Johnson's new film, "Faster"?

In fact, the entire final third of Monday's broadcast was devoted to the entertainment industry. There was a story about problems with the new "Spider-Man" show on Broadway. The obvious reason Brian chose to report this story was because it allowed him to mention his pals Bono and the Edge, who wrote the show's music and lyrics. The not-so-obvious reason was because Universal Studios Orlando (owned by NBC's parent company) features a Spider-Man ride. Brian's mention of Spider-Man was just a way to plug the ride at Universal Studios.

After the Spider-Man plug, Brian read a story about next February's Academy Awards show. While telling us that the hosts would be James Franco and Anne Hathaway, Brian could barely mask his disdain and skepticism. He called that "a shocker". He said it goes "against the tradition of having an established comic usually host the awards." He quoted an L.A. Times reporter who called it "incredulous". It's pretty clear what's going on here. Since the Academy Awards will be shown on ABC, Brian is doing everything he can to deter people from watching. (He even refused to mention ABC in his story, lest he give then an inadvertent plug.) Shocker. Incredulous. Against tradition. I'm surprised he didn't tell us that the Irving G. Thalberg award would be presented to Bernie Madoff. Of course, if February's Oscars was going to be shown on NBC, Brian would be hailing Franco and Hathaway as inspired choices who will bring a young, fresh perspective to the ceremony. And he'd end the story with a plug for the show.

Next, were treated to a 1:50 obit for Leslie Nielsen. (Brian must have mistakenly thought that reporting this story would somehow improve his ratings with the Nielsen television people.) Nielsen was an okay actor who had a few successes. He was certainly no Red Skelton or Jack Lemmon. But again, it's great to be a news anchor. Since Brian liked him, he got a nice-sized obit. And that was followed by the story about "The King's Speech". By devoting a third of the broadcast to the entertainment industry, it's obvious that Brian and his producers are continuing their efforts to make Nightly News indistinguishable from the shows that follow it--Extra and Access Hollywood.

Nightly News Violates The Viewers' Trust

Once again, the last three minutes of Sunday's Nightly News was devoted to a "news story" whose only purpose was to promote NBC's Sunday Night Football coverage that followed the broadcast. And not surprisingly, the story was about one of the teams playing that night--the San Diego Chargers. Here's how anchor Natalie Morales previewed the story: "Coming up next--how some NFL stars in tonight's big game are fostering hope and making a difference." In the first sentence of his story, Lee Cowan also used the phrase "tonight's big game". Clearly, this is no coincidence. This phrase was strategically inserted into the broadcast to make viewers think that it actually was a "big game". It's like when different politicians all use the same phrase and try to pretend that it's extemporaneous, rather than pre-planned. If two people say it's a big game, then it must be true.

Of course, this isn't the first time the Nightly News producers have used valuable news time to plug NBC's Sunday Night Football coverage. On Sept. 8, Nightly News ran a story about the Vikings' Madieu Williams. And the following night, Brian Williams actually anchored the broadcast from New Orleans just so he could promote that night's Saints-Vikings season opener on NBC. On Sept. 19, Nightly News did a story on Eli and Peyton Manning--right before NBC's Giants-Colts game. On Sept. 26, there was a story about how the NFL recruits young fans. On Oct. 17, we saw a Nightly News story about how members of the Washington Redskins were raising awareness about breast cancer--immediately followed by the Redskins-Colts game. On Oct. 24, the story was about a college football coach who was recalled to active duty in the navy reserve. (On Nov. 14 there was no football story--the story was about the Manny Pacquiao fight. Nightly News was promoting the fight because it would financially benefit Comcast, NBC's soon-to-be owner.) And then there was last Sunday's story about the Chargers.

Is the FCC aware that the sleazebags at NBC are deceiving the viewers by using valuable news time to advertise their football coverage? I hope they are aware and I hope they refuse to allow the Comcast-NBC deal to be finalized until all parties involved agree to stop using Nightly News as a promotional vehicle for NBC's sports coverage. This is an egregious violation of the viewers' trust. We expect the Nightly News producers to fill their broadcast with the most important news stories of the day, not with contrived news stories whose only purpose is to plug NBC's football coverage. It would be nice if Nightly News became a news broadcast once again, instead of the fifth hour of "The Today Show".

Saturday, November 27, 2010

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--Week Of Nov. 22

If you didn't watch Nightly News this week, here's some of what you missed:

Wednesday--During Pete Williams's story about Tom DeLay's conviction on money laundering charges, a Nightly News graphic informed us that Williams was reporting from "Reagan National Airport", despite the fact that he was clearly sitting in the NBC News Washington studio. (In a previous story, Tom Costello was reporting from Reagan National Airport.)
* During Andrea Mitchell's report on the conflict between North and South Korea, a clip of Adm. Mike Mullen (from "The View") identified Mullen as being a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is, in fact, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Moments later, a Nightly News graphic identified David Albright (founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security) as Adm. Mullen. (Albright was never correctly identified.)
* A "news story" about Thursday's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was really just a promo for NBC's parade coverage, with (as Lester Holt told us) "Matt, Meredith and Al".
* A story about holiday shopping included lots of gratuitous plugs for retail stores such as JC Penney, Sears and Best Buy. (Lee Cowan actually reported the story from inside a Best Buy.)

Thursday--Lester Holt's story about U.S. military personnel serving at Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan identified one woman as "Sergeant Kanessa Galloway U.S. Navy". The U.S. Navy does not have sergeants. The equivalent Naval rank (or rating) would be Petty Officer.

Friday--At the top of the broadcast, Brian Williams used the phrase "wounded warriors" during his intro to a story about an organization that builds homes for wounded veterans. Brian often uses this phrase (and its companion phrase "fallen heroes") in news stories. These are loaded, subjective phrases and they have no place in a newscast that is supposed to be objective.
* In his intro to a story on the Korea conflict, Brian said, "And while it's easy to think about shopping, football, family and relaxation during this holiday weekend...." Another plug for Sunday Night Football on NBC.
* Ian Williams's report from South Korea was comprised mostly of the same footage he used in his Thursday report.

Saturday--During a story about hidden bank fees, Lisa Myers said, "And when he used another bank's ATM, he sometimes paid $6 or $7 to get $40 in cash." As she said this, the accompanying on-screen graphic read "Other Banks ATM". They forgot the apostrophe. But still, it was nice to see Brian's old friend "Samantha" Guthrie (as he referred to Savannah Guthrie on Oct. 8) anchoring the broadcast on Saturday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brian Williams's 10 Most Fascinating "Poeple"

What a great Nightly News broadcast we saw on Monday. First, there was the story on Velma Hart, who got her fifteen minutes of fame when she asked Pres. Obama a question at a Town Hall Meeting on Sept. 20. (I think she was given fourteen minutes too many.) Now, Nightly News is extending her to a sixteenth minute, and maybe even more. Of course, the story was just a way to promote Hart's appearance on CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Tuesday.

Then there was Tom Brokaw's seemingly endless report about Facebook. I think the recent movie about Facebook was shorter than Tom's report. The entire story could have been distilled down to ten seconds: Older people are now using Facebook with increasing frequency. That's it. That's what Tom Brokaw took all that time to tell us. I like Tom, but a little editing can be a good thing.

And there was Andrea Mitchell's report on Sarah Palin. How many of these are we going to see in the next two years? Nightly News isn't reporting on Palin because she's a potential presidential candidate, they're reporting on her because she's a pop culture personality and stories about her generate good ratings. During the clip of Palin being interviewed by Barbara Walters, the on-screen credit read, "ABC/Barbara Walters' 10 Most Fascinating Poeple (sic)". That's great. And in a related story, Palin was recently bumped from the cover of "Poeple Magazine" in favor of Kim Kardashian. Too bad. But I bet that Kardashian can't field dress a moose.

Nightly News Salutes General Mills

On Monday, CBS Evening News reported that due to a price increase for staples such as corn, wheat, sugar and soy beans, companies like General Mills, Kraft and Kellogg's will be increasing prices on some of their products. Of course, you won't see this story on Nightly News. Brian Williams and his producers don't like to report negative stories about their most lucrative sponsors. But when it comes to positive stories about Nightly News sponsors, Brian can't wait to tell us the good news. On 7/18/07, he was happy to report that Requip is great for treating Restless Leg Syndrome. On 11/13/07, he told us how wonderful Chrysler cars and trucks were. On 2/23/09, we learned how thoroughly United Airlines cleans their planes. On 5/5/09, we saw a great story about the launch of McDonald's new gourmet coffees. On 2/4/10, Brian told us about Heinz's awesome new ketchup packages. On 3/17/10, Brian informed us that Kraft will be using 10% less salt in their products. On 5/14/10, we saw Brian interview Sally Field for 90 seconds about her Boniva ads. On 6/8/10, we found out that Aleve can reduce the risk of heart attacks. On 6/10/10, we were treated to a two-minute story about whether or not Chevys should be called Chevrolets. On 9/24/10, we saw a story about American shopping habits that featured a couple shopping for Cheerios. On 10/27/10, Brian told us all about Scott's new tubeless toilet paper. And on 10/31/10, we saw a great news story all about Pontiac. But don't expect Brian to tell us that General Mills, Kraft and Kellogg's are raising their prices. That would just be a downer.

How far will Nightly News go to promote General Mills? All the way to Afghanistan. Last Saturday, Lester Holt reported a story about the top U.S. Marine commander in Afghanistan's Helmand Province--Maj. Gen. Richard Mills. During the story, Lester referred to him as "General Mills". Well done, Lester. Maybe this week, he'll do a story on Gen. Electric.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nightly News Exploits The Royals

This past week, Nightly News devoted a staggering 21:25 to stories about the British Royal Family (12:10 to William and Kate, 9:15 to Prince Charles). That's the equivalent of an entire Nightly News broadcast. And that's even more coverage than the royals got this week on BBC World News America--a British-sponsored hour-long newscast. So why did Nightly News spend so much time on the British Royal Family? Because of their pathetic devotion to pop culture and self-promotion at the expense of actual news. More than any other evening newscast, NBC exploited William and Kate's wedding announcement in the hope of generating ratings. And Brian Williams continued to relentlessly and shamelessly plug his Friday Dateline special on Prince Charles, also for ratings. Friday's Nightly News even included a fawningly self-referential report by Jim Maceda about Brian's interview with Prince Charles. Once again, Nightly News reports on its favorite subject--itself. What's next? Stephanie Gosk's story about Jim Maceda's report about Brian William's interview with Prince Charles?

On Monday and Tuesday, Brian did two separate stories (totalling 5:40) on Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Sal Giunta. By contrast, at CBS, Katie Couric aired a single one-minute story on Sgt. Giunta on Tuesday. What accounts for such a difference in coverage? Simple. Brian serves on the board of directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation; Katie does not. Brian has a vested personal interest in promoting the MOH Foundation; Katie does not. Brian obsequiously treats MOH winners as personal heroes and gods; Katie treats them as news stories. Brian is desperate to convince the world that he is a hyper-patriotic supporter of the U.S. military; Katie doesn't feel the need to convince her audience of any such thing.

Can someone please buy Brian an atlas? On Tuesday, he introduced a story on Haiti by saying, "Overseas this evening...." While there is certainly water between Haiti and the U.S. coast, it can hardly be considered overseas. Still, this is better than the July 16 broadcast, when Brian described Mexico as overseas.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Word Up, Ted Koppel

This is an excerpt from Ted Koppel's Op-Ed piece that ran in last Friday's Washington Post (the entire piece can be read at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/12/AR2010111202857_2.html):

"Much of the American public used to gather before the electronic hearth every evening, separate but together, while Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith offered relatively unbiased accounts of information that their respective news organizations believed the public needed to know. The ritual permitted, and perhaps encouraged, shared perceptions and even the possibility of compromise among those who disagreed.

It was an imperfect, untidy little Eden of journalism where reporters were motivated to gather facts about important issues. We didn't know that we could become profit centers. No one had bitten into that apple yet.

The transition of news from a public service to a profitable commodity is irreversible. Legions of new media present a vista of unrelenting competition. Advertisers crave young viewers, and these young viewers are deemed to be uninterested in hard news, especially hard news from abroad. This is felicitous, since covering overseas news is very expensive. On the other hand, the appetite for strongly held, if unsubstantiated, opinion is demonstrably high. And such talk, as they say, is cheap."

Sad but true. Koppel didn't mention NBC Nightly News by name, but then again, he didn't have to.

Nightly News Helps Comcast/Kabletown

At first, I couldn't figure out why Nightly News would air two different stories (Saturday and Sunday) about the Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito fight that took place Saturday night. Nightly News wouldn't run a story like this--certainly not on two consecutive nights--unless it provided some sort of benefit to NBC. Then it hit me like a Pacquiao uppercut. This was a favor to NBC's soon-to-be owners at Comcast (or Kabletown, as the company is called on "30 Rock"). Although the bout was shown on HBO Pay-Per-View, the cable operators (like Comcast) that carry HBO PPV also get a cut of the profits. The more people that purchase the fight, the more money Comcast makes. So the Pacquiao stories on this weekend's Nightly News amounted to four minutes of free advertising for the fight--to the benefit of Comcast (the fight was still available for purchase on Sunday for those who may have missed it on Saturday). The Nightly News producers were so eager to please their new bosses at Comcast that they even aired Sunday's Pacquiao story in place of the usual NFL-related story they run most Sundays (to promote NBC's Sunday Night Football). Obviously, this is one of the reasons Comcast is acquiring NBC. Lots of free promotion for Comcast's other properties. Well done, Nightly News producers. I'm sure that Jack Donaghy and everyone at Kabletown appreciate what you did for them.

David Axelrod--Man Of A Thousand Descriptions

On Saturday's Nightly News, two separate promos for "Meet The Press" included graphics that described David Axelrod as a Senior White House "Adviser". On Sunday's and Monday's broadcasts, excerpts from Axelrod's MTP appearance described him as a "White House Senior Advisor". Is he an adviser or an advisor? It is unbelievable (and unbelievably sloppy) that the Nightly News producers continue to use these two spellings interchangeably--sometimes on the same broadcast. For goodness' sake, could they please pick a spelling and stick with it?

Brian Williams's Conflict Of Interest

On Monday, Brian Williams reported a story about Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta--who is to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Obama on Tuesday. Is he kidding us? Brian Williams serves on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation! This is a huge conflict of interest. When you serve on an organization's board of directors, your goal is to promote and protect that organization. And that is in direct conflict with the job of a network anchor and managing editor--to report the news in an objective and unbiased manner. Nightly News frequently reports on the U.S. military. And Brian himself often reports on Medal of Honor winners, as he did Monday. Nightly News's attitude towards the military can be described as reverential, idolatrous, even obsequious. Their stories often resemble recruiting ads for the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force. Some stories are full blown propaganda pieces, replete with waving flags, soaring eagles, exploding fireworks--everything short of Uncle Sam and Kate Smith singing a duet of "God Bless America". To what extent is this a result of Brian's position on the MOH Foundation board? How can the NBC executives allow Brian to serve on the board of an organization that he reports on? Are we supposed to believe that Brian is completely objective and unbiased in his reporting? If a MOH winner robbed a liquor store or killed someone while driving drunk, would Brian report it? I doubt it. This is no different than if he served on the board of Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, General Mills or Chrysler. Since Nightly News often reports on those companies' products, it would be inappropriate for Brian to serve on any of those boards. And since Brian reports on MOH winners, he should not be allowed to serve on that organization's board, either. A news organization and its anchor must be free not only of conflicts of interest, but of even the appearance of any such conflict. Brian's MOH board membership does not pass the smell test. It leaves open the distinct possibility that his reporting (and the reporting of other NBC correspondents) is tainted by his allegiance to the MOH Foundation, and by extension, the entire U.S. military. NBC must insist that Brian Williams relinquish his position on the MOH board if he is to continue serving as the Nightly News anchor. That is the right thing to do.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nightly News Exclusive: Taliban Downsizing!

On Thursday's Nightly News, Brian Williams devoted twelve seconds to a story about the Taliban-sponsored car bombing of a police station in Karachi that killed 18 people and injured more than 100. That same night, Brian spent a minute and a half reading viewer comments about this week's "Back to Basics" series (which was about people who are downsizing parts of their lives). Is anything wrong with this picture? I wonder: If the Taliban were paring down their operations and getting "Back to Basics" (i.e. less powerful explosives, smaller caliber weapons, shorter hostage videos, lower ransom demands, across-the-board 10% staff reductions for all terrorists) would Brian Williams have spent more time reporting the car bombing story? Meanwhile, here are a few of the stories that Brian felt deserved more air time this week than the Taliban terrorist attack:

*General Motors is retiring their iconic Mr. Goodwrench program (35 seconds)
*Planters is starting a new ad campaign for Mr. Peanut featuring Robert Downey, Jr. (30 seconds)
*Betty White realized her lifelong dream by being named an honorary forest ranger (25 seconds)
*General Electric (NBC's parent company) plans to buy 25,000 electric cars over the next four years (35 seconds)
*A new video reveals the amazing secret of how cats drink (35 seconds)
*A fifteen-story hotel in China is built in six days (30 seconds)
*The U.S. Post Office is considering selling postage-paid holiday cards (25 seconds)
*Newsweek magazine is merging with The Daily Beast website (25 seconds)
*The name "World Wide Web" celebrated its 20th anniversary (30 seconds)
*This year's Christmas tree was delivered to Rockefeller Center (18 seconds)
*Finally, Brian spent 13 seconds promoting his upcoming interview with Prince Charles. I can certainly understand why these stories were given more air time than a Taliban car bombing that killed 18 people. Mr. Peanut and Mr. Goodwrench--now that's important news. At least Brian has his priorities in order.

Speaking of the "Back to Basics" series--even by Nightly News's appallingly low standards, this has to be one of the biggest wastes of network news time in recent memory. Altogether, the series' four segments took up almost ten minutes of valuable news time. Just think--if Nightly News hadn't reported the "Back to Basics" series, they would have had more time to report real news. Like how cats drink or the arrival of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. (Update: Nightly News did a fifth "Back to Basics" segment on Saturday [11/13], bringing the total time to 11:45.)

Honorary Mention: On Wednesday's broadcast, just minutes after a story about the deficiencies of the American educational system, a Nightly News graphic identified Margaret Hamburg as the "FDA Comissioner" (the correct spelling is "commissioner"). Does anyone else see the irony in this?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sickening--Part II

This is Brian Williams's Daily Nightly blog post from Thursday: "Allow me to share with you a day like today that makes me count my blessings. While I count them every day, this one was exceptional.

I started the day in the midst of a sparkling, crisp morning on New York's Fifth Avenue. The Veterans Day Parade. I soaked in the passing bands and floats, the old cars...and the proud veterans. Miles of men and women who have served. Cadets from West Point. A beautiful, patriotic, proud day. My job today was to call attention to four Medal of Honor Recipients who were there—four out of the 87 alive today. I was able to see and exchange personal insults and wisecracks with my buddy Bruce Crandall, who was played by Greg Kinnear in 'We Were Soldiers' and who, as usual, wore his beautiful Cavalry hat. I love the man, and I love them all. Bud Bucha was there, as was Gary Beikirch and Nick Oresko. I was trying to figure out what it must be like for Nick--on stage, reviewing the parade, looking at this beautiful City on a beautiful day, knowing the medal around his neck was awarded to him after killing 12 Germans in a war long ago and far away. It all seemed rather distant and cloudy on this clear day.

I went from there to studio 8H, where I entered quietly, sat down 10 feet from the edge of the stage, and watched Arcade Fire rehearse for SNL. It was among my best-ever musical experiences, as was talking with Win Butler and his wife (and collaborator) Regine afterwards. I went from there...to our editorial meeting. There was, shall we say, a palpable difference in energy between the two events."

Barf bags are available on request. Is there anyone more pathetically sycophantic towards the U.S. military than Brian Williams? I doubt it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nightly News Ignores Bad News About McDonald's

On Monday, the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a study detailing the ways in which the major fast food chains market their unhealthy food to children. The CBS Evening News featured this report as their lead story, giving it more than three-and-a-half minutes. CBS deserves credit for airing this story, since they certainly must have ticked off the fast food companies that advertise on their network. Nightly News, on the other hand, chose to accede to the wishes of the fast food giants and squelched the story. That's not surprising. Nightly News has a history of protecting their sponsors by burying or ignoring negative news stories. And fast food companies like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Subway are certainly among NBC's most frequent sponsors. Here are some of the highlights from the study that you didn't see on Nightly News (a longer synopsis can be read at http://opa.yale.edu/news/article.aspx?id=7981):

*Out of 3,039 possible kids’ meal combinations, only 12 meet the researchers’ nutrition criteria for preschoolers. Only 15 meet nutrition criteria for older children.
*At least 30% of the calories in menu items purchased by children and teens are from sugar and saturated fat.
*Companies facing increasing pressure about portion sizes are renaming, rather than eliminating, their biggest sides and drinks. At Burger King, for example, a 42-ounce “King” drink is now the “large” option; the former “large” 32-ounce drink is now a “medium”; the former “medium” 21-ounce drink is now a “small”; and the former “small” 16-ounce drink is now the “value” option.
*The average preschooler sees almost three ads per day for fast food; children ages 6-11 see three-and-a-half ads; and teens ages 12-17 see almost five ads per day.
*Compared with 2007, in 2009 preschoolers saw 21% more ads for McDonald’s, 9% more for Burger King, and 56% more for Subway. Children (ages 6-11) saw 26% more ads for McDonald’s, 10% more for Burger King, and 59% more for Subway.
*McDonald's' 13 websites get 365,000 unique child visitors ages 2-11 and 294,000 unique teen visitors ages 12-17 each month. Targeted marketing for fast food starts as young as age 2 through websites such as Ronald.com.
*African American children and teens see at least 50% more fast food ads than their white peers. McDonald’s and KFC, in particular, specifically target African American youth with TV advertising, targeted websites, and banner ads.

Although Nightly News did not report the Yale Rudd study, here are some of the stories they did run on Monday:

*A story on personal downsizing called "Back to Basics" that describes how people are reducing clutter and getting rid of many of their possessions. In what alternate universe does this qualify as news? (By the way, CBS News aired an identical story on Oct. 26.)
*Another story on Edison Pena, the Chilean miner who ran the NYC marathon. (Nightly News aired a story on Pena the previous night as well.) The story also contained some self-promotional footage of Meredith Vieira and Al Roker completing the marathon.
*A story about increased security in airports reported by Tom Costello. Last Tuesday and Wednesday, Costello was in Denver covering the election. By Thursday, he was back in Washington reporting on the problems Qantas was having with their Airbus A380 planes. During Monday's airport security story, Costello was still in Denver--so the story was clearly a leftover from last week.
*Yet another two minute excerpt from Matt Lauer's interview with George W. Bush. When did Nightly News become the promotional arm for Bush's book tour? (Meanwhile, I think I actually saw steam coming out of Brian's ears as a result of being passed over in favor of Lauer for the role of interviewer.)
*A story about the 1960 Presidential election. While Brian told us that Kennedy's margin of victory was just over 100,000 votes, he never mentioned the charges of vote fraud in Illinois and Texas that may have given the election to Kennedy and Johnson. He also did not mention the way in which the Kennedy family manipulated the choice of JFK's successor in the senate that allowed Ted Kennedy to eventually win the seat (they used their influence with the Governor of Massachusetts to get him to appoint a place holder until 1962, by which time Ted was old enough to run in that year's special election). Why does Brian feel a personal responsibility to protect the myth of Camelot?
*Special mention goes to the weekend producers for airing two stories (on both Saturday and Sunday) about Zenyatta's near-win in the Breeders' cup. We certainly needed those four-plus minutes of the horse running and drinking Guinness.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


This is Brian Williams's Daily Nightly blog post from Wednesday (the day after the mid-term elections): "We ended up going nine hours on the air last night. While I could not watch any other coverage, I don't see how our team could be equaled: Just think of the candlepower I had at the desk with me: Mark Whitaker, Andrea Mitchell, David Gregory, Savannah Guthrie and Tom Brokaw. Everyone worked heroic hours, everyone contributed equally. Chuck Todd was among the stars of the evening, as he analyzed wave after wave of numbers. Andrea Mitchell stayed up all night, Savannah got on a train three hours after we got off the air, went to Washington, and helped lead the questioning at the White House today during the President's news conference. Our people are wiped--and yet our team members never falter, and performed today at the same consistent level. I'm so proud to know them and to be able to work with them. Tonight we'll examine the new day in politics, and what last night's result will mean. We hope you can join us."


Manifesto--Part II

In Manifesto--Part I (Oct. 23), I listed the changes I would make if I were in charge of Nightly News. Here are the specific changes I would make regarding Brian Williams:

1) Stop saying "good evening" to every single correspondent. It sounds forced and ridiculous. (Pete Williams is my hero--he never says "good evening" back to Brian.) Also, stop describing every single correspondent as "my friend". I doubt that's true and it's irrelevant to the broadcast. "My friend Lester Holt." "My friend Tom Costello." This is supposed to be a news report, not a reading from Brian's Facebook page. Finally, stop describing correspondents as "our own". "Our own Anne Thompson." "Our own Rehema Ellis." Of course they're your own. Who else's would they be? It's only necessary to note when a reporter is from a news agency other than NBC (such as Canada's CBC or Britain's ITN).

2) Stop saying "folks". Brian uses this word constantly. "The folks at NASA...." "The folks in Wisconsin...." Apparently, the NBC News Research Department has informed Brian that using "folks" makes him sound more homespun and blue collar. It's a marketing gimmick, nothing more. He should use "people" instead of "folks". It sounds less affected and less phony.

3) Stop saying "For those of us". This is Brian's favorite expression. "For those of us who follow the Supreme Court...." "For those of us who love American cars...." "For those of us with kids in college...." This is simply a way to for Brian to change a news story into a news story about him. It is narcissistic and egocentric.

4) TMI. Stop inundating us with personal information. We don't care about Brian's kids or his dog or his Aunt Tilly in Buffalo. He thinks we like hearing about his personal life. Just read the news.

5) There's no brick wall behind Brian. If Brian wants to do stand up (or sit down) comedy, he should go out to the comedy clubs. But Nightly News is not the place to hone his comedy skills. His desperate attempts to be funny are just forced and awkward. If we want to see funny news, we'll watch The Daily Show. Or FOX.

6) Stop talking about being a buff. Brian constantly brags about being a Supreme Court buff, a presidential history buff, an American car buff, an aviation buff, a NASA buff, a music buff. If he were any more buff-y, he'd be a vampire slayer. This is just Brian feeding his massive ego. We don't need to hear about it.

7) Stop pandering to every city. Brian describes every city or state as "great". "The great city of Chicago." "The great state of Missouri." This is just shameless.

8) Stop bragging about ratings. Brian never misses an opportunity to brag about his broadcast's ratings or the ratings of other NBC shows. It's unprofessional and egotistical.

9) Shorter intros, please. Brian's intros to stories often run 30 seconds or more. This is ridiculously long. Obviously, Brian likes to hear himself talk, but how about shaving 15 seconds off the intros and using that time for more reporting on the story?

10) Interviews should provide actual information. Brian's interviews are often just softball questions tossed at subjects to allow them to say whatever they want. He should be more aggressive and challenge his subjects. It's okay to repeat a question or interrupt someone if they are being vague or evasive.

11) Stop pandering to the military. Brian never met a uniform he didn't drool over. He acts as if he is the propaganda minister for the U.S. military. His fawning, obsequious stories have no credibility because they lack any shred of journalistic objectivity.

12) Stop talking about Medal of Honor winners. Brian serves on the Board of Directors for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, so he thinks it's his duty to report it every time a Medal of Honor winner dies. This is not news. It's just Brian reporting about his hobbies. If he served on the board of the American Plastics Council, Brian would be doing two or three stories each week about the great new innovations in the field of plastics technology.

13) Stop plugging sponsors. Brian never misses an opportunity to mention McDonald's or Coke (or some other sponsor) during one of his news stories. These are just shameless plugs for regular advertisers.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Some Choice Quotes From Brian Williams

From Brian Williams's Nov. 1 Daily Nightly blog: "I have no doubt that we have the best team ever assembled."

Really? Is that your unbiased opinion? Thank goodness for objective journalists. I'm betting that each network feels the same way about their respective team. What a pompous and arrogant thing to say.

"I'm certain we'll be on the air for more hours than any other broadcast network."

News flash for Brian Williams: Quantity doesn't equal quality.

Psycho Fonzie Advisor

On Friday's Nightly News, an on-screen graphic identified John Brennan as a "U.S. Counterterrorism Adviser". On Sunday's broadcast, Brennan was identified as a "Deputy National Security Advisor". While it's puzzling that Brennan would be identified two different ways in the space of 48 hours, it's inexcusable that the Nightly News producers still use "advisor" and "adviser" interchangeably. When are they going to decide on an official spelling to be used for all Nightly News broadcasts? This lack of regulation is extremely unprofessional and makes the broadcast seem as if it isn't very well thought out.

Can someone please buy Mike Taibbi a membership to Netflix? On Sunday's story about farmers who turn their farms into haunted house theme parks, Taibbi tells us, "But to make a profit in this business, you do have to spend money...to make the shower in this Bates Motel remind you of the big finish in 'Psycho'." As he says this, we see a re-enactment of the "Psycho" shower scene in a haunted farmhouse, followed by the shower scene from the original 1960 movie. Someone needs to tell Taibbi that the shower scene in Hitchcock's "Psycho" took place before the halfway point of the film, not at the "finish" as he claimed. I think Taibbi should re-watch "Psycho" before referencing it again in one of his stories.

On Sunday, Nightly News ran an obituary for Ted Sorensen, John F. Kennedy's speechwriter and confidante. Then they ran it again on Monday. Apparently, the Nightly News producers will run obits on two consecutive nights if they believe that the deceased was an iconic giant of twentieth century America. Fair enough. I guess they must have felt that way about Barbara Billingsley, since she got a two-night obit on Oct. 16 & 17. But what about Tom Bosley? His obit ran only one night (Oct. 19). Was June Cleaver a more influential character than Howard Cunningham? Was her advice more sage? Was she more dear to the hearts of American television viewers? If Barbara Billingsley deserves a two-day obit, then so, too, does Tom Bosley. In the immortal words of Fonzie, "That is so uncool." (I have it on good authority that Ted Sorensen actually wrote those words but refused to take credit for them.)