Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Brian Williams: Football Uber Alles

It's hard to imagine a more shameless and grotesque display than the one put on by Brian Williams during Tuesday's Nightly News. Beginning at minute nine (before the first commercial break, which is considered prime news space), Brian spent an incredible 5:45 talking about that night's Eagles-Vikings game--first with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (nattily attired in a Comcast jacket) and then with NBC Sports commentator Bob Costas. Obviously, the only reason for this segment was to promote NBC's coverage of the game, which would air later that night. (A similar Rendell interview had already aired on Monday.) Is this news? Does anyone in the world really believe that Brian would have spent even ten seconds talking about the Eagles and Vikings if the game was airing on a different network? Sadly, this sort of shameless promotion for NBC's football coverage has been going on for months, ever since Sept. 9, when Brian moved his entire broadcast to New Orleans for the sole purpose of promoting that night's Saints-Vikings game on NBC. Actually, it's been going on a lot longer than that. Remember the 160 minutes that Nightly News devoted to covering last February's Vancouver Olympics? That's the equivalent of seven entire broadcasts. Using a newscast to relentlessly promote a network's sports coverage is beyond shameless. It's a betrayal of the viewers' trust. People expect Nightly News to bring us actual news, not shameless promotions for NBC's football coverage. When you factor out commercials, the 5:45 that Brian spent promoting the Eagles-Vikings game represents 25% of the entire broadcast.

Shorter, but no less shameless, was Brian's 30-second commercial for Frito-Lay that came at the 22-minute mark of Tuesday's broadcast. Here's how Brian began his pitch: "Coming soon to grocery store shelves near you, snacks we've always considered junk food with a new label saying 'All Natural'. It's the work of Frito-Lay--they're removing chemical additives from some Tostitos, Sun Chips, Lays, Rold Gold pretzels." (Extra credit goes to Brian for mentioning four specific Frito-Lay brands.) As Brian narrated this commercial, the Frito-Lay logo was prominently displayed over his left shoulder. But it wasn't just the Frito-Lay logo. Below the logo were the words "Good Fun!" and "ALL NATURAL". Did the Frito-Lay advertising department write Brian's copy? I guess it never occurred to Brian to mention the fact that sodium, fat, and cholesterol are "natural" ingredients, and thus will continue to be found in Frito-Lay products. Of course, it's no surprise to find Brian Williams using his anchor chair to promote a product that advertises heavily on NBC. Over the years, Brian and other Nightly News correspondents have plugged products or companies such as Boniva, Kraft, McDonald's, Starbucks, Bayer (and their other brands like Aleve and Alka-Seltzer), Requip, Microsoft, Heinz, Cheerios, Chrysler, Chevy, Scott Paper and Spam (the luncheon meat, not the internet annoyance). And Nightly News viewers are certainly familiar with the way in which Brian and Robert Bazell constantly promote GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer products (and also protect them from negative publicity). My only question is: Did Frito-Lay pay NBC for this 30-second commercial, or was it a gift from NBC to one of their most valued sponsors? There's no doubt that NBC earned a tremendous amount of good will from Pepsi (Frito-Lay's owner) by running this commercial-masquerading-as-news.

At the beginning of Monday's "special coverage of the Blizzard of 2010" (those were Brian's words describing the thirteen minutes that he apparently felt were necessary to report on a winter snowstorm in New York), a Nightly News graphic informed us that 6,000 airline flights in the New York area had been "Canceled". Five minutes later, an additional set of graphics told us exactly how many Delta, US Airways and American Airlines flights had been "Cancelled". In the space of five minutes, Nightly News managed to spell the same word two different ways. Bravo, Nightly News producers. Well done.

As part of Wednesday's "Blizzard 2010" coverage, Jeff Rossen told us that, "Unable to leave home, a (Brooklyn) woman gave birth in the lobby of her building. It took paramedics nine hours to show up and her newborn died." Not exactly. This didn't happen in the lobby of her building. The woman left her home and attempted to walk to the hospital to deliver her baby, but because the streets were so filled with snow, she was forced to seek refuge in the lobby of a building she was passing by. That's where the events took place. Not in her building. Does anyone at Nightly News bother to check the facts?

Finally, I would like to thank Brian for the twenty seconds of footage he showed us on Monday of him walking back into the 30 Rock studios after anchoring the first part of the broadcast outside. Nightly News still hasn't run a single story about the continuing election dispute currently going on in Ivory Coast, but twenty seconds of Brian walking into 30 Rock is deemed newsworthy. Here are a few other stories that the Nightly News producers thought were more important than what's going on in Ivory Coast: Will and Kate won't have any servants in their home after they are married (25 seconds) and a video of a dancing penguin (20 seconds). This is why I love Nightly News.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Very, Very Special Nightly News Broadcast

Monday's Nightly News broadcast was special. How do we know that? Because Brian Williams told us so. He began the report by saying, "Tonight, special coverage of the blizzard of 2010...." By "special", I guess Brian meant overlong and unnecessary. Of course, Brian did find it necessary to report on the blizzard from outside the studio. Why? Because he obviously thought that stunt would help his ratings. In Brian's world, everything is about the ratings. There was absolutely no journalistic reason for him to be outside. The story could have been reported exactly the same way from inside the studio. But there he was standing in front of a giant snowdrift. Or was that his giant ego? It was hard to tell--they look similar. The first thing Brian did was to direct our attention to the "world-famous 30 Rock Christmas tree". World-famous? I wonder what people in Belgium or Kenya or Turkmenistan would think about that. I hope they don't feel inadequate for not knowing about America's most famous landmark. Two minutes into the broadcast, a Nightly News graphic informed us that 6,000 airline flights were "Canceled." Five minutes later, additional graphics inform us that flights from Delta, US Airways and American Airlines had been "Cancelled". So within five minutes, Nightly News managed to spell the same word two different ways. This is incredible. Not to mention appalling. Is anyone at Nightly News paying attention?

But enough small talk. Next, it was time for Brian to talk about something really important. For the next two minutes, Brian and Michelle Kosinski talked about the cancellation of Sunday's Eagles-Vikings game. Why would they spend that much time on something so unimportant? Because the game was supposed to air on NBC. And--more importantly--because the game was rescheduled for Tuesday night. On NBC. So Brian had to make sure to plug the game. For two minutes. Never mind that Lester Holt had already told us earlier that the game was rescheduled for Tuesday. That obviously wasn't adequate. Brian needed to make the point himself. Here's how he started the segment: "We mentioned this other casualty of this storm and if you're an NFL fan like our household, it was a big deal...." Casualty? Does Brian understand that people may have actually lost their lives in this blizzard? Those are the casualties. Not a football game. He and Kosinski tried to manufacture some sort of controversy over the game's cancellation. I don't think anyone really bought that. Does anyone actually believe that Brian would spend more than ten seconds talking about a football game's cancellation if it was airing on another network? Of course not. Brian's #1 rule is : promote, promote, promote. The FCC should require Nightly News to put the word "PROMOTION" on the screen in big flashing red letters whenever Brian is using Nightly News airtime to promote an NBC show.

Altogether, Brian spent thirteen minutes reporting on the blizzard. Half of that would have sufficed. And after the first commercial break, Brian spent twenty seconds narrating footage that showed him walking back into the studio from the snowdrift. Brian considers footage of himself entering the NBC Studios to be news. That is beyond belief. Except for people familiar with Brian and his massive ego. In that case, it's to be expected. We then saw yet another story about holiday shopping followed by more commercials. After the break, there was a 25-second story about the Obama family in Hawaii and a 47-second story about a conversation that Pres. Obama had with Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. About Michael Vick. Of the Eagles. The same team whose game was cancelled and who will be playing on Tuesday. On NBC. So this was just another shameless 45-second promotion for Tuesday's Eagles-Vikings game. Again, there is not a chance in hell that Brian would have mentioned the Obama-Lurie conversation if it was not useful in promoting Tuesday's football game. On NBC.

The broadcast's final segment had to be seen to be believed. It was a bloated, sappy tribute to (as Brian tells us) "the staggering toll of notable names who departed from all of our lives this past year." This was so ridiculous for so many reasons. First of all, each one of these people already had an obituary on Nightly News during the past year. There was absolutely no reason to repeat their obits. Second, it's obvious from this segment that Brian fantasizes about hosting the Oscars. This is his version of the Oscars' annual tribute to actors who passed away during the previous year. And it's notable that this segment spent roughly twice as much time on entertainers and sports figures as it did on political, journalism and literary figures. That makes sense, since Nightly News makes a point of spending way too much time "reporting" stories about singers, actors and sports figures. Of course, that's the way Brian wants it. He chooses which stories and obituaries to report, so the broadcast's emphasis on entertainment is simply a reflection of his own personal tastes. Everyone knows that Brian spends most of his broadcast reporting on things he likes, rather than reporting on things that are newsworthy.

So let's recap. Thirteen minutes on the blizzard (including the time spent promoting the football game). About 3:30 on the shopping story, the Obama family story and the Michael Vick story. And 4:50 on the tribute to dead people. Not a shred of actual news on the entire broadcast. Yes, Monday's Nightly News was certainly one for the ages. NBC should submit it to the Peabody Awards evaluation committee.

NBC News--Covering The Country From Juneau To Natick

On Saturday's Nightly News story about the next generation of air traffic control (satellite and GPS tracking), a map of Alaska misspelled Juneau as "Juno". This is appalling under any circumstances, but even more so considering that Juneau is the state capital. Do the Nightly News producers get all their information from movie titles? Does anyone at Nightly News know how to use Google? Does anyone there even care anymore?

On Sunday's broadcast, Lester Holt introduced a report from Natick (Massachusetts) by pronouncing the town's name as if it rhymes with "static", when it's actually supposed to be pronounced as NAY-tick. During the report, someone must have informed Lester about the correct pronunciation, because after the report ended, he pronounced the name correctly. So if someone knew enough to correct Lester during the report, why couldn't they have given him that information before the report?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--Dec. 21-Dec. 24

Here's what happened on Nightly News this week:

Tuesday--According to a newly released study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, heartburn drugs classified as proton pump inhibitors can increase the risk of pneumonia by 25%. But Nightly News did not report this story because they wanted to protect the PPIs (such as Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid) that advertise on the broadcast.
* In a story about the results of the 2010 census, a list of states that will gain or lose seats in the House of Representatives is scrolled alphabetically down the screen. For some reason, Texas comes after Utah and Washington.
* During a story about student debt (excerpted from a CNBC special), Scott Cohn tells us that the University of Phoenix is "the largest university in the country" with "$3.8 billion in revenue in 2009". As he says this, this figure appears on screen: $3,775,491.90. That's not $3.8 billion, that's $3.8 million. Can someone please tell Cohn and his producers the difference between billions and millions. Naturally, the story was followed by a promo spot for the CNBC special airing later that night.
* In his obituary for Steve Landesberg, Brian Williams tells us that Landesberg "...made his comedy debut on NBC's 'Tonight Show'." But when Brian mentioned "Barney Miller", the show that Landesberg was most closely associated with, he refused to say that the show had aired on ABC. This is not an accidental omission or an oversight. Brian will not mention CBS or ABC because he thinks that mentioning those networks will take viewers away from NBC shows (especially his own broadcast). Remember Brian's interview with Sally Field on May 15? He listed all her best known television work--"Gidget", "The Flying Nun", "Sybil"--but he refused to mention her current starring role on ABC's "Brothers & Sisters", despite the fact that she won an Emmy Award for that role in 2007. This is beyond absurd. It is without a doubt the pettiest display imaginable from a supposedly professional network news anchor.
Wednesday--In his obituary for Fred Foy (announcer for "The Lone Ranger"), Brian refuses to mention that Foy worked as an announcer for ABC radio and television for 25 years, more than twice as long as he spent announcing "The Lone Ranger". Again, Brian will not mention ABC.
All this week, Nightly News has ignored the disputed election in Ivory Coast. However, they managed to find time to air reports about Christmas shopping, babies using sign language, a Florida school with no rules, a 70-year-old woman who robbed a bank in Minnesota, the UConn women's basketball team, a new coin commemorating the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and five "Making A Difference" stories that contained no news value whatsoever. But they couldn't find thirty seconds to talk about what's going on in Ivory Coast. Of course, it's not surprising that Nightly News has ignored this story. Nightly News only covers Africa when George Clooney goes there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--Dec. 18-Dec. 20

Here's what you missed if you didn't see Nightly News this weekend:

Saturday--During a story about the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", a Nightly News graphic misspelled Sen. Lindsey Graham's first name as "Lindsay". Funny thing--Nightly News never misspells Lindsay Lohan's first name.
* Footage of Barack Obama from the 2008 presidential campaign was accompanied by a Bruce Springsteen song. Springsteen is shoehorned into several Nightly News stories each week because Brian Williams idolizes him. Credibility? Who cares about that?
* A story about Amelia Earhart included 20 seconds of footage from last year's "Amelia" movie (starring Hilary Swank). Although there is no shortage of film of the actual Amelia Earhart, the producers included the movie footage because Nightly News is trying to be more of an entertainment show than a news show.
* In yet another story about Prince William and Kate Middleton, Lester Holt described in detail what Kate was wearing on a night out--her dress ("a black and white dress with a fancy neckline"), jacket, shoes ("black pumps")--even her clutch. They should have attached a "breaking news" tag to that story. Meanwhile, Lester said nothing about what William was wearing. That is extremely sexist.

Monday--Brian spent all of 20 seconds reporting on the latest terrorist plot in Great Britain. That's the same amount of time he spent reporting on Tracy Morgan's kidney transplant. Of course, reporting on Tracy Morgan allowed Brian to plug SNL and "30 Rock" (twice). Brian then spent 50 seconds on the Vikings-Bears game to be played Monday night. Brian frequently reports on football stories, because any football story helps to promote NBC's Sunday Night Football coverage.
* Yet again Robert Bazell helped to promote a Bayer product. On Dec. 6, Bazell did a story about the health benefits of aspirin. But the only name brand aspirin Bazell included in the story was Bayer. On June 8, he did a story about how Aleve (a Bayer product) can reduce the risk of heart attacks. And tonight, he did a story debunking the herbal supplement Echinacea as a cure for the common cold. Six minutes after that story, we saw a commercial for Alka-Seltzer Plus cold medicine--manufactured by Bayer. Clearly, the point of Bazell's story was to discourage people from using Echinacea so they would buy Alka-Seltzer Plus. Of course, Bayer isn't the only product Bazell promotes in his "news stories". In the past, he has done stories favorable to Cheerios and Avodart (from GlaxoSmithKline)--heavy Nightly News sponsors. And Bazell is equally happy to discredit a drug to benefit a Nightly News sponsor (as he did with Echinacea). On Sept. 15, he trashed the diet drug Meridia in a "Lifeline" story sponsored by Toviaz (a Pfizer product). The purpose of this story was to benefit Pfizer at the expense of Meridia. And by the way, it was completely unethical of Nightly News to allow Pfizer to sponsor a story about the pharmaceutical industry--an industry in which they are a major player. But that's just business as usual at Nightly News.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--Dec. 14-Dec. 17

If you didn't watch Nightly News this week, here are some things you may have missed:

Tuesday--Kerry Sanders reported on the weather from the Universal Orlando theme park in Florida, which is owned by NBC's parent company. Sanders made sure to specifically plug The Wizarding World of Harry Potter--one of the main attractions at Universal's Islands of Adventure. This "news" segment was just a cheap and crass commercial for Universal Orlando.
* Brian Williams spent thirty seconds reporting on the Golden Globe Award nominations, which will be televised on NBC in January. Does anyone really believe that Brian would have bothered with this story if the Golden Globes was being shown on another network?
* A 2:30 story about holiday music is devoted mostly to Susan Boyle and Jackie Evancho. Over the past 20 months, Nightly News has devoted nearly 20 minutes of news time to Susan Boyle in order to pander to the viewers' thirst for feel-good entertainment stories. And most of the Jackie Evancho clips came from her appearances on "America's Got Talent"--which allowed Nightly News to plug that NBC show. And Evancho was scheduled to appear on The Tonight Show the next day, so this was, of course, just a plug for her appearance with Jay. Why is a network news broadcast wasting our time with this garbage?
Wednesday--For the second consecutive night, Nightly News spent the first five minutes of the broadcast showing the wintry weather around the country, as if cold and snow in December is breaking news. By contrast, The CBS Evening News spent 15 seconds reporting on the weather. Because NBC Universal spent $3.5 billion for The Weather Channel, they feel obligated to devote up to a quarter of their Nightly News broadcast to the weather.
Thursday--The "Making A Difference" segment was a 2:50 story on people who take care of baby elephants in Kenya. The story was reported by Maria Menounos, who is best known as a "reporter" for the celebrity gossip show Access Hollywood. Menounos's final line was, "Turns out the biggest lesson learned is that elephants are as human as the rest of us." This is what passes for news on NBC? A gossip reporter telling us that elephants are human? John Chancellor is turning over in his grave.
Friday--A story on McDonald's happy meals is nothing more than a 2:30 commercial for one of NBC's biggest advertisers. This "news story" includes 15 seconds of actual McDonald's commercials.
* Brian reports the death of another Medal of Honor winner. This isn't surprising, since Brian serves on the board of directors for the Medal of Honor Foundation. Reporting about an organization on whose board he sits is a huge conflict of interest for a news anchor. Brian doesn't care.
* The night's final story is a five-minute-long "Making A Difference" segment about a Minnesota man who left $3 million to various charities after he died. Does Nightly News report any actual news anymore?

An Apology To Brian Williams

I owe Brian Williams an apology. Earlier this week, I accused Brian of announcing a Rolaids recall on Dec. 9 solely to benefit Prevacid, whose ad appeared shortly after the Rolaids story. That accusation was inappropriate and I shouldn't have made it. After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that Brian announced the Rolaids recall to benefit Tums, rather than Prevacid. While Tums and Prevacid are both competitors of Rolaids, Tums is a much more direct competitor. And like Prevacid, Tums is also a regular Nightly News advertiser. But the big difference is that Tums has sponsored four "Making A Difference" segments in the past two months, while Prevacid has never sponsored a MAD segment. As such, Tums is a much more valuable Nightly News sponsor than Prevacid. Clearly, Brian meant to help Tums, not Prevacid, by announcing the Rolaids recall. I sincerely regret any damage to Brian's reputation that may have resulted from my accusation.

R.I.P. Accuracy

In his 1/27/10 Daily Nightly blog post, Brian Williams bragged incessantly about personally writing the obituaries that appear on Nightly News: "I think it's safe to claim that of the three network evening broadcasts in our time slot, we air the most obituaries. To me, it's a source of enormous pride...In our newsroom, it's well known that I write the obituaries. I put as much care into writing them as I do the items at the very top of the broadcast, where wording and tone and facts are absolutely critical...When I write an obituary for the broadcast, I always have the family in mind. It's not why we do them, but they are an important audience. I try to envision people I don't know, dealing with the raw, initial sadness of loss...and I try to imagine how it must feel to hear of a family member's life and legacy—in the hands of a journalist who didn't know their loved one personally."

Give me a break. What a load of crap. Pride? Care? What about accuracy? On Thursday, Brian read obituaries for director Blake Edwards and pitcher Bob Feller. In the Edwards obit, Brian said, "He gave the world its first glimpse of Bo Derek in the movie '10'". Wrong. Bo Derek made her film debut two years earlier in the 1977 movie "Orca". During the Feller obit, Brian said, "He played almost his entire career...with the Indians." Actually, there's no "almost" involved. Feller spent his entire career with the Indians--he did not pitch an inning for any other team, either major league or minor league. Is this what Brian meant by putting care into writing obituaries? He doesn't even care enough to get the facts straight. I hope that whoever writes Brian's obituary pays more attention to detail than Brian does.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--Dec. 9-Dec. 12

If you didn't see Nightly News last week, here's what you missed:

Thursday--During a story about women's health, Nancy Snyderman told us that 12 states were "considered outright failures, getting a grade of F." Meanwhile, on the accompanying map, 13 states were highlighted.
* Yet again, Rep. James Clyburn was identified on-screen only as a Democrat from South Carolina, and not as the House Majority Whip. Nightly News routinely identifies white congressional leaders by their leadership posts, but never does so for Clyburn, an African American.
* Brian Williams announced a recall for Rolaids only seconds before an ad for Prevacid. It's obvious that Brian planned the timing of the Rolaids story to give the maximum promotional value to Prevacid.
Friday--A story about newly released Nixon tapes includes derogatory comments Nixon made about Jews. In June of 2009, during a speech at the Nantucket Film Festival, Brian Williams said, "Welcome to the Nantucket Film Festival--where Jews come to be honored. Nantucket is actually a Yiddish word meaning where the WASPS live." I guess Nixon isn't the only one who thinks it's okay to make inappropriate comments about Jews.
Saturday--The night's final story about the Jimmy Stewart museum in Indiana, PA included 67 seconds of clips and stills from "It's A Wonderful Life". Not coincidentally, that movie aired on NBC later that night. So the Jimmy Stewart story was just a shameless 2:20 promo for the movie.
Sunday--A ten-second clip of White House economic advisor Austan Goolsbee from "Meet the Press" did not even bother to identify him.
* A story on legal marijuana sales in Colorado is followed by a promo for a CNBC special airing later that night. The "news story" is simply a way to promote the CNBC special.
* A 2:20 story about actors who gain and lose weight for roles contains 1:57 of movie clips. This "news story" is just an excuse to pander to the viewers by showing scenes from popular movies. In the story, Lee Cowan calls Tom Hanks "the king of the weight yo-yo" because Hanks lost 55 pounds for his role in "Castaway". Meanwhile, Cowan did not even mention Robert De Niro, who famously gained and lost 60 pounds for his Oscar-winning performance in "Raging Bull". Has Cowan even seen this movie? Can someone please buy Cowan a subscription to Netflix?

Brian Williams--Working Class Zero

Where did Brian Williams find the audacity to give Bruce Springsteen thirty seconds of air time during last Wednesday's story about John Lennon? That would be like including George W. Bush in a tribute to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Or featuring Tori Spelling in a tribute to Meryl Streep. Or allowing Brian Williams to participate in a panel discussion about Walter Cronkite. Lennon was one of the best known and best loved musicians, songwriters and peace activists of his or any other generation. He is one of the greatest icons of the twentieth century. John Lennon was a true working class hero. Springsteen, on the other hand, just pretends to be one with his ridiculous songs about punching time clocks and working in factories. When is the last time Springsteen punched a time clock? Springsteen is a relic of the past, a purveyor of greatest hits. He's an 80's act like Billy Squier or Rick Springfield. In his heyday, 25 years ago, Springsteen had some good songs. But it's an embarrassment to include him in a story about John Lennon. Lennon had more talent in his little finger than Springsteen has in his entire body. Let's be honest--Springsteen pales by comparison.

Of course, it's not Springsteen's fault. He didn't ask to be in the story. He never intended for this comparison to be made. Brian Williams is the one who made a point of awkwardly forcing Springsteen into the story. Why? Because Lennon briefly mentioned Springsteen once in passing during a recorded interview? That's a reason to show thirty seconds of Springsteen photos and to play "Hungry Heart" during a story about John Lennon? Does Brian have a shred of credibility left? Does he have any self-respect? Almost every week, Brian finds some ridiculous excuse to squeeze Springsteen into a news story. But Springsteen's inclusion rarely has any relevance to the actual story--it's simply a gratuitous way for Brian to mention his idol on the air--again and again and again. It's a joke. This is journalistic malpractice. We tune in expecting news, but instead we get stories on stuff Brian likes. During a Nov. 23 story about the demolition of the Philadelphia Spectrum, Brian made sure to insert a photo of Springsteen because he had played there. Hundreds of musical acts had played there, but only Springsteen got a mention. On Oct. 6 & 7, Brian aired a two-part five-minute"news story" about Springsteen (funny thing--he didn't include John Lennon in that story). Part one was Springsteen talking about the economy, as if he's some sort of expert on the subject. Part two consisted of Brian fawningly describing how he used to follow Springsteen around New Jersey in the 1970's. This is a newscast? What are viewers supposed to think about a news anchor whose criteria for airing stories is based not on relevance, but rather on favoritism? Like Springsteen, Brian is a multi-millionaire who enjoys pretending that he is a regular blue-collar guy. A regular blue-collar guy with an 8-figure salary, that is. Brian may have actually deluded himself into thinking that he's a working class hero. Working class zero is more like it.

And of course, Wednesday's Lennon story had the usual inaccuracies that are par for the course at Nightly News. Before the last commercial break, Brian said, "Tonight, words from John Lennon never heard until our broadcast tonight." But most of what Lennon said in the story had already aired on other networks in the previous 48 hours. And at one point in the story, Lennon clearly says, "I only put out songs and answer questions...." But the accompanying Nightly News transcript at the bottom of the screen has Lennon saying, "I only put our songs and answer questions...." I guess Brian and his producers were too busy looking for ways to fit Springsteen into the story to bother with accuracy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Robert Bazell Has No Credibility

It's official. NBC News Chief Science Correspondent Robert Bazell is a shill. A snake oil salesman. He has no credibility. Whenever one of Bazell's "news reports" appears on Nightly News, the viewers need to ask themselves, "What is his ulterior motive for reporting this story? What product is he trying to promote?" On Monday, the answer was obvious. Bazell's story about the benefits of aspirin was little more than a 2:15 commercial for Bayer. The "news report" began with a five second clip from a Bayer commercial. Then there were three close-ups of Bayer aspirin: A box on a shelf in a Walgreens, a pill in someone's palm and a bottle of Bayer. No other name brand was shown in the story (the only other aspirin bottles/packages shown were generic and store brands). Even an animated graphic of a bottle simply labeled "aspirin" was brown and yellow--Bayer's traditional colors on their aspirin bottles (some Bayer varieties still use those colors) and the main colors on their website! This is beyond blatant. So why would Bazell and his producers do a story that promotes Bayer? Because Bayer is one of Nightly News's best advertisers. Their commercials run almost every night (Bayer's Aleve brand advertises nightly as well). This is brazen, appalling and deceitful. Bazell is supposed to be reporting on matters of health and science, not endorsing a particular product. And this isn't even the first time Bazell has used a news story to promote a Bayer product. On June 8, Bazell spent two-and-a-half minutes reporting about an obscure Danish medical study that concluded that Aleve can reduce heart attacks. This is way past inappropriate. This is sleazy. Believe it or not, some people actually rely on the evening news for information about health matters. But on Nightly News they don't get unbiased information, they get contrived "news reports" specifically designed to promote NBC's best advertisers. When is the FCC finally going to revoke NBC's license to air a newscast?

By the way, during Bazell's story, we saw an interview with Dr. Charles Fuchs, who was described in a Nightly News graphic as being from the "Dana Farber Cancer Institute". Meanwhile, behind Dr. Fuchs's right shoulder was a plaque that clearly read "Dana-Farber Cancer Institute". Obviously, Bazell and his producers were too busy orchestrating Bayer product placements to care about the hyphen.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--Week Of Nov. 29

Here's what happened on NBC Nightly News this week:

Tuesday--For the second consecutive day, Nightly News did a story about the new Spider-Man play on Broadway. Together, these two stories provided three minutes of free publicity for the show. The main purpose of these stories, of course, was to plug the Spider-Man 3-D ride at Universal Studios in Orlando (owned by NBC Universal). And also to give more air time to Brian's pals Bono and The Edge (who wrote the play's music and lyrics). Meanwhile, at one point during the story, Anne Thompson stood in the middle of Broadway with some passersby singing the song from the old Spider-Man cartoon. I guess this is what passes for journalism at Nightly News. I'm surprised the producers didn't put a "breaking news" tag on the story.
* Brian did yet another story about a military father home from Iraq or Afghanistan who surprises his son by showing up unannounced at the son's school. Over the past few years, Nightly News has done at least ten of these stories. And they're all exactly the same. Dad surprises son at school. How many more of these will we have to endure? And how much real news did Brian ignore in order to bring us this "news story"?
* Brian informed us that the Saints' Drew Brees was selected as the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Apparently, Brian feels some sort of proprietary obligation to report any story that is even peripherally connected to New Orleans because he wants to appear as if he has some sort of special fondness for that city. Meanwhile, Brian didn't report that Brees chose Katie Couric to introduce him at the SI awards banquet. Obviously, Brian is devastated by the fact that Brees likes Katie more than him. And the greatest irony is that Katie didn't even bother to report this story on the CBS Evening News--because she understood that it isn't really news (and also because she's not narcissistic like Brian, who always makes sure to tell us when he's presenting an award). But any story that involves New Orleans makes it onto Brian's broadcast. Someone should tell Brian that Brees was born and raised in Austin, Texas, played college football at Purdue and played for the San Diego Chargers before the Saints.

Wednesday--In a story about unemployment benefits, Kevin Tibbles told us that four million people will lose their benefits at the end of 2011. To illustrate this point, we were shown a calendar of December 2011, with a big red "31" popping up at the end of the month. Unfortunately, the big red "31" pops up on the 30th, not the 31st. Well, at least they were close.
* In a "Making A Difference Story" about a woman who collects and distributes dresses for needy children around the world, Chris Jansing told us that, "Three years after scribbling in her journal, Rachel O'Neill looks around and is amazed." But a few moments earlier, a close-up of O'Neill's journal clearly showed the date of 11/22/06--which was four years earlier, not three. Perhaps Jansing needs to brush up on her math skills. But there may be another explanation for this discrepancy. It's possible that this story was produced a year ago and sat on the shelf since then. When it finally aired on Wednesday, the producers neglected to update Jansing's voice-over.
* Twice during this broadcast, Brian told us about the "world famous Christmas tree" at Rockefeller Center (he also mentioned it twice on his blog this week). Okay, we get it. There's a tree at 30 Rock. I guess Brian is hoping to get some sort of award from the NYC Department of Tourism.

Thursday--On his Daily Nightly blog, Robert Bazell wrote about a type of gastric weight loss surgery called "Lap-Band" (a copyrighted brand of the Allergan company), which reduces food intake. Bazell referred to it as "Lap Band" (without the hyphen). Detail is important in journalism.

Friday--During his obituary for Ron Santo, the Chicago Cubs' All-Star third baseman in the 1960's and 1970's, Brian told us that Santo was "a five-time golden glover". Someone should inform Brian that the Golden Gloves is a boxing tournament. The award Rawlings presents to the outstanding major league fielder at each position is called the Gold Glove Award.
* How ironic that Brian should report on President Obama's trip to Afghanistan (which was almost certainly done to prop up the President's sagging poll numbers). Like the president, Brian's trips to Afghanistan are for the sole purpose of improving his Nielsen ratings.

Bonus Flashback--On Nov. 23, Brian reported a story about the demolition of the Philadelphia Spectrum, the long-time home of the Flyers and 76ers. This was a mundane event that was hardly newsworthy. However, the Spectrum was owned by Comcast, NBC's soon-to-be owner, which explains why Brian included this story on the broadcast. It also gave Brian an excuse to show a photo of his idol Bruce Springsteen, who had played the Spectrum. Never mind the fact that Cream, The Doors, Yes, Pink Floyd, The Who and The Grateful Dead also played there (the Dead played there 53 times, more than any other act). For Brian, it's only about Springsteen.