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.

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