Saturday, January 29, 2011

Nightly News Producers Act Unethically

On Tuesday, Nightly News ran a 2:10 story about this year's Oscar nominees that featured multiple clips from the favored contenders. Let's forget (for the moment) that the Nightly News producers are constantly peppering their newscast with movie and TV clips in order to pander to the viewers who like their news to be less Nicolas Sarkozy and more Nicolas Cage, less Angela Merkel and more Angelina Jolie. I'll get to that later. During Tuesday's Oscar story, there were several clips each from "The King's Speech", "The Social Network", and "True Grit". In the first three "True Grit" clips, Jeff Bridges was wearing his eye patch on his right eye. But in the last clip from that movie, Bridges's eye patch was on his left eye. Obviously, the Nightly News producers flipped the image for the sake of convenience. They wanted Bridges to appear to be looking at Jesse Eisenberg, whose character from "The Social Network" was also on the screen. This is appallingly unethical. News producers are not permitted to alter photographic or video images for the sake of convenience. They are not allowed to flip images, they are not allowed to add or remove any subject matter from images (unless it is to block inappropriate subject matter such as violence or nudity) and they are not allowed to doctor images to make them appear older (a favorite tactic of the Nightly News producers). A news broadcast has an obligation to show news images as they actually appear, not as the producers want them to be seen.

The Nightly News producers' inappropriate flipping of Bridges's image raises serious ethical questions. How often do they alter photos or videos? Do they add or remove people from photos whenever they feel like it? What else do they do? Did Friday's purported video images of protesters in Egypt depict what actually happened? Or did the producers use stock footage or alter the video to make the story more compelling? We don't know. If they would alter an image of Jeff Bridges, who knows what else they would alter? Once that door is open, it's hard to close. And by the way, not only wasn't it ethical to flip Bridges's image, it also wasn't very smart. Why on earth would the producers choose to flip an image of someone wearing an eye patch? That made their actions pretty obvious. Why didn't they instead flip Eisenberg's image to make him look at Bridges? Since Eisenberg's image was symmetrical, no one would have noticed.

It's certainly no surprise that Nightly News did a story about the Oscars. Without a doubt, Nightly News is the industry leader when it comes to using movie and TV clips in their evening newscast. In 2010, Nightly News used movie and TV clips in 110 of their 347 broadcasts. (Keep in mind that many of these broadcasts used multiple clips in different stories on the same night. For example, on May 24, Nightly News managed to include clips from "Blackhawk Down", "A League of Their Own" and "Law & Order" in three different stories.) At the beginning of the year, "Avatar" and "Up In The Air" clips were among the Nightly News favorites. Later in the year, "Inception", "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" were popular. (Often, clips are featured simply because Brian Williams likes a particular movie or TV show. On Nov. 10, the broadcast featured clips from "Mad Men"--one of Brian's favorites--in two different stories.) On April 5 and April 8, Nightly News used two different Gene Hackman clips for different stories. (The April 5 clip featured Hackman in "Hoosiers" as part of a story about Butler University in the NCAA Final Four. Three days later, they used a clip of Hackman in "Crimson Tide" during a story about a smoking ban in Navy submarines.) Of course, the TV clips featured on Nightly News are predominantly from NBC shows like "Saturday Night Live", "30 Rock", "The Office", "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon". (And when the clips are from a show on another network, they make certain to obscure that fact as much as possible. On 11/12/08, a Nightly News story featured a clip of John McCain on David Letterman's show without showing a single image of Letterman himself or even mentioning Letterman's name!) After all, what's the purpose of having a news broadcast if you can't use it to promote your network's entertainment shows and DVDs? When "Law & Order" was cancelled, Nightly News did four separate stories about it, and all of them included clips from the show. A July 27 story about bedbugs featured Alec Baldwin's character from "30 Rock" screaming about bedbugs on a New York subway. A Sept. 1 story about office gossip featured a clip from--you guessed it--"The Office" (it's obvious that this story was contrived solely as a way to allow the producers to run the clip). Of course, these clips don't help the viewers understand the story any better, they just ensure that we keep watching. Any time a former NBC TV star dies (such as Merlin Olsen, Rue McClanahan, Pernell Roberts or Robert Culp), Nightly News makes certain to run an obituary (filled with old TV clips) because these shows' DVDs are still available for sale at the NBC/Universal store. Certain movie clips are featured on Nightly News (such as from the "Harry Potter" series or "The Blues Brothers") because they promote rides or events at Universal Studios theme parks. Naturally, the main reason why Nightly News shows film or movie clips is for the purpose of promoting NBC/Universal properties. But another reason is simply to maintain the viewers' attention. People are more likely to watch (and to watch again in the future) when they are bombarded by a constant stream of movie and TV clips. "Oh look, George Clooney!"; "Hey, that's Betty White on 'SNL'!"; "Cool--another 'Seinfeld' clip!" Brian Williams, Steve Capus and the Nightly News producers know that even during a newscast, people would much rather see entertainment than news. During a Dec. 18 Nightly News story about Amelia Earhart, they made sure to show superfluous clips from the "Amelia" movie that starred Hilary Swank, even though the story already contained a significant amount of actual Earhart footage. They didn't really need to show the movie clips, but of course they still did. Pandering to the viewers' love of entertainment is one of the ways Nightly News manages to remain the top-rated newscast. It's all part of NBC's strategy to make Nightly News indistinguishable from the shows that follow it: "Extra" and "Access Hollywood".

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Worst Evening Newscast Ever

After watching last Thursday's Nightly News, I was convinced that it was the worst single evening news broadcast that I had ever seen. Eleven minutes and fifteen seconds--more than half the broadcast--was devoted to Brian Williams's ridiculous round table discussion with George H. W. Bush and members of his administration (at the Bush Library in College Station, Texas). The discussion did not contain a single question, answer or comment that had not already come up a thousand times in the past twenty years. This discussion seems to have been orchestrated for the sole purpose of allowing Brian to say, "Look at me! I'm sitting with very important people! I'm so important!" But in reality, it had the opposite effect. Brian's appearance at the table actually made Dan Quayle seem to have gravitas by comparison. Here's an idea: Instead of covering stale news from two decades ago, why doesn't Nightly News cover some current news stories? You know, important stuff. How many real news stories were ignored so that Brian could feed his ego by asking silly, rote questions to a former president, who in turn gave rote answers? And I have to admit that I'm more than a little disappointed for another reason. I would have expected Brian's roundtable discussion to include some of the people he spent the most time reporting on over the past few years: Bruce Springsteen, Susan Boyle, Jackie Evancho, Chelsea Clinton, Kate Middleton, Chesley Sullenberger, George Clooney, Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, Bono, Michael Douglas, the Chilean miners and all those NFL players who are "Making A Difference" by helping to promote NBC's Sunday Night Football. Why weren't they at the table?

Thursday's broadcast featured woefully little in the way of actual news. There was the obligatory Gabrielle Giffords story, although there was nothing new to report. We got a two-minute story about a woman who tracked down her birth parents after being kidnapped shortly after she was born. Interesting, but not really news. Then Brian spent thirty seconds narrating a story about a huge organized crime bust in the northeast. This seems to be the one story on the broadcast that was actually newsworthy, but it got only half a minute. After that it was time for Brian's shameful 30-second plug for Walmart's healthy new food policy followed by yet another story about a "Winter Blast". I wish that I had had the foresight to copyright the term "Winter Blast". Nightly News uses the term so often that I'd be rich from the usage fees they'd have to pay me. After a minute spent talking about the inaugurations of Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Obama, Brian ended the broadcast with more of his roundtable discussion. Naturally, before signing off, Brian further plugged his discussion with President Bush by telling us we could see more of it on Today, Dateline, MSNBC and And that was Nightly News for Thursday, Jan. 20.

Yes, after watching that broadcast, I thought it was the worst evening newscast I had ever seen. Until I saw Friday's Nightly News. Brian reported from Tucson, telling us that, "We've returned here tonight to check back in on this community...." Well, actually, he had been in Texas the day before, so it wasn't exactly a schlep to fly to Tucson. He was sort of in the neighborhood. And instead of eleven minutes of a presidential roundtable, we got thirteen minutes on Gabrielle Giffords. First, we learned all about her move from Tucson to Houston. Look at all those people lined up on the streets waving flags and giving her the thumbs up sign! Nightly News followed her motorcade so closely, I thought I was watching the Zapruder film. After four minutes of that, it was time for Brian's interview with Suzi Hileman, who had brought Christina-Taylor Green to the Safeway on Jan. 8 to meet Giffords. It's obvious that Brian's interview was designed to elicit emotion, rather than to provide information. Because emotion generates higher ratings than facts. And Brian got exactly what he wanted--Hileman broke down and cried. That's the money shot--just ask Barbara Walters. Of course, Brian could have edited Hileman's crying out of the interview, but was there really a chance of that happening? Tears are always good for a few extra ratings points. Brian's exploitative, overlong interview with Hileman was followed, of course, by a promo for more of the interview on Sunday's Dateline. Hileman was all over the news this weekend, and Bob Woodruff's interview with her on ABC was much more dignified and thoughtful than Brian's interview. I guess Woodruff is more concerned with news than with ratings. After the break, we saw a 1:40 story about President Obama appointing GE chairman Jeff Immelt to head up his new economic advisory board. How much time would Nightly News have given this story if it didn't involve Immelt, the soon-to-be-former boss of NBC's parent company? After that, we saw a story about Sasha Obama speaking Chinese to President Hu. Funny thing--I recall that on Jan. 5, 2009, Brian solemnly vowed not to do any stories on the Obama children unless there is a compelling reason to do so. Promises, promises. Next, Brian told us of the death of another Medal of Honor winner. It's amazing to me that Brian is allowed to serve on the board of directors for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation while he regularly reports on Medal of Honor winners (and other military matters) on his broadcast. That is a glaring conflict of interest. But Brian doesn't care. No one at NBC seems to care. Yet another story on the weather was followed by a 2:15 story about Sunday's Bears-Packers game. You'd think that since NBC isn't televising any more NFL games this season, Nightly News wouldn't be interested in doing any more stories about the NFL. I mean, why do a story if it has no promotional value for the network? But NBC is thinking long term. Their next NFL game is only eight months away, and let's not forget that NBC is airing the 2012 Super Bowl. It's never too early to start promoting next season's Sunday night NFL games on NBC. The broadcast's final segment began with a minute of footage of Brian shmoozing with Rep. Giffords's staff. Look how well he mingles with them! They really like him! Afterwards, Brian made sure to tell us, "Notice they're all wearing those ribbons for their boss?" Which is just Brian's humble way of telling us that he noticed something that we didn't because he's so much more perceptive than we are. Brian then introduced the "Making A Difference" segment: "And again we came back here to Tucson to see how this great place was doing after that terrible day two weeks ago tomorrow"--yes, we know, he already said that at the beginning of the broadcast--"and what we found is the most extraordinary and ordinary acts of kindness popping up everywhere you look--everywhere people could use one and so many people have stepped up and really are making a difference." Does Brian know that Nightly News is a news broadcast? Someone really should tell him. The "Making A Difference" segment featured a man who plays the violin in honor of Gabrielle Giffords, a woman who acts as caretaker for the memorials that people have left and a cashier in the Safeway who gets hugs from customers. They should have attached a "breaking news" banner to that story. Lee Cowan's closing line was, "Turns out that soundtrack of grief is also a soundtrack of hope. There are lots of angels in this field of sorrow." Is he kidding us? This isn't news, it's a soap opera crossed with a Lifetime movie. Brian spent the final 45 seconds of the broadcast reading promos telling us that we can see more of his interview with Suzi Hileman on Dateline (where we can also see more of his roundtable discussion with President Bush), and also on MSNBC and on That 45 seconds could have been used for a real news story, but Brian thought it was more important to promote himself. Of course, the entire broadcast did not contain a single bit of actual news, so why should the final 45 seconds be any different? This was an appallingly grotesque display. An entire Nightly News broadcast without a shred of actual news. What a waste of time. Just imagine all the news they could have covered in those 22 minutes. Brian and his producers should be ashamed of themselves. But they're not. This is what they wanted to put on the air. Emotion gets higher ratings than facts. They prove that every night. And that's the story of the single worst evening news broadcast that I have ever seen.

Brian & Lester Make Mistakes

On Sunday's Nightly News story about Gabrielle Giffords's ongoing recovery, a Nightly News graphic identified Professor Geoffrey Manley as the "Chif of Neurosurgery" at San Francisco General Hospital. So how many years of medical school are required to become a "Chif of Neurosurgery"? Since NBC/Universal owns Bravo, maybe they're planning to spin off "Top Chef" and create "Top Chif".

Also on Sunday, while introducing a story about a successful voice box transplant, Lester Holt referred to a larynx as a "larnyx".

On Monday, Brian Williams introduced Andrea Mitchell as NBC's "Chief Foreign Correspondent". Richard Engel is NBC's Chief Foreign Correspondent. Andrea Mitchell is NBC's Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent. Brian seems to make this mistake about once a month. When is he going to learn who's who at NBC News? Well, it could have been worse. At least he didn't introduce her as NBC's "Chif Foreign Correspondent".

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nightly News Ignores A Tucson Victim

From the Jan. 21 Nightly News Daily Nightly blog: "Two weeks after the shooting rampage that left six dead and a dozen injured, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Brian Williams returns to Tucson today for an exclusive interview with Suzi Hileman."

Actually, thirteen people were injured in the Tucson shooting. Does anyone at Nightly News ever bother to check the facts?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Brian Williams Protects Walmart And Glaxo

Yet again, Brian Williams has stepped into the role of on-air corporate pitchman for an NBC advertiser. Last Monday, he shilled for Starbucks (for the second time in two weeks). A few weeks earlier, he was singing the praises of Frito-Lay. Before that, it was Kraft, Heinz, Microsoft, Boniva, United Airlines, McDonald's and a host of other products. And on Thursday, it was Walmart. Brian excitedly told us that Walmart "...promised today to cut prices on fresh fruits and vegetables and to reduce fats, sugar, salt (and) eliminate trans-fats in some of its own store brands by the year 2015." Praising Walmart for ending the practice of selling unhealthy food is like praising someone because he's stopped beating his dog. It's great that the bad activity has stopped, but where was the media coverage while the bad activity was still going on? I have never seen Nightly News do a single story about the high prices, lack of fresh food choices or the elevated fat, sugar and sodium content in foods sold at Walmart. But Brian is thrilled to tell us all about their great new healthy food policy.

If Brian wants to do a story on Walmart, why doesn't he investigate why Walmart sold Jared Loughner the bullets he used to shoot Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson on Jan. 8? Kmart agreed to stop selling bullets ten years ago, partly as a result of Michael Moore's efforts (as documented in his movie "Bowling For Columbine"). Why hasn't Walmart done the same? I think that's a much more important story than the fact that they will be reducing fat and sodium in their foods. Of course, Nightly News will never do a story about Walmart selling ammo because Brian and his producers are too concerned about offending one of NBC's biggest advertisers.

Interestingly, on the Jan. 14 Nightly News, Mike Taibbi reported that Jared Loughner had purchased his bullets at a Walgreens, not at a Walmart. At the time, I assumed that this was just one of the many factual errors that occurs regularly on the broadcast. But now I'm beginning to think that Taibbi and his producers conspired to intentionally mislead the viewers in order to protect Walmart from negative publicity. This is how things work at Nightly News. Regular advertisers get protected. Take GlaxoSmithKline, for example. They are one of Nightly News's biggest advertisers. On Monday, Glaxo announced that it was setting aside $3.4 billion to settle new claims made against its diabetes drug Avandia (this is in addition to the $2.36 billion charge they took last summer to settle some of the existing Avandia lawsuits). The $3.4 billion they set aside essentially wipes out their fourth quarter profits. This is a jaw-dropping revelation--a pharmaceutical company wiping out a quarter's worth of profits. It ran on page one of the New York Times's Tuesday business section. But Nightly News didn't report this story. It is the policy of Brian Williams and his producers to protect companies like Glaxo and Walmart from negative publicity whenever possible.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Breaking News--NBC Is Second In Nielsen Ratings!

What happened to all those great football stories Nightly News used to show on Sunday Nights (or occasionally on another night)? Like the ones they aired on 9/8, 9/9, 9/19, 9/26, 10/17, 10/24, 11/28, 12/27 and 12/28? (Altogether, those nine stories took up almost thirty minutes of valuable news time.) I really miss those football stories! Oh yeah, that's right--NBC isn't televising any more NFL games this season so there's no reason for Nightly News to air any more self-promotional football "news stories". Instead, the Sunday edition of Nightly News will now be airing stories that promote other NBC properties--like last Sunday's 2:25 story about the Golden Globe Awards (which were on immediately after Nightly News). And then there was Monday's follow-up story, which began with Brian Williams bragging that, "The Golden Globe Awards were seen by an estimated 17 million viewers here on NBC last night...." But hey--what's the point of being a network news anchor if you can't brag about your network's ratings? (Other estimates put the viewership at closer to 14 million.) Of course, Brian didn't mention that CBS handily won the overall ratings for Sunday night with an average audience of 20.38 million viewers to NBC's 12.77 million viewers (or that this year's Golden Globe ratings were down about 5% from last year's broadcast which was also on NBC). Nor did he mention that 60 Minutes (on CBS) beat the Golden Globes in the 8-9 PM hour. He also forgot to mention that CBS's coverage of the Jets-Patriots playoff game had 43.5 million viewers, a record for a divisional playoff game. Funny thing--on Sept. 10, Brian couldn't wait to tell us that the previous night's Saints-Vikings game (on NBC) "was the highest-rated regular season NFL game in 13 years." But mum's the word about CBS's record football ratings. (Similarly, last February, Brian couldn't stop bragging about NBC's Olympic ratings, but he never mentioned that NBC lost $223 million on the Vancouver Games.) Is that appropriate conduct for a professional network news anchor? Reporting Nielsen ratings only when the news is good for his network? An anchor is supposed to be a reporter, not a cheerleader. If Brian is going to report the Nielsen ratings, he should do so each night, not only on selective nights when NBC has something to brag about.

Of course, if the Jets-Patriots game had aired on NBC, we all know that Brian would have reported the ratings as if it was a breaking news story. In fact, if Brian had somehow managed to land a bedside interview with Gabrielle Giffords on Monday, I think the first question he would have asked her is, "So did you see the Jets-Pats game on NBC yesterday?"

And what's the point of being a network news anchor if you can't also use your broadcast to promote your sponsors? Once again, Brian took on the role of corporate spokesman when he spent thirty seconds telling us all about the exciting new Starbucks drink size (it's nearly as big as the city of Trenton, he told us). Needless to say, the Starbucks logo was on screen for almost the entire story. This isn't the first time that Nightly News anchors have promoted Starbucks on the air. Just a few weeks ago (Jan. 5), Brian spent thirty seconds reporting the breaking news story that Starbucks is unveiling a new logo. On June 14, Lester Holt was thrilled to announce that Starbucks was providing free Wi-Fi in their stores. And on the 5/5/09 broadcast, Ann Curry introduced a story about McDonald's new gourmet coffees (Curry called them "delicious brews") that included excerpts from Starbucks ads and interview clips with Starbucks corporate personnel. Does Starbucks pay NBC to have the anchors read these promotional stories, or is it just something the anchors do on their own to get free coffee?

I guess Brian still hasn't gotten that atlas yet. Last July 16, he introduced a story about Mexico's drug wars by saying, "Overseas tonight...." And on Monday, he said, "Overseas now to Haiti...." Since Haiti is closer to the U.S. than Puerto Rico, I wouldn't exactly describe it as "overseas".

Finally, I'd like to thank the Nightly News producers for the great story about Amy Chua's parenting skills. This is a story that deserved three minutes on an evening newscast? Really? How many actual news stories did they ignore so they could tell us about Chua's family? It seems obvious that the producers are trying to turn Nightly News into the fifth hour of Today.

UPDATE (Jan. 22)--On Friday, Nightly News aired a story about the upcoming Bears-Packers NFC Championship Game. Even though the game is on CBS, I guess NBC realizes that promoting football (even on another network) helps to raise awareness for the NFL and eventually will help their own games next season. After all, NBC is televising next year's Super Bowl. So it's never too early to start promoting.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brian Williams--Exploiting Tucson For Ratings

From Brian Williams's Jan. 13 Daily Nightly blog: "We are back in our New York studios tonight. It has been a long and difficult week, beginning at the moment on Saturday morning when I was—of all places—at the supermarket when I learned of the Tucson shootings."

Me, me, me. As usual, it's all about Brian. Notice how he makes sure to let us know that he was at the supermarket. He goes shopping just like us! He's a reg'lar guy!

"All of us on our travelling team feel like we put down some deep emotional roots in Tucson—it’s hard not to love the people there, and it’s impossible not to ache for what they're going through."

Pander, pander, pander. This is exactly what he says about New Orleans--and every other city that he goes to. Deep emotional roots. Sure, I'll bet. Does exploiting a city and its people for ratings count as "deep emotional roots"?

"Forgive my absence from this space: We were working long, long hours—and there was nothing I thought I could say that would add anything intelligent to the discussion."

Then again--does anything he says ever add anything intelligent to the discussion?

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--Jan. 11-14

Can someone at Nightly News ask Mike Taibbi to pay closer attention to what he's saying? On Thursday's story about Jared Loughner, Taibbi read some quotes that Loughner had posted on YouTube. Taibbi quoted Loughner as saying, "I'm going homeless because of this school," and, "I haven't forgotten the teacher who gave me a B." But the accompanying Nightly News on-screen transcripts have Loughner saying, "I'm going to be homeless because of this school," and, "I haven't forgotten the teacher that gave me a B." (Italics added by the Nightly Daily.) Someone needs to tell Taibbi that a quote must be read exactly as it was spoken or written, with no changes allowed whatsoever. Unfortunately, Taibbi isn't the only one at Nightly News who plays fast and loose with quotes. On Friday, during Kristen Welker's story, we heard an audio clip of someone from the Pima County Sheriff's Dept. calling in the initial description of the Tucson shooting: "We have a caller who believes that Gabrielle Giffords was shot...." But the on-screen transcript reads, "We have a caller who believed Gabrielle Giffords was shot...." Not the same.

And on Friday's broadcast, while narrating Loughner's timeline for the day of the shooting, Taibbi told us that, "At 7:04 the next morning...he goes to one Walgreens--tries unsuccessfully to buy the ammunition he wants--then at 7:27 he goes to a second Walgreens--gets his ammo...." Actually, Loughner went to two Walmarts, not Walgreens. The photos accompanying Taibbi's narration clearly show this. But there may be an ulterior motive for Taibbi's "mistake". Walmart is a huge advertiser on NBC Universal stations. So maybe Taibbi intentionally mixed up Walmart and Walgreens to protect a regular NBC sponsor.

Anne Thompson's obvious bias should disqualify her from reporting on any matters related to the Pope or the Catholic Church. She does not report these stories in an objective manner, nor does she bother to question statements made by Church officials. Thompson's Friday story about the beatification of Pope John Paul II sounded like a propaganda piece for the Church. For one thing, she simply accepted the ridiculous claim that a French nun was cured of her Parkinson's disease after praying to Pope John Paul II. Why didn't Thompson take issue with this preposterous story? Why didn't she ask doctors about the veracity of the nun's claim or seek medical proof? This is supposed to be NBC News, not The Christian Broadcasting Network. Thompson should be exposing hoaxes, not perpetuating them. In fact, Thompson should have taken a broader view and discussed the hoax perpetrated by Mary (mother of Jesus) 2,010 years ago. Isn't that what a reporter should be doing instead of marvelling at the awesome power of the Catholic Church? Of course, that will never happen. With 75% of Americans identified as Christian (and a third of those Catholic), Nightly News would never risk offending such a large group. Even if it involved telling the truth.

It's hard to imagine a bigger waste of time than Friday's nearly-three-minute "Making A Difference" story about a Tucson woman who hangs wind chimes around the city to remind people to be kind (should they rewind?). Nightly News still hasn't said a word about the disputed election (and the related violence) in Ivory Coast or the floods in Sri Lanka. But we know all about the woman who hangs wind chimes. Great work, Nightly News producers.

If anyone needs further evidence that Brian Williams tries to turn every news story into a story about himself, here's what he said at the end of his Thursday report about the new zodiac sign (and the reshuffling of the other astrological signs): "And this would mean a big change for yours truly from Taurus to Aries and who's prepared for that, really?" I guess Brian is the only one affected by the change in zodiac signs.

How absurd was it for Brian Williams to spend three days in Tucson? Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer each returned to New York after one broadcast because they understood that there was absolutely no reason to stay there any longer. But as usual, Brian had to milk the story. And as usual, he made sure to report the Tucson story from a highly emotional perspective, rather than a factual or informative one. It's the old Barbara Walters formula. What is Walters's goal during her celebrity interviews? To make the celebrity cry. That's the money shot. A crying celebrity equals big ratings. And that's the formula Brian follows. Report stories emotionally, rather than factually. Get the viewers to form an emotional attachment to Nightly News so they tune in again and again. He did this with Katrina, the Haiti earthquake (until he dropped that story for the Vancouver Olympics), the BP Gulf oil spill, and many others. It's like being shown a soap opera when we should be watching a documentary. Never mind that a newscast is supposed to present facts, not stir emotions. Since emotions equal ratings, that's where Brian goes.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Very Special Edition Of Nightly News

Where did Brian Williams and his producers get the nerve to arbitrarily designate Monday's Nightly News broadcast as a "special edition of Nightly News"? What made this broadcast a special edition? Was it on at a different time than usual? No. Was it on for longer than usual? No. Did it have fewer commercials than usual? Hell no. So why did Brian and his producers call this broadcast a special edition? Because it covered the shooting in Tucson? It's the job of Brian and his producers to cover the shooting in Tucson, just as it's their job to cover all the important news stories all the time. Nightly News does not deserve special mention for doing what it's supposed to be doing every night. This is eerily reminiscent of the classic Chris Rock routine where he criticizes people who think they deserve credit for doing what they're supposed to be doing anyway. He specifically blasts men who brag about things like taking care of their kids, treating their wives with respect or staying off drugs. Rock's punch line is (I'm paraphrasing), "You're supposed to take care of your kids. You're supposed to treat your wife with respect. You're supposed to stay off drugs. You don't get special credit for doing those things." If Chris Rock was watching Nightly News on Monday, I'm sure he would have told Brian, "You're supposed to cover the Tucson shooting. You don't get to call your broadcast a special edition just for covering the news you're supposed to cover."

It's hard to believe that NBC even cares about what happened in Tucson. On Saturday, the day of the shooting, NBC did not even air a Nightly News broadcast because they would never dream of interrupting their football coverage. One of the major news stories of the year was unfolding, and NBC decided that football was more important than news (by "more important", of course, I mean "more profitable"). If they could, NBC would show football in place of Nightly News every day because football earns more money.

And why was Brian Williams even in Tucson on Monday? Was there any actual reason for him to be there? There wasn't a single thing he did or said that couldn't have been done exactly the same from the Nightly News studio in New York. Here's some advice for the Nightly News producers: Let the reporters do the reporting and let the news readers read the news. Network news reporters (even some at Nightly News) are usually good at what they do. Many of them have been doing their job for a long time. And if they're working on one of the three evening network news broadcasts, then it means they are probably among the best in their profession. So let them do what they do best--dig for facts and report the story. On the other hand, Brian's job is to read the words as they scroll across the teleprompter. He can do that just as easily in New York as in Tucson. Easier, in fact, because there's fewer things that can go wrong in the Nightly News home studio. There's really no reason for Brian to be anywhere else, ever. There's no reason for him to be in Washington or in Afghanistan or outside 30 Rock standing in front of a snow bank or at the Olympics or in California (except that it allows him to get an early start on his family vacation). With all of today's advanced electronic media technology, Brian can interview anyone from the Nightly News studio in New York just as easily as he can interview them in person. If he's anywhere other than New York, it's just a marketing/public relations stunt. There's no real need for him to be there.

On Monday's broadcast, Brian told us that the hideous photo of a grinning Jared Loughner was his mug shot. No it wasn't. That photo was from the Pima County Sheriff's Office Forensic Unit. It is separate from his mug shot, which had not yet been released at the time of the broadcast. Rachel Maddow knew this. Why didn't Brian know it?

Also on Monday, Andrea Mitchell's story about incendiary rhetoric included some comments made by Glenn Beck on his radio and television shows. At one point, the Nightly News transcripts from one of Beck's 2005 radio shows appeared on the screen below the words "Glen Beck", while at the same time, a credit in the upper left hand corner attributed the quotes to "The Glenn Beck Program". So Nightly News managed to spell Beck's first name two different ways at the same time. Bravo! Also, credits for Beck's TV show on the Fox News Channel ("Glenn Beck") and his 2005 radio show on Clear Channel ("The Glenn Beck Program") came with quotes around the shows' titles. But an on-screen credit for an excerpt from MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown" had no quotes around it. Why? The answer is obvious: Because no one at Nightly News cares the slightest bit about consistency, accuracy or getting things right.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Nightly News: Lee Cowan Manipulates The Facts

It is appalling that the Nightly News producers, correspondents and anchors intentionally alter the facts of news stories in order to make the stories seem more compelling. On Tuesday, Lee Cowan reported the story of Cornelius Dupree who, according to Cowan, was released from prison after DNA evidence proved that he did not commit the crime of which he had been convicted. But that's not the way it actually happened. The truth is that Dupree was paroled last July--before the DNA evidence cleared him. So he was already a free man when he was exonerated. Cowan intentionally omitted that fact. He led us to believe that Dupree was released from prison after he was cleared of the crime because it made the story sound better. Obviously, Cowan and his producers believe that it is perfectly acceptable to manipulate the facts if it makes the story more compelling.

Actually, the deception began with Brian Williams's introduction to the story. Brian said, "A man convicted of a crime over thirty years ago was finally set free after new evidence proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had been doing time for a crime he never committed." Again, since Dupree was set free before the evidence proved his innocence, Brian (like Cowan) was manipulating the facts of the story to add emotional impact. I think it's safe to say that if this happens once, it happens repeatedly. How many other times have the Nightly News producers, correspondents and anchors intentionally played fast and loose with the truth?

And by the way, at the beginning of his story, Cowan told us that Dupree was "wrongly convicted of rape and robbery." That is not true. Dupree was sentenced to 75 years in prison for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. But he was never tried (and therefore never convicted) on the rape charge. Why couldn't Cowan get the facts straight?

Speaking of facts, Wednesday's Nightly News devoted 2:10 to the story of a homeless man who, because of his great voice, found work as a voice-over announcer. Let's forget the fact that this story has no news value and did not belong on a news broadcast. At the beginning of the story, a piece of video was credited to the "Columbus-Post Dispatch". There is no such newspaper. The newspaper is the Columbus Dispatch. (Moments later, a second Nightly News graphic correctly identified the paper. If they can get it right once, why can't they get it right twice?) And by the way, if such a newspaper did exist, it would be the "Columbus Post-Dispatch", not the "Columbus-Post Dispatch". Even when they fabricate the name of a non-existent newspaper, the Nightly News producers still can't figure out where to put the hyphen.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Stuck In The Middle With Brian

From Brian Williams's Jan. 4 Daily Nightly blog: "Someone in our newsroom saw the first mention on Twitter that Gerry Rafferty has died...It reminds me of driving in a crappy car to my community college in New Jersey...In the U.S., where many newspapers still didn't use the word 'cancer' until a few years ago, we still either use euphamisms for people with 'troubles'--or we say nothing at all." (Bold emphasis added by the Nightly Daily editors.)

Is Brian kidding us? It's hard to believe that the above statement came from someone in the news industry. No one in the print or broadcast media tiptoes around the subject of addiction. In fact, the opposite is true. Virtually every media outlet in the U.S. (and in most other countries) makes an immediate point of disclosing (or even trumpeting) drug or alcohol use in their news stories and obituaries, and have been doing so for many years. The media loves to talk about drug and alcohol abuse! Brian of all people should know this. Mentioning (or even hinting at) substance abuse makes the story more tawdry and sensationalistic and thus attracts more viewers or readers. By the way, the correct spelling is "euphemisms". Maybe Brian should have done more studying at his community college.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Same Old Same Old At Nightly News

It may be a new year, but at Nightly News, it's the same old same old. On Sunday's story about the incoming Republican House of Representatives, the Nightly News producers actually managed to misspell "Pennsylvania". During a clip from CBS's "Face the Nation", a Nightly News graphic identified Representative-Elect Mike Kelly as a Republican from "Pennslyvania". The biggest irony is that the Nightly News graphic was superimposed directly over a CBS graphic that correctly spelled the state's name. If the Nightly News producers weren't sure how to spell "Pennsylvania", why didn't they just copy it from the CBS graphic?

Can someone please buy The Weather Channel's Julie Martin an atlas? On Friday's Nightly News, Martin reported live from Cincinnati, Arkansas and told us about the New Year's Eve tornado that struck that town. Unfortunately, Martin announced that she was in Cincinnati, Ohio. As she said this, the caption at the bottom of the screen read "Cincinnati, Arkansas". Oh well, it's only a difference of 560 miles or so.

I think Richard Engel may have jet lag from all the travelling he's been doing. On Friday, he reported a story about added security measures being implemented in and around New York City. Engel told us that, "On the Hudson River...a barge and crane are...constructing a major anti-terrorism upgrade to New York's underwater subway line." Wrong. The New York City subway system operates only within the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. The subway does not go to New Jersey. The tunnels running beneath the Hudson are used by PATH trains, which are completely separate from the NYC subway. PATH trains are operated by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, while the NYC subway system is operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the New York City Transit Authority. During Engel's story, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly clearly identified the Hudson tunnels as "PATH tubes", and Engel's producers showed a clip of a PATH train. So why was Engel the only one who didn't know that the tunnels belonged to PATH? It seems that Engel is much more familiar with the goings-on in Basra and Kabul than he is with what's happening in New York.

Since Brian Williams took five days off in the past two weeks, I can't help but wonder if he and his producers intentionally misspelled Nightly News (as "Nitely News") when they submitted those five broadcasts to the Nielsen ratings service. That's what they do whenever they anticipate that broadcasts will have a lower-than-expected rating (such as when Brian doesn't anchor). When broadcasts are submitted as "Nitely News", Nielsen counts them in a separate category from Nightly News. That way, the lower-rated "Nitely News" shows won't detract from the higher-rated Nightly News shows and Brian and his producers can claim an artificially higher Nielsen rating for the week. Of course, this is completely dishonest. It's like giving a fake name to the police in the hope that they won't know about your prior arrests.

Of the 104 weekend days in 2010, NBC did not air a Nightly News broadcast on 18 of them (on the East Coast, and perhaps nationally) because apparently football, golf and horse racing are much more important than weekend news to the NBC execs. By "more important", of course, I mean more profitable. Ad rates are higher for sports than for news, so NBC made more profit by airing football, golf and horse racing instead of Nightly News. Well done, NBC. I guess we know exactly where their priorities are.

Creepy Creepy Brian Williams

What's the deal with Brian Williams's bizarre obsession with the male genitalia? On David Letterman's show Monday night, Brian felt compelled to tell us that his recent trip to California included a pat-down by an airport security official who went "right after Dave and the twins." Then he twice used the word "shmegegge" as a euphemism for his genitalia. He also told Dave that there was "almost too much testosterone" in the room (I think we all know where in the body testosterone is made). And on Jimmy Fallon's show last Feb. 5, Brian said that the luge bodysuit is "the most package-enhancing outfit...." It's really creepy to see a supposedly professional network news anchor appearing on talk shows and making repeated references to "shmegegges", "packages" and "Dave and the twins". From now on, whenever I hear Brian use an odd or unfamiliar phrase on his newscast, I'll be wondering if that is really a coded reference to his "shmegegge". Gross. I think I need to take a shower now.