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.