As part of his intro to Friday's final Nightly News story, Lester Holt said, "But there is one thing the people of Japan have not lost--hope." I don't understand. Two years ago, NBC aired some unintentionally hilarious promo spots for Nightly News that featured Brian Williams (in earnest voice-over) saying, "We live in extraordinary times. Our nation's in crisis. And yet there's that uniquely American feeling of hope." In this context, "uniquely" means occurring only in one place, and only to one set of people. So if hope is uniquely American, then no other country--not even Japan--can have it. If Brian said it, it must be true. Too bad he didn't tell Lester.
Saturday's broadcast featured a 2:40 "Making A Difference" story about a photographer who takes pictures of shelter animals in order to entice people to adopt them. In what alternate universe is this news? I thought it was the responsibility of a news organization to report the important events of the day, not to facilitate animal adoptions. This story was indistinguishable from those ASPCA commercials that show sad pets who seem to be saying, "Please, please give me a home." I guess the Nightly News producers don't care about the millions of viewers who are saying, "Please, please give us some real news." Here's a prediction: Nightly News will do a follow-up story in which Brian Williams looks earnestly into the camera and, in his most pandering voice, says, "Because Nightly News viewers are so incredibly generous, we've received thousands of emails from you asking where to donate money or how you can adopt one of these pets. We've put that information on our website. You really are incredibly, astonishingly generous. Much more generous than Diane's or Katie's viewers. Really." Trust me. It'll happen.
Over the past three nights, Nightly News has spent more than five minutes (so far) reporting the story of a Libyan woman who says she was abducted and raped by Khaddafy's troops. Fair enough, it's a legitimate story. But Nightly News has spent more time reporting this one story than they spent all last year reporting on rapes in the U.S. military. In 2009, there were more than 3,000 reported sexual assaults in the U.S. military (the actual number is believed to be much higher). Some reports have indicated that 30% of all women that have ever served in the U.S. military have been raped. So why is Nightly News devoting so little time to this important story? The answer is obvious. Brian Williams has made it the mission of his broadcast to glorify, protect and defend the U.S. military. Overwhelmingly, the Nightly News stories about the military are not just positive, they're fawningly flattering. No bad news about the military. Brian, Lester and other Nightly News on-air personalities (like the infamous Roger O'Neil) go out of their way to gush about the military in terms usually reserved for talking about one's grandchildren. Every time a Medal of Honor winner coughs, Brian reports it as news. They use subjective, inappropriate terms like "wounded warriors", "fallen heroes" and "America's bravest" on a news broadcast that is supposed to be reporting objectively on the military. We've seen three such stories in the past five days. Last Thursday, it was a "Making A Difference" story about the U.S. Navy's relief efforts in northern Japan. On Sunday, it was a story about soldiers who are commissioned to paint battlefield scenes and scenes of army life. And on Monday, it was a story about an organization that provides hockey equipment to children who have a parent serving in the military. The story on battlefield art was even more ridiculous when you consider that Sunday's broadcast started 10 minutes late on the east coast (because golf ran long) so there was a third less time to report the day's news. But no one would risk Brian's ire by daring to cut the battlefield art story. Goodness, no. These type of stories about our great military men and women show up on Nightly News all the time. It's ludicrous that Nightly News has largely become The Military Channel or a video version of Stars & Stripes. And it's shameful that Brian, Lester and their producers are using Nightly News as a propaganda machine for the U.S. military. I will never forget the scene from "Full Metal Jacket" that takes place at an editorial meeting for Sea Tiger, the Marine newspaper. The lieutenant is telling his reporters and photographers which specific words and images to use in order to shine the most flattering light on the military ("In the future, in place of 'search and destroy', substitute the phrase 'sweep and clear'. Got it?"). I would imagine that's exactly what happens at every Nightly News editorial meeting.