Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Does Nightly News Hate Arkansas?

On Tuesday's lead Nightly News story about tornadoes, the producers used the abbreviation "AK" to identify Arkansas--three different times. "AK" is the abbreviation for Alaska. The correct abbreviation for Arkansas is "AR". It would take an average ten-year-old using Google about thirty seconds to come up with the correct abbreviation for Arkansas. So why can't the Nightly News producers do that? Maybe they need to hire a ten-year-old. (I guess there's one producer who knows how to use Google because at the end of Jim Cantore's report, Arkansas was finally identified as "AR".) Here's a mnemonic device to help the Nightly News producers remember the difference: Sarah Palin from Alaska really likes her AK-47.

Incredibly, this is not the first time this has happened. Just about a year ago (4/23/10), a Nightly News caption informed us that Mike Seidel was reporting from "Little Rock, AK". Committing this error once is appalling. Committing it twice is inexcusable. Is anyone at Nightly News paying attention? Does anyone care?

And as if that's not bad enough, last Dec. 31, Julie Martin told us she was reporting from Cincinnati, Ohio when she was actually reporting from Cincinnati, Arkansas. Why do people at Nightly News hate Arkansas so much? That's really not OK with ME (those are the abbreviations for Oklahoma and Maine, by the way).

Hitting the Quinecta: Wednesday's lead story about Pres. Obama presenting his birth certificate was a bonanza for Brian Williams and his producers. It contained no fewer than five different promotions. The story was titled "Born In The USA" because it's Brian's life mission to relate every story to a Springsteen song. There was also plenty of footage of Donald Trump, because Brian and his producers are squeezing every last drop of promotional value out of Trump's media blitz so they can use it to plug "Celebrity Apprentice". Then there was a film clip of Michael Douglas in "The American President" because Douglas is one of Brian's make-believe friends. That movie happens to be from Universal, so it was also an opportunity to boost DVD sales for NBC's parent company. And just for good measure, they threw in a clip of "Oprah" because--well, because people just love her! Great job, Nightly News producers!

Finally, it's sickening and grotesque that the Nightly News producers used paparazzi news footage of Gabby Giffords walking onto the plane that will transport her to Florida for her husband's shuttle launch. This is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Can't they leave her alone? Hasn't she been through enough? Do the Nightly News producers have to exploit her over and over and over again? How utterly shameful.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

#@$&% Brian Likes

Monday's Nightly News featured a two-minute "news story" about the latest puppy-cam. The broadcast featured three promos for the story as if it was really important. And Brian raved about the puppy-cam, calling it "The best web-cam of all time." Nightly News should just be renamed "Shit Brian Likes" because that's really what it is. Brian does "news stories" on anything he wants. Dogs, Springsteen, firefighters, NASCAR, Gulf Coast shrimpers, Pringles, Donald Trump, Medal of Honor winners, Ted Danson, Paul Simon--it's unbelievable. Even worse--NBC did not even bother airing an east coast version of Nightly News on Sunday because obviously the hockey game was more important. But we get two minutes of puppy-cam. Great. How many actual news stories did Brian ignore so he could show us the puppies? How much time does he waste every year on garbage that has no news value? The FCC should forcibly remove Brian Williams from his job and revoke NBC's right to air a news broadcast.

Yet again, Brian has broken his promise not to do stories on Sasha & Malia Obama. On Jan. 5, 2009, Brian vowed not to run any stories on Sasha & Malia unless there is a compelling reason to do so. And for at least the fourth time, he has broken his promise. What was the compelling reason? Because they were reading "Where The Wild Things Are"? How about a promise not to show anymore puppy-cam stories (or eagle-cam stories or owl-cam stories or animal-cam stories of any species)? How about a promise not to show any more gratuitous stories about Gabby Giffords or Donald Trump or Michael Douglas? Or discontinuing the "news stories" whose only purpose is to promote Sunday Night Football? How about not showing endless movie clips as a substitute for news coverage? Here's a radical idea: Why not show 22 minutes of actual news each night? I know it sounds crazy, but why not give it a try?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Brian Williams Shamelessly Exploits Gabby Giffords

From Brian Williams's April 21 Daily Nightly blog: "I spent some time today with friends of mine -- people I first met through work -- people I first met because of a national tragedy. They are aides to Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and we talked about their lives, their work and their boss."

It's shameful that Brian Williams would claim to be friends with Gabby Giffords' staff. They're people he's met a few times while he was trying to exploit them. That hardly constitutes friendship. It's obvious what's going on here. Brian is cozying up to Giffords' staff and trying to ingratiate himself with them in the hope that he can eventually snag the first interview with Giffords since her shooting. That's what this is about. Creating the illusion that he is close to the Congresswoman in order to boost his ratings. For Brian Williams, it's all about the ratings all the time. Shameful.

Brian continues: "That shooting in Tuscon truly is one of the 'Where were you when you heard?' moments of the past few years. Oddly, I was coming out of a supermarket when my wife found me and called me with the news -- I sat paralyzed in the car, with the groceries in the back seat, listening to the early news coverage on satellite radio. I later went home and was transfixed by the early television coverage on cable while making preparations to go to Arizona myself."

Naturally, it's all about him: "I was coming out of a supermarket...I sat paralyzed in the car...I later went home...." The first thing Brian did after hearing about what happened to Giffords was to figure out how he could exploit her shooting to get higher ratings for his broadcast.

Donald Trumps Brian Williams

Brian Williams must think his viewers are really stupid. On Tuesday's Nightly News, the lead story was a five-minute piece about Donald Trump. On network newscasts, a three-minute story is considered long. A four-minute story is extremely long. And a five-minute story is the news equivalent of "War and Peace". Why did Nightly News devote so much time to a story about Donald Trump, someone who has the same credibility as Paris Hilton or a Kardashian? The answer is obvious. Brian and his producers were promoting Trump's NBC show "Celebrity Apprentice". Brian tried to sell it as a political story in which Michael Isikoff was fact-checking Trump and asking "hard-hitting questions", but it was just a promotional piece. Trump may be popular, but he isn't well-liked. So a "news story" that purports to challenge him isn't going to discourage viewers from watching "Celebrity Apprentice". In fact, just the opposite. The more unsavory Trump appears to be, the more likely people are to watch his show. No one watches "Celebrity Apprentice" because they think Donald Trump is nice or handsome. They watch because they think he's a weasel. Trump is a prime illustration of the axiom "There's no such thing as bad publicity". And Nightly News certainly gives him plenty of publicity. This is the fourth Nightly News story in two weeks to feature Trump. Of course, this is nothing new for Nightly News. One of the main reasons the broadcast exists is to promote NBC entertainment shows. Brian and his producers regularly insert clips of "30 Rock", "The Office", "Saturday Night Live" and "Law & Order" (as well as clips from Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon and other NBC shows) into "news stories" for the sole purpose of promoting those shows. He even shows clips from old NBC shows (like "Seinfeld", "Murphy Brown" and "Cheers") in order to boost NBC Universal's DVD sales. In the past year, Nightly News has shown SNL clips at least fourteen times. Of course, these NBC clips have nothing to do with any actual news--they are simply inserted gratuitously for promotional purposes. Case in point: Last July 27, a "30 Rock" clip of Alec Baldwin screaming about bedbugs was included in a news story about bedbugs. The clip did not offer any additional insight into the story, it was just a way to squeeze in a promo for an NBC show. Sometimes, the stories are invented just to create a reason to show a promo clip. Last June 18, Lester Holt read a story about the 30th anniversary of the first "Blues Brothers" movie. The "Blues Brothers" films are owned by Universal, so the story was contrived in order to sell DVDs. (There is also a Blues Brothers attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando, so the story was also intended to promote that.) Would Nightly News have ever aired this story if "The Blues Brothers" films were from a studio other than Universal? Of course not. Last Sept. 1, Brian read a 45-second "news story" about office gossip just so that he could show a 17-second clip from "The Office". On March 1, a story about the pay gap between men and women included a gratuitous "30 Rock" clip for no reason other than to promote the show. This is what Brian does. This is how he operates. Nightly News is a promotional vehicle meant to generate ratings for NBC's entertainment shows. Just last night, Brian conducted a three-and-a-half minute "interview" with Ted Danson in order to sell "Cheers" DVDs for NBC Universal. Danson has been on a lot of TV shows over the years (most recently on FX and HBO), but the only Danson clips Brian showed were from "Cheers". What a surprise. So does anyone really believe that Tuesday's five-minute mega-story on Donald Trump was shown for any reason other than to promote "Celebrity Apprentice"? If you believe that, there's a bridge over the East River that I'd like to sell you.

But the Trump story wasn't the only waste of time on Nightly News this week. We also saw three stories (totalling more than ten minutes) on U.S military personnel who were "Far From Home". These pointless stories had no news value and did not belong on a newscast. They were just part of Brian's ongoing effort to use his broadcast as the propaganda arm of the U.S. military. In his intros to these stories, Brian described each of the profiled service members as heroes. That was hilarious because on Monday, Brian had described Anne Thompson as a hero for her coverage of the BP Gulf oil spill. So clearly, the word "hero" has no value coming from Brian. Apparently, Brian considers everyone a hero. His dry cleaner is a hero for getting out that tough stain. His driver is a hero for getting him to the theater on time. His shoe repair guy is a hero for replacing a worn heel. Everyone's a hero to Brian. Military members, Anne Thompson, Bono, Derek Jeter, Brian's garbage man--all heroes. Kind of takes the importance out of the word.

What the heck is going on in Libya? I don't mean the fighting, I mean the name changes. On Tuesday, a Nightly News map of Libya showed the city of "Misrata". On Wednesday, a Nightly News map of Libya showed the city of "Misurata". What happened--did Brian buy a vowel from Pat Sajak overnight?

Here's a story you won't see on Nightly News: Early Friday, a man died after being tasered by off-duty police officers at Universal Studios Orlando. Is that part of the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter attraction? Maybe they would have been better off subduing the man with Harry's wand instead of using lethal tasers.

Finally, I have to congratulate Brian. He ended Thursday's story about Will & Kate's wedding invitations by saying, "It's kind of like the Olive Garden--'When you're here, you're family'." There's nothing like using a Royal Wedding to plug a sub-mediocre American restaurant chain. Since Olive Garden is an NBC advertiser, I'm just wondering how much they paid for the privilege of getting a prime plug from Brian Williams on Nightly News. I'm guessing that Brian eats free at Olive Garden for the rest of his life. Real smooth, Brian.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cognitive Impairment Among The Nightly News Producers

During Tuesday's Nightly News story about Alzheimer's Disease, an on-screen graphic told us that stage two of the disease included the symptom "Mild Cognative [sic] Impairment". Cognitive means of or relating to intellectual activity. So the Nightly News producers did not have enough intellectual capacity to properly spell a word that relates to intellectual activity. That is the very definition of irony.

This is from Brian Williams's April 20 Daily Nightly blog: "The local sheriff's office has purchased a fleet of three-wheeled dreadnaughts that cruise the terminals and gate areas. These suckers stand out: They are tricked-out with LED's and faux mag wheels. They are to Segues what Bentleys are to Smart Cars."

Someone should tell Brian that the scooters he's thinking of are called Segways, not Segues.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cajun Brian Williams

There wasn't much that was newsworthy in Brian Williams's stale, rehashed stories about last year's BP Gulf oil spill. Devoting half the Nightly News broadcast to year-old news isn't exactly engrossing. But there were some pretty funny moments:

* For the broadcast's second segment, Brian looked absolutely ridiculous standing on the bow of a boat. I'm surprised he wasn't wearing a double-breasted navy blue blazer with shoulder brushes, gold braid trim and little anchors on the lapels (get it--anchors for the anchor), along with a hat that read, "Cap'n Brian". Actually, I think that was Brian's personal yacht. I could tell from all the champagne bottles and caviar tins littering the deck.

* Did anyone notice that during his tedious, overlong interview with Dean Blanchard, Brian hilariously adopted a Cajun accent? He pronounced "hundred" as "hunnard" and "Grand Isle" as "Grand Ahle". I'm surprised he didn't end the story by saying, "We be raght back wit a lagniappe story aftah dis here coe-mmercial. Does you want some beignets and Po' Boys, chere?"

* At the end of the broadcast, Brian described Anne Thompson as " of the heroes of our coverage of this spill this past year." When I heard that, I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my Barcalounger. Thompson got paid a six-figure salary and was put up in a nice Gulf hotel for three months last year. And because the hotels were so empty, she probably got upgraded to the Presidential Suite. That's not exactly hazardous duty. Brian should look up the word "hero" in the dictionary. I'm pretty sure Thompson's paid vacation in the Gulf doesn't qualify as "heroic".

By the way, if anyone thinks that Brian's sappy, over-the-top coverage of the first anniversary of the Gulf oil spill was shameless and exploitative, all I can say is: You ain't seen nothin' yet. Just wait until later this year when you see his coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I hear it's going to feature soaring eagles, giant dancing Uncle Sams, huge waving flags, marching military bands and Sarah Palin singing "God Bless America". And that's just for the Nightly News intro. Brian is already taking lessons to learn how to cry on camera. And I can't wait to see the Nightly News iPad app for their 9/11 coverage.

While we're on the subject of shameless, Saturday's broadcast featured another Springsteen-related story. What a surprise--NOT! It had no news value, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that the story featured Springsteen. It's appalling how the producers will air any story that has even the most peripheral connection to Springsteen. Obviously, they're operating under direct orders from Brian. Forget about actual news. If you can work Springsteen into a story, that takes precedence. He gets more air time on Nightly News than anyone except Pres. Obama, Sarah Palin, Will & Kate and Donald Trump. It's like the producers stay up late at night trying to figure out ways to work Springsteen into fake news stories. It's shameful that Brian airs stories based not on their news value, but on stuff he likes. If you took away all the stories about Springsteen, Bono, Bon Jovi, dogs, "30 Rock", "Mad Men", SNL, firefighters, NASCAR, Medal of Honor winners, people who are "Making A Difference", GE scanners, and sponsors' products (like Bayer, McDonald's, Pringles and Cheerios), then Nightly News would be a five-minute broadcast each night.

And speaking of Donald Trump, are we supposed to believe it was just a coincidence that Saturday's story about the 2012 Republican candidates (which featured heavy doses of Trump) aired one day before "Celebrity Apprentice"? Obviously, it was intended as nothing more than a shameless promotion for that show. It's no different than all those football-related stories that Nightly News aired on Sunday nights right before NBC's Sunday Night Football. Or those "news stories" about Jackie Evancho that Nightly News aired last August when she was a contestant on "America's Got Talent". One of the main functions of Nightly News is to promote other NBC Universal shows. And lately, Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" is the beneficiary of the Nightly News producers' promotional efforts. I hope Bruce Springsteen never becomes a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice". Because if he did, Nightly News would be showing 20 minutes a night of Springsteen-and-Trump-related "news stories". I guess when you combine Springsteen and Trump, the theme song is "Born To Run Off At The Mouth".

Post Script: Here's an idea. What if the IRS ordered GE to pay several billion dollars to Gulf residents as a penalty for the zero income tax they paid on their $14 billion profit from 2010? Of course, if that ever actually happened, it would present quite a dilemma for Brian. He'd want to report the story because it's Gulf-related, but he'd want to cover up the story because it involves the GE tax evasion scandal. What's an anchor to do?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

NBC Nightly News With Will Ferrell

It's a good thing that Brian Williams included that ten-second Harrison Ford clip from "Air Force One" in Friday's Nightly News story about Pres. Obama's low-tech communication problems. Obviously, that clip added significant depth to the narrative and really helped us gain a greater understanding of the situation. So how come Brian didn't include a clip from "To the Shores of Tripoli" during the story about the situation in Libya? Or a clip from "Twister" during the tornado story? Or a clip from "Pushing Tin" during the story about air traffic controllers? Why doesn't Nightly News abandon news footage altogether and just use film clips to accompany news stories? Why even bother using an anchor? They could just show clips from Will Ferrell's "Anchorman" movie. Then Nightly News could finally complete their ongoing merger with "Access Hollywood" and "Extra" and become the film-clip-and-celebrity-show that they obviously aspire to be.

Three Things I Hate About Rachel Maddow

Here are three things I hate about Rachel Maddow:

1) Pandering--Virtually every time Rachel mentions a U.S. state, she calls it "The great state of...." We get it--like all cable talk show hosts, Rachel is desperate for ratings. But trying to curry favor with her audience by describing every state as "great" is really sickening. It's like Rachel is challenging Brian Williams for the title of "Biggest Panderer At NBC Universal". That's not a title anyone should want. Rachel is also very fond of saying, "The good folks at...." when she is describing a group of people. "The good folks at NASA." "The good folks at the ASPCA." "The good folks at the IRS." "The good folks at the insurance industry lobby." More nauseating pandering. Just say the name of the state or group. We'll decide how good or great they are.

2) Fishing--Rachel begins almost every interview by asking her guest, "Did I explain that correctly? Did I get anything wrong?" We understand. Rachel's really smart. She's a lot smarter than any of us viewers. She was a Rhodes Scholar, after all! But it's really sickening to hear her begin almost every interview by forcing her guest to bow down and pay homage by telling her just how smart she really is. "You got that exactly right, Rachel!" "No, you didn't make any mistakes, Rachel!" "I couldn't have explained that any better myself, Rachel!" "Rachel, you must have been the Rhodiest of all the Rhodes Scholars!" Oh, please. I think it would be better if Rachel just wore a hat that said, "I'm So Much Smarter Than You!" That way, she wouldn't have to fish for compliments from her guests.

3) Promoting--Rachel goes way too far when she promotes "The Ed Show". We get it--part of being a cable host means promoting the network's other shows. No problem. But does she have to take it to such extremes? She raves about Ed like he's the modern-day incarnation of Edward R. Murrow. "Ed's doing the best job in the universe of covering the situation in the great state of Wisconsin!" "Ed has more information than anyone else about Kate Middleton's wedding dress!" "Ed will tell you how to reduce your mortgage payments by 87%!" "Make sure you watch Ed to find out next week's winning Powerball numbers!" When Rachel gushes about Ed, it sounds really forced and insincere. She should just stick to the written script and not try to improvise. I mean, if Ed is as magnificent as Rachel makes him out to be, why is he languishing at MSNBC?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Nightly News: Completely InAPPropriate

Of all the low down, sleazy, unethical things Nightly News has done (such as using their "news reports" to promote NBC shows; inserting product placements and sponsor plugs into news stories; acting as the propaganda machine for the U.S. military; continually pandering to the viewers), this has to be the worst. On Monday's "news story" about Will & Kate's upcoming wedding (the 643rd Will & Kate story Nightly News has aired so far), they actually put up a banner ad for an NBC News Will & Kate iPad app across the bottom of the screen! So they're using the Royal Wedding as bait to try to lure viewers to NBC-owned networks. This is completely inappropriate. News should be presented for its own sake--because it's important--not as a way to entice people to watch other NBC Universal networks. And now we find out that Brian Williams will be anchoring Nightly News from London starting on April 27--two days before the wedding! Obviously, NBC is using the wedding as a way to attract viewers so they can increase their ratings and, ultimately, earn more money. Money, money, money. That's all that matters to NBC. And they don't mind exploiting Will & Kate to get it. Here's a great idea: Why doesn't Brian just stay in London after the wedding? After all, the 2012 Olympics begin in only 15 months. So that way, Brian could exploit the Royal Wedding for another six months and then immediately begin exploiting the Olympics.

Meanwhile, it's business as usual at Nightly News. On Friday's broadcast, a "Meet the Press" promo identified David Plouffe as a Senior Presidential "Advisor". On Saturday's broadcast, a MTP promo identified Plouffe as a White House Senior "Adviser". And on Sunday's broadcast, a MTP clip featured a graphic that once again identified Plouffe as a White House Senior "Advisor". In New England, they're fond of saying that if you don't like the weather, just wait a minute and it will change. At Nightly News, if you don't like the spelling of "advisor", just wait a minute and it will change.

Saturday's Nightly News featured a story they called "Puppy Patrol". Ostensibly, this story was about puppies that are trained to be bomb-sniffing dogs for the TSA. But in reality, this was just another excuse for Nightly News to show cute puppies because their research has shown that that's what the viewers want to see. So this story was just a way to pander to the viewers in the hope of getting good ratings. This "Puppy Patrol" segment was identical to the Animal Planet Puppy Bowls, which air every year on Super Bowl Sunday. Why doesn't Nightly News drop the pretenses and just show 22 minutes each night of puppies running around? That would certainly bring in higher ratings. And in case the Nightly News producers are concerned that showing nothing but puppies would mean that viewers won't be getting enough news, there's no need to worry. "The Daily Show", SNL's "Weekend Update" and David Letterman's monologue already provide more news than Nightly News, so viewers can just watch those shows to keep informed.

On Sunday's broadcast, Lester Holt spent 40 seconds talking with the Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee about Tiger Woods's fourth place finish at the Masters. Here's how Lester introduced the segment: "A big afternoon at the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia as Tiger Woods came on strong." Incredibly, not once did either Lester or Chamblee mention the small fact that Charl Schwartzel had already won the tournament! It's obvious what's going on here. The name Charl Schwartzel doesn't mean anything in terms of ratings. So Lester and Chamblee spent the entire segment talking about Tiger Woods because his name means something to the viewers. And of course, Lester never mentioned that the Sunday coverage on CBS was the second highest-rated final round of Masters coverage in the past ten years. If the tournament had aired on NBC, Lester and Brian would have been raving about the ratings. This was really just an excuse for Nightly News to talk about Tiger Woods and to promote the Golf Channel--which is owned by Comcast. Charl who?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Brian Williams And Kevin Tibbles LOVE Pringles

Let me make sure I understand this. On Wednesday's Nightly News, Brian Williams chose to show 60 seconds of Donald Trump's upcoming "Today Show" interview (followed by a full-screen promo still) at minute 9 of the broadcast--BEFORE stories about Libya and Japan. On Thursday, Lisa Myers spent an additional 2:35 reporting on Trump. These "news stories" were purportedly about Trump's presidential run, but of course they were only included on Nightly News in order to promote "Today" and "Celebrity Apprentice" (which airs on NBC). There is not a snowball's chance in hell that these stories would have run on Nightly News if "Celebrity Apprentice" was on another network or if Trump had appeared on "Good Morning America" instead of "Today". Trump has zero credibility. He's a media whore like Paris Hilton, Piers Morgan, Al Sharpton or any of the Kardashians. And Nightly News is willing to act as his pimp in order to promote their shows. How can Brian look at himself in the mirror without feeling a deep sense of shame over the way he manipulates his broadcast to promote NBC shows at the expense of actual news?

And how do the Nightly News producers justify Tuesday's story about the Vermont Country Store? The story did not have a shred of news value, and was nothing more than a two-and-a-half minute commercial for this $100 million-a-year business. Anne Thompson and her producers should be ashamed of themselves for wasting our time when there is real news happening all over the world. I would like one of the Nightly News producers to explain how they had the nerve to show this ridiculous story on a news broadcast.

Of course, the Vermont Country Store story pales in comparison to Wednesday's story about Pringles. This may be the most shameless thing Nightly News has ever done--and that's saying a lot. The story began with Brian Williams plugging some of Procter & Gamble's brands--Tide, Crest and Pampers. We were then shown clips from Pringles commercials--including one that featured Brad Pitt. (We were also shown--inexplicably--a clip from an old Edsel commercial.) We got to see a Pringles-related clip from "Ally McBeal". But mostly, we got to see Tibbles having a great time with Pringles. Just like Brad Pitt! There's Tibbles sitting with two cans of Pringles. There's Tibbles with a math professor who explains that the exact shape of the chip is a hyperbolic paraboloid. There's Tibbles holding a Pringles chip up to the camera. Then we saw some clips of P & G products--Tide, Gillette, Oral B and Wella--followed by clips of some Diamond Food products. The story ended with 15 seconds of various closeup shots of Pringles. Are they fucking kidding me? This was a two-minute commercial for Pringles! And for P & G products (P & G is selling Pringles to Diamond Foods). Ogilvy & Mather couldn't have come up with a better commercial. It's obvious what's going on here. P & G and Diamond got together and paid NBC to run this two-minute infomercial for Pringles. There is no other explanation for this. And the very next night, a Pringles commercial aired during Nightly News! It must have been part of a package deal where P & G and Diamond paid for a commercial and a news story on Nightly News. This happens all the time on Nightly News--they show "news stories" that are really just commercials for their sponsors' products--United Airlines, McDonald's, Heinz, Kraft, Walmart, Requip, Lifewater, Cheerios, Boniva, Aleve, Bayer, Chrysler, Chevy, Microsoft Bing--the list goes on.

And here's the most incredibly ironic part of the whole Pringles story. Eight days earlier (March 29), Nightly News aired a story about how certain food dyes may cause hyperactivity in children. The story featured dozens of food products (including chips), but not a single brand name product was shown! Only packages without labels or products out of their packages were used for this piece. So when the story is negative, the Nightly News producers won't dare show their sponsors' products, but when story is positive (or when the sponsors are willing to pay NBC for an infomercial), the producers show the products over and over and over. Unbelievable. I hope Tibbles doesn't become hyperactive from the food dye in all the Pringles he ate.

Postscript: At least the Nightly News producers learned one lesson. On 5/6/10, during the broadcast's lead story about the stock market, a Nightly News graphic misspelled "Procter & Gamble" as "Proctor & Gamble". Fortunately, in the Pringles story, they made no attempt to spell the company's name. Smart.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nancy Snyderman Is Dr. Cliche

Can someone please tell Nancy Snyderman to stick to medical stories? She's adequate at reporting stories about SARS or Swine Flu, but when it comes to non-medical stories, she sounds like a college journalism student reporting on a cable access station. Her Sunday "Making A Difference" story about a man who repairs and restores children's books was one of the most ridiculous and frivolous things I have ever seen on Nightly News. Of course, like all MAD stories, it did not contain a shred of actual news and did not belong on a news broadcast. But even worse--almost everything Snyderman said sounded like it came from "The Really Big Book of Bad Journalism Cliches". At one point, Bill Strong (the man she profiled) recited a favorite quote of his: "The hands, those precious, wonderful instruments, ask for some creative occupation." After he said this, Snyderman lovingly cupped his hands in hers and said, "Your hands--these hands. These are honest, good hands." Is she kidding me? And when she said that, she had a rapturous look on her face like she had just won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Or something even more important to her--an Emmy. I wish Snyderman was sitting next to me while I was watching this story, because after it was over I needed some strong anti-nausea medication. Let's hope that nobody sues her for journalistic malpractice. And I love how Snyderman made sure to tell us that Strong has been donating his services to the Princeton Public Library. That's admirable, but she neglected to mention that for all other customers, Strong's fee is $40 an hour (according to his website). Fair enough--he's entitled to charge for his work. But by intentionally omitting this fact, Snyderman was attempting to deceive us into thinking that all of Strong's services were donated free of charge.

I almost fell out of my bean bag chair when I heard Lester Holt (Saturday) and Brian Williams (Monday) mention the ongoing violence in Ivory Coast. After four months of ignoring Ivory Coast, this can mean only one thing: George Clooney must have gone there. But before anyone starts thinking that Nightly News has undertaken a new commitment to reporting important international news, it should be noted that Sunday's story on the Eagle Cam was longer than either Lester's or Brian's report on the situation in Ivory Coast. And speaking of the breaking news Eagle Cam story, it's pretty obvious that Nightly News viewers are going to get a lot more eagle news in the coming days. After all, last August, we were treated to two separate stories (totalling 4:10) on the Owl Cam. And on the subject of eaglets, it's not uncommon for the eaglet that hatches first to kill one or both of its siblings in order to increase its own chances for survival. Lester neglected to mention that fact. But I'll bet everyone at Nightly News is rooting for that to happen so they can show us one of those sad, emotionally wrenching "nature-can-be-so-cruel" stories that the NBC research geeks have indicated are extremely popular with viewers.

Can someone please buy the Nightly News producers an atlas? During Saturday's story about a police officer who was killed in Omagh, Northern Ireland, a Nightly News graphic identified the town as "Omagh, Ireland". There is a big difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Perhaps the producers think that Northern Ireland is just a region, like Northern France or Northern Italy. It's not. If they don't understand the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland, then they don't belong in the news business.

During Richard Lui's Sunday story about sex slaves in America, he told us that this problem existed in at least 25 states. But the accompanying map showed only 24 states highlighted. So which state wasn't given credit for their sex slaves? And by the way, with stories like this, is it any wonder that people think Nightly News is exploitative and sensationalistic?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Brian Williams's April Fool's Joke

This is Brian Williams's April 1 Daily Nightly blog post: "My thanks to the FDNY—the rock stars, the very best in the firefighting business. I was with them most of the day at their command center, getting briefed by the Incident Management Team in Brooklyn, an outgrowth of 9/11. I met with the top commanders, the Chief of Department, the Commissioner—and I saw all the technology and toys and equipment—but mostly I saw the talent in that facility. If all New Yorkers could see what I saw today and meet the people I met today, they'd thank God to be able to live in a City so well-protected. While the same, of course, can be said for the professionals of the NYPD, I'm a fire guy. Today's visit was in connection with a speech and appearance I'm due to make in the coming days. My thanks to everyone involved."

Is he serious? Is this some sort of April Fool's joke? Well, it's nice to see Brian taking time off from pandering to the military so that he can instead pander to the Fire Dept.

Tom Costello Protects Nightly News Sponsors--Again

Last Tuesday's Nightly News story about the link between food dyes and hyperactivity did not show, or even mention, a single brand name product. Instead, Tom Costello told us these dyes are, "Found in everything from drinks to candies, baked goods, chips, even pickles and mac and cheese." As he said this, we are shown video of these products--without identifying a single product by name. This is hardly surprising. All of these products advertise regularly on Nightly News and the producers are deathly afraid of offending their sponsors. The chips looked suspiciously like Doritos (from Frito-Lay), and the pickles and macaroni and cheese were likely from Heinz and Kraft, two of the largest manufacturers of those respective products. Simply put, Brian Williams, Tom Costello and their producers do not run negative reports about their sponsors' products. They do however, run favorable reports about these products. On 2/4/10, Brian spent 30 seconds telling us about the wonderful new packaging for Heinz Ketchup. On 3/17/10, Brian told us the great news that Kraft will be reducing the sodium in their products by 10%. And on 12/28/10, Brian could barely contain his excitement as he told us that Frito-Lay would be removing chemical additives from many of their products (which Brian proceeded to mention by name). And although many cereals use food dyes, Costello did not show or mention a single brand name cereal in his report. That's because General Mills cereals (such as Cheerios) are frequent Nightly News advertisers and sponsors (in fact, Cheerios sponsored Nightly News broadcasts twice in the previous week). Nightly News refuses to show General Mills cereals in a negative light. But they're happy to use their news stories to plug Cheerios. On 9/24/10, Kristen Welker did a "news report" about the shopping habits of American consumers that was little more than a thinly-veiled product placement for Cheerios. So it is hardly surprising that in Tuesday's food dye story, Nightly News did not identify the pickles, chips, macaroni and cheese or any of their sponsors' products by name. It was actually quite funny to see the producers presenting all of the products in this story in generic or unlabeled form. Their desperation to protect their sponsors was laughably obvious.

Contrast this Nightly News report on food dyes with Wednesday's CBS Evening News report on the same subject. The CBS report showed brand-name products such as Fritos and Ruffles (both from Frito-Lay), M & Ms, Mott's Applesauce, Gatorade, Eggos, Kraft salad dressings, Hellmann's Mayonnaise, Popsicles, Jello and a variety of cereals such as Frosted Flakes, Cap'n Crunch and Apple Jacks. It's obvious that the CBS producers, unlike their NBC counterparts, are more concerned with informing their viewers than protecting their sponsors.

It's also not surprising that the Nightly News producers gave this story to Tom Costello. Costello is one of the go-to guys when they want to protect their sponsors and withhold information from the viewers. On the 11/3/09 Nightly News, Costello did a report on harmful BPA levels in plastic bottles and canned food liners. Costello told us that the chemical was present in "brand name foods from vegetable soup to tuna fish, green beans to corn and chili." But the accompanying graphic showed only generic cans labeled "chili", "vegetable soup", "green beans" and "tuna". Not a single name brand. Meanwhile, ABC's World News reported the same story on the same night. The ABC story showed canned goods from Del Monte, Progresso, Campbell's, Hormel, Hunt's, Bush's and Chef Boyardee. As with the food dye story, Costello and his producers refrained from showing brand names in the BPA story as a favor to the many food companies that advertise on their broadcast and other NBC shows. (In the week prior to the 11/3/09 BPA report, Nightly News ran commercials for Bush's Beans, Progresso canned soups and Swanson chicken broth.)

What does it tell us that both CBS and ABC are willing to include their sponsors' products in unflattering news reports, while Nightly News is not? Simple. Nightly News makes a point of vigorously protecting and promoting their sponsors' products, while the other networks do not.

Let Me Make Sure I Understand This: Parts 1 & 2

Let Me Make Sure I Understand This #1: On Thursday, Brian Williams finally mentioned the N.Y. Times story about the duplicitous and shady methods that G.E. uses to avoid paying income tax, six days after the story initially ran. But when he did mention it, it was only to introduce a report (by Lisa Myers) whose sole purpose was to defend G.E. and allow CEO Jeff Immelt to make excuses for his company's immoral behavior. I had always thought that Lisa Myers had integrity and that she was not one of those NBC newsbots who automatically toe the network line and blindly defend the actions of NBC, G.E. or Comcast, regardless of what they have done. But I guess I was wrong about Myers. Her story was pure spin and damage control. I should have known better. Obviously, Nightly News would only air a story about the Times article if their intent was to defend G.E.

Let Me Make Sure I Understand This #2: With everything going on in Libya, Japan and elsewhere around the world, the Nightly News producers thought it would be a good idea to devote two-and-a-half minutes of Thursday's broadcast to a "Making A Difference" story about a school singing program for students with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. This story can be summed up as "'Glee' for the intellectually challenged" and it doesn't belong on what is supposed to be a news broadcast. Why doesn't NBC just spin off the "Making A Difference" segments into a separate one-hour prime-time program so they will no longer pollute Nightly News? Meanwhile, despite four months of continued violence following the elections in Ivory Coast, Nightly News still has not mentioned this story once. Maybe if George Clooney made a point of talking about the Ivory Coast situation, Ann Curry would sit up and take notice. Oh well, at least we know all about the challenged students who sing their hearts out.