Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Coming Soon To Universal Studios: Ratko Mladic

On Saturday's story about the summer movie blockbusters (a breaking news story if ever there was one), a Nightly News graphic identified Dave Karger from Entertainment Weekly as Dave "Krager". It would take an average ten-year-old about 20 seconds on Google to find the correct spelling of Karger's name (he has over 300,000 results). Unfortunately, Nightly News doesn't have a ten-year-old on the payroll. What would happen if the Nightly News producers actually gave a damn about getting things right? I shudder to think.

Meanwhile, wasn't it just last Friday that Brian Williams was whining about not having enough time to cover all the week's important news stories? Yet, on Saturday, Nightly News saw fit to devote two full minutes to a story about the hottest summer movie blockbusters. Why on earth would a "respectable" news broadcast air a story like this? One reason is for pure entertainment value. 83% of this story (1:40 out of 2:00) was comprised of movie clips. This was just a way for the Nightly News producers to feed entertainment fodder to their viewers. One more example of how Nightly News is morphing into Access Hollywood. The producers know that the viewers would rather watch movie previews than actual news stories (who cares about Ratko Mladic?). If the producers give the viewers what they want, Nightly News gets more viewers and higher ratings. But there is a more important reason why the producers aired this story. A total of seven movies were featured. Two of them--"Fast & Furious 5" and "Bridesmaids"--are Universal releases. And the other five movies all have a connection to Universal Studios theme parks. Universal Studios Hollywood features the monkey from "The Hangover Part II", and a display of some of the sets from the new "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" (which was partly filmed there). A "Transformers" ride is scheduled to open at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Singapore later this year. The Singapore park also features Po from "Kung Fu Panda". And of course, Universal Studios Orlando is making tons of money from their "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" theme park. So every single movie featured in this Nightly News "news story" has some promotional value to NBC Universal. Are we supposed to think this is a coincidence? Of course not. The Nightly News producers created this story as a way to promote their parent company's films and rides. Too bad Universal Studios doesn't have a "Horrible War Crimes of Ratko Mladic" ride. Then Nightly News might actually spend some time promoting--I mean reporting--that story.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Nightly News Wastes Our Time

Friday's Nightly News may have been the worst newscast ever. That's a difficult determination to make, since there are so many awful Nightly News broadcasts. But Friday's broadcast may have been the one.

Of course, the broadcast began with more exploitative stories from Joplin, MO. That was to be expected. And of course, Brian completely abandoned the role of objective reporter and took on the role of emotional participant. He began the Joplin story by telling us about the "sad process of remembering over 130 lost souls." And he ended the story by saying, "What incredible spirit after what they've been through." That's reporting? We also got a 2:10 story about how the Blue Angels flying team did not participate in the Naval Academy graduation ceremony. In what alternate universe is this news? As usual, it's just a case of WBW--Whatever Brian Wants. He reports on anything he wants, regardless of how little news value it has. Then it was time for the piece de resistance--a 3:45 bonanza of all the stories Nightly News missed this week. I'll let Brian describe it. "For our team here, this week started with a Sunday night flight to Joplin, Missouri and you saw our live coverage of what we saw when we got there and what those good people in that great town are going through right now. As a result, it was an awful week dominated by that relentlessly sad coverage and the loss of life. Because we had to devote so much coverage to it, a lot of other news happened that we didn't have time to mention. When we talk about our web site or that new iPad app we're so proud of--this is what we often mean--the stories we run out of time to air. But tonight in short order we thought we'd catch up with the stories that got away from all of us this past week." Wow. There's a lot going on there. First of all, Brian is the one who determines what airs on Nightly News. So if Nightly News missed out on stories this week, it's no one's fault but Brian's. He said, "we had to devote so much coverage to it," but that's not true. No one at Nightly News had to do anything. The choice was fully his. He's the one who clogged up Nightly News with all those unnecessary Joplin stories. He's the one who milked Joplin for emotional value. He did that for the ratings of course, and because he once lived there (as he mentioned several dozen times this week). Then there was another shameless plug for the Nightly News iPad app. The app is just a way to deliver Nightly News to a larger audience so they can get higher ratings. It's a ratings gimmick and nothing else. And when we finally got to see these "missed" stories, they were presented to us as if they were on an iPad! How unbelievably shameless! Some of these stories were legitimate: Pres. Obama in Europe, Bill Clinton chatting with Paul Ryan, the democratic congressional victory in upstate New York, the Supreme Court determination of overcrowding in California prisons. Fair enough. But here are the other stories that Brian felt were so important they had to be reported: A dog in Alabama found its way home three weeks after being carried away in a tornado. News? I don't think so. A Medal of Honor winner died. This is not news. No one cares about this except Brian. He serves on the Medal of Honor Foundation Board of Directors, so this is just a way for him to promote that organization and shamelessly try to encourage donations. And what a huge conflict of interest--an anchor reporting on an organization on whose board he sits! Then Brian said, "And mind you, we chose not to show you the YouTube video of the mother cat hugging her kitten who was having a nightmare or the guy practicing a speech that was ruined by his cat or the beagle that can catch a ball because this is a serious broadcast, after all." Naturally, Brian showed those YouTube videos as he was saying this. Apparently, he thought he was being funny. But by calling Nightly News a serious broadcast, he was actually being ironic. These are the stories Brian didn't get to report this week? Here are some more: George W. Bush nearly getting hit with a foul ball at a Texas Rangers game. Pres. Obama drinking a Guinness in Ireland. Is Brian serious? His newscast certainly isn't.

Here are some of the stories Nightly News DID report this week: On Wednesday, we saw a one-minute story about Oprah's last show. On Thursday, we were treated to a 25-second piece about otters swimming at the San Diego Zoo. That same day, Brian took 45 seconds to shamelessly promote the new Nightly News iPad app and he took 25 seconds to tell us that on Memorial Day, we should remember those who died. Since when is it part of a newsreaders job description to tell the viewers what they should be thinking? There was also an inexplicable story about a man who became disoriented while flying a small plane. With help from his wife and the control tower, he landed safely. No one was hurt. Nothing happened. This was a non-event. But this story was given 2:25 of air time. And on Friday, there was the Blue Angels story (2:10) and a "Making A Difference" story about Woodstock personality Wavy Gravy (2:45). Altogether, these stories took up 10 minutes of news time. But Brian has the nerve to complain that there wasn't enough time this week to show all the news? I can only imagine what would have happened if he did have enough time. We would have seen three minutes on sleeping kittens and two minutes on a beagle catching a ball.

Brian Williams Should Win A Clio!

Brian Williams should win a Clio Award for his unintentionally hilarious fifteen-second self-promoting spot that ran during Tuesday's Nightly News. The spot begins with a shot of Brian, who, in his most earnest and anchorly voice, tells us, "We're given a half-hour every night and we're handed the world, we're handed the nation, we're handed everything that went on today. It's a global conversation." As he says this, we see images of the Japanese earthquake, Osama bin Laden, President Obama, Savannah Guthrie, Richard Engel, Lester Holt, Stephanie Gosk, Khaddafy and others. And Brian. Lots of shots of Brian. I'm curious: Why wasn't Jim Miklaszewski, Andrea Mitchell or Mark Potter included in this spot? I guess they just weren't important enough.

A half-hour every night? Does Brian know anything about his broadcast? When the commercials are removed, Nightly News is a 22-minute broadcast. How on earth does Brian come up with "a half-hour every night"? And is he kidding about being "handed the world"? Brian hates reporting foreign news. He rarely covers anything that goes on outside the U.S. The reason for that is obvious: Ratings. As Brian well knows, sappy, tear-jerker domestic stories bring in much higher ratings than foreign stories. For example, Brian knows that his shameless continued exploitation of the tornado in Joplin will give him much higher ratings than reporting about Ratko Mladic. Mladic is one of the worst war criminals in recent history. He killed 10 times as many people as Osama bin Laden. But Brian knows that most Americans aren't interested in hearing about someone whose name they can't pronounce who comes from a region that most Americans can't even find on a map. That's why the Mladic story was buried in the second half of Thursday's broadcast. And that's why Brian did not even bother to mention Mladic on Friday's broadcast. Fortunately, there are responsible news sources like CBS, BBC World News and Deutsche Welle News. All of these networks led with the Mladic story on Thursday and reported it again on Friday. Not Brian. One and done. By the way, Brian really should take a few minutes before the broadcast to familiarize himself with the reports that will be airing that night. In a promo before the Mladic story, Brian told us that "he gave up without a struggle, without even reaching for his weapon." But moments later, Martin Fletcher said, "At dawn, Serb SWAT teams move in on a village house two hours from the capital. Inside, Ratko Mladic with two pistols." Maybe Brian doesn't think that pistols count as weapons. He should check with his pals at the NRA.

Yes, Brian is well aware that reporting about the tornado in Joplin will bring higher ratings than reporting on Mladic. In fact, Brian must have the same marketing and promotional team as Oprah. Oprah's last show was on Wednesday, May 25. That seems like a strange day for a final show. Why not end on a Friday? Or on the last day of the month? There's a very good reason. May 25 was the last day of the May sweeps period, when ratings are measured to use in determining future ad rates charged by networks. Oprah timed her show to end on the last day of the sweeps period in order to maximize her ratings and to maximize the revenue for ABC. Similarly, Brian spent Monday and Tuesday in Joplin. Like Oprah, he did this because it was the end of the sweeps period and he wanted to maximize his ratings and maximize NBC's ad revenue. Brian spent a lot of time this week on stories about Joplin. Telling us how many people died. But he didn't say it that way. He kept referring to them as "lost souls". Because that's more emotional. And Brian knows that emotion earns higher ratings than reporting. And he told us over and over and over that he used to live in Joplin. Again, emotion equals ratings. On Wednesday, he spent four minutes shamelessly and grotesquely exploiting a poor woman whose husband had died in the tornado. All for ratings. Make no mistake--Brian is a master self-promoter, just like Donald Trump and Oprah. Maybe Brian should take a cue from Oprah and start a TV network. But instead of calling it OWN, he could call it EGO.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Brian Williams Exploits Bethany Lansaw

Does Brian Williams have a shred of human decency? On Wednesday's Nightly News, he spent four minutes interviewing Bethany Lansaw, whose husband was killed while protecting her during Sunday's tornado in Joplin, MO. What a shameless and grotesque exploitation of this poor woman's suffering. What a horrible thing to put her through. She was 24 or 48 hours removed from tragically losing her husband (depending on when this interview was taped) and Brian is right there like a vulture to take advantage of her misery in order to gain a few ratings points. How awful. Just because Bethany consented to the interview doesn't mean it was appropriate. People who are grieving over a recent tragic loss can't always be expected to show sound judgment or know what choices are best for themselves. It's supposed to be Brian's responsibility to use discretion and show restraint. He failed miserably. How could he take advantage of this poor woman this way? This is by far the lowest point for Brian Williams and Nightly News. Murrow and Cronkite are rolling over in their graves. I'm surprised that Brian didn't try to get Bethany to hold up a tube of Pringles or eat a Big Mac during the interview. That would have been great publicity for one of Nightly News's sponsors. Or perhaps Brian should have offered her some Tums. Since they work on heartburn, maybe they also work on heartache.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nightly News Promotes Oprah

In case anyone needs further evidence that Nightly News is a joke, here it is. NBC did not air a Nightly News broadcast on Saturday, because they needed three hours to cover a two-minute horse race. So when Nightly News came on the air Sunday, it was their first newscast in 48 hours. And what did they choose to spend time on? A story about the new "Hangover 2" movie and a story about Oprah's last show. Sunday's Nightly News devoted a total of five minutes--nearly a quarter of the broadcast--to these two stories. Now we all know that Nightly News rarely covers an entertainment subject unless they are promoting the interests of NBC Universal or Comcast. So while "The Hangover 2" is a Warner Bros. movie, it's obvious that NBC Universal has a hand in there somewhere. For one thing, the capuchin monkey that appears in the film is currently performing at Universal Studios Hollywood. So by hyping the film, Nightly News is helping to draw visitors to Universal Studios. And let's not forget that the film will eventually be appearing on Comcast's Pay-Per-view channel. So promoting the film is a great way for Nightly News to boost their parent company's PPV revenue. Smart.

And what about Oprah? Why did Nightly News air a 2:40 "news story" about Oprah's last show? Because if viewers want to see Oprah's new network, OWN, they have to subscribe to Comcast. So by promoting Oprah's network, Nightly News was promoting a channel that is helping to line Comcast's corporate pockets. Well done, Nightly News producers.

On Friday's story about how the Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries is handling the flooding in that state, we saw an interview with someone who was identified in a Nightly News graphic as "Randy Pausinn". His name is actually Randy Pausina, and he's the Asst. Secretary of the DWF. On Sunday's story about Pres. Obama's attempt to mediate the Israel-Palestine conflict, Martin Indyk was described in a graphic as a "Former U.S. Anbassador". So how does one get appointed as an "anbassador"? I guess you have to know some very "inportant" people.

Why is Nightly News constantly misspelling names? This rarely happens on ABC's World News or on the CBS Evening News. But it's a frequent occurrence on Nightly News. Obviously, the Nightly News producers don't care very much about accuracy--certainly not as much as their counterparts at ABC and CBS. There's a word for this type of carelessness. It's called "sloppy". Nightly News is a sloppy broadcast and they employ sloppy producers. If they can't even spell names correctly, how are we supposed to trust them with the important stuff. Answer: We can't.

Brian Williams Exploits The People Of Joplin

It was really difficult to watch Monday's Nightly News, which Brian Williams anchored from the tornado-ravaged city of Joplin, Missouri. Not because of all the death and destruction--it was difficult to watch because of Brian's fawning, obsequious, pandering, exploitative, I'm-pretending-to-care reporting. As usual, the story was all about him. I lost track of how many times he told us that he had once lived in Joplin and it was sad to witness his desperation to appear as if he was a local ("I was in a Walgreens today..."). Reporters are supposed to be objective. They are not supposed to use words like "I", "me", "my" or "mine". They are not supposed to use phrases like, "If you're like me...", or "For those of us who...." Someone should tell that to Brian Williams. Every night, he desperately attempts to turn news stories into stories about himself. He is without a doubt his own favorite subject.

Although Monday's broadcast devoted all but two minutes to the tornado in Joplin, there was hardly anything on the broadcast that could be considered news. Instead of providing information, Brian and the Nightly News correspondents offered a litany of interviews with residents. It seems obvious that the goal of the producers and correspondents was to film people crying, which virtually every interview subject did, as if on cue. It's a perfect example of what Bill Maher calls "Disaster Porn"--exploiting people's suffering for ratings. There is not much news or real information that can be gleaned from distressed or hysterical people, so these interviews had little news value. But of course, providing information is never Brian's goal. His goal is maintaining and adding viewers--in other words, increasing his ratings. And Brian can do more to increase his ratings by showing interviews with sobbing residents than by providing actual information. That's the tried-and-true Nightly News formula. Appeal to the viewers' emotions rather than their logic. Because emotion causes viewers to form a much stronger bond with Brian and his broadcast than the bond that is formed by providing relevant facts. So all this week Brian will continue to interview crying residents (and even hug them, as he did--insincerely--on Monday) because that is the best way for him to increase his ratings. It's shameful and exploitative that Brian is using these poor, devastated people for that purpose, but he doesn't care. All that matters are the Nielsen numbers. It's surprising that no one told Brian to get the hell out of their city and stop exploiting them, but we all know that people love to be on television--even if it's because they suffered a devastating loss. And if anyone did say that to Brian, he sure as hell wouldn't put it on the air.

And let's get one thing straight. Brian was in Joplin for one reason and one reason only: Because this is a ratings sweeps period. The current sweeps period runs through Wednesday, so I'm guessing that Brian will stay in Joplin through...Wednesday.

Another of Brian's favorite tricks is to appeal to the viewers' emotions by showing cute, sad dogs. I'm sure that we will see a story this week about all the dogs that were pulled from the tornado wreckage and the wonderful people in the local animal shelters who are taking such good care of these dogs. I wonder--can dogs cry? If they can, the Nightly News producers will do everything they can to catch them crying on camera. Maybe they'll even poke the dogs with a sharp stick to get them to shed a tear and look even more ragged and injured than they already are. That would make great video. And there's absolutely no doubt that Brian will make a point of pandering to the viewers by announcing (several times) how incredibly generous the Nightly News viewers have been with their donations. Because we all know that Nightly News viewers are the most generous in all the land. We know that because Brian says it over and over and over again. So it must be true. Clearly, the ABC and CBS viewers are petty cheapskates.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Brian Williams: Loves Ronald McDonald, Hates Scott Pelley

Brian Williams has become brazen. He no longer even pretends to disguise the frequent on-air promotions and product placements that he does for NBC and its sponsors. On Wednesday, a "news story" about Lady Gaga was shoehorned into Nightly News simply to promote her upcoming appearance on this week's Saturday Night Live. And that was followed by a story whose sole purpose was to defend McDonald's against accusations that it is inappropriate of them to use a clown to lure young children to their menu of high fat, high sodium and high cholesterol food. Brian made it clear where he stands on the issue. He said that the criticism of Ronald McDonald "seems a little harsh". So much for objective journalism. Of course, Brian's piece contained lots of video of McDonald's restaurants and Ronald McDonald, and even included clips from McDonald's commercials. What's the purpose of having a news broadcast if you can't use it to promote your network's best sponsors? In the story, Brian told us that, "Protesters...say a clown just shouldn't be used to promote fast food." But apparently, a news broadcast should.

Thursday's Nightly News was no different. The lead story was about Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's possible connection to the 1982 Tylenol tampering case. At the beginning and end of the story, Pete Williams was standing in front of a giant TV screen with the Tylenol logo. The story contained multiple shots of Tylenol. This was one big product placement for a regular NBC advertiser. And when you consider all the advertising dollars that NBC takes in from Johnson & Johnson (Tylenol's manufacturer), it's hardly a surprise that Nightly News did such a nice favor for one of their biggest advertisers.

One of the biggest blockbuster stories this week was the CBS News interview with Lance Armstrong's former teammates who say that Armstrong was doping during all of his Tour de France victories. This was the lead story on the CBS Evening News Thursday and Friday. But Nightly News did not even mention the story. The reason is obvious. The full Armstrong story will appear on Sunday's "60 Minutes", which airs opposite NBC's "Dateline". Brian and his producers desperately avoid mentioning "60 Minutes" because they don't want to hurt the "Dateline" ratings. But there's another reason why Brian didn't mention this story. The "60 Minutes" story was reported by Scott Pelley. Pelley is scheduled to take over as the anchor of CBS Evening News on June 6, so he will be Brian's direct competitor. The most important thing to Brian are his ratings, and as such he would never do anything to call attention to one of his competitors. Especially since Pelley is currently generating a lot of buzz. Of course, on June 5, I'm sure that Brian will welcome his "friend" Scott Pelley to the CBS anchor desk. He must appear to be cordial while thinking of ways to stab Pelley in the back.

It's interesting how Brian tells us what he wants us to believe, not what actually happens. On Thursday, he reported that "Dick Ebersol is leaving" NBC. However, Friday's New York Times page 1 headline screamed, "NBC Executive Who Delivered Olympics Quits". According to the Times article, Ebersol "resigned abruptly on Thursday after negotiations on a four-year contract collapsed". That sounds a bit different from "leaving". Of course, we can't expect Brian to report truthfully about anything related to NBC. His job is not to report the news, but to spin the facts in a way that shows NBC in the best possible light. He loves to brag about ratings for NBC shows when they're good, but never mentions ratings when they're bad. Meanwhile, it's been 15 months since the Vancouver Olympics, and Brian still hasn't mentioned that NBC lost $223 million on the Games.

Another story in the news lately: Recording artists initiated a class action suit against Universal Music (owned by NBC's parent company) claiming that Universal bilked them out of millions of dollars in royalties. Of course, this story was not mentioned on Nightly News. And Brian still hasn't reported that a former FCC commissioner (who voted to approve Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal) will be joining NBC Universal as a senior vice-president and lobbyist. I won't hold my breath waiting for Brian to report this.

On Wednesday's Nightly News, Lisa Myers reported on a new John Jay College research study (commissioned by American Catholic bishops) about sexual abuse by priests. She told us that, "Surprisingly, the report takes issue with the term 'pedophile priest', saying less than 5% of the thousands of priests accused of abuse met the definition of 'pedophile'." But Myers's report contained a glaring omission. She did not mention an important fact that was reported the same night by Elaine Quijano on the CBS Evening News. According to Quijano, "The Church provided the information for analysis [in the John Jay report], and makes a controversial decision to label priests pedophiles only if they molested children age 10 or younger. By their standards, only 5% of the priests fit the pedophile profile." So the Catholic Church only considers a priest to be a pedophile if he molested a child 10 years old or younger. Molesting a child between the ages of 11 and 16 is not considered pedophilia by the Church. That is an astounding claim, and it is astounding that Myers did not report it. This is yet another example of Nightly News protecting the Catholic Church. Obviously, Brian Williams had a hand in the way this story was reported. Brian is Catholic. You can draw your own conclusions.

Finally, what's the deal with Maria Menounos? She reported two Nightly News stories this week. Do the producers actually think she has any journalistic credibility? She's a reporter for Access Hollywood! Her job is stalking celebrities (that is, when she's not desperately trying to further her acting career with roles in TV shows like "One Tree Hill" or "Knight Rider"). And did Brian really think he was bolstering her credentials by showing the current issue of Self, which features Menounos on the cover? The headline accompanying her photo is "Drop-a-Size Secrets From Access Hollywood's Maria Menounos". Are we supposed to take her seriously? She isn't exactly Martha Raddatz or Christiane Amanpour, you know.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Weekend Without News

This weekend's Nightly News really bothered me because...oh wait a second. My bad. There was no Nightly News this weekend. Not on Saturday, not on Sunday. Because obviously, NBC believed that Golf was more important (meaning, of course, more profitable) than news. And here's the kicker: On Monday's Nightly News, Brian Williams and his producers thought it would be a good idea to spend two-and-a-half minutes on a story about how the high pollen count is causing bad allergies this season (featuring a doctor who seemed to be doing his best Gilbert Gottfried impression). That's great. Nightly News hasn't been on for three days--they have 72 hours of news to catch up on--and they're wasting time talking about pollen. What a dedicated news organization.

And surprise, surprise--Monday's Nightly News featured yet another story about Donald Trump. With the season finale of "Celebrity Apprentice" set to air this Sunday, that's obviously not a coincidence. Nightly News is the marketing arm for NBC Universal's entertainment and sports divisions. It's clear that Brian and his producers spent many hours in the Nightly News Situation Room (located deep in the bowels of 30 Rock) working closely with Trump's people figuring out exactly how Nightly News can best promote "Celebrity Apprentice" this week.

And then there was the story about the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. This story deserved about twenty seconds of air time, but it was padded out to three minutes so that Brian and Tom Costello could continue to exploit Gabby Giffords. Hasn't this poor woman been through enough? Can't Brian and his staff just leave her alone already? Sadly, no. I'm sure that the Nightly News producers are already hard at work figuring out how to hack into the Memorial Hermann laser camera feed so they can broadcast live pirate video of her upcoming skull reattachment surgery. Brought to you by Tums.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fawning Pandering Brian Williams

What a great week of news it was on Nightly News. On Monday, Brian Williams told us that McDonald's will be spending over $1 billion to refurbish their restaurants (I wonder how much Brian was paid for this promo). We learned that Pres. Reagan kept a hand-written file of jokes to use for all occasions. And we learned that Ann Curry will be the new co-host of "Today". On Tuesday, we learned that Arnold and Maria have separated. We learned that former NBC producer Jeff Gralnick (who no viewers had ever heard of) had died. And we learned that a group of people in Detroit are helping that city's stray dogs. On Wednesday, we learned that Princess Beatrice's hat from the Royal Wedding is now an internet sensation. We learned that a group of people called the Story Pirates go to elementary schools and act out plays written by students. On Friday, we learned that a Connecticut high school student was banned from his prom because he asked a girl to be his date by hanging giant letters on the side of his school. What a great week of news. Of course, we didn't see any stories about the riots in Greece (Nightly News doesn't have enough Greek-American viewers to justify reporting this story). We didn't see the newly-released footage of the Navy SEAL who went berserk in Las Vegas last year and attacked 15 people including a 67-year-old woman (Brian would never report a negative story about a Navy SEAL). We didn't see a story about the dangers of hip replacements (Smith & Nephew joint replacements is a Nightly News sponsor). And we didn't see the story about the FCC commissioner who announced she would leave the FCC in June so she can work for Comcast as a lobbyist just four months after voting to approve Comcast's purchase of NBC Universal (I think it's obvious why this story was not reported on Nightly News). Oh well, I guess there isn't enough time to report all the news. But at least we know all about Princess Beatrice's hat and Ann Curry's new job.

Over the years, we've seen plenty of gratuitous product placements on Nightly News. But Friday's plug may be the best one ever. During Mark Potter's story about the methamphetamine epidemic in Tennessee, the camera zoomed in on a flattened box of Aleve-D Sinus and Cold medication at the scene of a meth lab (it contains pseudoephedrine, an ingredient needed for making meth). Aleve is one of Nightly News's most frequent sponsors so this was quite the innovative product placement. Bravo, Nightly News producers.

On Friday's broadcast, Brian set a new record for pandering. He announced no fewer than four times how generous and wonderful his viewers were for donating money to the Detroit Dog Rescue after Nightly News aired a story about that group on Tuesday. This was really sickening. Tuesday's original story didn't belong on a news broadcast since it did not contain a shred of actual news. But Friday's follow-up story set a new low for irrelevance. It was a story about how Nightly News reported a story. Is there anything more ridiculous than that? And I'm surprised that Brian didn't dislocate his shoulder from patting himself on the back so often. This was a perfect illustration of his desperate need for self-promotion and self-congratulation. He couldn't be more pleased with himself for putting these stories on the air. And he couldn't be more fawning and pandering to the viewers. This is the best way Brian can come up with to achieve ratings? Pandering to the viewers? If Brian wants to promote his favorite charities, he should take a job with a non-profit group. If he likes pandering so much, he should work at Access Hollywood so he can tell celebrities how great they look. But if he wants to anchor a news broadcast, he should report news, not garbage.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Brian Williams Hates Your Dog

Let me make sure I understand this. On Tuesday's Nightly News, Tums sponsored a "Making A Difference" story about Detroit Dog Rescue, an organization that assists and rescues dogs from the streets of Detroit. Tums is a GlaxoSmithKline product. Glaxo is one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, and as such, they are also one of the world's largest utilizers of animal testing. So a story about people who rescue dogs was sponsored by a company that tortures and kills animals for profit. Glaxo kills more dogs in a week than DDR rescues in a year! This is incredible. Are any of the Nightly News producers paying attention to the relationship between their stories and their sponsors? If they are paying attention, it certainly seems as if they don't care.

Amazingly, this is not the first time that a Glaxo product was allowed to sponsor a Nightly News story about helping animals. On 11/20/09, Beano sponsored a story about hospitalized children in South Dakota who can watch zoo animals via closed circuit TV. On 5/13/09, Glaxo sponsored a story about patriot Paws, a group that trains dogs to assist disabled veterans. On 4/27/09, Vesicare sponsored a story about Deborah Wilson, who rescues unwanted animals. On 1/2/09, Glaxo sponsored a story about Pilots N Paws, a group that transports animals from crowded shelters to places where they can be adopted. And on 11/21/08, Glaxo sponsored a story about Lorita Lindemann, who rescues old racehorses before they get sent to the slaughterhouse.

It is appalling that the Nightly News producers allow these stories to be sponsored by the animal torturers at Glaxo. And it is incredibly disrespectful to the people profiled in these stories who have devoted their lives to saving animals. But Brian Williams and his producers don't care. They only care about the sponsorship money that NBC gets from Glaxo. As long as Glaxo pays, they can sponsor any story they want. Here's an idea: Why doesn't Nightly News do a "Making A Difference" story about PETA's efforts to get Glaxo to stop testing their products on animals? Even better--Glaxo can sponsor the segment.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Brian Williams Shills For McDonald's

It's official. Brian Williams has no shame. On Monday, he read a 30-second commercial for McDonald's that he tried to pass off as a news story. Here's what he told us: "Mickey D's is spending over $1 billion to make their restaurants more chill, more comfortable, more laid back, more Starbucks than Mayor McCheese. Look for wooden tables, muted colors and faux leather seats coming soon to a Mac's near you. And you can get fries with that." That's not a news story. That's a commercial. And it's shameless. Of course, this is nothing new. It's business as usual for Brian "Your Product Here" Williams. He and his producers have recently done fake "news story" plugs for Pringles, Subway, Chrysler, Walmart, Starbucks, Frito-Lay, Bayer, Cheerios, Smith & Nephew Knee Replacements, Microsoft Bing, Chevy, Aleve, Boniva, Kraft, Heinz, McDonald's (again), United Airlines, Chrysler and many other of their sponsors' products. These plugs and product placements are not random or haphazard. They're planned. They're arranged between the sponsors and the senior NBC executives and news producers--perhaps even Brian himself. They are part of advertising campaigns. McDonald's probably arranged a large-scale advertising campaign with NBC that includes standard commercials, product placements on NBC entertainment shows and one or more 30-second "news story" plugs on Nightly News. It's all paid for. Are we really supposed to believe that as Brian was searching for the day's most important news stories, he froze when he came upon the McDonald's story and said to himself, "I absolutely MUST inform my viewers about this important story!"? Thirty seconds is a lot of time on Nightly News. He could have told us about events in Africa, Europe, Asia or anyplace else. But he chose to tell us about McDonald's new remodeling program. Because McDonald's paid NBC to have him tell us about it.

Let me make sure I understand this. On Saturday, while CBS, ABC, CNN and every other news organization was broadcasting the astounding video of Osama bin Laden sitting on his floor wrapped in a blanket watching himself on TV, NBC was devoting three hours of coverage to a two-minute horse race. That's great. Obviously, NBC believes that the Kentucky Derby is much more important than news to their east coast viewers. I guess that if bin Laden had been killed last Saturday afternoon, NBC would have announced it only after the Derby was over. They wouldn't want to lose all that great advertising money. But here's what's truly astounding: On Sunday, during Nightly News's first broadcast in two days, they decided to waste our time with a ridiculous story about two brothers who never knew each other but accidentally met in Hawaii. That's news? The Nightly News producers had 48 hours of news to catch us up on, but this is what they devoted 2:15 to. Wow. It boggles my mind.

And speaking of Sunday's broadcast: Was it really necessary to show back and side views of a naked six-year-old girl during the story about peanut allergies? That was inappropriate and just really creepy. I guess the Nightly News producers are trying to attract that all-important demographic of pedophile viewers.

Finally, I would like to thank Brian and his producers for Monday's 2:20 story about Pres. Reagan's joke file. Well, I guess it's easier than reporting real news. Since Brian likes doing comedy so much, maybe he should have read a few of Reagan's jokes.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Nightly News Show Notes--Week Of 5/2/11

During one of Tuesday's stories about the death of Osama bin Laden, a Nightly News map identified the city he was hiding in as "Abbottabad". And a graphic that accompanied correspondent Tazeen Ahmad spelled the city's name the same way. But thirty seconds later, Nightly News subtitles superimposed on the screen (to clarify a Pakistani man's audio) spelled the city's name as "Abbotabad". Ironically, at the exact same time the misspelled name appears on the screen, we can clearly see a sign with "Abbottabad" spelled correctly. It would be nice if the Nightly News producers paid attention to their own video. It would be nice if the Nightly News producers paid attention to anything.

There were few things more disturbing than Brian Williams's fawning and obsequious "interview" with retired Navy Seal Lt. Cmdr. Eric Greitens, which took place in the second half hour of Tuesday's extended broadcast. This wasn't really an interview. It was just an opportunity for Brian to show off how obsessed he is with the Navy Seals ("I've watched and read so much about Seal training...", "I happened to have the great honor of flying into Baghdad with them at the start of the war..."). This was just another one of Brian's propaganda pieces for the U.S. Military. It was similar to his 11/13/07 "interview" with Chrysler exec Jim Press, where he allowed Press to go on and on about how great Chrysler cars and trucks were (with Brian agreeing wholeheartedly). Brian's interviews are not designed to provide information. They are designed to show off his knowledge and promote things he likes. I thought Anne Thompson's recent reports about the beatification of Pope John Paul II were fawning and obsequious, but Brian takes it to a whole new level with his pandering homages to the military. When is someone going to tell Brian that a news broadcast is supposed to inform the viewers, not promote the anchor's obsession with the armed forces.

This theme continued on Wednesday (as it does almost every night) with another installment of the pointless "Close To Home" series--this time about an army captain serving in Kandahar. Great. Again, these pieces do not provide any news, they are just propaganda for the U.S. Military. After the story, Brian said, "Please keep all of them in your thoughts today and always". I wasn't aware that it was Brian's job to tell us what to think. Obviously I was wrong.

Also on Wednesday, Chuck Todd referenced Pres. Obama's upcoming interview on CBS, but Todd refused to say that the interview will air on "60 Minutes". This was not an accident or an omission. Nightly News correspondents and anchors routinely refuse to mention television shows on other networks because they're scared that that could negatively impact the ratings of NBC shows. "60 Minutes" airs at the same time as "Dateline", so clearly that's why Todd wouldn't mention the competing show by name. How incredibly petty.

During Ann Curry's story from Abbottabad on Thursday, a Nightly News graphic identified a Pakistani man as Daniel Markey, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. That wasn't Markey. Markey had appeared a minute earlier but was not identified at the time.

Also on Thursday, a graphic at the beginning of Ron Mott's story about the planned flooding in Tennessee told us that Mott was in Memphis. At the end of his story, although he was standing in exactly the same place, the graphic told us he was in Dyersburg. That's a neat trick--being in two places at the same time.

Not surprisingly, Brian ended Friday's broadcast with a plug for NBC's coverage of Saturday's Kentucky Derby. He didn't tell us, however, why NBC needs three hours to broadcast a two-minute race. If they used the same amount of proportional time to broadcast the Super Bowl, it would be a 360-hour broadcast. Maybe I shouldn't mention that--I wouldn't want to give the NBC execs any ideas.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Brian Williams's Fake Trip To London

On his March 18 HBO "Real Time" show, Bill Maher talked about the horribly parasitic way in which the network news organizations cover catastrophes like the one in Japan. Maher labeled this coverage "disaster porn" because the goal of the news organizations is not to provide information, but rather to voyeuristically exploit the situation by showing as much miserable suffering as possible, followed by a few scenes of tearful reunions. The fitting example Maher cited was Ann Curry holding up a broken doll. Well, talk about life imitating art. Twice during last week's tornado coverage, Nightly News showed close-ups of broken toys. On Friday, John Yang's story from Phil Campbell, Alabama ended with a close-up of a broken Disney toy. And on Sunday, Ron Mott's report from Smithville, Mississippi included a close-up of a tattered Raggedy Ann-type doll. The only thing missing was Ann Curry herself, but she wasn't part of Nightly News's tornado coverage. That's not surprising--she rarely travels unless she's following George Clooney somewhere.

And speaking of Nightly News's tornado coverage--I almost choked on my Froot Loops when I read Brian Williams's Daily Nightly blog entry last Thursday describing how he arrived in London for the Royal Wedding only to turn around and head right back to the U.S. to cover the tornadoes. Is there any proof that Brian actually went to London? Are there any photos of him there, preferably holding up a dated newspaper? And who are these alleged NBC colleagues that supposedly picked him up at the airport? Messrs. Smythe and Jones, no doubt. The whole story seems suspicious to me, to say the least. I don't buy it. But let's say for argument's sake that it actually happened. If Brian came right back from London, it was for one reason and one reason only--ratings. He calculated that his ratings would be better if he came back and reported on the tornadoes than if he stayed and reported on the Royal Wedding. There was nothing altruistic about Brian's alleged return. He didn't do it for the benefit of the people in Alabama or Mississippi. He did it for the benefit of Nielsen. End of story. And that's assuming it really even happened. Which it didn't.

The Gospel According To Anne Thompson

Pope John Paul II has only just been beatified, but at Nightly News, he's already a Saint. Anne Thompson's reports from Rome on Saturday and Sunday (totalling more than six minutes) were so fawningly reverential and obsequiously pro-Pope and pro-Catholic Church that they were embarrassing to watch. Thompson was acting like a teenage girl at a Beatles concert in 1965. It took all of her self-control to keep from jumping up and down and screaming at the top of her lungs, "I Love you, Pope John Paul George Ringo!" She probably has a Pope app on her iPhone so she can kneel down and kiss his ringtone. Thompson's overt bias should absolutely disqualify her from reporting on any matters related to the Pope or the Catholic Church. Sister Anne wears her rah-rah pro-Pope enthusiasm on the sleeve of her habit. It's obvious that she does not report these stories in an objective manner nor does she bother to question statements made by Church officials. In fact, Thompson's stories sounded like propaganda pieces 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. This "miracle" is the basis for John Paul's beatification. Although there is not a shred of evidence that attributes the nun's alleged recovery to any type of divine intervention, Thompson never took issue with her preposterous story. Why didn't Thompson ask doctors about the veracity of the nun's claim or seek some sort of legitimate medical explanation? 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) 2,011 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 on Nightly News. With 75% of Americans identified as Christian--and a third of those Catholic (including Brian Williams)--it's obvious that Thompson and her producers believe it is their job to act as cheerleaders for the Pope and the Catholic Church. They are just shamelessly pandering to a portion of their audience without the slightest regard for the rules of objective news reporting. And that is sickening.

The Sad States Of Nightly News

On Saturday's story about the 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls, a Nightly News graphic identified Mitt Romney as the former governor of "Massachussetts". It's appalling that the Nightly News producers can't even manage to correctly spell "Massachusetts". But it's hardly surprising. On the Jan. 1 broadcast, the producers spelled Pennsylvania as "Pennslyvania". They just don't care. Maybe the Nightly News producers shouldn't attempt to spell any state names--they should just use the two-letter state abbreviations. Oh wait--that's not a good idea. They can't get those right, either. Last Tuesday (and also on the 4/23/10 broadcast), the producers mistakenly abbreviated Arkansas as "AK" when they should have abbreviated it as "AR". I once saw a five-year-old kid on David Letterman's show who could correctly spell the names of all fifty states. I think the Nightly News powers-that-be should hire him as a senior producer. After all, he's probably ten or eleven by now.