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.