It's been a really exciting week at Nightly News. Here's what you missed if you weren't watching:
Sunday 6/12--The lead story on Anthony Weiner was reported by Luke Russert. That's pretty funny because Russert does not have even the tiniest bit of ability as an investigator or reporter. Obviously, he got his job because Brian Williams created it and handed it to him on a silver platter. How absurd is it for NBC to give a prized on-air job to a 23-year-old kid with no broadcast journalism experience? Most people toil for years in obscurity before getting on the air. Not Luke Russert. He gets fast-tracked. What are the chances that Russert would have gotten that job if his name was Luke Smith or Luke Jones? For those "Sopranos" fans out there, Luke Russert is Christopher Moltisanti. Tony Soprano took Christopher (a screw-up if ever there was one) under his wing after Chris's father died--just like Brian did with Luke Russert. I just hope Russert has a better outcome than Moltisanti did. (I guess that also means that Andrea Mitchell is Carmella, Robert Bazell is Pauly Walnuts, Nancy Snyderman is Janice and George Lewis is Uncle Junior.)
There was no Nightly News on Saturday because obviously horse racing was much more important. So Sunday's broadcast was the first Nightly News to air in 48 hours. And what did they choose to run a 2:10 story on? Will and Kate. The entirety of this piece was devoted to describing in detail what Kate wore to various functions: "She recycled the hat she wore for her Royal duties earlier in the day--and a dress last seen on commoner Kate in 2007." Breaking news if ever there was. That's what the Nightly News producers want us to know about the important news of the day. What Kate wore. And the previous Friday's broadcast also featured a 2:05 story on the Royal Family because that's obviously much more important than real news. Pitiful.
Monday 6/13--I burst out laughing when I heard Chuck Todd accuse Pres. Obama of "rallying 'round the flag" during a speech on the economy that the President gave in North Carolina. That is hilarious because that's exactly what Nightly News does. Almost every night, the producers use a ridiculous waving flag animation behind Brian or Lester. Whenever the producers go to a disaster area like Joplin or Tuscaloosa, the first thing they instruct their camera operators to do is shoot video of every flag they can find in the devastated area. The more tattered, the better. On Memorial Day weekend, Nightly News used DOZENS of shots of waving flags each night. But here's the funniest part: Immediately after the story in which Chuck Todd accused the President of "rallying 'round the flag", Nightly News did a story about the newly-released Gabby Giffords photos. And those photos were superimposed over a waving flag background! It's appalling that Chuck Todd--or anyone at Nightly News--could have the audacity to accuse someone else of "rallying 'round the flag"! Brian and his producers have cornered the flag-rallying market in order to pander to the viewers by appealing to their rah-rah gung-ho chest-thumping faux patriotism. When the President does this, it can be inspiring. When Nightly News does this, it's tawdry and crass.
By the way, the concept of why Gabby Giffords' family released those new photos was apparently completely lost on Brian and his producers. Her family released the new photos in order to discourage the Newsarazzi at NBC and the other networks from relentlessly stalking the poor woman night and day. So these new pictures weren't a reward for the press--they were the family's way of saying "leave us the hell alone you blood-sucking leeches" to all the news organizations out there. Obviously, the implication of the family's gesture went right over Brian's head.
Also on Monday's broadcast, Brian devoted a whopping 22 seconds to the historic rebellion going on in Syria. Then he spent thirty seconds narrating a story about a 90-year-old man who finally got his high school diploma (because he was a Medal of Honor winner), thirty-five seconds on the death of Hollywood producer Laura Ziskin (because she was a friend of Brian's) and forty-five seconds at the end of the broadcast promoting the Stanley Cup Finals (because they are carried on NBC) and his upcoming interview with Bono and the Edge (because they're Brian's pals). Obviously, all these stories are much more important than the events in Syria. And that doesn't even include the 2:20 "news story" on LeBron James. Good thing they didn't leave that one out of the broadcast.
Tuesday 6/14--The lead story this night was on sunscreen. Really. I'm not kidding. Then Brian spent 35 seconds explaining that the Army is no longer using berets as hats and 25 seconds showing us footage of a catamaran capsizing. Are you watching, Peabody Evaluation Committee? And then he ended the broadcast with a five-and-a-half minute bloated mega-interview with Bono and the Edge. Now, this story had three purposes. First and foremost, it was meant to show all of us little people what cool and famous friends Brian hangs around with. Second, it was intended to promote the Spider-Man musical (which was opening that night) as a favor to Brian's pals from U2. And third, the story was meant to continue Nightly News's transformation into Access Hollywood. The Spider-Man story did not have a shred of news value. It was a pure entertainment story. So I'm just wondering: What's the dollar value of five-and-a-half minutes of prime time network advertising? I'm sure all the Spider-Man producers appreciated Brian's little gift.
By the way, Tuesday's stories about the Republican Presidential debate (2:40) and Pres. Obama's visit to Puerto Rico (2:38) COMBINED took up less time than Brian's interview with Bono and the Edge. It must be great to have your own news broadcast so you can air whatever stories you want for whatever length you choose.
Wednesday 6/15--This night, NBC viewers got a special treat. We got to see an unbelievably pointless and overlong story about Col. Jack Jacobs returning to Vietnam where he fought forty-three years ago. I'm glad that Jacobs got to go back to Vietnam if it was important to him. But why Brian thinks it's of any interest to anyone else is beyond me. I cannot think of a single reason for putting this tedious story on a news broadcast, other than because of Brian's hero-worship for his "pal" Jack Jacobs. I guess Brian likes Jacobs even more than Bono, because at a mind-numbing 5:40, the Jacobs story was even longer than the Spider-Man story. The final 1:20 of this story consisted of Brian sitting in the studio heaping praise on Jacobs, who looked more than a bit uncomfortable with that level of fawning adulation. But without a doubt, the most bizarre part of the story was watching Brian obsessively fondling Jacobs' Medal of Honor. That was just creepy.
Later in the broadcast, we got another 1:20 "news story" on Spider-Man (bringing the total to a whopping 6:45 of free advertising for the musical), and a 2:10 story on chocolate milk. Bravo. What's the breaking news story for next week? Cookies?
Thursday 6/16--Viewers were shown a three-minute story about the riots following the Stanley Cup Hockey Final in Vancouver. Obviously, this was not an important news story--it was peripheral at best and deserved maybe thirty seconds. It was really just an opportunity for Nightly News to reinforce and promote the NBC brands of Stanley Cup Hockey and the Olympics (both of which were featured prominently in the story).
After an obituary for the man who was responsible for implementing the UPC bar code (which did not belong on a network newscast) and a story on Prince Harry (is there any minute, irrelevant detail of the Royal Family that Nightly News will not report?), it was time for part two of Wednesday's Jack Jacobs story. You didn't really believe that this story could be told in a mere 5:40, did you? In this installment (an additionally massive 3:40), Col. Jack meets with a Vietnamese general who was his battlefield enemy forty-three years ago. Funny thing--at no time during this story did anyone mention that the North Vietnamese General was defending his country against an invading American army that was trying to wipe out the indigenous North Vietnamese people in a war that was none of our business. Oh well--small point. Never mind. Of course, this whole two-part monstrosity--all 9:20 of it--was just another way for Brian to satisfy his rabid obsession with the U.S. Military and Medal of Honor winners. Since Brian sits on the MOH Foundation Board of Directors, this was yet another opportunity for Brian to try to do some aggressive fundraising for his organization. What a huge conflict of interest--allowing an anchor to promote an organization on whose board he sits. It would be like allowing a member of congress to chair a committee on telecommunications while also owning a few TV stations back in his or her home district. It's unethical and corrupt. But Brian doesn't care. Why should he? He can do whatever he wants.
Friday 6/17--A story purportedly about a pro-Khaddafy rally in Tripoli quickly turns into a story about what happened to NBC correspondent Stephanie Gosk. When did news start becoming about the reporters, rather than the actual news subjects? It sounds like a couple of bored Libyan onlookers began taunting Gosk and her crew. Big deal. Hardly a reason to freak out and go to Defcon One. But at Nightly News, the number one priority is reporting on themselves. They think they're the most interesting part of the story. Here's some of the drivel that Brian fed to Gosk: "We around here know you as someone who doesn't scare easily--you're no stranger to tight spots and shots fired and incoming rockets and bombings and all of that...." I think that's the same thing Brian said to Jack Jacobs on Thursday.
Here's a good laugh. Nightly News did a story about the Casey Anthony trial. Sort of. It was really more about the people who obsessively follow the trial than it was about the trial itself. Brian introduced the story by saying, "We haven't really covered this story much on this broadcast, but a bunch of other folks have...." Oh, smack! Brian is actually dissing other networks for covering this trial. This is the same Brian Williams who donated 6:45 of his broadcast to promote the Spider-Man musical and now he's berating other networks for covering news. Wow. Nightly News will give air time to anything they think will increase their ratings, but somehow it's beneath Brian and his producers to cover the Casey Anthony trial. So if Nightly News hasn't spent much time covering this trial, why begin now? The answer is pretty clear. At the end of the story, Brian read a promo for Friday's "Dateline" which just happens to be doing their show on...the Casey Anthony trial. So this whole "news story" was just a 2:15 promotional commercial for "Dateline". That makes sense.
Friday's final story was the piece de resistance. It was the weekly recap of stories that (according to Brian) either didn't make it onto the air during the week or needed some more time. What a joke. Did it ever occur to Brian that maybe if he wasn't wasting 9:20 following Jack Jacobs around Vietnam or 6:45 promoting Spider-Man, then maybe he would have enough time during the week to cover all the important news stories? But then again, "important news stories" and "Nightly News" are oxymorons. First of all, the purpose of this recap story is simply to promote the Nightly News iPad app. Half of these stories were presented as if they were on an iPad (and one was as if it was on an iPhone). As usual, it's all for promotional purposes. Just like with everything else at Nightly News. The entire broadcast is a promotion for something or other. So here are some of the "important" stories that Brian felt deserved news time (or more news time): A couple were photographed kissing amid the Vancouver riot; gay rights activists pelt Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty with glitter; Jon Huntsman enters the presidential race (didn't this deserve a bit more coverage?); Khaddafy plays chess; 50's Singer Carl Gardner died (Brian didn't even feel the need to mention that Gardner was the lead singer of the Coasters); an obit for a producer who had worked with Carol Burnett and Dinah Shore; a female general takes command of Parris Island; a YouTube video made by two twentysomethings in an empty airport; a gopher on a golf course; a little kid watching a lion in a zoo and a kitten with a dolphin. And all this drivel took up a whopping 4:15. Just so Brian and his producers could promote their iPad app. But it also gave the Nightly News producers a chance to show some neat movie clips ("Meet the Parents", "Caddyshack", "The Lion King") in addition to the TV clips of "Star Search", Carol Burnett and Barbra Streisand. To everyone at Nightly News--all I can say is well done.
Yes, it was quite a week at Nightly News. I can hardly wait to see what they have in store for us this weekend. Oh--wait a minute. I forgot. There is no Nightly News this weekend. They're showing golf instead. Because golf is obviously a lot more important than news.