Yet again, Brian Williams has assumed the role of corporate spokesman for McDonald's. On Tuesday, he took thirty seconds to eagerly bring us this piece of breaking news: "McDonald's said today that it's taking steps to make Happy Meals healthier. The company is cutting the size of the french fry portion in half for starters and adding apple slices to every meal. The new meals will have about 20% fewer calories--coming in at under 600 calories total. First Lady Michelle Obama, who campaigns, of course, for better nutrition, put out a statement today calling this a good step." As Brian read this, the McDonald's logo was onscreen for the entire thirty seconds, along with the words "Healthy Choices" and a picture of a Happy Meal. This isn't a news story--it's a thirty second commercial for McDonald's. It's shameful that Brian will read any press release--seemingly verbatim--that is handed to him by the weasels at McDonald's. Of course, my favorite part was when Brian made a point of mentioning Michelle Obama. Clearly, Brian understood that her imprimatur would help legitimize the story. I also love how he claims that Happy Meals will become "healthier" instead of less unhealthy. More weasel-speak. But why would Brian read this press release from McDonald's? The answer is obvious. With the recent acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast, the new Comcast/NBC Universal mega-conglomerate controls at least twenty national (or regional) networks and cable channels. In addition to NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, they own Bravo, Chiller, Oxygen, Sleuth, Syfy, Telemundo, Mun2, The Weather Channel, USA, E!, SportsNet New York, Exercise TV, G4, The Golf Channel, PBS Kids Sprout, The Style Network, Versus and New England Cable News. And those are only the ones I know about. I can only imagine how much money McDonald's spends each year advertising on all these Comcast/NBC stations. Is it $50 million? $60 million? $75 million? Who knows. Let's just say it's a lot. So with McDonald's spending all this money with Comcast/NBC, it makes perfect sense that Brian Williams would act as a shill for McDonald's. But of course, this isn't the first time that Brian and his Nightly News cohorts have acted as McDonald's PR spokespersons. Here are some of the other commercials-as-news that Brian has read for McDonald's:
5/18/11--Brian personally defended McDonald's against criticism from parenting organizations and nutritional advocacy groups that accused McDonald's of unfairly using Ronald McDonald to attract children to their high sodium, high cholesterol, high fat food. In the story, Brian said that this criticism "seems a little harsh". So much for anchor neutrality.
5/9/11--Brian took thirty seconds to tell us that McDonald's is spending more than $1 billion to upgrade their restaurants. "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." Is it just me, or is that a commercial?
3/8/11--During a story promoting Subway Sandwich Shops (you didn't think McDonald's was the only fast food restaurant Brian promoted, did you?) as now having more U.S. outlets than McDonald's, Brian was quick to tell us that McDonald's still makes more money annually--$24 billion to $15 billion.
12/7/10--A story about how San Francisco is banning toys that come with children's fast food meals began with a cute segment about a woman who collects Happy Meal toys. The rest of this 2:30 "news story" (which was really just a commercial for McDonald's) contained clips of actual McDonald's commercials and non-stop footage of the McDonald's logo, restaurants and food.
11/8/10--The lead story on the CBS Evening News was a study released by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity detailing the inappropriate ways that fast food chains market their unhealthy food to children. Nightly News did not report this story as a courtesy to their pals at McDonald's.
9/3/10--CBS Evening News reported that Consumer Reports rated 53 different fast food and chain restaurant hamburgers on taste and attractiveness, and McDonald's came in dead last. Needless to say, Nightly News did not report this story, either.
7/2/10--A Nightly News profile of LeBron James included clips from his McDonald's commercials.
6/14/10--Lester Holt gave us the important news that McDonald's will now be offering free Wi-Fi at their restaurants.
2/4/10--While reading a 25 second promotional piece about Heinz Ketchup's exciting new packaging, Brian also threw in a gratuitous plug for McDonald's.
10/22/09--During a piece about women in the workplace, Nightly News spent 75 seconds profiling Jan Fields, the Chief Operating Officer of McDonald's USA. The story gave her ample time to talk about things like McDonald's "world famous fries". Ms. Fields is now the president of McDonald's USA--no doubt thanks in part to her ability to cajole NBC into allowing her to plug her fries.
5/5/09--In what may be the most shameless and blatant plug ever, Nightly News did a two-minute story whose sole purpose was to announce the launch of McDonald's new gourmet coffees to compete with Starbucks. Ann Curry called McDonald's coffee a "delicious brew".
So it should come as no surprise that Brian Williams spent thirty seconds on Tuesday promoting McDonald's Happy Meals. After all, that's what he gets paid for. But McDonald's isn't the only company he shills for. During Thursday's story about how Johnson & Johnson is reducing their recommended dosage for Tylenol, Brian made sure to tell us that, "There's a big change coming to Tylenol. As you may know too much of it can damage the liver and it's often easy to get too much of it...." Now, why would Brian need to tell us that Tylenol can cause liver disease? Because Tylenol is a competitor of Bayer products, and Bayer is one of Nightly News's biggest advertisers. In the twelve minutes following the Tylenol story, Nightly News aired commercials for four different Bayer products (One A Day vitamins, Aleve, Phillips Caplets and Citracal.) Products like Bayer Aspirin and Aleve (naproxen) are direct competitors of Tylenol, so by telling us how harmful Tylenol can be, Brian was doing a favor for his friends at Bayer. And this isn't the first time Brian and his producers have helped out Bayer.
12/20/10--Robert Bazell (who promotes NBC sponsors as enthusiastically as Brian) did a 2:15 "news story" debunking the herbal supplement Echinacea as a cure for the common cold. Six minutes after that story, we saw a commercial for Alka-Seltzer Plus cold medicine--manufactured by Bayer. Clearly, the point of Bazell's story was to discourage people from using Echinacea so they would buy Alka-Seltzer Plus.
12/6/10--Bazell did a story purportedly about the benefits of aspirin, but it was really little more than a 2:15 commercial for Bayer. The "news report" began with a five second clip from a Bayer commercial. Then there were three close-ups of Bayer aspirin: A box on a shelf in a Walgreens, a pill in someone's palm and a bottle of Bayer. No other name brand was shown in the story. Even an animated graphic of a bottle simply labeled "aspirin" was brown and yellow--easily recognizable as Bayer's traditional colors on their aspirin bottles (and the main colors on their website). This is beyond blatant. This is brazen, appalling and deceitful. Bazell is supposed to be reporting on matters of health and science, not endorsing a particular product. Believe it or not, some people actually rely on the evening news for information about health matters. But on Nightly News they don't get unbiased information, they get contrived "news reports" specifically designed to promote NBC's best advertisers.
6/8/10--Bazell reported a story about an obscure Danish medical study that concluded that naproxen (sold as Aleve) may reduce the risk of heart attacks among its users. The study also showed that ibuprofen and Celebrex increased the risk of heart attacks. This was just a 2:30 commercial for Aleve. It's obvious that Bazell and his producers chose to air this story as a favor to their pals at Bayer. I can guarantee that this story would never have run if it contained any negative information about Aleve.
Of course, it's not just McDonald's and Bayer. Brian and his producers will use Nightly News to promote virtually any of their regular sponsors. Other past examples have included Chevy, Chrysler, Cheerios, Walmart, Kraft, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Frito-Lay, Microsoft, Boniva, United Airlines, Pringles, Starbucks and Smith & Nephew joint replacements. Using a news broadcast to promote advertisers (and also protect them from negative publicity) is shameful and unethical. But obviously, Brian doesn't care.