Tuesday, August 30, 2011

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--Special Hurricane Edition

Here's what's been happening on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams this week:

Sat. Aug. 27--Brian personally anchored Saturday's Nightly News. Obviously, he didn't feel that Lester Holt could do an adequate job of reading the hurricane news off the teleprompter. Viewers were treated to a 2:50 report on how Hurricane Irene is affecting the Jersey Shore. Because honestly--is there a more important place in the country than the Jersey Shore?
Sun. Aug. 28--Brian anchored again because he thinks that Lester is incompetent. The lead story was how Hurricane Irene affected--you guessed it--the all-important Jersey Shore. Finally, eight minutes into the broadcast, we saw a report about how Irene affected a small town near the Jersey Shore called New York City. And why was Anne Thompson wearing a huge beaming smile while reporting on the hurricane? Was there something funny that we should know about? Also, Brian referred to the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore and WNBC meteorologist Janice Huff as "two of the very best in the weather business." He said this twice. I remember back in the 70's when WNBC meteorologist Frank Field was sometimes accompanied on-air by Winston the Weather Dog. No doubt Brian would describe Winston as "one of the very best in the weather business" because he worked for an NBC affiliate. I guess all of the meteorologists who work for other networks are strictly second-rate. Sam Champion? More like Sam Chump-ion.
Mon. Aug. 29--An excerpt from an interview with Dick Cheney was just a shameless promo for Cheney's upcoming appearances on "Dateline" and "Today". Brian then took a minute-and-a-half to report the "big news" (his words) that Beyonce is pregnant. Really. I mean it. This was an actual news story on a network newscast the day after a hurricane hit the east coast. I'm not kidding. The story also included lots of footage from MTV's Video Music Awards--including Lady Gaga dressed as a man. Brian's comment: "Lady Gaga as a guy--in fact a guy who for a time couldn't stop talking." Wait a second--there's someone else I'm thinking of on TV who can't stop talking. But I can't quite remember his name. I'll let you know if it comes back to me. For at least the second time in two weeks, Brian name-dropped Jay-Z and Kanye West. Is there anyone he won't pander to? The managing editor of thegrio.com (in yet another plug for a Comcast/NBC property) said that Beyonce's pregnancy is, "...like the Royal Wedding--something exciting that people can vicariously be excited about..." So I guess Nightly News will be bringing us three or four minutes a night about Beyonce, just like they did with Will & Kate. Has Nightly News secured the rights to be in the delivery room when the baby is born? I can imagine a day six or seven months in the future when Brian will begin the broadcast by saying, "Khaddafy is finally caught, but first our lead story--it's a girl for Beyonce and Jay-Z! And Kanye was there, too!"
Tues. Aug 30--For the third time in five days, the lead Nightly News story is how Hurricane Irene affected (all together now) the Jersey Shore. It must be great to have your own newscast so you can report on your home state as often as you like. Also, Brian referred to Vermont as a "great state". Is there a single state that Brian hasn't called "great"? If every state in the U.S. is great, then that completely defeats the purpose of the description. I mean, if every human had super powers, they wouldn't really be super because everyone had them, right? A story on a new lung cancer drug turned out to be a two-minute plug for Pfizer. That's hardly surprising. Once again, Robert Bazell used his position as NBC News Chief Science Correspondent to shill for one of NBC's biggest sponsors. Brian also reported that Michael Vick signed a new six-year $100-million contract with the Eagles. Actually, that's only slightly more than Brian himself will earn over the next six years. But don't tell anyone. Brian wants his viewers to think of him as a good ol' regular blue-collar working class guy. You know--like a character in a Springsteen song. The final story was a two-and-a-half minute piece about the health benefits of chocolate. There were no fewer than eight clear shots of Hershey products (and several of M & M products). That's known in the business as "product placement". Usually, the advertiser pays to have their product featured in a movie, TV show or news report. If no one from NBC denies this was a paid product placement, we should just assume that it was. And again I ask: Has Lee Cowan ever once reported on a story that has even the tiniest shred of news value? I don't think so. But at least we got to see some neat clips from "E.T." and "Forrest Gump". Because Brian and his producers can't go more than a few days without including a movie or TV clip (or clips) in a Nightly News story. It's just their way of making Nightly News more and more indistinguishable from the shows that follow it--"Access Hollywood" and "Extra". And now that I think about it, Lee Cowan really does remind me of Forrest Gump.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Thank You, William Deresiewicz

Thank you, William Deresiewicz. In last Sunday's New York Times Sunday Review section, Deresiewicz wrote a page one opinion piece titled "An Empty Regard". The piece is about the ridiculous rah-rah gung-ho God-bless-America mentality that causes far too many Americans to treat military members as if they were saints. The article can be read at:


Here is Deresiewicz's first paragraph: "No symbol is more sacred in American life right now than the military uniform. The cross is divisive; the flag has been put to partisan struggle. But the uniform commands nearly automatic and universal reverence. In Congress as on television, generals are treated with awed respect, service members spoken of as if they were saints. Liberals are especially careful to make the right noises: obeisance to the uniform having become the shibboleth of patriotism, as anti-Communism used to be. Across the political spectrum, throughout the media, in private and public life, the pieties and ritual declarations are second nature now: 'warriors,' 'heroes,' 'mission'; 'our young men and women in uniform,' 'our brave young men and women,' 'our finest young people.' So common has this kind of language become, we scarcely notice it anymore."

Here is another excerpt from the piece: "The term most characteristically employed, when the cult of the uniform is celebrated, is 'heroes.' Perhaps no word in public life of late has been more thoroughly debased by overuse. Soldiers are 'heroes'; firefighters are 'heroes'; police officers are 'heroes' — all of them, not the special few who undoubtedly deserve the term. So unthinking has the platitude become that someone referred to national park rangers on public radio recently as 'heroes' — reflexively, in passing — presumably since they wear uniforms, as well. Stephen Colbert picked up on this phenomenon long ago, which is why he slyly refers to his viewers — and now, to the donors to his Super PAC — by the same term."

Now, Deresiewicz didn't mention Brian Williams by name, but then again he didn't have to. Brian is one of the most ardent members of the military-worshipper cult of personality. In fact, Brian could be their leader. Watching Nightly News is like reading a thesaurus entry for the word "heroes". "Wounded Warriors," "Fallen Heroes," "Our Brave Men and Women in Uniform"--the list goes on. And then there are the waving flags. Nightly News gratuitously inserts American flags into their stories so often that they should do a "Making A Difference" piece about Betsy Ross. Brian's fawning, drooling "I love the military" act has become a parody. Not to mention that it is completely inappropriate. A news anchor is supposed to report the news objectively, not act as the propaganda minister for the U.S. military. How completely unprofessional. I hope Brian had a chance to read Deresiewicz's New York Times piece. Then again he may have had a hard time getting through it. Brian's eyes probably glazed over when he saw the full-page photo of the decorated soldier that accompanied the article.

Brian Williams--Math Whiz

On Tuesday's Nightly News, Brian Williams reported that singer-songwriter Nick Ashford died at age 70. During the story, a photo of Ashford appeared above Brian's left shoulder with the years "1942-2011" at the bottom of the photo. Now I'm no math whiz, but I'm pretty sure that if you were born in 1942, you don't turn 70 until 2012. If you turned 70 in 2011, you were born in 1941. Apparently, Brian's no math whiz either.

On Friday's broadcast, we saw a clip in which NYU Visiting Professor of Civil Engineering Mohammad Karamouz discusses how New York City's tunnels are vulnerable to flooding in the event of a major hurricane. Unfortunately, a Nightly News graphic misspelled Prof. Karamouz's first name as "Mohammed". Well, at least the producers managed to spell "Irene" correctly. That's gotta be worth something.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Brian Williams: America's News Anchor In Chief

NBC should change the name of their evening newscast. Instead of calling it "Nightly News With Brian Williams", they should call it "Nightly News About Brian Williams". Because let's face it--that's really what it is. Every night, through his extensive use of personal pronouns--I, me, my, mine, our, us, we, etc.--Brian transforms news stories into stories about himself. His favorite phrases--"For those of us", "All of us who" and "If you're like me"--are carefully chosen to allow him to change the subject to something he really loves--himself. On Tuesday, while reporting on the 5.8 earthquake that struck Virginia, Brian made sure to tell all his rapt viewers exactly where HE was when the quake struck ("I can report that the beach does move in an earthquake. I was on my second attempt at a summer vacation at my native Jersey shore..."). Not that anyone asked. In fact, Tuesday's Nightly News reported on the whereabouts of only two people during the earthquake: President Obama and Brian Williams. That makes sense. Because in Brian's mind, they are the two most important people in the country. One is the Commander in Chief and is responsible for the safety and welfare of 300 million Americans. The other is the News Anchor in Chief and is responsible for informing the American people about all the important news stories going on across the country and around the world. Stories like these: Bert & Ernie are not gay; the death of Johnny Cash's bass player; Foster the People and their hit song of the summer "Pumped Up Kicks"; and Mishka the talking dog. Brian brings us all the latest breaking news about Will & Kate, Susan Boyle, Jackie Evancho and Mary Thornberry. His broadcast reports important stories like the appropriateness of wearing flip-flops to work, the difficulty of dancing in high heels or a profile of New York's singing construction worker. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's Nightly News. Reporting on relevant and meaningful events. All I can say is: God bless Brian Williams, America's News Anchor in Chief.

While talking to WNBC meteorologist Janice Huff about Hurricane Irene on Tuesday, Brian made sure to tell us that, "I got family on the Jersey coast..." Clearly, Brian's primary concern is reporting on how the hurricane will affect him and his family (and see how easily he slips into the common vernacular of "got" instead of "have"?). But on Friday, he really stepped up his game. He anchored the entire broadcast from the Jersey Shore, because Brian's world revolves around the Jersey Shore. Let me make sure I understand this. A category 1 or 2 hurricane is about to strike New York--a city of more than 8 million people, and Brian is anchoring Nightly News from the dunes of Sand-And-Surf, N.J. That's great. Apparently, Brian exercised his work-from-home option on Friday. I guess when you're America's News Anchor in Chief, you have that prerogative. And in case anyone is wondering why Brian was still at the Jersey Shore after Gov. Chris Christie issued an evacuation order, Brian has special dispensation to stay because he's a FGFJ ("Famous Guy From Jersey"). And besides, Brian's Jersey Shore compound has miles of underground tunnels and apartments that are sealed and weatherproof, so he's safe from the hurricane. His compound is so elaborate that it makes Khaddafy's compound look like Saddam Hussein's snake hole.

Of course, Brian's "Live From the Jersey Shore" broadcast was not without its hilarious moments. For one thing, Brian told us that, "This is nationally famous Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.--thousands of people come here on vacation every year..." Funny thing--I've lived in New York all my life and I've never heard of "nationally famous" Point Pleasant Beach. I guess I'm just ignorant and uninformed. Also, Brian was resplendent in his Banana Republic shirt and cargo pants. It must be casual Friday at NBC News. How ironic. Back on June 3, Brian derisively mocked Mitt Romney for outfitting himself in what Brian described as "new jeans and a fleet of I'm-just-a-regular-guy shirts." Yet here's Brian wearing the exact same outfit that he ridiculed Romney for wearing. Maybe Brian has the same image handlers as Romney. Or maybe he's just a hypocrite. It was also pretty funny to hear Brian begin his interview with FEMA administrator Craig Fugate by bragging that he (Brian) had "ridden out Katrina inside the Superdome". First of all, I find that highly doubtful. Although Brian carefully cultivates his image as a "regular guy" (albeit one with an 8-figure salary), he doesn't mingle with the hoi polloi. He was probably staying in a comfortable hotel room outside the flooded area, or perhaps in a nice motor home. But aside from that, it was just another opportunity for Brian to turn the news into the news about himself. I can't wait until Monday's broadcast when Brian tells us all the details about how he rode out Irene in his Jersey Shore compound. That's Monday on "Nightly News About Brian Williams".

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Bizarro World Of Nightly News

During the intro to Saturday's Nightly News, a clip from an upcoming story about the two Americans imprisoned in Iran was labeled "Judgement Day". Apparently, none of the Nightly News producers know how to spell "judgment".

On Friday's broadcast, a promo for "Meet the Press" identified Robert Gibbs as an Obama campaign "Adviser". On Saturday's broadcast, a MTP promo identified Gibbs as an Obama campaign "Advisor". When it comes to spelling, Nightly News flip-flops more than Mitt Romney.

On Saturday's broadcast, we were treated to a two-and-a-half-minute "news story" about a man who provides sound effects for movies. The producers should have attached a "breaking news" banner to this one. Obviously, it was just an excuse to pander to the viewers by showing clips from movies like "The Devil Wears Prada", "The Big Lebowski", True Grit", "Goodfellas", "Shutter Island" and "Murder By Numbers". By the way, what is the deal with Nightly News's obsession with "The Devil Wears Prada"? They showed clips from that movie twice in five days for two different stories. It wasn't released by Universal, but I'm betting that it has some connection to NBC Universal. After all, why else would Nightly News be promoting it twice in five days unless Comcast could make some money off it?

On Saturday's story about the Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney was identified as a "former governor". But a week earlier (8/13), Tim Pawlenty was identified as a "governor", even though he's been out of office for more than six months. I'm just curious--at what point will the Nightly News producers begin identifying Pawlenty as a former governor?

Sunday's Nightly News featured a two-and-a-half-minute story in which Peter Alexander swims with sharks. In what alternate universe is this a news story? Only in the Bizarro world of Nightly News.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--Aug. 13-Aug. 19

Here's what you may have missed on Nightly News this week:

Aug. 13: Nightly News aired a 2:20 minute story about "Doggy Date Nights" where shelter employees bring dogs to get-togethers with prospective adopters. This was a story on a network newscast. Really. I'm not kidding.
Aug 14: Once again, Nightly News aired a two-minute commercial for a ridiculous fake-gold Indian Head/Buffalo coin. It looks like one of those chocolate coins with a gold-foil wrapper. Clearly, this is a rip-off. Doesn't NBC have any standards for the ads it accepts?
Aug. 15: Brian Williams reported on Warren Buffett's N.Y. Times Op-Ed piece in which Buffett called for higher taxes on the super-rich. We know that Brian is fond of turning news stories into stories about himself by using phrases like, "For those of us...", or "If you're like me..." So I'm surprised he didn't begin this story by saying, "For those of us with 8-figure incomes...", or "If you're super-rich like me..." I guess Brian doesn't like drawing attention to his enormous wealth. It hurts the "regular guy" image he has carefully cultivated for himself.
Aug 16: The lead story on the CBS Evening News was that Walmart's second-quarter sales dropped by .9%--their ninth straight quarterly drop. Did Nightly News report this story? Of course not. Brian Williams does not report bad news about Walmart, a regular NBC sponsor. However, Brian is always happy to help his pals at Walmart by reporting good news. Last Jan. 20, Brian couldn't contain his glee while telling us that "Walmart...promised today to cut prices on fresh fruits and vegetables and to reduce fats, sugar, salt (and) eliminate trans fats in some of its own store brands by the year 2015." Maybe Brian should wear a Walmart hat when he reads their press releases.
*Also this night, Nightly News reported a 2:30 story about how people who are nice tend to earn less money than people who are not so nice. On July 25, Nightly News spent the same amount of time on a story about the appropriateness of wearing flip-flops to work. Is this what Brian Williams considers legitimate reporting on the workplace? It's appalling that Nightly News wastes our time with garbage like this when there are real news stories to be reported. Speaking of real news, Brian made sure to read a story about how people often pretend to be talking on their cell phones as a way of avoiding people they don't like. Well done, Brian. You should be proud of your broadcast.
Aug 17: The lead story was that the Joplin schools would open on time. It is unbelievable that a network newscast could make this the lead story. But Brian used to live in Joplin, and at Nightly News, it's all about Brian all the time. We also were treated to the third story in three weeks about Rachel Beckwith and her charity that brings clean water to areas that need it.
Aug 18: Brian read a story about the celebrities who are most trusted as product pitchmen or pitchwomen. I'm surprised that Brian wasn't on that list, since much of his time on Nightly News is spent endorsing and promoting products like McDonald's, Kraft, Chrysler and Walmart. Brian also did a news story about Robert Redford's 75th birthday. Really. I swear. Of course, he didn't mention that terrorists crossed into Israel from Egypt and killed 8 Israelis and wounded more than 30. I guess that story wasn't important enough. But at least we know all about Robert Redford's 75th birthday.
Aug. 19: Harry Smith brought us the breaking news story about how Will & Kate toured one of the the sites of the recent UK riots. He also told us that Burger King has fired their spokes-king and won't be using him in future ads. That's what I love about Nightly News. They're always right there for the important news.

Brian Williams Makes A Full Disclosure

On Thursday, Nightly News aired a story about how dogs may be able to use their sense of smell to detect tumors during the early stages of cancer. (This was the fourth Nightly News story featuring dogs in less than two weeks. Obviously, someone from the NBC News research department informed Brian Williams that dog stories test extremely well and deliver high ratings.) After the story, Brian told Nancy Snyderman, "Full disclosure--I'm a dog person." Full disclosure. That's an interesting phrase coming from Brian because he never actually offers the disclosures that he is ethically obligated to offer. People expect their news anchors to be forthright, honest and transparent. Brian is none of those. In fact, he is the opposite. He is always hiding or disguising his shady motives for reporting certain stories. Here are some things Brian Williams should be disclosing to his viewers:

*Brian frequently uses his anchor chair to promote products that advertise on Nightly News and other NBC shows. In fact, he will read a company's press release verbatim as if it's an actual news story. Recently, he has done this with McDonald's, Walmart, Starbucks, Subway, Heinz, Frito-Lay and Kraft--among others. Sometimes, Brian and his producers will do an entire news story--often lasting more than two minutes--about an advertiser's product. Recent examples include Pringles, Microsoft Bing, United Airlines, Chrysler, McDonald's, Cheerios, Boniva, Aleve and many GlaxoSmithKline products. Brian and his producers are also fond of helping out their sponsors by including product placements in news stories. They have done this with Chevy, Cheerios, McDonald's and Bayer. Despite all these promos and product placements, Brian has never once disclosed that a product featured in a Nightly News story was also a paid advertiser. For all we know, these products are paying to be featured in the news story. Conversely, Brian also protects NBC advertisers from bad publicity. If a product that advertises on Nightly News is involved in a recall or is proven to have harmful side effects, Brian will often bury the story by delaying it until the weekend or neglecting to report it altogether.
*Brian frequently inserts clips of NBC Universal shows into news stories in order to shamelessly promote those shows. The most frequently promoted shows are "Saturday Night Live", "30 Rock", "The Office" and NBC's late-night shows hosted by Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon. He never discloses that these clips are promos.
*Brian and his producers regularly allow news segments (or the entire broadcast) to be sponsored by products whose industry is reported on by Nightly News. In some cases, the sponsored segment is directly related to the product that is sponsoring it. This is completely unethical. Are we supposed to believe that these sponsorships have no bearing on the way Nightly News covers a product or an industry? Brian has never once disclosed the relationship between segment sponsors and the way he covers the news.
*Brian often brags about high ratings for NBC shows (his and others)--and he often lies about these ratings. After Brian claims a certain rating for a show, information in a New York Times article or on the TV by the Numbers website will list a significantly lower rating for the program in question. And the Nightly News ratings are artificially inflated because Brian and his producers often submit their show to Nielsen intentionally misspelled as "Nitely News". This allows lower-rated Nightly News broadcasts to be counted separately so they don't bring down the ratings of the higher-rated broadcasts. I won't hold my breath waiting for Brian to disclose this.
*Brian frequently reports on the military and on Medal of Honor winners. But Brian has never once disclosed that he serves on the Board of Directors for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. Using your newscast to promote your favorite charity is unethical. Failing to disclose your connection is downright sleazy.
*Several months ago, Nightly News became available as an iPad app. And as soon as that happened, Brian and his producers began showing parts of news stories as if they were appearing on an iPad. Clearly, this was only done as a shameless promotion. Of course, Brian offered no disclosure.
*A significant portion of Nightly News stories are put on the air not for their news value, but for their ability to attract viewers and boost the ratings. This includes entertainment stories, Will & Kate stories (and other Royal stories), animal stories, "Making A Difference" segments, weepy rah-rah gung-ho military stories--basically everything that airs in the second half of the broadcast. I have never once heard Brian Williams offer "full disclosure" that he is airing a story solely because it will boost his ratings.

So Brian may think it's amusing for him to say, "Full disclosure--I'm a dog person." But in reality it only serves to point out the huge ethical chasm that exists in the situations where he refuses to disclose his ulterior motives for reporting a story. Full disclosure. That's a joke.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lee Cowan Is The New Roger O'Neil

Is Brian Williams kidding me? (Part 1): For the lead story on Wednesday's Nightly News, Brian Williams reported that the school year in Joplin started on time. Really. The lead story. Three-minutes-and-twenty seconds. On a network newscast. Apparently, Brian felt that this was much more important than hearing the President talk about jobs or the thwarted Columbine-like attack that was planned in Tampa, Florida. The school year in Joplin started on time. That's the whole story. It could have been done in 15 seconds. And here's how Brian introduced the Joplin story: "Tonight a great story of triumph of the American spirit and the will to rebuild." Where on earth does Brian get this crap? From "The Big Book of Ridiculously Overused Anchor Cliches"? But without a doubt, my favorite part of the story was the old footage Brian used from his report from Joplin three months ago. I guess Brian feels like he doesn't get enough face time on Nightly News so he insists on using old footage of himself every chance he gets. I have honestly never seen anyone with such a laughably massive ego as Brian Williams.

Is Brian Williams kidding me? (Part 2): On Wednesday, we were treated to the third story about Rachel Beckwith's charity which brings fresh water to areas that don't have access to it. Seriously? She was the subject of a "Making A Difference" story on July 29 (and a follow-up story on Aug. 12). And now less than three weeks later, she's the subject of another MAD story (reported, of course, by Lee Cowan)? Clean water for people who need it. Great idea. I think we got it the first time. Naturally, the story ended with Brian begging us to donate to her charity. When is he going to realize that a news broadcast is supposed to report the news, not solicit money from the viewers? That is completely unethical. And did Nightly News really honor Rachel's memory by crassly allowing the story to be sponsored by Tums? Was Rachel also dedicated to bringing antacids to areas that suffer from heartburn? That was absolutely shameful.

And by the way, has Lee Cowan ever once reported a story that has the tiniest shred of news value? On Tuesday, Cowan reported on a San Diego police officer who bought cookies for a kid moments before the officer was gunned down. Does that story really deserve two-and-a-half minutes? Lee Cowan is the new Roger O'Neil. Previously, whenever Nightly News needed a sappy tear-jerker story without any news value, but with plenty of ridiculous cliches and a narration that sounds as if it was lifted from a bad Hallmark card, they would call on Roger O'Neil. Now those stories go to Lee Cowan. A perfect example: His cloyingly saccharine Aug. 2 story about how people in Tucson reacted to Gabby Giffords's surprise appearance on the House floor. Cowan's interview with Giffords's high school history teacher did not exactly rise to the level of Edward R. Murrow. Lee Cowan is a joke. And by the way, Lee, the 1970's called--they want their hairstyle back.

Monday, August 15, 2011

If You're Like Brian Williams...

Anyone who watches Nightly News knows that one of Brian Williams' favorite pastimes is to turn news stories into stories about him. He does this every night with carefully chosen phrases like "for those of us" or "if you're like me". That way, he's no longer talking just about the story's subject, he's talking about himself. This is how Brian feeds his massive ego--by making himself the subject of his stories. He did this several times on Monday's broadcast. During a story about last week's wild fluctuation in the stock market, he said, "That means it's now back to even after all those losses we went through last week." (Gosh, I hope Brian's fortune didn't take too big a hit.) A story about this weekend's Perseid meteor shower included, "For all of us who tried to take in the night sky...." Of course. Because for Brian Williams, the news is always about him. Which makes me curious. During the story Brian read about Warren Buffett's New York Times Op-Ed piece asking the president to tax wealthy people at a higher rate, why didn't Brian say, "For those of us who are super-rich..." or, "If you have an eight-figure income like me...."? Apparently, Brian is only interested in making the news about himself when it feeds into the fake image he's created as a common man of the people, just like his viewers. Yes folks, Brian Williams is a cigar-chompin', NASCAR watchin', beef jerky-eatin' reg'lar guy just like us! Except that he's worth millions and millions of dollars. So he's not really like us at all.

So next time you hear Brian say, "For those of us" or, "If you're like me", take a moment to think about how much like you Brian Williams really is. Or isn't.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Yet Another Reason Why Nightly News Is Sickening

There are so many reasons why Nightly News is sickening. At the top of the list, of course, is Brian Williams's shameful willingness (actually, eagerness) to use his broadcast to promote himself, his sponsors and NBC's sports and entertainment shows. Then there's the way Brian and his producers air stories not because they have any news value, but simply because they appeal to the viewers (example: the 24 minutes of Will & Kate stories that Nightly News aired during the July sweeps period). Brian has succeeded in turning a once-respected newscast into the fifth hour of the "Today" show (and the first half-hour of "Access Hollywood"). Some news, some sports, some weather, an anchor who thinks his jokes are funny, lots of cute animals, lots of entertainment stories, lots of human interest stories about people "Making A Difference". That's Nightly News.

But one of the most sickening things about Nightly News is the way they shamelessly and blatantly pander to the viewers with their rah-rah gung-ho God-bless-America pseudo-patriotism. Brian Williams, NBC News President Steve Capus and the Nightly News producers have obviously ripped a page (or a whole chapter) right out of the Fox News playbook. Their theory is that you can't go wrong by trying to position yourself as the news broadcast that loves America the most. A news broadcast is supposed to report the news in a fair and objective manner. Brian doesn't do that. Instead, he shamelessly panders to his NASCAR-lovin' football-rootin' American-car-buyin' dog-lovin' viewers. Does anyone really buy this act? And of course, Brian has appointed himself as the propagandist-in-chief for the U.S. Military. Instead of simply reporting on military matters, as he should be doing, Brian makes a point of enthusiastically promoting the military to the point of nausea. His sycophancy for all things military is grotesque and hideous. And he feeds his personal fantasy by surrounding himself with people like Jack Jacobs and Barry McCaffrey, as if he can somehow become an officer-by-osmosis. Brian will put anyone on Nightly News as long as they're wearing a military uniform. He constantly uses technical terminology to (laughably) show off how much he thinks he knows about the military. I almost busted a gut last Tuesday when Brian told Gen. Barry McCaffrey, "You've flown in thousands of these Chinook dual rotor helicopters, I've flown in far fewer...." Yes, of course he had to insert himself into the equation--because Brian is just like Gen McCaffrey! They're two peas in a pod. Instead of reporting in a professional manner, he uses loaded, subjective (and highly inappropriate) terms like "wounded warriors" and "fallen heroes". It's truly sad to see how desperate Brian is to appear as if he is somehow related to the military.

Nightly News should be covering military matters by telling us the facts of the stories. Instead, Brian turns every military story into an emotional sap-fest. We are constantly seeing stories about soldiers who miss their families. As if that's news. And even more sickening are the stories about the families at home who have a relative in the military. Also not news. On Thursday, Brian wasted a minute-and-a-half on a frivolous story about a woman who threw out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game, only to discover that the catcher was her husband who had just returned from Afghanistan. Is he kidding us? Nightly News airs a father-surprises-kids story or a husband-surprises-wife story like this around once a month. What a joke. I can only imagine how much real news Brian could cover if he got rid of these ridiculous stories. But of course, no one at Nightly News is interested in reporting real news. Least of all Brian Williams. He just wants to promote the military. Over and over and over. One can only guess at the origins of Brian's obsession. Maybe his parents wouldn't let him have a G.I. Joe doll when he was a kid.

One of Brian's favorite pastimes is to make an announcement every time a Medal of Honor winner dies (he did this most recently on Friday). Since Brian serves on the Board of Directors of the Medal of Honor Foundation, he's really just using his anchor's chair to promote an organization on whose board he serves. Not only is that self-promotional, it's also unethical. It's no different than promoting McDonald's or Chrysler (which Brian also does quite often). No other news broadcast notes the passing of MOH winners. I wonder why. By the way, Brian Williams doesn't care the slightest bit about MOH winners. It's just something he made a calculated decision to attach himself to because the NBC research department told him that glomming onto MOH winners would boost his image with viewers and increase his ratings. It's just business--nothing more.

And then there are the flags. Every night, Nightly News shows flag after flag after flag. There they are at disaster sites. There they are on the street behind the correspondents. There they are in animated form waving behind Brian and Lester. It's obvious that this is a planned strategy. When the Nightly News team arrives at at the site of a flood, tornado or hurricane, the first thing the supervising producer does is tell the camera operators to go out and get lots of shots of flags. The more tattered, the better. I suspect that the producers bring their own flags with them and plant them to get the shots they want. Every story about the stock market features the giant flag outside the NYSE. Every story about Gabby Giffords features a flag in the shape of Arizona. Why? Do we need reminding that Giffords is an American? The psycho that shot her is also American. Hey Brian, how about a flag for Jared Lee Loughner? Samuel Johnson indicted false patriots and false patriotism when he said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." Although Johnson made his famous statement more than 200 years ago, it sounds eerily as if he could have been talking specifically about Brian Williams. Brian uses hyper-patriotic imagery for the sole purpose of pandering to his audience and increasing his ratings. And that is disgusting.

Friday, August 12, 2011

NBC News Producers Would Like To Buy A Consonant, Pat!

During Wednesday's story about Lee Grace Dougherty and her gun-toting bank-robbing police-evading brothers, a Nightly News graphic identified an FBI spokesman as "Phil Niedringhausm". His last name is actually "Niedringhaus". Minutes later, a promo for "Meet the Press" spelled Michele Bachmann's first name as "Michelle". With all the attention she has received over the past few months, I would guess that most fifth-graders probably know how to spell Ms. Bachmann's name. Too bad NBC News doesn't have a fifth grader on their staff. It's also too bad that they don't give a damn about accuracy. I guess they just like adding letters to people's names. They should talk to Pat Sajak about buying consonants in bulk.

On Thursday's broadcast, Brian Williams told us that Chuck Todd was reporting from Ames, Iowa when Todd was actually reporting from Des Moines. Maybe someone should buy Brian a GPS device to help him keep track of his correspondents.

Meanwhile, here's what passes for news at Nightly News. Friday's final story was--as Brian put it, "Some of the news we didn't get to during this very busy week." So what stories, pray tell, were included in this "news" wrap-up?

*A mocking story about the Flying Wing plane crashing--complete with animation and wacky sound effects.
*A woman who paid for an aerial banner "thanking" S & P for the downgrade.
*Two space shuttles passing each other on a NASA runway while the song "Reunited" plays.
*Brian's reassurance that Bert & Ernie are not gay. Obviously, the only reason Brian did this story was to promote the PBS Kids Sprout network which is owned in part by Comcast--NBC's parent company ("Sesame Street" airs on PBS Kids Sprout).
*Gratuitous shots of Vladimir Putin performing feats of strength. Brian derisively criticizes Putin's ego, seemingly without a shred of irony or self-awareness of his own massive ego.
*An obituary for Johnny Cash's bass player.
*A shameless plug for a song that Brian likes by the group Foster the People.
*A story about how the French came up with a vending machine that dispenses baguettes.
*Fifteen seconds of Mishka the talking Husky saying, "I Love You".

That's right--these were the important stories that Nightly News didn't have time for this week. Apparently, they were too busy bringing us stories about Lucille Ball (on three consecutive days), the death of Don Imus's brother, dogs that help people testify in court (obviously Mishka could do her own testifying) and a woman who threw out the first pitch of a minor league baseball game without knowing that the catcher was her husband who was just home from Afghanistan. Of course, the funniest part of this final story was when Brian flat-out lied to us. He said, "So in our last two minutes of the week here, let's get caught up." Actually, the story lasted 3 1/2 minutes, but who's counting. Is it possible that Brian intentionally misstated the time of the story because he felt embarrassed for passing off this pointless load of drivel as news? Nah, he probably just got befuddled when he heard Mishka's dulcet tones.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

NBC Nightly News. Shameful.

London is burning. The stock market is on a terrifying roller coaster ride. The Middle East is boiling and ready to explode. People are starving in Africa. So what does Nightly News choose to spend two-and-a-half minutes on during its Tuesday broadcast? Service dogs that help witnesses testify in court. Is that time well spent? Is that a story that really deserves to be on a network newscast? Of course not (but at least the producers managed to work in a "Law & Order" plug by using that show's familiar "da-dum" music). Just like Sunday's story about people that bring fresh fruits and vegetables to Chicago's inner-city neighborhoods. And Monday's story about the Boys & Girls Clubs who donate toys to kids who have a parent in the military (actually, Nightly News has done variations of this same story over and over and over). Not one of these stories contained even the smallest shred of news. Yet night after night, Brian Williams and his producers waste our time with these ridiculous stories whose only purpose is to pander to the viewers. Brian and his producers air these wishy-washy goody-goody human interest stories because the NBC News Research Department tells them it's what the viewers want to see. That way, they get higher ratings than if they aired actual news. After all, who wants to see a half-hour of news on a news broadcast? That is the very definition of pandering--padding the broadcast with pointless non-news stories just because they will attract a large audience. News is not supposed to be about what the viewers want to see. It should be about real events that are happening in our world. Sorry, but courtroom service dogs are not an important event. Not even close. I thought the broadcast was called "NBC Nightly News". The FCC should revoke NBC's right to air a news broadcast. Shameful.

Beginning on Saturday, Nightly News reported the story about the 30 U.S. military servicemembers who were shot down by an RPG in Afghanistan. On Saturday and Sunday, the deceased were listed as "22 U.S Navy Seals", "5 U.S Army Aircrew" and "3 U.S Airmen". Both days, the Nightly News producers omitted the period after the "S" in U.S. And no one even noticed the mistake for more than 24 hours. It wasn't until Monday that they finally corrected this error. Does it really matter that the producers left out one tiny period? Absolutely. It is yet another example of their lack of attention to detail and their inability to get the simplest things right. On Tuesday's broadcast, a video clip of Texas Governor Rick Perry carried the captions "Yesterday" and "Gilbert, Arizona". Wrong on both counts. The video was actually from Gov. Perry's prayer rally that took place in Houston on Saturday. The producers were off by two days and around 1,000 miles. But they don't care. No one cares at Nightly News. These appalling mistakes don't happen on ABC World News or the CBS Evening News. Only on Nightly News. Shameful.

Starting precisely on June 30 (and running through July 23), Nightly News brought us Will & Kate stories on 11 different days (totalling more than 24 minutes). June 30 also happened to be the first day of the July ratings sweeps period (which ran through July 27). Are we supposed to believe this was a coincidence? Of course it wasn't. Brian and his producers made sure to pad their broadcast with plenty of Will & Kate stories during the sweeps period because that's what the viewers want to see. And if the viewers keep tuning in, that means higher ratings and more ad dollars. Shameful.

On Monday's broadcast, Brian read an obituary for Fred Imus, Don Imus's brother. But Brian never mentioned the death of former New York Governor Hugh Carey, who is widely credited with saving New York City from financial default. As far as Brian is concerned, Fred Imus was much more important than Hugh Carey. Because on Nightly News, entertainment always trumps politics. I guess that's why Nightly News aired stories about Lucille Ball on three consecutive days. Shameful.

But at least there's some comic relief on Nightly News. On Monday, when Brian was talking with David Faber about the stock market plunge, he began by saying, "I'm not a historian...." That's hilarious! Because, as everyone knows, Brian really does think of himself as a historian. He's always saying things like, "For those of us who are students of presidential history," or, "For those of us who closely follow the Supreme Court". He thinks he's a scholar. False modesty is really not one of Brian's strong suits. And on Tuesday, when Brian was talking with Gen. Barry McCaffrey about the loss of the 30 U.S. military members in Afghanistan, he said this: "You've flown in thousands of these Chinook dual rotor helicopters, I've flown in far fewer...." What a riot! Brian is actually mentioning his measly exploits in the same sentence as a U.S. Army Four-Star General! He's comparing himself to Gen. McCaffrey! That would be like a baseball player on his first day in the majors claiming that he and Alex Rodriguez have combined for 626 home runs. True, except they all belong to A-Rod. Just another example of Brian's pathetic desperation to try to glom on to anything military. Shameful.

Finally, I have a question for Brian Williams: What is the definition of "life-infirming"? He used that term on Monday to describe Diana Nyad's attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. I've never heard that term. I guess I'll have to buy a better thesaurus.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Did Brian Williams Really Say That?

From Brian Williams's Aug. 4 Daily Nightly blog: "And the relentless drumbeat of news continues from overseas -- very little of it good. So: please forgive me -- I've been reading all the comments and the emails, and we hope you can join us on the broadcast tonight."

Obviously, the horrible news Brian is referring to from overseas is the famine taking place in the Horn of Africa. Sadly, Brian's use of the word "drumbeat" to indicate the conveyance of news from Africa shows that his views of that continent and its methods of communication are woefully mired in the biased mindset of the 19th century. Is it really necessary for Brian to perpetuate the myth that drums are the preferred method of communication for the people of Africa? Brian might be surprised to learn that current and emerging technology in Africa includes cell phones, Wi-Fi, iPads and Twitter. The drumbeat of news from Africa, indeed. Maybe Brian also thinks they communicate with vuvuzelas.

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--July 27-Aug. 5

Last month, Nightly News spent a whopping 33 minutes reporting on the hot weather. In the southern United States. In July. I guess the producers must really think they're onto something, because in the first week of August, Nightly News has already spent six-and-a-half minutes reporting on the hot weather. In the southern United States. In August. Maybe they should attach a "Breaking News" banner to this story.

One of the biggest news stories of the past two weeks was the public emergence of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's accuser, who broke her silence and spoke out about her ordeal. Every print and television news organization reported this among their lead stories for several days. Except Nightly News. Brian Williams never once mentioned this huge story. That's odd because on May 16, Nightly News reported the arrest of DSK, and in the following weeks, they spent a significant amount of time on the DSK story. On July 1, Nightly News devoted its first three segments--totalling 8:55--to the DSK story. That's almost half of the entire broadcast. So why did Brian refuse to even mention the blockbuster emergence of DSK's accuser? The answer is obvious. The woman told her story exclusively to ABC's Robin Roberts. All the other networks had to get the story through ABC News. So rather than admit that he was scooped, Brian simply ignored the story and refused to report it. It's that simple. And that petty.

Here are some other things that happened on Nightly News in the past week-and-a-half:

*July 27--Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana was identified by a Nightly News graphic as Eric Cantor. During the week, Brian Williams spent way too many minutes shamelessly promoting his "Dateline: Inside Congress" special, but his producers can't even correctly identify members of Congress. Great work, Nightly News producers.
*July 28--In his obituary for Dan Peek (from the group "America"), Brian told us that Peek, "...gave us 'A Horse With No Name', 'Ventura Highway', 'Lonely People', 'Sister Golden Hair', 'Don't Cross the River' and a lot more songs." Actually, "A Horse With No Name" and "Ventura Highway" were written by Dewey Bunnell and "Sister Golden Hair" was written by Gerry Beckley. So Brian was wrong on the authorship of three of the five songs he mentioned. Batting .400 is great if you're a baseball player. It's not so great if you're a news anchor.
*July 30--Since there was no Will & Kate news to report, Lester Holt instead took 2:15 to tell us all about the wedding of Will's first cousin, Zara Phillips. Fascinating.
*July 31--Brian anchored Sunday's edition of Nightly News so he could (again) shamelessly promote his "Dateline" special, which followed the broadcast. Poor Lester Holt. He was just shoved aside and told, "Don't bother showing up for work. Brian wants to anchor tonight." Also on this broadcast, Brian reported that Peyton Manning just signed a new 5-year, $90 million contract. Brian derisively added that this will pay Manning $633 for every second he's on the field. That's great. A network anchor who will earn more than $50 million over the next five years is mocking an athlete who will earn $90 million over the next five years. Does Brian really think anyone is buying his "I'm just a regular guy" shtick? By the way--how much does Brian earn every second he's on the air?
*August 1--Brian plugs a "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" spinoff that will be airing next year on the PBS Kids network. Since Comcast NBC is an owner of the PBS Kids Sprout network, this is just another opportunity for Brian to promote a Comcast property. Clearly, that's the only reason he bothered to report the story. He also reported that the Honda Civic was downgraded by Consumer Reports and will no longer be recommended by that magazine. Obviously, Brian reported this as a favor to regular NBC sponsors Chrysler and Chevy. And since Brian has never been shy about trumpeting his love for American cars, it also gave him an opportunity to slam a Japanese car. Well done, Brian.
*August 2--Nightly News spent an incredible 5:20 on two separate stories about Gabby Giffords' return to Congress. The second Giffords story was an appallingly ridiculous piece in which Lee Cowan interviewed Tucson residents about their thoughts on Giffords. This story did not provide an iota of information and did not belong on a news broadcast. It was shown for one reason and one reason only--to pander to the viewers' emotions. Apparently, interviewing Giffords' high school history teacher is what passes for news at NBC. Has Cowan ever once reported on anything that actually matters?
*August 3--Finally, some more Will & Kate news! Brian told us that they (and Harry) flew the equivalent of coach when they returned home from cousin Zara's wedding in Scotland. I'm so glad to know that. Brian also reported the following important news items: A "Batman" movie is being filmed in Pittsburgh, a tree that appeared in "The Shawshank Redemption" was damaged in a storm and the Fifth Avenue peacock was returned to the Central Park Zoo (this is the second consecutive day that Brian has reported breaking news about the peacock). The final story of the broadcast was a 2:10 opus on a singing New York City construction worker. Really. I mean it. I'm not kidding. This was an actual news story on NBC Nightly News. I only hope that the Peabody Award Evaluation Committee members were watching.
*August 4--Harry Smith made his NBC debut with a fawning, pointless, overlong four-minute homage to Pres. Obama on his 50th birthday. Smith's advice to the President on how to deal with two teenagers: "Prayer and patience". Really? A network news correspondent advocating prayer? Is that in any way appropriate? That must mean that Harry Smith has some evidence supporting the existence of a deity. I would really like to see that. But only when there's no Will & Kate news. Meanwhile, as usual, Brian did his best to turn this "news story" into a story about him. He introduced the story about the President turning 50 by calling it, "An event way too many of us know all too well." And in the post-story discussion between Brian and Harry, Brian told us that, "I'm new to this 50 game." Of course. It's all about Brian, all the time. And not surprisingly, Brian made sure to engage Harry in a scintillating discussion about colonoscopies. I think we all saw that coming.
*August 5--Tom Brokaw gave us a 2:50 story on a veteran who can't find work. Fascinating. Thanks, Tom. Of course, the story was just a promo for Brokaw's upcoming "Dateline" report on Sunday. The night's final story was a 2:25 tribute to Lucille Ball on what would have been her 100th birthday. Yes, folks, Nightly News really brings us the hard news. By the way, in that story, Donelle Dadigan, president of the Hollywood Museum, was identified by a Nightly News graphic as "Danelle Dadigan". No one's trying. No one cares.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Brian Williams Promotes...Anything

Every time Brian Williams reads or introduces a story on Nightly News, every viewer should ask, "What is Brian promoting?" Because inevitably, it's likely that he's promoting something. Sometimes, it's obvious what he's promoting. Brian spent all of last week rabidly plugging his "Dateline: Inside Congress" special (which earned a lower rating than a rerun of "America's Funniest Home Videos"). He frequently reads press releases--and pretends that they're news--announcing the latest innovation from McDonald's, Walmart, Kraft, Heinz, Frito-Lay and many other of NBC's biggest sponsors. He likes showing us two- or three-minute "news stories" about products that advertise heavily on NBC (Chrysler, United Airlines, Bayer products, Cheerios). There was his 90-second interview with Sally Field (from 5/14/10) whose only topic was her Boniva ads. And who can forget the 2:05 story about Pringles that aired on April 6. And of course, Brian constantly shows promotional clips from NBC shows like "Saturday Night Live", "30 Rock" and "The Office". There is never a legitimate reason to show these clips--they are either shoehorned into an existing story that does not benefit in any way from the clips or else an entire news story is created to justify showing the gratuitous clip. For example, last Sept. 1, Brian reported a 45-second story about office gossip just so that he could include 17 seconds of clips from "The Office". Obviously, Brian only reported the story because it allowed him to show the clips. And don't get me started on the unbelievably excessive amount of time that Brian devotes to shamelessly and overtly promoting the NFL and the Olympics in faux "news stories" whose only purpose is to promote NBC Sports.

Sometimes, he promotes in a less obvious way. Like the inordinate amount of time he spends "reporting" on Harry Potter movies, where his actual objective is really to promote NBC Universal's "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" attraction in Orlando. Or like on July 15, when Brian told us about the death of an obscure member of the 60's-70's group The Grass Roots who virtually no one had ever heard of and who no one was interested in. As it turns out, the only reason he read this story was because it gave him an opportunity to show a clip from "The Office".

But sometimes Brian promotes things in a more subtle and sly manner. On Monday, he told us that Daniel Tiger, a character from the classic PBS series "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood", would be getting a spin-off show on the PBS Kids Network. PBS Kids has a sister network called PBS Kids Sprout. PBS Kids Sprout is partly owned by Comcast, the majority owner of NBC. PBS Kids and PBS Kids Sprout are very similar in name, theme and programming. So promoting one is akin to promoting the other. I think it's safe to say that at some point, Daniel Tiger will show up on PBS Kids Sprout. So obviously, the only reason Brian chose to read this story was because it allowed him to promote a Comcast NBC property. That's Brian Williams. That's how he rolls. It's not a stretch to say that most stories that appear after Nightly News's first commercial break are intended to promote something. And the stories that are not meant to promote are meant to increase the show's rating by pandering to the audience. This includes "Making A Difference". There has never been a single MAD segment that has contained even a tiny bit of news. Yet they appear two, three or even four times a week. These segments are aired solely to appeal to the viewers and get them to tune in to the broadcast over and over again. Other segments meant to pander to the viewers are the frequent YouTube videos of puppies, kittens or other animals; heart-tugging stories about sick children; and of course the non-stop litany of celebrity and entertainment-related stories. On Wednesday, Nightly News aired a 2:10 story about a singing New York City construction worker. Really. I'm not joking. Brian Williams should be sued for journalistic malpractice. The FCC should revoke NBC's right to air a nightly newscast.

Brian Williams's main goals as Nightly News anchor are to promote himself, promote his broadcast, promote his sponsors, promote NBC's sports and entertainment shows and to boost his ratings by pandering to his viewers. (Higher ratings equals higher ad revenue.) So whenever Brian reads a news story, please take a moment to ask yourself, "I wonder what he's promoting now." Because the chances are pretty good that he's promoting something.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Brian Williams's "Dateline" Special Is Crushed In The Ratings

CONGRATULATIONS TO BRIAN WILLIAMS! His Sunday "Dateline" special "Inside Congress" placed third in total viewers (out of four networks) in its 7:00 PM time slot. Brian's "Dateline" managed to beat a rerun of "American Dad" on Fox (and a "Bob's Burgers" rerun in the 7:30 slot), but was beaten by a rerun of "America's Funniest Home Videos" on ABC. (CBS's "60 Minutes" had more than double the "Dateline" ratings.) And in the all-important 18-49 demographic, Brian's "Dateline" came in dead last--earning lower ratings and share in this demo than "American Dad", "Bob's Burgers" and "America's Funniest Home Videos". And this was despite the fact that Brian shamelessly and relentlessly promoted "Dateline: Inside Congress" every night this week on Nightly News. He even anchored Sunday's Nightly News in a desperate attempt to boost the "Dateline" ratings. It didn't seem to help. Beaten in the ratings by a rerun of "America's Funniest Home Videos". How humiliating this must be for Brian.

Meanwhile--inexplicably--Brian continued to promote his "Dateline" special on Monday's Nightly News--even though "Dateline" had already aired a day earlier! I guess for Brian Williams, rabid self-promotion is just force of habit.