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.

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