Friday, September 2, 2011

Breaking News At NBC: Poland Annexes Singapore

During Wednesday's Nightly News story about infant mortality rates, the producers listed several countries on-screen, along with each country's flag. But next to "Singapore", the producers actually displayed the flag of Poland ("Poland" and its correct flag were shown in the next shot). If these two nations share the same flag, does this mean that Poland has annexed Singapore? That would certainly be breaking news. Unfortunately, the real explanation is much less dramatic. The Nightly News producers simply couldn't be bothered to research the correct flag for Singapore, even though that information could be found in about ten seconds by googling "Flag of Singapore". In fact, the two flags bear only a minimal similarity. Poland's flag is white on the top half and red on the bottom half, and may be found with or without the national coat of arms centered on the white portion (the flag with the coat of arms is "for official use abroad and at sea", according to Wikipedia). The flag of Singapore is red on the top half and white on the bottom half, with a white crescent and five stars (in white) on the left side of the upper portion. So one flag is white on top, while the other is red on top. Not really very similar at all. But the Nightly News producers just didn't care enough to get this right. Appalling. Ironically, that night's broadcast featured an "Education Nation" segment. What kind of message are the Nightly News producers sending to schoolchildren? That it really doesn't matter if you show the wrong flag for Singapore?

It's certainly ironic that the producers would get a nation's flag wrong. Because every night on Nightly News, they bombard the viewers with image after image of the American flag in a desperate attempt to increase their ratings by appealing to the viewers' sense of rah-rah gung-ho patriotism. They figure if it works for Fox News, it can work for NBC News. They often show a waving flag animation behind Brian or Lester. Or a tattered flag waving in the breeze at a disaster site. Or a flag conspicuously in the shot when a Nightly News correspondent is reporting a story. Or a flag in the shape of Arizona whenever Nightly News reports a Gabby Giffords story. Or a flag in the shot every time they show a political candidate speaking. If there is any possible way to include a flag in a news story, the producers and camera operators do so. I'm sure that the NBC camera people are under strict orders to immediately find flags wherever they are. And for all we know, they bring along their own flags to insert into shots if there isn't one on display nearby. Using the American flag as a ratings gimmick is shameful. On Monday's broadcast, Brian Williams took thirty seconds to tell us that, "In Washington D.C....our cameras found Old Glory had survived near-hurricane conditions but was still flying over the U.S. Capitol." After telling us that the tattered flag was burned and replaced with a new one, Brian ended by saying, "And tonight the colors are flying proudly again on a new flag." Meanwhile, that shot of the Capitol flag had already been shown for fifteen seconds in a previous story. Forty-five seconds of footage of the Capitol flag? Is he kidding us? And he actually used the phrase "Old Glory". That's just gross. A news anchor is supposed to report the news, not pander to the viewers with his ridiculously flowery patriotic prose. Brian sounds like a bad Hallmark card. Is he involved in some sort of bizarre competition to see which TV personality can come up with the most sickening faux patriotism? Why doesn't he just stand up and sing "God Bless America"? That is absolutely unprofessional conduct for a news anchor. But if it can get Brian a few micropoints in the Nielsen ratings, he's all for it.

So if the Nightly News producers can spend so much time brandishing the American flag on their broadcast, is it asking too much for them to display the proper Singaporean flag? Sadly, the answer is "yes".

On Thursday's broadcast, Brian wasted 100 seconds combined on the obituary of David Reynolds (the founder of Reynolds Wrap); a 61-year-old college football placekicker; and the safest and least safe cities for driving. Great job, Brian. You must be so proud.

On Friday's broadcast, Harry Smith reported this story: "The government agency that regulates mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is suing seventeen of the world's largest banks including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. The suit is aimed at recovering some of the money Fannie and Freddie lost when the mortgage bonds that the banks sold them went bad. The lawsuits claim that the banks made false and misleading statements when they sold those mortgage bonds making them seem much safer than they actually were." However, Smith did not mention that General Electric was one of the seventeen institutions being sued. Obviously, he did not include them on the list because GE owns 49% of NBC Universal. Just another instance of Nightly News intentionally omitting facts in order to protect one of its owners.

I understand that Labor Day weekend is a slow news time, but does Nightly News have to resort to repeats? On Friday, Smith took 27 seconds to show us a photo supposedly of a shark swimming alongside surfers. Lester Holt reported an identical story on June 26. How many "shark swims with surfers" stories does Nightly News need to report?

But my favorite part of Friday's broadcast was seeing Anne Thompson reporting from Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. Thompson's story was just a two-and-a-half minute ad for the businesses on the town's boardwalk. "Come on down, we're open," they all want us to know. Obviously, the only reason Nightly News reported this story was to try to boost sales for the merchants in one of Brian's "beloved Jersey Shore" towns. Before and after Hurricane Irene, it's all about the Jersey Shore. It's shameful that almost every story on Nightly News has a hidden agenda to promote or protect an entity that benefits NBC, one of their sponsors or Brian Williams personally.

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