Nightly News was packed with hard news last week. Here are some of the highlights:
Saturday 10/29--Nightly News didn't air because obviously college football was more important (that's NBC weasel-speak for "more profitable").
Sunday 10/30--Janet Shamlian reported the riveting breaking-news story that the price of peanut butter was about to go up. This is news? Incredibly, this is the second story that Nightly News has reported on the rising price of peanut butter (Brian Williams earnestly told us about it back on Oct. 13). Obviously, the producers' goal was to get people to panic and stock up on peanut butter so NBC sponsors like Jif, Peter Pan and Skippy (manufactured respectively by Smucker's, ConAgra and Unilever) would get a nice sales bump. And it certainly didn't hurt to give some free publicity (like plenty of gratuitous close-up shots) to brands owned by those food industry giants--all of whom advertise heavily on NBC stations. Then we saw 22 seconds of the President and Michelle Obama handing out treats on the White House lawn. The NBC News research department has obviously informed the Nightly News producers that stories featuring Michelle Obama get high ratings, so we see her on Nightly News several times a week. And Lester Holt made sure to tell us that the kids walked away with "handfuls of M&M's" because at Nightly News, every story is an opportunity to promote an NBC advertiser. The final story of the night was a ridiculous two-and-a-half minute piece about the horror TV shows filmed in Atlanta. It was just an excuse to show clips from shows like "The Walking Dead", "Teen Wolf" and "The Vampire Diaries" because the Nightly News producers love to pander to the viewers with entertainment stories. It's good for the ratings, and vampires, werewolves and zombies are especially appealing to the coveted 18-25 age group. This is what Brian and his producers think about--ratings, ratings, ratings. And of course, Lester ended the broadcast with plugs for "Rock Center" and the Cowboys-Eagles football game.
Monday 10/31--Brian introduced Harry Smith's story about the boom town of Williston, ND by saying, "Now to a story almost unheard of in this economy, a place where they are in the middle of a boom and where they are hiring." Unheard of? Not quite. Brian Shactman reported the exact same story about Williston for Nightly News on Sept. 4. So this is the second time in less than two months that we are seeing this story. But it doesn't end there. The Nightly News version of the Williston story was a condensed promo piece for that night's "Rock Center" premier, where an expanded version of the story was being featured. So it was actually being shown three times in less than two months. That's just ridiculous. Next, we saw a story about professional women who are less ambitious and as such are forgoing promotions in order to have more time to spend by themselves or with their families. That's great, but this is not a news story. Then we saw a "Making A Difference" story about NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon. Apparently, Gordon had seen a 10/24 MAD piece about a 7-year-old go-kart racer nicknamed Mini who races to raise money for pediatric cancer charities. So Gordon invited the kid to watch him race and donated money to his charity. Anne Thompson (with her usual idiotic grin) told us that, "Gordon was touched by Mini's story last week on Nightly News." Let's be clear. This is not news. This does not even resemble news. The original MAD piece did not belong on a news broadcast and the follow-up piece most certainly did not belong there either. But Brian loves NASCAR, and he gets to air whatever he wants. Naturally, the follow-up piece showed a clip of Brian introducing the original story, because there's nothing Brian likes reporting on more than himself (although he also really likes reporting on NASCAR and kids with cancer because those stories get high ratings. So here he got to report on three of his favorite subjects.). But wait--there's more. Jeff Gordon was profiled in a lengthy piece (more than four minutes) on the Feb. 18 Nightly News. So this is the second Jeff Gordon story this year. It must be great to be an FOB (Friend Of Brian) like Jeff Gordon, Jon Bon Jovi or Bono because you get featured in Nightly News stories over and over and over again. Let's recap: Two stories on the price of peanut butter. Two (actually three) stories on Williston, ND. Two stories on a seven-year-old go-kart racer. Two stories on Jeff Gordon. Nightly News is showing reruns. Of course, Brian didn't have time to mention that Palestine was admitted to UNESCO. That's kind of an important story, don't you think? But at least we know all about peanut butter, Williston, ND and Jeff Gordon. And of course we know all about the premier of "Rock Center" later that night because Brian has been hyping it relentlessly for weeks. Great job, Brian.
Tuesday 11/1--Anne Thompson--who has mastered the art of taking two-and-a-half minutes to say absolutely nothing--reported yet another story on climate change. Thompson trotted out all the usual cliches for this story that contained not a shred of new information. "The weather is going to extremes," she tells us. Really? You don't say. Thanks, Anne. In a story about the Herman Cain controversy, Lisa Myers was identified as an "NBC News Investigative Correspondent." Wait a second--for years Myers has been identified as the NBC News Senior Investigative Correspondent. What happened? Was she demoted? Inquiring minds want to know. Then Brian spent 40 seconds telling us that NASCAR owner Rick Hendrick was in a minor plane crash. How great--another NASCAR story. News? Of course not. But again--Brian loves NASCAR and he gets to report whatever he wants. Brian still didn't mention Palestine being admitted to UNESCO, but at least we know all about Rick Hendrick.
Wednesday 11/2--In her story about Herman Cain, Lisa Myers was identified as the "NBC News Senior Investigative Correspondent", so I guess her demotion was only temporary. In a story about sexual harassment in the workplace, we were shown a clip from "Mad Men". This is the seventh time in the past year that a "Mad Men" clip was featured in a Nightly News story. That's no surprise, since it's one of Brian's favorite shows. And we all know that Brian gets to do whatever he wants. The clip was credited to "Lionsgate Televison [sic]". That's right--the geniuses at Nightly News actually managed to misspell the word "television". Later, an Education Nation story about schools in Shanghai informed us that U.S. students ranked 14th in reading among all the world's students. I think that's pretty obvious from the constant misspellings on Nightly News. I'm sure the producers of Shanghai's evening newscast would never misspell "television". Brian then spent 35 seconds telling us that Filene's Basement was filing for bankruptcy, as was its parent company, Syms. I guess Brian considers that news. He also had to remind us of Syms' slogan--"An educated consumer is our best customer." Brian previously quoted the Syms slogan on 11/19/09, when he read an obituary for the company's founder, Sy Syms. Hearing an anchor read that line once is bizarre. Twice is just inexplicable. What is Brian's obsession with Syms? Maybe that's where he buys his suits. Later, Brian told us about an asteroid that's going to miss earth. Here's an idea: you don't need to tell us about the asteroids that will miss us. Just tell us about the ones that are going to hit us. And then he showed us some photos of humpback whales--the same photos he showed us on Oct. 27. This is the fifth whale story Brian has done in the past two months. I'm surprised that Brian didn't don a whaler's hat and yell, "Thar she blows!" It's shameful that Brian will pander to the audience with stories like this that are designed solely to get ratings. But of course, when it comes to ratings, Brian has no shame. Still no mention of Palestine joining UNESCO.
Thursday 11/3--GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay a record $3 billion settlement to the U.S. government for deceptive sales and marketing practices that included manipulating research of its diabetes drug, Avandia. Brian never mentioned the story, because one of his main responsibilities as Nightly News anchor is to protect major sponsors like Glaxo from negative publicity. Meanwhile, Scott Pelley reported the story on The CBS Evening News. That's the difference between Brian Williams and Scott Pelley. Pelley has integrity. Later, Brian reported a story about the 100th anniversary of Chevy, which included plenty of vintage TV ads and shots of gleaming current models. So Brian refused to report a negative story about Glaxo, but he's happy to provide Chevy with lots of free advertising. Good old Brian--always looking out for the best interests of his sponsors. What a guy. And just for good measure, he brought us another story about a whale that almost swallowed a surfer. That's the sixth Nightly News story on whales in two months. In case anyone's counting. The final story of the night was about some giant sequoia trees that fell in California. Because apparently, that's news. But the Glaxo settlement--not news. At least to Brian.
Friday 11/4--Brian told us it was Friday five times during the broadcast. Okay--we get it. It's Friday. Once would have been enough. And he told us again about the asteroid that will miss earth. Just in case we didn't hear him when he told us about it on Wednesday. And then he told us again about the sequoia trees that fell. Just in case we didn't hear him when he told us on Thursday. Here's how Brian ended the broadcast: "It was another busy week around here and while we were busy covering the big stories as always happens, a few things got by. So in the waning minutes remaining in our broadcast week as we go right down to the wire on a Friday night, tonight we look at what else we learned in this first week of November." Covering the big stories? I guess he means stories about whales, peanut butter, NASCAR, asteroids, Chevy and sequoia trees. So here are the important stories that Brian absolutely had to tell us about before the week ran out:
***Research shows that the "freshman 15" weight gain theory is a myth. The entire 30-second visual of this story was comprised of clips from "Animal House"--a movie that was released by Universal Studios, NBC's sister company. This was just a way for Brian to promote the movie, sell DVDs, and earn money for Universal.
***We were shown a photo of a dog with big ears. This was actually a story that Brian reported on Nightly News.
***The field from "Field of Dreams" was sold. "Field of Dreams" was--you guessed it--a Universal picture, so for the second time in less than a minute, Brian was using a sham story on Nightly News to promote a Universal movie.
***Brian then spent 10 seconds promoting the new JFK book written by MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Brian's third promotion in less than two minutes.
***We saw obituaries for Oscar producer Gil Cates and Tom Keith, who did sound effects for Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion" show. With all due respect, neither of these men deserved obits on a network news show.
***Brian told us that sitting around can increase your chances for getting certain types of cancer, so we shouldn't sit around, except to watch Nightly News. Really, he said that.
***Brian spent 20 seconds telling us that fingernails on a blackboard is a really grating sound. We also got to see a demonstration of this. Thanks.
***Then Brian told us that, "In a related story, we made it through the week without mentioning Kim Kardashian."
So Brian spent more time this week on Kim Kardashian than he did on Glaxo's $3 billion settlement or Palestine's admission to UNESCO. For Brian Williams, that sounds about right.