It was a busy week at Nightly News. They promoted their sponsors and NBC television shows. They brought us more stories about Alec Baldwin and Liz Taylor's jewelry. They aired plenty of repeat stories and stories that were more than a half-century old. And there was no shortage of garbage stories about things like sequoias, seals and returning soldiers. Here are the highlights:
Sat. 12/10--Lester Holt, David Gregory and Mike Viqueira discussed the upcoming Republican presidential debate without ever mentioning that it would be airing on ABC. Then Lester mentioned a "new network news poll" without saying that CBS conducted the poll. That's consistent with the NBC News policy of never mentioning the rival networks.
***A story about "Wreaths Across America" made sure to show a truck with a huge Walmart logo on it. At Nightly News, it's ABP--Always Be Promoting.
***The final story was a ridiculous two-and-a-half minute piece about on-line Christmas tree sales. How does this qualify as news? The story prominently featured logos for Sears, Target and Home Depot. I guess the producers couldn't show the Walmart logo without also showing logos of its competitors. The story also featured clips from "A Christmas Story" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" because research shows that viewers like to see movie clips during news stories. It helps boost the ratings.
Sun. 12/11--Again, Lester Holt, Mike Viqueira and John Harwood spent more than four minutes discussing Saturday's Republican presidential debate without ever mentioning that it aired on ABC. I guess they figured that if they don't mention ABC, then no one will know about it.
***An obituary for Cardinal John Foley included a clip of Cardinal Foley talking to Brian Williams, because every story has to ultimately be about Brian--even other people's obituaries.
***We saw a 40-second story about Alec Baldwin's appearance on "Saturday Night Live". As if there was any doubt that the producers would miss an opportunity to promote an NBC entertainment show.
***The final story was a two-minute piece about deployed military personnel who record DVDs of themselves reading stories which are then sent home to their kids. First of all, this has absolutely no news value and doesn't belong on a network newscast. It's just another example of Nightly News acting as the propaganda arm of the U.S. Military. But even worse, Nightly News reported this exact same story twice before (on 3/22/10 and 10/11/11). How many stories do we need to see about military personnel reading to their kids via DVD? Apparently, three (so far). Naturally, Lester ended the broadcast with a plug for the Giants-Cowboys game airing later on NBC.
Mon. 12/12--Richard Engel's lead story about the U.S. troops leaving Iraq was virtually the same as the story he reported on Sunday. He even wore the same blue shirt on both days. One difference was that tonight's story included a gratuitous shot of a Burger King restaurant at Baghdad's Camp Liberty. Just another product placement on Nightly News.
***Brian and Chuck Todd again refused to mention ABC when discussing Saturday's Republican debate.
***Brian spent 40 seconds telling us about some female fire fighters at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack in 1941. Apparently, 70 year-old news is more important to Brian than current news.
***We saw a second obituary for Cardinal Foley which was just a condensed version of Sunday's obit (and again included the footage of Brian talking to the Cardinal). Really? Two obits for Cardinal Foley? He must have been one hell of a Cardinal. (Note: It was a bad week for the Cardinals. First they lost Albert Pujols, then they lost John Foley. The good news: They're both with the Angels now.)
***This broadcast also marked the Nightly News debuts of Chelsea Clinton and Ted Koppel. Chelsea was poised, personable and photogenic, but she has absolutely no aptitude as a news correspondent. And there's no reason she should--she's never worked as a reporter before. She was hired for one reason and one reason only--because of her name. Obviously, the name "Chelsea Clinton" will cause people to tune in to Nightly News and Rock Center and increase those shows' ratings. And that's all that matters to Brian and NBC News President Steve Capus--ratings. NBC News collects children of former presidents like Brian collects his silly little military challenge coins. Jenna Bush Hager is a correspondent for "Today" (and occasionally Nightly News) and Ron Reagan Jr. is a paid contributor at MSNBC. Maria Shriver (alas, only the niece of a president) was a long-time NBC News correspondent (and likely will become one again). And now add Chelsea to the list. Of course, I don't blame her. She was looking for an on-air network news gig, and Steve Capus was all too willing to jump in and snatch her up so he could add her to his stable of presidential progeny. There are scores (maybe hundreds) of seasoned, professional news correspondents out there looking for on-air jobs, and Brian and Steve Capus are just handing them out to inexperienced amateurs like Chelsea Clinton, Jenna Bush Hager and Luke Russert. That's just shameful. Prediction: Twenty years from now, the new NBC News Special Correspondent will be Sasha Obama. Or perhaps Malia. And seeing Ted Koppel talking to Brian was just a reminder that with his intelligence, insight, gravitas and experience, Koppel should be the one anchoring Nightly News. Koppel is a hardy journalist-anchor; Brian is a cuddly house cat who reads the words off the teleprompter. Koppel is a direct link to Murrow, Rather, Brokaw and Jennings, while Brian's contemporaries are John Tesh, Ryan Seacrest and Jeff Probst. But unfortunately Koppel's ratings as an anchor would today skew way past the age that is attractive to advertisers and news executives. Brian Williams is a lightweight compared to Ted Koppel, but because of Brian's desperate need to be liked (and his unctuous talent for pandering to the viewers), his ratings are high.
Tues. 12/13--The lead story was about distracted driving (people who use their cell phones while driving). Here are some of the things Brian had to say on this subject: "An agency of the Federal government has decided that texting, e-mailing or talking on a cellphone while driving a car is simply too dangerous and should be outlawed (for) all of US...The millions of US who drive distracted on occasion--especially those of US who think WE'RE fine, it's the other drivers who present the greatest danger on the road." As usual, Brian uses personal pronouns to turn a news story into a story about HIM. Because the news is always about Brian.
***Brian then moderated an interminably long six-minute-and-forty-second round table discussion on the Republican presidential candidates with Chuck Todd, David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell and pollster Peter Hart. Wow. It was like watching a stage production of "War and Peace". In Russian. All the information they gave us could have been presented in under a minute. But instead, Brian dragged this segment out to take up more than a quarter of the broadcast. Ridiculous.
***Here are some of the other important stories Brian told us about: The loud volume of commercials (30 seconds); A recently re-discovered Alexander Graham Bell recording from the 1880's (40 seconds); And a giant sequoia tree that had fallen at Sequoia National Park (35 seconds). Breaking news if ever I've seen it. By the way, this was the third Nightly News story on the fallen sequoia tree in the past six weeks. I'm surprised Brian didn't refer to it as a "fallen hero".
***The final story was a 2:10 waste of time about military personnel returning from Iraq. It wasn't a news story, it was just another rah-rah, gung-ho, flag-waving, feel-good patriotic story meant to resonate emotionally with the viewers (I mean that literally--as Brian introduced this story, there was an animated flag waving behind him and he ended by saying, "Our thanks to all of our veterans for their service." Wow, he's sickening. I'm surprised he didn't stand and salute.). Among the scenes of husbands and wives reuniting, it also included the obligatory footage of a father surprising his two daughters who were not told that he was coming home that day. This is de rigueur at Nightly News. They have aired this same story (with different people, of course) dozens of times over the past few years. These stories have absolutely no news value, but the NBC News research department has informed Brian that viewers love to see these sappy, tearful reunions and they get high ratings. And we all know how important ratings are to Brian. By the way, this Nightly News broadcast did not feature a single story from outside the U.S. But at least we know all about the giant sequoia tree and the soldier that surprised his kids. Here's a suggestion for Brian and his producers: Instead of boring us with six minutes of redundant political talk, how about covering some of the actual news that's happening in the rest of the world?
Wed. 12/14--We saw the third story in two months about the risk of using electronic devices on planes. Tom Costello originally reported this story on Oct. 10. And on Dec. 8, after Alec Baldwin was kicked off a plane for refusing to turn off his cell phone game, the Nightly News producers basically reran Costello's previous story with some new footage of Baldwin (including, of course, a clip from "30 Rock"). And tonight, Costello did yet another story about electronic devices on planes, also with more Baldwin footage added (this time, it was from his recent "Saturday Night Live" appearance). How many more times are the Nightly News producers going to milk this story just so they can promote "30 Rock" and SNL? Nightly News spent more time on this story than "Access Hollywood". Shameful.
***Brian spent 30 seconds reporting the important story of a baby seal that crawled into a house in New Zealand. Because Brian is always about the hard news.
***We then got another story about the Liz Taylor jewelry auction--the fourth story Nightly News has done on the auction. Of course, these stories are just excuses to show Taylor's old movie clips. Viewers like seeing the clips and they get good ratings.
***Brian took 30 seconds to tell us that people are having buyers' remorse and returning more merchandise to stores than they did last year. Thanks for the scoop.
***The final story was another sappy piece about a dad who's taking care of his kids while his wife is serving in Afghanistan. Naturally, it included footage of the tearful reunion when mom gets off the plane and greets her kids. Nightly News just keeps showing the same crap over and over and over again. This isn't a news broadcast, it's the Lifetime Movie Network.
Thurs. 12/15--The lead story was Richard Engel's piece about the U.S. military pullout from Iraq (Engel was wearing his blue shirt again). Here's part of Brian's introduction to the story: "And please remember every American who served there volunteered for duty while their families sacrificed greatly here at home." Oh, please. Where's my barf bag? I thought news anchors were supposed to be neutral and objective. I thought they were supposed to report facts, not their opinions. Well, apparently objectivity and facts don't get high ratings.
***We saw a story about Mitt Romney that included a video clip of Romney being interview by The New York Times. The credit at the bottom of the screen read "Ne York Times". What's the Ne York Times? Is it a newspaper published by the R & B singer Ne-Yo?
***We were treated to a two-and-a-half minute story about buyers' remorse--apparently people are returning more merchandise to stores than they did last year. Hmmm...that sounds familiar. Where did I hear it before? Oh yeah--on last night's broadcast. Once again, Nightly News reported the same story two nights in a row. Who says reruns are only for entertainment shows?
***Next, we saw Robert Bazell's story about the dangers of a highly contagious bird flu virus created in a lab for research purposes. The story was titled "Full Disclosure". That's hilarious because Bazell often presents glowing reports about Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline or Pfizer products without disclosing that he's really doing product placements for some of Nightly News's best advertisers. That's what I call irony.
***Brian then took 45 seconds to tell us about the new Obama family portrait. He said, "It sure looks like both parents are hanging on to those beautiful girls for dear life." That's creepy and sickening. Is there any level to which Brian will not stoop in order to pander to the President? And what about his vow not to report on Sasha and Malia? That vow went out the window when he realized that they bring good ratings.
***Next, Brian reported on rumors that Vladimir Putin has had some cosmetic face work done. That's responsible--reporting on rumors about world leaders' plastic surgery. This is another story that's rife with irony because Brian has obviously had a nose job. I guess it's up to Russian TV to report on Brian's cosmetic procedures.
***Brian spent 30 seconds telling us all about the Golden Globe nominations. Much of the story consisted of video of George Clooney. People like George Clooney. That's why Brian puts him on Nightly News so often. The story ended with Brian's shameless plug for the Golden Globes on NBC in January. Big surprise. As if he would have even bothered with the story if the Golden Globes weren't going to be televised on NBC.
***The broadcast ended with a "Making A Difference" story called "Random Acts of Kindness". A California woman returns a man's lost wallet. A California town puts up a Snoopy display when the man who usually does it can't afford it this year. A South Carolina jewelry store hides pearl necklaces around town for people to find. A Michigan woman secretly pays for people's lay-away purchases. And in South Carolina, a Santa asks three little children what they want for Christmas. When they say they want their daddy to come home from his tour of duty in the military, he steps out from behind a curtain. Yes--this was an actual story on a network news broadcast. I know--I can't believe it either.
Fri. 12/16--In a story about fraud at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a Nightly News graphic informed us that Virginia Foxx is a Congresswoman representing Virginia. Actually, she represents North Carolina. But I understand how confusing it must be to the Nightly News producers when people's names are the same as state names. Maybe Ms. Foxx should change her first name to Carolina to make it easier for the Nightly News producers.
***NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams continues to be my hero. Once again, Brian tried to bait him with a treacly "Good evening, Pete". But Pete refused to take the bait. Instead of responding to Brian's syrupy greeting, he just launched right into his story. You go, Pete! Why does Brian feel the need to exchange ebullient greetings with every Nightly News correspondent as if they're actually his friends?
***During yet another tedious story about pre-Christmas shopping (how does this qualify as news?), we were shown a December calendar page on screen. For some inexplicable reason, this calendar showed the week as beginning with Monday and running through Sunday. Every calendar I've ever seen shows the week beginning with Sunday and running through Saturday. Note to the Nightly News producers: It's okay to buy irregular socks and underwear. It's not okay to buy irregular calendars.
***Here's something new: The not-quite-obituary. Brian spent 30 seconds telling us that Etta James was--almost dead. Can't he wait for her to actually pass away before eulogizing her? I guess Brian figured she wouldn't last the weekend and Monday would be too late. Not very sensitive.
***Brian also read an obituary for Christopher Hitchens. More irony on Nightly News. Hitchens was an intellectual heavyweight. Brian is...well, let's just say he's not exactly an intellectual heavyweight.
***We also got a 30-second story about Michelle Obama being asked on a date by a Marine. The NBC News research department has obviously informed Brian that when it comes to popularity, Mrs. Obama is American royalty--like Will & Kate. So that's why we get so many Michelle Obama stories every week.
***The final story was a two-minute "Making A Difference" piece about the Marines who help organize the Toys for Tots program. Like every MAD piece, this one did not have a shred of news value. How many hundreds of minutes do Brian and his producers waste every year with these inane MAD stories? It's appalling that a network newscast would actually stoop to this kind of shameless pandering. But not surprising. The MAD stories get good ratings. And ratings are more important than news to Brian and his producers. Brian ended the broadcast by telling us that next week, we will see a new MAD piece every day. I can't wait.