Last week, it was business as usual at Nightly News. We saw stories about Liz Taylor, pandas and Will & Kate. Brian Williams used his broadcast to plug "Celebrity Apprentice" & "30 Rock", Cheerios & Bayer. And of course, Brian did his best to turn every story into a story about HIM. Here are the highlights:
Sat. 12/3--Viewers were treated to another story about the upcoming auction of Liz Taylor's jewels. Because apparently, that's what passes for news at Nightly News. Then we saw a 2:10 story about elderly jazz musicians who play at high schools and senior centers. More hard news.
Sun. 12/4--Nightly News began 10 minutes late, because golf ran overtime. Yet the producers still showed us a two-minute story about pandas and the obligatory Will & Kate story. You'd think that when a news broadcast starts late, the producers would cut out the trivial, worthless stories and focus on news. Not at NBC. Instead, the producers cut out news to focus on worthless stories. Great job, guys. Naturally, Lester Holt ended the broadcast by plugging that night's Lions-Saints game, which followed Nightly News on NBC.
Mon. 12/5--During a story about the Republican presidential candidates, David Axelrod was identified as an "Obama Campaign Senior Advisor". The previous night, Axelrod was identified as a "Senior Obama Campaign Adviser". So not only did the producers rearranged the word order of Axelrod's title, but they also spelled advisor/adviser two different ways on two different days. So much for consistency. So much for competence. This story also included plenty of Donald Trump video and audio, because one of Brian's main jobs is using his broadcast to promote NBC Entertainment shows like "Celebrity Apprentice". In a story about NASA's discovery of a habitable Earth-like planet 600 light years away, Brian said this: "Imagine what we could do with this new place--it could be our chance to start fresh. A place where the Chicago Cubs always win, where there's always free parking, productive lawmakers and uninterrupted cell phone service." I'm sure free parking is an issue for Brian and his $10 million salary. Actually, I was hoping the new planet would have an NBC News anchor who understands the difference between real news and drivel and who doesn't look for every opportunity to feed his massive ego by showing off what he believes passes for a sense of humor. But as always, Brian would much rather be thought of as funny than as a serious news anchor. After that, we saw a story that basically consisted of Richard Engel using a rope to lower himself into a Malian gold mine, where he spent several minutes horsing around. There was no real purpose to this story, except to promote a longer version of the story that would appear later on "Rock Center". Just to make sure we got the point, Brian began and ended the story with plugs for "Rock Center". How nice that Brian is wasting valuable Nightly News time plugging his prime-time show. The final story was a pointless "Making A Difference" piece (by the equally pointless Anne Thompson) about an organization that helps job-searchers improve their self-esteem. Another Nightly News story with zero news value. Brian ended the broadcast by begging people to watch "Rock Center" later that night. His third plug for "Rock Center". Shameless.
Tues. 12/6--Brian narrated a story about Green Bay Packers stock going on sale. Nightly News frequently runs stories about football because that helps to promote NBC's Sunday Night Football. And one of Brian's main jobs, of course, is to promote NBC Sports. Brian ended the story by saying, "While WE Giants fans are not happy with the Pack right about now, they are better behaved than a whole lot of companies you could invest in." Once again, Brian used a personal pronoun ("we") to turn a news story into a story about him. Because the news is always about Brian. Always. The broadcast ended with a two-minute story about a mystery person who has been leaving $20 gold coins in Florida Salvation Army collection pots. More hard news from Nightly News. I half-expected to see Richard Engel using a rope to lower himself into a collection pot to investigate the gold coin.
Wed. 12/7--On The CBS Evening News, correspondent Clarissa Ward continued her riveting reports on the events in Syria, after daringly sneaking into that country and defying a ban on foreign reporters. At ABC, Barbara Walters conducted an exclusive interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And on Nightly News...they didn't even mention Syria. That sounds about right. But we did get a story about the prison sentence handed down to Rod Blagojevich, which included a clip of Donald Trump on "Celebrity Apprentice". Because it's Brian's job to promote NBC shows on Nightly News. We also got a 35-second obituary for Dobie Gray, who was known for only one song--"Drift Away". In a story about sugar in cereal, Brian makes a point of mentioning Honey Nut Cheerios (a photo of the cereal is also shown above Brian's shoulder) so all the kids watching will nag their parents to buy it for them. Cheerios is one of the biggest Nightly News sponsors, and Brian always makes a point of plugging his sponsors on his broadcast. Like they say in the PR profession--"There's no such thing as bad publicity." Brian then spent 50 seconds talking about Alec Baldwin getting kicked off a plane, because that's a great way to promote Baldwin's TV show "30 Rock" (which airs on NBC, of course). After that, Brian told us that, "The Great Harry Morgan has died." Great? Morgan was an accomplished actor and an Emmy winner, but great? I don't think so. Apparently, Brian's fawningly obsequious reverence for anyone in uniform even extends to actors who merely portrayed members of the military. And that's just sad. By the way, it isn't a news anchor's job to attach glowing adjectives to people just because he happens to like them. But Morgan's obit was an opportunity to show clips from "M*A*S*H" and "Dragnet", and we all know how Brian loves to show TV clips on Nightly News. Hardly a broadcast goes by without some sort of movie or TV clip (or both) being shown. Obviously, the NBC News research department has informed Brian that TV clips help the Nightly News ratings, so of course he will continue to show them. The final story was a two-minute "Making A Difference" piece about three Baltimore men who teach yoga to kids. I have no idea why this was on a news broadcast. So let's recap: CBS News and ABC News air important stories about Syria. Nightly News ignores Syria because Brian thinks it's more important to tell us about Donald Trump, Dobie Gray, Honey Nut Cheerios, Alec Baldwin, Harry Morgan and yoga. Way to go, Brian. Does anyone really believe that Nightly News is a professional broadcast?
Thurs. 12/8--Brian read three promo plugs for the final story about Alec Baldwin getting kicked off a plane. And in each of the plugs, Brian attempted to turn the story into a story about himself. At the beginning of the broadcast, he said, "A celebrity's in the news for getting kicked off a plane, for failing to turn off his electronic device, but how many of US really do?" Then before the first commercial break at minute 13 he said, "And later, he defied the flight attendant's order to turn off his phone, but how many of US have done the same thing and is it really dangerous?" And before the final commercial break at minute 24, he said, "Up next here tonight, a serious question after a celebrity dust-up--what if WE do secretly leave our electronics on during takeoff?" Us, us, we. Typical of Brian--using personal pronouns to turn news stories into stories about HIM. Because the news is always about Brian. Meanwhile, Tom Costello's story about Baldwin was just a shameless 2:25 promotion for "30 Rock". It even included a clip from the show. And what's worse, Costello had reported the exact same story about personal electronic devices on planes less than two months earlier (Oct. 10). So this was just a rerun story that was resurrected as a cheap way to plug "30 Rock". Shameful. Also on this broadcast, Nancy Snyderman reported on the possible dangers of blood clots associated with the birth control pills Yaz and Yasmin, which are manufactured by Bayer. ABC's "Nightline" reported this story on Oct. 14, so Nightly News is a little behind the curve. Mea culpa: After the "Nightline" story, I predicted that Nightly News would never report this story because they don't report negative stories about Bayer products, a major Nightly News advertiser. So I guess the Nightly News producers must have decided that the story would bring more positive publicity than negative publicity to Bayer. While Nancy Snyderman did include some negative comments about the drugs, she also included many positive comments. So I guess it was more or less a wash. Obviously, as a physician, Snyderman is bound by an ethical accountability that Brian and his producers are not bound by. Brian then spent 20 seconds narrating an obituary for Jerry Robinson, an illustrator for Batman comics. Really? No offense, but Jerry Robinson does not deserve an obit on Nightly News. After that, Brian took 25 seconds to inform us that yawns are contagious. I think he should have attached a "breaking news" banner to that story. Then he spent 35 seconds telling us about a squirrel that had set off a fire alarm in a Florida elementary school. Apparently, to Brian, that qualifies as news. He ended the story by saying, "The good news--pest control has been notified. The bad news--those weren't raisins on the rice pudding." Okay, for one thing, a lot of people are eating dinner while they watch the news and that comment did not help the food stay down. But even more disturbing is that Brian thinks he's hosting a comedy show. He actually selects stories based on how funny he thinks he can be. My advice to Brian: Don't quit your day job. Wait--on second thought, I take that back. Yes Brian, DO quit your day job. We'd all be a lot better off.
Fri. 12/9--We were treated to a pointless 2:20 story about people who travel from town to town in RVs looking for work. Great. Thanks. Meanwhile, in a related story on the 12/9 Daily Nightly blog, MSNBC.com web editor/producer Becky Bratu misspelled the name of Campbellsville (one of the towns featured on the story) three times (as "Campbelsville"). Another detail-oriented NBC News employee. Then Brian spent 30 seconds telling us about some missing moon rocks. He told us to check our sock drawers. He's a riot. Brian also narrated a 52-second obituary for Alan Harding, who was NBC's manager of field operations. I understand that networks always report on their deceased employees, but 52 seconds? That's a bit much. And of course, the obit featured a photo of Harding with Brian. Because the news is always about Brian--even other people's obits. The final story was a pointless 2:15 "Making A Difference" piece about an organization that arranges cost-free vacations for wounded veterans and their families. More rah-rah, gung-ho, flag-waving, we-love-the-military propaganda from Brian and the Nightly News producers. This story does is not news and does not belong on a network newscast. But Brian understands that he gets high ratings by pretending to care about veterans. And he gets to do whatever he wants. All the time.