Saturday, December 3, 2011

NBC's Tom Costello Is A Sleazy Shameless Shill

The second story on Wednesday's Nightly News (11/30) was Tom Costello's report about arsenic levels in fruit juice. As expected, Costello's first obligation was to protect the Nightly News sponsors. As a result, he did not show a single name brand of juice. Instead, we only saw clear glasses filled with what appeared to be apple juice. At one point, Costello was in a supermarket juice aisle but all the juice bottles on the shelf had been turned around by the Nightly News staff so their labels were not visible. They manipulated the bottles in a supermarket to protect NBC sponsors! There is a word for this: Unethical. And there's another word for it: Sleazy. Costello's manipulation of the juice aisle reminded me of Kristen Welker's manipulation of a supermarket cereal aisle for her 9/24/10 Nightly News report about the shopping habits of American consumers. For that report, Welker and her producers painstakingly rearranged the cereal aisle in a Target store and padded it with 50 facings of Cheerios in order to create a wall of Cheerios that was clearly visible to the camera. Cheerios had nothing to do with the story--Welker rearranged the aisle just to create a product placement for Cheerios, a regular Nightly News advertiser. It's sort of the flip side of what Costello did. He manipulated a supermarket aisle to protect Nightly News sponsors, Welker manipulated a supermarket aisle to promote a Nightly News sponsor. Meanwhile, The CBS Evening News also aired a report Wednesday about arsenic levels in juice. But the CBS report clearly showed bottles of Mott's, Apple & Eve and other name brands. I think it's obvious who the legitimate journalists are and who the shills are. Sidebar: At one point during the Nightly News juice story, Costello told us that, "(T)he FDA now says it's considering a new standard that will reduce consumers' exposure to arsenic in apple juice." But when that statement appeared on-screen, "consumers'" was spelled as "consumer's". Note to the Nightly News producers: I think the FDA is looking to reduce the exposure for more than one consumer.

Of course, it's no surprise that when the Nightly News producers wanted to protect their sponsors, they gave the job to Costello. He has a history of protecting sponsors in his stories. On the 3/29/11 Nightly News, Costello did a story about the link between food dyes and hyperactivity in children. He told us the dyes were, "Found in everything from drinks to candies, baked goods, chips, even pickles and mac and cheese." As he said this, we are shown video of these products--but not a single identifying label was visible. This is hardly shocking. These products all advertise regularly on NBC and the producers are obviously afraid of offending their sponsors. The chips were clearly Doritos (from Frito-Lay), and the pickles and macaroni and cheese were likely from Heinz and Kraft, two of the largest manufacturers of those respective products (and also frequent NBC advertisers). Simply put, Brian Williams, Tom Costello and their producers do not run negative reports that include their sponsors' products. Not surprisingly, the 3/29/11 CBS Evening News report on food dyes showed brand-name products such as Fritos and Ruffles (both from Frito-Lay), M & M's, Mott's Applesauce, Gatorade, Eggos, Kraft salad dressings, Hellmann's Mayonnaise, Popsicles, Jello and a variety of cereals such as Frosted Flakes, Cap'n Crunch and Apple Jacks. CBS News acted in the best interests of their viewers while NBC News acted in the best interests of their sponsors.

But there's more. On the 11/3/09 Nightly News, Costello did a report about harmful BPA levels in plastic bottles and canned food liners. Costello told us that the chemical was present in "brand name foods from vegetable soup to tuna fish, green beans to corn and chili." But the accompanying graphic showed only generic cans labeled "chili", "vegetable soup", "green beans" and "tuna". Not a single name brand. Meanwhile, ABC's World News reported the same story on the same night. The ABC story showed canned goods from Del Monte, Progresso, Campbell's, Hormel, Hunt's, Bush's and Chef Boyardee. As with the food dye and juice stories, Costello and his producers refrained from showing brand names in the BPA story as a favor to the many food companies that advertise on their broadcast and other NBC shows. (In the week prior to the 11/3/09 BPA report, Nightly News aired commercials for Bush's Beans, Progresso canned soups and Swanson chicken broth.) What does it tell us that both CBS and ABC are willing to include their sponsors' products in unflattering news reports, while Nightly News is not? Simple. Nightly News makes a point of vigorously protecting and promoting their sponsors' products, while the other networks do not. Obviously, ABC and CBS place news above loyalty to their sponsors.

By the way, on Monday's Nightly News (11/28), we were shown a "Making A Difference" report about campus food pantries that provide food to needy students. In the story, there were no fewer that 8 clear shots of Campbell's canned foods. The final shot of the story was an extreme close up of a can of Campbell's Chunky Soup. This was no accident. Campbell's is a major Nightly News sponsor. Obviously, this story was concocted solely as a way to promote Campbell's products. So Nightly News refuses to show a single can of Campbell's soup in a damaging story about BPA levels, but they have no problem turning a "Making A Difference" report into a Campbell's product placement bonanza. Shameful.

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