Friday, January 20, 2012

NBC Nightly News Show Notes 1/14 Through 1/20 (Revised)

The big story on Nightly News this week was cold weather and snow. In January. Here's what happened on Nightly News this week:

Sat. Jan. 14--Obviously at no loss for worn-out cliches, Lester Holt told us about the "Deep Freeze" and the "Arctic Blast" taking place in much of the Northeast. Then The Weather Channel's Mike Seidel gave us the details: 32 degrees in New York; 33 in St. Louis; 32 in Lexington, KY; 35 in Washington, D.C. and 50 in Atlanta. These temperatures are all within the normal range for these cities in January, so why is this news? Seidel then told us that Sunday's temperature in New York would be a "numbing 27 degrees". Numbing? Five degrees below freezing? This is absolutely absurd. Normal weather is not news. When is Nightly News going to stop wasting our time with weather garbage and cover real news?
***A story about Joe Paterno's first major interview since he got fired featured audio clips from the interview, along with on-screen transcripts of his statements. Some of his printed statements were enclosed in quotes, some were not. Quotes, no quotes--whatever.
***Later, Lester spent 25 seconds telling us that in 2010 the TSA collected more than $409,000 in loose change left behind by passengers at security checkpoints. The first thing I thought was: Wow, that's two weeks' salary for Brian Williams. During this story, we were shown an animated flight board (created by the Nightly News graphics department) with imaginary departures listed for various cities. The city at the top of the board was "Ankorage". The correct spelling is Anchorage. The producers really should know this. After all, the first six letters are A-N-C-H-O-R. You know, like Brian Williams. And what do the Nightly News producers have against Alaska? On Dec. 25, 2010, the producers spelled Juneau as "Juno". Like the Ellen Page movie title. And twice in the past two years (4/26/11 and 4/23/10) the producers abbreviated Arkansas as "AK" instead of "AR". AK is actually the abbreviation for Alaska. Obviously, no one at Nightly News cares the slightest bit about accuracy. Is it too harsh to say the Nightly News producers are morons?
***The final story of the night was a 2:10 piece about injured and orphaned seals that are cared for and rehabbed in an Amsterdam marine life facility. Well, I guess this story was long overdue--it had been a whole month since Nightly News last did a story on seals (12/14/11). That's what I love about the Nightly News producers--they're all about the hard news. Always.
Sun. Jan. 15--Lester read this news flash: "Tonight millions of Americans are dealing with a deep freeze--a blast of Arctic air stretching from Boston to Chicago...." Cold weather in New England! In winter! 31 in Chicago! 26 in Detroit! Below freezing in Canada! OMG! I've never heard of such low temperatures in January! Thanks, Lester!
***A story about Pres. Obama's re-election campaign identified David Axelrod as an "Obama Campaign Strategist". After years of arbitrarily alternating between calling Axelrod an "adviser" and an "advisor", the Nightly News producers finally settled on "strategist" to avoid looking stupid as a result of their constantly changing spellings. And it took them five years to figure this out?
***In that same story, the producers showed October, November and December calendar pages on-screen to illustrate that the President raised $68 million in the last quarter of 2011. On each of these calendars, the week began with Monday and ended with Sunday. Funny thing--every calendar I've ever seen begins the week with Sunday and ends with Saturday. Why are the Nightly News producers using factory-second calendars? Or maybe they're using Mayan or lunar calendars.
***Correspondent Craig Melvin then spent 2:15 on a story about people who share, swap or trade instead of buying and selling. Fascinating--not. This story had a familiar feel to it. I wonder why. Oh yeah--just a few weeks ago (12/27/11) Nightly News did a 2:20 story about how the people of Portland, Maine barter services in lieu of buying and selling. Another rerun on Nightly News.
***The final story was Duncan Golestani's 2:15 piece about Margaret Thatcher. Or more specifically, about Meryl Streep's portrayal of Thatcher in "The Iron Lady". Not surprisingly, as the last story of the night, this story led right into the Red Carpet special that preceded the Golden Globe Awards. So the Streep/Thatcher story was, of course, just a promo for the Golden Globes. The story contained clips from the movie and interviews with Streep. And it also contained 30 seconds of gratuitous Golden Globe clips--mostly featuring George Clooney. Because viewers like to see him and it boosts the ratings.
Mon. Jan. 16--Nightly News devoted the first nine minutes of the broadcast to three reports about the capsized cruise ship off the coast of Italy. First of all, the story could have been fully reported in three minutes. Six people dead, 29 people missing (at that time). There really wasn't much more to say. The other six minutes was just the Nightly News producers milking the story for ratings. In general, the way in which Brian Williams and the Nightly News correspondents covered the story was really very sloppy.
***In his intro to the lead story, Brian referred to the ship as the "Casa" Concordia, rather than the Costa Concordia.
***Also in his intro, Brian said that, "Of the 4200 souls on board, six are dead, 29 still missing...." Souls? Why does Brian always insist on speaking as if he was narrating a trailer for a really bad horror film? Why can't he just say "people"?
***In the second segment about the Costa Concordia, Harry Smith rode out to Giglio Island in a chartered boat to get a closer look at the submerged liner. Here's his bizarre description of the trip: "We went out there with an American boat captain--a yacht captain--who has plied these waters around here and around the world for more than 30 years and what he has to say about the captain and the captain's actions in regard to sailing so close to this tiny island in waters that have been charted for hundreds of years, all the way back to beyond the birth of Christ is something you're gonna want to hear and we'll have that on a report tonight on Rock Center." Wow. That's a long way to go just to promote Rock Center. But Smith should read up on his religious history. If the waters have been charted for "hundreds of years", that wouldn't come close to going back to "beyond the birth of Christ", since Christ was (as legend has it) born more than 2,000 years ago. Smith was off by about 1,500 years. And why is he even mentioning Christ in the first place? It's such an out-of-left-field reference it just leaves us scratching our heads.
***During Tom Costello's segment about rules and regulations of cruise ship evacuations, we were shown a clip of an interview with a Coast Guard officer who is a liaison to the cruise ship industry and who was identified in a Nightly News graphic as "Lt. Commander Dan Brehm US Coast Guard". But in a clip of Brehm that was used on Sunday's Nightly News, he was identified as "Lieutenant Commander Dan Brehm U.S. Coast Guard". Why was he called a "Lieutenant Commander" on Sunday and a "Lt. Commander" on Monday? Why was it "U.S. Coast Guard" on Sunday, but "US Coast Guard" on Monday? Where were the periods? At Nightly News, no one cares about consistency. In fact, no one seems to care the slightest bit about spelling, grammar or syntax. Nightly News is certainly not a professional news organization.
***A story about a change in the inscription on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was identical to a story that had been reported on Saturday. If Lester Holt already told us about it, why did Brian need to tell us about it again? Did this really need to be reported twice? Apparently, a story isn't news unless Brian himself reports it.
***Mike Taibbi spent more than two minutes telling us about a woman and her two kids that were rescued (by Navy Seabees with a heavy-duty forklift) from their car as it teetered precipitously above an overpass after being rear-ended by a truck. We're all glad that they're safe. But two minutes? Come on, now.
***Brian spent 30 seconds on a story that he began with, "There's interesting new research out tonight about how infants learn to talk." The entire video portion of the story consisted of a YouTube clip of two infant twins seemingly having an animated baby-talk conversation with each other. Obviously, the story was concocted solely as an excuse to show the video (this is at least the third time Nightly News has shown this video). If there was any doubt about that, during the story Brian said, "This is just one of our favorite videos." Well, Brian gets to do whatever he wants, so if he wants to show the video, the producers show the video.
***On the previous Thursday (1/12), Brian spent nearly a minute irresponsibly and alarmistly scaring us into thinking that a falling Russian space probe was going to crash into Madagascar and annihilate that island in a fiery explosion. Brian must have been bitterly disappointed on Monday when he had to meekly report that the probe fell harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean. Yet another example of Brian massively hyping a non-story for maximum shock value for the sole purpose of generating sensationalist ratings. (See also the eight ridiculous stories on the Carmageddon non-event that Nightly News reported in July.)
***This is one of those stories that makes me wonder why the FCC hasn't shut down Nightly News for good. It's also one of those stories that makes me want to vomit. It was an idiotic, pandering 90-second recap of the previous night's Golden Globe Awards, which (of course) had been shown on NBC. The story was formatted like a silent movie (like "The Artist") with no audio dialogue. Instead, the words were written on cards, also like in a silent movie, and the color footage was changed to black and white. Along with footage of George Clooney (naturally) and Meryl Streep, the cards contained inane descriptions like, "It was also a big night for Best Actor George Clooney!" "His movie 'The Descendants' won Best Drama!" "Clooney plays a guy whose wife was cheating on him!" "Meryl Streep won Best Actress for 'The Iron Lady'!" "It was her fifth Best Actress award, but she forgot her glasses!" "But the real star of the night was the dog from 'The Artist'!" "He did tricks on stage!" "Who's a good dog?" Honestly. I mean it. This was an actual story on a network evening newscast. I'm not kidding. And Brian began the story by bragging that, "About 17 million of you watched the Golden Globes last night...." Yes, it's very dignified and professional for a news anchor to brag about his network's ratings. Funny thing--I never hear Brian bragging about the appallingly low ratings for most of the rest of NBC's prime time schedule (including his own Rock Center, which draws an anemic 4 million people each week on average). By the way, other sources (including The New York Times) reported that the show was actually watched by 16.8 million people. Brian certainly knew that when he made his claim of 17 million viewers, but clearly he thought that 17 million sounded much more impressive than 16.8 million. And here's something Brian "neglected" to mention: The Golden Globes' viewership was down from 2011, including a slip of 4% in the important 18-49 demographic. Of course, Brian never reports bad news about NBC so he didn't mention this. (I'm still waiting for Brian to report that NBC lost $225 million on the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. I won't hold my breath.)
***The final story of the night was about a six-year-old boy with Down Syndrome who is also a model and actor in commercials. Apparently, the whole point of the story was that children with Down Syndrome are not as different as some might think. That's nice, but why is this news? Meanwhile, the idiotic Anne Thompson talked to this little boy like she was talking to a goldfish. If you're going to do a story meant to show that Down Syndrome children are not so different, don't use a correspondent who's going to talk to the story's subject in such a condescending manner.
***Meanwhile, here are a few of the stories Brian and his producers chose NOT to report on Monday: 1) A building collapsed in Beirut killing at least 26 people. Brian didn't care about this story because most of the people killed were poor or immigrants. And also because they didn't die in a luxury ocean liner. 2) The Pakistani Supreme Court initiated "contempt-of-court proceedings against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for failing to pursue corruption charges against his boss, President Asif Ali Zardari." (According to Tuesday's New York Times.) 3) Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan finally backed down from his decision to cut fuel subsidies for the Nigerian people. Riots and strikes over the fuel subsidy cuts had been raging for weeks. 4) Standard & Poor's downgraded the credit rating of the Eurozone bailout fund (the European Financial Stability Facility) from AAA to AA+, potentially making it more difficult for the fund's managers to borrow money. Last week, S & P similarly downgraded the credit rating of France and eight other Eurozone countries--Nightly News still has not reported this. But at least we know all about the Russian space probe, the twin infants who talk to each other and George Clooney and Meryl Streep's great night at the Golden Globe Awards. Great job, Brian. You should be so proud of what you're doing at Nightly News.
Tues. Jan. 17--Brian again told us about the "Winter Blast" in the Pacific Northwest. I wish I had a dollar for every time Brian or Lester said "Winter Blast".
***Mike Taibbi did a 2:10 follow-up story to Monday's report about the woman and her two kids that were rescued from their car as it dangled above a highway overpass. A brief definition: At Nightly News, a "follow-up story" is a way to waste time by showing existing footage (either used or unused) of a story in order to create a second story that is virtually identical to the original story. Follow-up stories are very inexpensive to produce because most or all of the footage has already been filmed. The producers just need to do some editing and record a voice-over and ta-da...instant story. In this case, Taibbi and his producers basically repeated the original story with some added footage of the Seabees who rescued the car's passengers. So over two days, Nightly News spent 4:15 on this one story, rather than reporting on important news going on around the world. Thanks, Nightly News.
***Brian spent a minute telling us about Paula Deen's diabetes. This story had been circulating for days, but Brian reported it on Tuesday because Deen had appeared on that morning's Today Show. Remember, it isn't news unless it happens on NBC. The video that accompanied the segment consisted of Deen talking to Al Roker and doing a cooking demonstration on The Today Show set. As usual, Brian's number one job is to promote other NBC shows. But promoting The Today Show takes on a greater urgency now because the revamping of CBS This Morning makes it a potential threat to The Today Show's ratings. We all recall that in the months before and after Conan O'Brien replaced Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, Brian made it his personal mission to use his broadcast to rabidly promote Leno, Conan and The Tonight Show (as well as Leno's prime-time show). Perhaps the most shameless manifestation of Brian's fawning promotional efforts was on the 4/8/09 Nightly News, when he did a ridiculously gratuitous "Making A Difference" segment on Leno--less than two months before Leno ceded The Tonight Show to Conan! Is it ethical for a news anchor to use his broadcast to promote his network's other shows? I'll leave it to you to decide.
***Because sports and entertainment are a huge part of Nightly News (meaning they boost the broadcast's ratings), Brian did a segment on the birthdays of Muhammad Ali and Betty White. Brian called White an "American icon". Not coincidentally, NBC had aired a birthday tribute to White the previous night. But White's birthday tribute was scheduled to be rebroadcast the following Saturday, so of course Brian's goal was to promote the second airing of the special and increase its ratings. Does anyone believe for a second that Brian would have mentioned White's birthday if her special was airing on another network?
***Brian then spent a combined 75 seconds to tell us about a mistaken water-landing announcement that was broadcast on a British Airways plane and that the average age of Americans' cars is 10.8 years. Fascinating.
***The final story was about the wacky curve ball questions being asked on today's college applications. Some colleges are asking applicants who their favorite superhero is or about their favorite ride in an amusement park. Honestly, it's not nearly as important to find out why colleges are asking silly questions of their applicants as it is to find out why Nightly News is wasting 2:20 telling us about it. Isn't there any real news to report?
Wed. Jan. 18--During a story about the Italian Cruise Ship disaster, a Nightly News graphic identified Adam Smallman as the "Lloyds Head of Content". Actually, it's "Lloyd's". But when have the Nightly News producers ever cared about an apostrophe?
***We were treated to yet another story about the snowstorm in Seattle. Isn't there a better way to allocate two minutes of important Nightly News air time?
***In a story about the world's best and worst airport terminals, Brian told us that, "LaGuardia terminal 5 is the seventh worst in the world...." But on-screen, the graphic read "LaGuardia Terminal C". Kennedy Airport has a terminal 5, LaGuardia doesn't. Brian was wrong, the graphic was right. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the producers used the same animated graphic representation of an airport departure flight board as they did on Saturday--and like Saturday, Anchorage was misspelled as "Ankorage". Making this mistake once was awful. But twice is inexcusable.
***Brian then spent 30 seconds telling us that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was named a Global Cultural Ambassador by the State Department. Thanks, Brian. Good to know.
Thurs. Jan. 19--In a story about the Costa Concordia, Brian said, "Divers are back at work searching that giant wreck...for the 21 souls who are still missing...." Again he said "souls". What the hell is wrong with him?
***In a story about the political revolt in Syria, Brian pronounced the city of Daraa as "Daria". You know, like the late 90's animated MTV series.
***In his story about South Carolina politics, Tom Brokaw told us that Jim DeMint is South Carolina's "most popular senator". Really, Tom? So he's the most popular out of the state's two senators? Wow, what an honor.
***Brian and his producers used the death of freestyle skier Sarah Burke as a shameless promotion for the Olympics. Both Brian and newsidiot Anne Thompson made sure to tell us that Burke was a gold medal hopeful for the 2014 Sochi Games. Real classy move, Brian. But it's certainly not surprising. Nightly News will report any story that's even tangentially related to the Olympics because they're desperate for any opportunity to promote NBC's Olympic coverage (just wait until this summer. Nightly News will become a promotional video for the London Games.). Brian also made a point of saying that Burke "was beautiful". How is that relevant? Does Nightly News cover women differently depending on how attractive they are? Clearly, the answer is "yes". This is typical of Nightly News. On the 2/7/10 broadcast (five days before the Vancouver Olympics began), NBC sports producer Alan Abrahamson said this of Lindsey Vonn: "She's blond, she's pretty...." Apparently, the way in which the Nightly News producers choose to cover women in the news really does depend on what they look like.
***The broadcast ended with a 2:15 story about David Rubenstein, a wealthy philanthropist who donated money to help restore the Washington Monument after it was damaged in last August's earthquake. Brian is clearly obsessed with the Washington Monument. This is the seventh story he has reported about the damage it incurred. And like the other six stories, this one began with a ridiculous animated flag waving behind Brian. Obviously, his goal is to boost his ratings by crassly appealing to his viewers' sense of rah-rah gung-ho God-Bless-America patriotism. But with out a doubt, my favorite part of this report was when the producers gratuitously inserted panda footage into the story as Tom Costello was telling us that Rubenstein had donated $4.5 million to the National Zoo. Boom--cue the pandas! Is there no level to which the Nightly News producers will not stoop in order to pander to the viewers? Why not graphically insert pandas into every news story? Look--there's a panda on the deck of the Costa Concordia! Look--there's Gabby Giffords holding a panda! Look--there's a panda on stage during the Republican debate! The Nightly News producers are absolutely shameless.
Fri. Jan. 20--Brian began the broadcast reporting from Orlando because it's never too early to begin promoting Monday's Republican debate on NBC. The lead story, ostensibly about the Republican candidates (but which was really just a promo for the debate) featured 15 seconds of Stephen Colbert video. Obviously, the producers realize that viewers are bored by politics but love entertainment news. After seven minutes of promoting Monday's debate, Brian told us we could see it "On your NBC station on the NBC television network". Um, Brian, the 1950's called--they want their promotional announcement back. At that point, Brian mercifully turned the remainder of the broadcast over to Lester Holt so he could go enjoy Disney World with his family. Excuse me--I mean Universal Studios. Brian ignores ABC when he reports the news, so he certainly would never patronize a theme park owned by ABC's parent company.
***Lester's first story was the "Winter Blast" which dumped 6-8 inches of snow in Chicago. Give me a break. In Chicago, that's a dusting. The accompanying Weather Channel map forecast one inch of snow in Syracuse, 2-4 inches in Detroit and 3-5 inches in New York, Pittsburgh and Boston. Wow. It's like a new ice age has hit the Northeast. This meager snowfall is a complete non-event, but the Nightly News producers nevertheless saw fit to waste 2:40 of valuable news time on it. Thanks.
***We were shown 35 seconds of video of the President singing an Al Green song. Maybe the producers should have attached a "Breaking News" banner to this story.
***We then saw a 1:35 obituary for Etta James. It felt like deja vu. I wonder why? Oh yeah--it's because Brian already read her obituary on Dec. 16--before she died! That's right--Brian has invented the pre-obituary. It's a way to report twice on the same person's death. Of course, that never seems to be a problem. Brian has also perfected the two-day obituary, in which he reports someone's death a second time on Monday after Lester has already reported it on Sunday. Recently, he has done this with Cardinal John Foley and Tony Blankley. But as we all know, a story isn't really news unless Brian himself reports it.
***The final story of the night was a 2:40 piece about the Tuskegee Airmen and the movie about them, "Red Tails". Why did I also get deja vu from this story. I guess it was because Nightly News already reported the exact same story last Oct. 5. The Tuskegee Airmen and the "Red Tails" movie. The Tuskegee Airmen were great heroes, but do we really need to see this story twice in less than four months? No we don't. But Nightly News is the unofficial propaganda arm of the U.S. Military, and their job is to promote the armed services with stories like this. Twice, if necessary. And let's not forget that this was also an entertainment story (it included 55 seconds of clips from "Red Tails") so that's like the daily double for the Nightly News producers. Make-believe patriotism and movie clips together in one story. Sounds like Nightly News heaven. Meanwhile, on Friday, France suspended training operations in Afghanistan after an Afghan soldier killed four French soldiers and wounded 16 in response to the video of U.S. Marines urinating on Afghan corpses. Nightly News didn't bother to report this story. But at least we know all about the Winter Blast and the President's Al Green moment. Great job, Nightly News producers.

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