Brian Williams spent an awful lot of time this week promoting the Rock Center Republican debate and NBC's coverage of the State of the Union address. We got our fill of Gabby Giffords and saw a rare triple flag. Two U.S. Presidents were misquoted on the same broadcast and Brian told us all about bird shit. Here are some of the great things that happened on Nightly News this week:
Sat. Jan. 21--At the beginning of his report about the Romney campaign, correspondent Peter Alexander said "good morning" to Lester Holt. At 6:35 PM. And he never even bothered to correct himself. I think Alexander should switch to a lower dose of medication.
***Brian Williams made a rare appearance on a Saturday edition of Nightly News. Was it because of a breaking news story? Was it because he had a special scoop? Was it because he wanted to help out the depleted Nightly News staff? Of course not. He appeared on the broadcast (from Orlando) for one selfish reason--to promote Monday's Republican debate in Tampa, which he would be moderating as part of Rock Center. Rock Center's ratings have been anemic so far, rarely drawing more than four million viewers. Last November, Hollywoodreporter.com even featured an article titled, "NBC's 'Rock Center' Ratings on Par With Canceled 'Playboy Club'." (An excerpt: "More jarring are comparisons to the former time slot occupant, which was ejected from the lineup on Oct. 3. In the 18-49 demo, Episode 2 of 'Rock Center' was down 23 percent from 'The Playboy Club’s' 1.3 rating [Sept. 26].") So folding Monday's debate into Rock Center is just a desperate attempt by Brian to boost his prime time show's sad ratings. It should be obvious to anyone watching that the only thing that could get Brian to give up part of his Saturday is the opportunity to promote one of his TV shows. Naturally, Brian's segment ended with a full-screen promo for Monday's Rock Center debate, accompanied by Brian's desperate plea for people to tune in. By the way, Nightly News devoted the entire first segment of Saturday's broadcast--12 full minutes--to the Republican candidates. Was this because the producers believed the candidates were a really important story? Don't be silly. The candidates were given that much air time solely as a way to promote Monday's NBC debate. As always, Nightly News allocates coverage based not on the news value of a story, but based on how much a story can help promote the network's other shows.
***Lester then spent a total of four minutes on two separate stories about the "Winter Blast hitting millions of Americans from Seattle all the way to Boston." He also told us that "much of the country is now covered in ice and snow." Really? In January? Who ever would have guessed? And the obligatory Weather Channel map showed these snow totals across the Northeast: Cleveland--2.1 inches, Binghamton--2.7 inches, Philadelphia--2.3 inches, New York--4.3 inches and Pittsburgh--4 inches. Two to four inches of snow? In the Northeast? Not exactly remarkable. But weather reporting is easy and cheap--just set up a camera and film the correspondent standing in snow--so Nightly News devotes a big chunk of its time to weather-related non-stories like this. And let's not forget that NBC Universal paid $3.5 billion for the Weather Channel, so they make damn sure to use it. Every single night.
Sun. Jan. 22--The lead story was about Gabby Giffords' decision to step down from Congress. Obviously, the NBC News research department has informed Brian and his producers that stories about Giffords deliver high ratings, so they put her on the broadcast as often as possible. This story included several quotes from Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner that were shown on-screen and enclosed in quotation marks (this will matter in a few moments).
***As part of Nightly News's rabid promotion for that night's debate, Chuck Todd did a 1:45 "debate preview". That's really just a weaselly code phrase for "debate promotion". I've never seen anyone at Nightly News do a "debate preview" for a debate that was airing on another network.
***We then saw nearly four minutes' worth of stories about Joe Paterno's death. One of those stories featured some quotes by Paterno that were shown on-screen but were not enclosed in quotation marks. So Nancy Pelosi's and John Boehner's earlier statements were given quotation marks, but Joe Paterno's statements were not. I guess the Nightly News producers were too busy promoting that night's debate to bother with anything as trivial as quotation marks.
***NBC News-shill Robert Bazell did a 2:10 story about the "hidden dangers" of osteoporosis. What hidden dangers? The story didn't mention anything of the sort. Get regular checkups and bone density tests when ordered by a doctor. That's the entire gist of this story. "Hidden dangers" is just an alarmist phrase the producers throw in to spice up a bland story and make it seem more urgent. So although there are no hidden dangers, there were some hidden promotions. Bazell's story included a gratuitous shot of a GE Lunar Prodigy Scanner. GE is a minority owner (and former majority owner) of NBC, so Bazell likes to include their equipment in his stories as often as possible. And at one point during the story, Bazell said, "But if the test finds thinning bones...many experts say the woman needs treatment with medication and frequent follow-up scans to reduce the risk of fractures...." As he said this, we were shown a close-up shot of bottles of Actonel, Fosamax and Boniva (bone-strengthening medications). Boniva was once a major Nightly News advertiser and I'm betting that all three medications are heavy advertisers on some (or all) of the 20 or so Comcast/NBC Universal networks. These drugs are manufactured by pharmaceutical heavyweights Warner Chilcott (Actonel), Merck (Fosamax) and GlaxoSmithKline (Boniva), and Bazell is always more than happy to use his reports to promote drugs made by regular NBC Universal advertisers. In fact, promoting NBC's pharmaceutical sponsors seems to be Bazell's main job at NBC News. There was really no point to this story other than to promote these drugs. Great job, Robert.
***CNBC's Brian Shactman presented a report (called "Package Wars") about the intense competition between UPS and FedEx. Great, but how on earth does this qualify as news? It doesn't. It was really just a 2:25 promo for a one-hour special (titled "Inside The Package Wars") that would be appearing the following night on CNBC. Wait a second--Shactman's CNBC special airs at 9:00 PM Monday--the exact same time as the Rock Center debate! OMG--what should I watch? I'll have to consult my Magic 8 Ball. By the way, "Package Wars" sounds like a title Brian Williams came up with. Whenever he appears with Letterman, Leno or Fallon, he inevitably brings the conversation back around to male genitalia. On David Letterman's 1/3/11 show, Brian felt compelled to tell us that his recent trip to California had included a pat-down by an airport security official who went "right after Dave and the twins." Then he twice used the word "shmegegge" as a euphemism for his genitals. And on Jimmy Fallon's 2/5/10 show, Brian described the luge bodysuit as "the most package-enhancing outfit...." Package wars, indeed. And I'm gonna go out on a limb here and predict that Shactman's CNBC special is extremely flattering to both UPS and FedEx, since both are major NBC sponsors.
***The night's final story was "an incredible story" (according to Lester) about a nurse who donated a kidney to one of her patients. That's a really nice thing to do. But it isn't news. So why was it given two minutes on Nightly News? Because these types of sappy, emotional human interest stories test extremely well with focus groups and get very high ratings with viewers. And high ratings are without a doubt the most important thing to Brian and his producers. Maybe they should have called this story "Kidney Wars".
Mon. Jan. 23--Brian and his producers continued their full-court press to promote that night's Rock Center debate by devoting the broadcast's first eight-and-a-half minutes to the Republican candidates. This included another "debate preview" with Chuck Todd and David Gregory (see previous day's notes for a definition of "debate preview"). At one point, Andrea Mitchell reported on Newt Gingrich's super PAC, American Solutions. She told us that the super PAC's were not allowed to be used for self-promotion. That's pretty ironic considering that her report was actually part of Nightly News's self-promotion for that night's debate.
***After exhaustively promoting that night's debate, Brian handed the show over to Savannah Guthrie in New York so he could take time to prepare for his rigorous questioning of the candidates. Then we were treated to another Gabby Giffords story because...well, you know.
***Guthrie took 30 seconds to tell us that men may have a higher tolerance for pain than women but then suggested that men may actually be lying about their pain tolerance. Oh, okay. Thanks for that.
***Guthrie then spent 30 seconds on the first of many "Super Bowl previews" that we will see on Nightly News in the next two weeks. As is the case with the "debate previews", "Super Bowl previews" are just promotions for the game, which will be shown (of course) on NBC. Funny thing--I don't recall Nightly News doing any Super Bowl previews when the game was on CBS or Fox. Wonder why. This was followed by 38 seconds of the President doing his best Al Green impression at the Apollo Theater. Now we can get it as a ringtone! Awesome!
***The broadcast ended with a 1:50 story about a Texas family that was rescued from the water by good samaritans after their plane crashed off the coast of Honduras. The story featured a clip from "Today", which is the only reason I can come up with to explain why the Nightly News producers would devote nearly two minutes to this non-story.
***Meanwhile, also on Monday, the European Union imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran (including a ban on oil purchases) because of their concerns about Iran's nuclear program. Four Kenyan politicians (including two presidential candidates) were ordered to stand trial at the International Criminal Court at The Hague for crimes against humanity stemming from their involvement in violence that took place after the 2007 elections. And over the weekend in Nigeria, the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram was responsible for ethnic violence that resulted in the deaths of at least 184 people. But Nightly News did not report any of these stories because Brian and his producers don't care about what's going on in the rest of the world, especially in Africa. Brian desperately wants his viewers to believe that Nightly News reports the news in a color-blind manner, but his continued insistence on ignoring Africa paints a very different picture.
Tues. Jan. 24--Despite important news stories taking place around the world, Nightly News's lead story is about Mitt Romney's tax returns. Wow, it's tough being part of the 1%--and no one knows that better than Brian Williams. I wonder--when are we going to see Brian's tax returns? This story featured a clip from MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports", but the on-screen credit line did not enclose the show's title in quotes.
***The next story was a 2:40 recap of the previous night's debate which--surprise--took place on NBC. On Jan. 7, the candidates debated on ABC, but no one at Nightly News ever mentioned that debate even once. Meanwhile, Nightly News spent the equivalent time of an entire broadcast promoting and recapping the NBC debate. Without a doubt, Nightly News is the most shamelessly self-promoting news broadcast on the air. And like a petulant child, they refuse to even acknowledge events that take place on other networks. By the way, this story featured a clip of Newt Gingrich from "Fox & Friends" and the Nightly News producers used quotes around the show's title in the on-screen credit line. So "Andrea Mitchell Reports" doesn't get quotes, but "Fox & Friends" does. Go figure.
***Next, Chuck Todd, Kelly O'Donnell and David Gregory spent four minutes previewing the President's State of the Union address. It goes without saying that they were promoting NBC's broadcast of the speech. At one point during his story, Chuck Todd misquoted an excerpt from the speech the President would deliver later that night. Todd used the phrase "...skills for the American workers..." but the on-screen transcript read "...skills for American workers...." Apparently, Todd felt that he could improve upon the President's speech by adding a word to it. Maybe he should become the President's speechwriter.
***Brian then spent a minute-and-a-half raving about the Northern Lights. "If you live in the Northern U.S. or Canada, you're in for what could be a heck of a light show tonight...." Thanks for the heads-up, dude.
***This next story was quite a treat. Brian spent 2:15 personally narrating a report about some John F. Kennedy tapes that were just released. Brian fancies himself a historian, just like Newt Gingrich fancies himself a historian. I guess there must be something about people with huge egos that makes them think of themselves as historians. Unfortunately, historian Brian allowed his producers to misquote Pres. Kennedy. During a clip in which Kennedy was talking about the advantages of filming the 1964 Democratic Convention in color, he said, "Probably a million people watching it in color and it would have an effect...be quite an effect on the convention." But the accompanying on-screen transcription omitted the word "people". So for the second time in the same broadcast, someone from Nightly News has misquoted a president. Chuck Todd added a word and Brian's producers removed a word. Everyone at Nightly News must be so proud of their attention to detail.
***The final story was a 2:20 "news report" about the Oscar nominations. The story featured two full minutes of movie clips from "The Artist", "Hugo", "The Descendants", "Moneyball", "The Iron Lady", "Bridesmaids" and "The Help". (Clips from "The Artist" alone totaled 51 seconds.) Naturally, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep were given plenty of air time because they're audience favorites, as well as Brian's favorites. This wasn't a news story, it was a pander-fest. It's like watching movie previews in a theater. Brian knows that his viewers like entertainment stories much more than news stories, so he's always eager to oblige with garbage like this. Nightly News airs these movie-clip-compilation stories often--this is the fourth such story they have done in just the past two months. On Nov. 25, it was a story about holiday movies for kids. On Dec. 18, it was a story about nostalgia in movies. And on Jan. 1, it was a story about how 2011 was a bad year at the box office. (Those are only the multiple-clip stories--I didn't include all the stories that feature just one or two movie clips since those would have taken too long to list). This is also the fourth Nightly News story in five weeks to include clips from "The Artist". Clearly, that is Brian's favorite movie of the season. Last year, Brian's favorite movie was "The King's Speech", as evidenced by the four times it appeared in Nightly News stories. While it's certainly the goal of Brian and his producers to boost their show's ratings by showing the viewers mindless entertainment, it is also their goal to appease the film studios by promoting their films. The film industry is a major advertiser on NBC Universal networks, and this is Brian's way of thanking them for all the advertising dollars they have spent with NBC over the years. But of course there could be another, more sinister motive here. What if NBC's advertising department is actually selling space in Nightly News stories to the film studios? Did the Weinstein Company pay for those four stories Nightly News did on "The Artist" or the three stories they did on "The Iron Lady"? Of course, we'll never know for sure. But you can probably guess what I think.
Wed. Jan. 25--Wow! Another Gabby Giffords story! The third one in four days. That makes nearly eight minutes worth of Giffords stories that we've seen this week. It would be an understatement to say that Brian is exploiting Giffords and milking her for all she's worth because her stories bring him good ratings. By the way, this was a rare triple flag story. Anyone who watches Nightly News knows that they show more U.S. flags than any other network news broadcast--including anything on the Fox News Channel. Animated flags are constantly waving behind Brian or Lester--often for the entire first half of the broadcast. Animated flags are also used as the background for political stories, military stories and any other stories in which the producers can get away with it. Nightly News correspondents always make a point of standing near a flag when reporting so that the flag is in the shot. Politicians are always filmed from the angle that shows off the most flags. And any time Nightly News covers a disaster--flood, hurricane, earthquake--the producers send the camera operators off to get as many gratuitous flag shots as possible. The crown jewel, of course, is a shot of a tattered American flag on top of a pile of rubble. That's the money shot. That's gold for the Nightly News producers. (Never mind that the flags are often planted there by those same producers.) Brian and his producers love flags because it's a way for them to disingenuously appeal to the viewers' sense of rah-rah gung-ho eagle-soaring God-Bless-America faux patriotism. Flags are merely part of Brian's calculated scheme to pander to the NASCAR demographic. Using flags as a ratings-generating prop is, of course, shameless, but since when does Brian ever care about shame? He only cares about his Nielsen numbers. Often, the producers show two flags on screen at the same time. Because apparently they love America twice as much as any of the other networks. But Wednesday's Gabby Giffords story contained a rare triple flag shot. As Brian introduced the story, there was, of course, the obligatory animated flag waving behind him. There was also a clip over his left shoulder of Giffords being greeted by John Boehner at the House Speaker's podium, with a huge flag as the background. And below the clip, there was a flag in the shape of Arizona. I guess that was in case anyone forgot what country Arizona was in. Triple flag! Awesome! Suck on that Scott Pelley and Diane Sawyer!
***In the Giffords story, we were shown clips of speeches made by the various congressional leaders. Eric Cantor was identified as the House Majority Leader. Nancy Pelosi was identified as the House Minority Leader. And Steny Hoyer--well, he was identified only as a Representative from Maryland. But Hoyer is the House Minority Whip--the second most powerful post in the minority party. So if the Nightly News producers identified Cantor and Pelosi by their leadership positions, why didn't they also identify Hoyer by his leadership position? The answer is because no one at Nightly News cares about consistency.
***Brian ended the Giffords story this way: "An incredible scene there today Kelly O'Donnell on the Hill lucky to witness it all...." Incredible? Really? Isn't that a little overblown? And why is Kelly O'Donnell lucky to have witnessed it? She has a press pass. She's NBC's congressional correspondent. It's her job to report stories like this. Luck has nothing to do with it, you idiot.
***Brian began the next story by saying, "And we must now report on politics once again...." Must? Why must he? Who's ordering him to? What a ridiculous thing to say.
***Next, Brian reported on the extreme weather. Again. Here's what he said to The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore: "Jim, when you and I meet up after a bad weather event it's the spring, it's the summer or fall, but it is rarely winter." As always, Brian used a personal pronoun to turn a news story into a story about himself. Because the news is always about Brian.
***The next story was a 2:15 waste of time about whether grief should be classified as a mental disorder and the possibility of a "grief pill" to relieve the symptoms. Really. This was a news story on a network news broadcast. I can't believe it either. Another idiotic story from the idiotic Anne Thompson. Has she ever reported a story that actually mattered? This "news report" was padded with ridiculous stock videos and photos of grieving, crying people. The final shot was a black and white photo of a sad elderly woman with her head in her hands. She must have been watching Nightly News.
***We were treated to a atory about school lunches becoming healthier. The story began, of course, with Michelle Obama. The Nightly News producers insert Mrs. Obama into as many stories as possible because she's very popular and stories featuring her get high ratings.
***Brian then read an obituary for actor James Farentino. Seriously? James Farentino? No disrespect, but his death is not exactly network news material. But it gave Brian an opportunity to show some of his old TV clips and that's what really matters. Entertainment is always more important than news on Nightly News.
***After that, Brian reported the breaking news story of the Australian Transport Minister who gave a speech that he had plagiarized from the movie "The American President". I think you know what came next. That's right--a clip of Michael Douglas reciting the speech in the movie. Brian has a huge man-crush on Douglas and he makes a point of including Douglas's movie and TV clips on Nightly News as often as possible. It had already been two long weeks since Brian had last showed a Michael Douglas clip (Jan. 11--"Wall Street") so obviously it was time for another one. There is no doubt that the only reason Brian chose to report this story was because it allowed him to show the Douglas clip.
***Brian the treated us to some photos of the Northern Lights. Thanks.
***The final story was a testimonial to correspondent George Lewis, who had just retired. Here's how Brian began the story: "Finally here tonight, as you know, we like to run a family operation around here and tonight we have news about a member of our family--long time NBC News correspondent George Lewis is retiring today after 42 years with NBC News." A family operation? What a load of crap. NBC News is a conglomerate within a conglomerate within a conglomerate. They hire and fire people based on business decisions, nothing else. Except for Brian, of course. He gets to hire incompetent people like Luke Russert because of who his dad was. I guess that's what Brian meant by "a family operation". And of course, NBC News will hire any child of a former president as long as they can read and write.
***This night, Nightly News did not even mention the tumultuous events going on in Syria or Nigeria. But we learned all about extreme weather, grief as a mental disorder and Michael Douglas's "American President" speech. Thanks, Brian.
Thurs. Jan. 26--This is how Brian introduced a story about new rules governing airfares: "New rules for airlines to take effect today and what's in it for all those of US who fly." Those of us who fly. Once again, Brian has changed a news story into a story about him.
***A story about the Republican presidential candidates featured a clip of Newt Gingrich on "The Today Show". Because, as always, promoting "Today" is one of Brian's most important jobs.
***During a story on the Costa Concordia, Brian said, "They may never find the 19 souls still missing...." Souls? What is wrong with him? Why doesn't he just say "bodies"?
***Brian then spent nearly a minute reporting the important story that Vanna White and Pat Sajak used to appear on "Wheel of Fortune" while drunk. Because Brian is a professional journalist. He began the story this way: "Game show fans are reacting in mock-horror after WE all learned this week the dirty little secret behind the 'Wheel of Fortune' in the early days...." We. Again, it's about Brian. Always.
***This next story is difficult for me to write about. Brian took a minute to tell us about two brothers-in-law whose boat sank off the coast of Nantucket three years ago and eventually drifted all the way to Spain. Here's how Brian ended the story: "There once was a boat from Nantucket/That bobbed across the sea like a bucket/Hit by winds and heavy rain/It drifted clear to Spain/Now they must decide whether to chuck it." Sorry, but there's no other way to say this: Brian Williams is a fucking moron. Obviously, Brian chose to report this story for only one reason--because it gave him an opportunity to show off what he sadly believes passes for a sense of humor. Now, even if Brian actually was funny, that still wouldn't be an excuse to ignore real news in order to report these types of idiotic garbage stories. His pathetic attempts at humor are just painful to watch. It is truly shameful that a network anchor would stoop this low just to satisfy his desperate need to be liked.
***Brian took thirty seconds to show us some new high definition photos from space. He referred to Earth as "our big blue marble". He told us that, "There are no blue or red states visible from space." Gosh, he's a deep thinker.
***The broadcast ended with a story about Samantha Garvey. I mean another story about Samantha Garvey. She's the homeless high school student who was a semi-finalist for the Intel Science prize. This is the third Samantha Garvey story that Nightly News has reported in two weeks. She's the new Mary Thornberry. Garvey seems like a nice kid, but there is absolutely nothing about her that qualifies as news. It's just another in an endless line of sappy, feel-good stories that Nightly News reports over and over and over again. These stories test well in focus groups and get high ratings, so the producers pack the broadcast with them. And then they do follow-ups and more follow-ups and follow-ups to the follow-ups. Last February, Nightly News did seven stories (totaling 14 minutes) on Mary Thornberry--the American woman who was trapped in her Cairo apartment during the Tahrir Square uprising. So Cairo was erupting in violence and Nightly News was reporting on Mary Thornberry. Unbelievable. I'm guessing that Samantha Garvey will get at least as many stories as Mary Thornberry. Maybe more. By the way, the story featured a clip of Garvey on "The Today Show"--the second time on the broadcast that a "Today" clip was used.
Fri. Jan. 27--In a story about hard times in Pontiac, Michigan, one of the residents interviewed was identified in a graphic as "Charles Mason Ritired Auto Worker". What exactly was he "ritired" from?
***Brian showed us some nifty time-lapse video of construction at a London Olympics site and informed us that the Olympics begin in six months. Let the Games begin! Not the Olympic Games--I mean the promotional games. Nightly News will be bombarding us with Olympics-related promotions over the next six months. During the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Nightly News aired an incredible 160 minutes of Olympics-related stories whose only purpose was to coerce us to watch the Games on the various NBC networks.
***Brian then narrated a 20 second obituary for Robert Hegyes, who played Juan Epstein on "Welcome Back, Kotter". Again, no offense intended, but if James Farentino doesn't deserve an obituary on Nightly News, then Robert Hegyes certainly doesn't deserve one, either. But what really matters is that Brian got to show some "Kotter" clips. More entertainment + less news = better ratings.
***Brian spent another 20 seconds showing us a photo of an infant sleeping on his father's military uniform--taken a month after the father had died. So? Are we supposed to cry? Brian should be fined by the FCC for wasting our time with this garbage.
***Then Brian told us about the first all-female crew to fly a Navy combat mission. I really wish he would keep his sexual fantasies to himself. Brian will report any story about the U.S. Military because he is the propaganda minister for the U.S. Armed Forces.
***After that, Brian treated us to yet another story about the Northern Lights. This is the third story this week about the Northern Lights. He called them "The Greatest Show on Earth". I'm pretty certain that no one would ever use that phrase to describe Nightly News.
***The final story of the night was about bird shit. I'm not kidding. Here's how Brian introduced the story: "Finally tonight we're gonna take you to a town with a big problem. It's in northern Kentucky where good people live and these days they live with a lot of birds. They weren't looking for birds--they like birds enough--but there's birds and there's the birds that have moved into this town along with everything birds bring with them--the stuff that comes out the back and the noise that comes out the front." Really? The stuff that comes out the back? Brian is clearly obsessed with animal shit. On Dec. 8, he reported a "news story" about a squirrel that had set off a fire alarm in a Florida elementary school. 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." With all his talk about male genitalia and animal shit, I can only imagine what kind of stuff is on Brian's computer search engine. On second thought, I don't want to know. It would probably be really, really creepy. Anyway, the bird story featured a lovely shot of a car covered with bird droppings and several clips from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds". That movie was produced by Universal, so this story is a great way to drum up some free publicity for a Universal movie and sell some DVDs. By the way, Brian showed three previews for this story, including one that was accompanied by the Beatles' "Blackbird". Brian often makes a point of playing popular music on Nightly News because it boosts the ratings and keeps viewers tuning in. Of course, Blackbirds are members of the thrush family while it was actually Starlings that invaded the Kentucky town. Somehow I don't think Brian really cares.