Tuesday, January 17, 2012

NBC Nightly News's Bizarre Coverage Of The Italian Cruise Ship Disaster

On Monday, 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. There's really not much more to say. The other six minutes was just the Nightly News producers milking the story for ratings. But the way in which Brian Williams and the Nightly News correspondents covered the story was really very bizarre.

***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 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.

Here are a few other things that happened on Monday's Nightly News:
***A story about a change in the inscription on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was identical to Saturday's story. 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 is not news until Brian himself reports it.
***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 is 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 Thursday, 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 (naturally) 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).
***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:
***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.
***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.)
***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.
***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.

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