Saturday, February 25, 2012

NBC Nightly News Show Notes--2/17 Through 2/24 (Revised)

It was a great week on Nightly News. Pete Williams dissed Brian Williams--twice! Anne Thompson danced! There were more "Winter Blasts"! And those gas prices! Here are the highlights:

Fri. Feb. 17--As always, Pete Williams continues to be my hero. At the beginning of his lead story about a thwarted domestic terror plot, Pete refused to say "Good evening, Brian" after Brian introduced him with a treacly "Good evening, Pete". This is the second time this week that Pete ignored Brian's attempt to friend him on the air. It's sad how desperate Brian is to make the viewers think that he and the Nightly News correspondents are buddy-buddy. I can't believe that any of the correspondents actually like Brian. I imagine it's a similar situation to the Star Trek TV series--none of the other actors could stand William Shatner. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised to learn that Brian thinks of himself as Captain Kirk.
***After being dissed by Pete Williams, Brian made sure to introduce Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore as "our friend". Translation: "You still like me, right Jim? Right? Huh?" Cantore then spent a minute-and-a-half telling us that there would be rain from Texas and Oklahoma through the Carolinas and up into Virginia. Obviously, Brian and his producers still don't understand that weather is a local issue and people prefer to get this information from their local news stations.
***The next story was about the early detection of autism in children. It was given the tabloid-ish title "Warning Signs?" and was obviously meant to scare parents into thinking that their kids are autistic. Nightly News frequently runs these types of alarmist stories that are meant to frighten viewers into believing that they are in some sort of imminent danger. Some other examples: "Hidden Dangers?" of lipstick (2/14) and "Hidden Risks?" of dirty surgical instruments (2/23). These stories' titles often end with question marks because making a statement (i.e. about the dangers of lipstick) could make NBC legally vulnerable to a lawsuit, but simply asking a question would not. So why run so many of these alarmist stories? Because they earn high ratings. And that's what matters to Brian and his producers.
***Al Roker then spent a minute talking to Aretha Franklin about Whitney Houston. Nightly News always includes lots of entertainment stories because they earn higher ratings than straight news. The interview was actually an excerpt from "Today" because one of Brian's main jobs is to use Nightly News to promote NBC's morning franchise. But wait, there's more. Brian ended the story by telling us that we can see more of the interview later on that night's "Dateline" (at "10 PM, 9 central") because it's also Brian's job to promote NBC's prime-time schedule. And it doesn't seem to bother Brian one bit that he's a shameless sleazebag. I guess if you're going to be a shameless sleazebag, you might as well own it.
***Brian began the next story by saying, "A satellite that keeps an eye on the sun for all of US here on earth has sent back some extraordinary images of sun tornadoes." Brian shows lots of stories about space exploration and planets because he gets to do whatever he wants. Again, he used the word "us" in the sentence because the news is always about HIM.
***The final story of the night was an idiotic "Making A Difference" piece about a man who teaches ballroom dancing to elementary school children. Now, calling a MAD piece idiotic is somewhat redundant since all MAD pieces are idiotic. But this one was especially idiotic. On what planet is this considered news? Can someone from Nightly News please explain what definition of "news" they subscribe to that would allow this piece to air on their broadcast? And this piece was even more idiotic than usual because it was reported by the idiotic Anne Thompson. It seems that her main job description is to search out and report stupid stories that have absolutely no news value. At one point during this story, Thompson was interviewing the ballroom dancing teacher--while dancing with him! I had to quickly look away for fear that I would sustain permanent retina damage. This was the most horrific thing I've seen on Nightly News since Ann Curry's spastic and discombobulated attempt to dance with Bill T. Jones on the 2/2/10 Nightly News. I'm still recovering from that horror show and now the producers hit me with this. It will be years before I'm myself again. I don't think my medical insurance covers this kind of traumatic event. By the way, earlier in the day, the German president resigned. But Nightly News didn't mention it because it was more important to show Al Roker talking to Aretha Franklin. Great job, guys.
Sat. Feb. 18--The lead story, of course, was Whitney Houston's funeral. This was just an excuse to show three-and-a-half minutes worth of footage of Stevie Wonder, Kevin Costner, Tyler Perry and Alicia Keys. More entertainment on Nightly News--because entertainment stories get better ratings than news stories. Brian and his producers constantly seem to be trying to make Nightly News more like "Access Hollywood" (which follows Nightly News in much of the country). And they are succeeding. So why not just merge the two shows and call it Nightly Access Hollywood News?
***There was "Severe Weather" across the South and through the mid-Atlantic states. Rain and snow in February is somehow news. Awesome. Thanks.
***There was another story about high gas prices (the third such story in a week). And guess what--it was the same as the previous two stories.
***We saw a story about the risks incurred by teen drivers. Two days earlier, Nightly News had shown a story about the risks incurred by elderly drivers. What's next--a story about the risks incurred by 35 to 45-year-old drivers?
***Next, we were shown a 2:20 story about transporting houses across the country. At first, I thought I had accidentally switched to HGTV. But no, this was still Nightly News. How exactly does this waste of time qualify as news?
***We saw a brief story about Judi Dench going blind. She must have spent too much time staring at Anne Thompson dancing.
***The final story of the night was a 2:25 piece about a 105-year-old woman who works in the mail room of a Florida hospital. Really. That's it. That was the entire story. This idiotic story made the story about moving houses cross-country seem like Peabody material. Together, this story and the house-moving story took up nearly five minutes of news time. How do the Nightly News producers justify showing us this garbage instead of real news? I guess ratings justify anything.
Sun. Feb. 19--Nightly News started 12 minutes late (on the east coast) because the hockey game ran long. God forbid NBC should ever cut off the end of a sports event to start the news on time. Despite the late start, Lester Holt still found time to spend a minute telling us about the "Winter Blast" moving through Virginia.
***Just in case we haven't seen enough stories on Whitney Houston, Lester showed us some footage of her burial procession en route to the cemetery. Very tasteful.
***On a night when the broadcast was only 18 minutes long, the producers included a 2:25 story about knee replacements. Maybe they should have attached a "breaking news" banner to that one. This is the type of undated story that can sit on the shelf for a week, a month or a year and then get dragged out when the producers have some time they need to fill. I guess on this night they decided that they weren't even going to bother trying.
***The shortened broadcast ended with a 2:15 story about the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's orbit around the earth. The story included some old footage from last year of Brian talking with Glenn. Even when he's not anchoring, Brian manages to find a way to insinuate himself into the broadcast.
Mon. Feb. 20--Brian spent an interminable 47 seconds introducing the lead story about Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Maybe if he would shut up, we could hear more from correspondent Ron Mott, who actually knows something about the story he's reporting. But there's nothing Brian likes more than hearing the sound of his own voice.
***Did you know that gas prices were rising? Just in case you didn't, Nightly News spent 2:20 airing their fourth story on gas prices in a week. This story had no new information, it simply regurgitated information from the earlier stories. Hearing drivers complain about the price of gas somehow qualifies as news at NBC.
***Brian spent 42 seconds introducing Andrea Mitchell's story about Iran and Israel. Mitchell is one of the few intelligent NBC News correspondents, and it would be nice to hear more from her if only the overly verbose Brian Williams would just shut up for a second.
***Guess what? There was a "Winter Blast" in Virginia and the surrounding states. I don't really think a "Winter Blast" is news in winter. Now, if there was a "Winter Blast" in the summer, that would be worth reporting.
***A story about three skiers who died in a Washington avalanche included a statement from Kathleen Larson, who was identified in a Nightly News graphic as the "King County Sheriff". Actually, the King County Sheriff is Sue Rahr. Ms. Larson is a spokesperson for the sheriff's department. But I'm sure she appreciated that the Nightly News producers gave her a promotion.
***Brian spent 40 seconds telling us that the AMPAS members who vote for the Oscar winners are overwhelmingly white and male. Gee, I always imagined they would be gold, like the statuettes.
***The final story was a 4:45 behemoth marking the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's orbit around the earth. That sounds familiar. Where did I see that before? Oh yeah--now I remember. I saw it the previous night on Nightly News. The Sunday story on Glenn was just a condensed version of the Monday story. So if they were already planning to run the Monday story, why did the producers bother with the Sunday story, especially on a shortened broadcast? Probably because Brian told them to. He always brags about being a NASA and space flight junkie and he gets to show whatever stories he wants, as many times as he wants. This story featured more footage from Brian's 8-month-old interview with Glenn. Meanwhile, on the CBS Evening News, Bill Plante's story on the historic orbit featured a brand new interview with Glenn. I think it's obvious who Glenn likes better. Sorry Brian, it's not you.
Tues. Feb. 21--The lead story about religion in politics included a clip from MSNBC's "Morning Joe" because one of Brian's main jobs is to promote NBC properties.
***A story about Wall Street and the economy included 30 seconds on gas prices. What a surprise.
***Again, Pete Williams dissed Brian by refusing to say good evening to him. Pete Williams is awesome!
***Brian conducted a ridiculous "round table discussion" with Ian Williams and Anne Thompson about debris from the Japanese earthquake/tsunami washing ashore on the west coast. Here's how Brian introduced the segment: "There's a report tonight that the first of the debris from the earthquake in Fukushima, Japan has arrived on our west coast." Actually, the first west coast sightings of tsunami debris were two months ago. Someone should tell Brian to google "Japanese tsunami debris washes up on U.S. west coast" and read all the articles from December.
***We saw another alarmist story--this one was titled "Hepatitis C Warning". I guess we're all supposed to rush out now and get tested for Hep C. During the story, Nancy Snyderman told us that, "More than three million Americans are infected with Hepatitis C. Even more alarming, 1/2 to 2/3 don't realize it." But the accompanying on-screen graphic read, "1/2 to 3/4 of them don't know it". Oh well--2/3, 3/4 whatever. Obviously, the Nightly News producers need some help with their fractions.
***After the Hep C story, Snyderman took 35 seconds to update us on the shortage of methotrexate, a drug used to treat pediatric leukemia. We were first told about the shortage on the 2/13 broadcast. Half of that story consisted of shots of sad-looking kids with leukemia in their hospital beds. Nightly News shows kids-with-cancer stories as often as possible because they get high ratings by appealing to the viewers' emotions. And sure enough, earlier on this night's broadcast, a promo for Snyderman's methotrexate update showed a few more seconds of a young leukemia patient in her hospital bed. It's shameful that Brian and his producers exploit kids with cancer just to get ratings, but obviously no one at NBC is bothered by this.
***Brian read a 30-second story about Mardi Gras because he always pretends to care about New Orleans. He said, "It's the place most of US would rather be." Us. Again, the news is always about Brian.
***After that, Brian told us about a rocket probe shot into the Northern Lights to gather information. This is the sixth Northern Lights story Nightly News has done in less than a month. Okay--we get it. Northern Lights pretty.
***Brian then spent 38 seconds on a story about a bridge demolition in Steubenville, Ohio. Altogether, the Mardi Gras story, the Northern Lights story and the bridge demolition story were given more than a minute-and-a-half. By contrast, earlier in the broadcast Brian spent one minute total reporting on Iran, Syria and Afghanistan. It's nice to see that Brian has his priorities straight.
***The broadcast ended with a "Making A Difference" story about a Florida man who teaches teenagers how to fish. Seriously. I'm not kidding. This is what merits two-minutes-and-fifteen-seconds on Nightly News. The producers should be very proud of themselves.
Wed. Feb. 22--A story about people who lie about having served in the military (and claim to have won medals) was titled "Stolen Valor". A bit overwrought, don't you think? Meanwhile, the irony in this story is laughable. Every time Brian goes to Iraq or Afghanistan he decks himself out in full military gear--helmet, flak jacket, khakis, boots, etc. And then he does a story about people who pretend to have been soldiers. Funny.
***A story on politics presented a new poll of likely voters in the Arizona Republican primary. The story included an on-screen silhouette of Arizona. But something didn't look quite right. It took me a few seconds to realize what it was: During every one of Nightly News's frequent Gabby Giffords stories, they always show a silhouette of Arizona with a U.S. flag inside it. So seeing a silhouette of Arizona without a flag was baffling. But the producers made me feel better by including some flag stars at the bottom of the screen.
***Brian told us that the French would be phasing out the word "Mademoiselle", much like the U.S. phased out "Miss" in favor of "Ms." At the end of the story he said, "We don't know what the folks at Mademoiselle magazine are going to do now." Not to worry, Brian. Mademoiselle ceased publication in 2001. By the way, this story included a 17-second clip from Disney's animated film "Beauty and the Beast" ostensibly because a character used the word "Mademoiselle". But of course the real reason was because Brian knows that peppering his stories with movie clips brings him high ratings.
***After that, Brian showed a clip of a Washington state home being washed away in a rainstorm. I guess he thought it was cool. He can do whatever he wants.
***In a follow-up to a story about the TSA recovering over $400,000 per year in loose change left at their screening checkpoints by travelers, Brian told us that Florida Congressman Jeff Miller has proposed that the TSA should donate that money to the USO. Brian said, "The USO supports U.S. troops around the globe and by the way receives no taxpayer money. The USO relies entirely on charitable donations to do its work." So this story was really just a 30-second fundraising spot for the USO. Brian clearly has no shame. But we already knew that.
***The final story of the night was about Pres. Obama singing the blues at a White House concert that featured Mick Jagger and B.B. King, among others. Let's face it--there was no way that Nightly News was not going to report this story. After all, when the President sang a little Al Green last month, Nightly News showed the clip on three different days (and twice more in this story). And since this story represents a confluence of President and celebrity, the Nightly News producers just couldn't resist doing an entire 2:40 story about it. That's not really surprising. But what was so horribly distasteful about this story was its title. During Brian's entire 30-second introduction to this story, the words "The Voice" appeared to his left, below a preview screen with images of the President singing. There can be absolutely no doubt that this story was titled "The Voice" in order to promote the NBC show of the same name. By linking the NBC show to the President, the Nightly News producers were attempting to give it esteem and respectability. And even more appalling, this is the second time in less than two weeks that the Nightly News producers have promoted "The Voice" by making it the title of a story. On Feb. 13, a story about Whitney Houston was also titled "The Voice" in a shameless attempt to boost ratings for the NBC show "The Voice" which would be airing later that same night. (Using Whitney Houston's death to promote an NBC show was grotesquely morbid, to say the least.) And in a similarly shameless move, a Dec. 1 story about the auctioning of Liz Taylor's jewelry was titled "Rock Center" in a desperate attempt to promote Brian's show "Rock Center". No one at Nightly News has any shame. They will sink to whatever depths are necessary to promote their network or their sponsors. And not only by using the President, but also by using the First Lady. That's right--the Nightly News producers have attempted to link Michelle Obama to McDonald's. Every time Nightly News reports a positive story about McDonald's--such as when they decided to make their Happy Meals less unhealthy or reduce sodium in their products--the producers always make sure to mention that Michelle Obama promotes healthy eating (and show her on-screen during the story). This is a blatant attempt to imply that Mrs. Obama endorses McDonald's, which of course she does not. But McDonald's is a major NBC advertiser and Brian and his producers are constantly using Nightly News to promote the Golden Arches in any way they can. Implying an endorsement from the First Lady is just a way of doing a sleazy favor for a regular advertiser. It's as shameless as linking the President to the NBC show "The Voice". I think the Nightly News producers must stay awake at night looking for ways to out-sleaze each other. By the way, earlier in the day, 50 people died in a Buenos Aires train crash. But Brian didn't bother to report it. He was too busy talking about "Stolen Valor", Mademoiselle magazine and the USO.
Thurs. Feb. 23--The lead story was "Pain at the Pump"--the sixth story Nightly News has done on gas prices in less than two weeks. This 3:18 story included a 47-second intro from Brian because...well, because he can. By contrast, on this night's CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley spent a mere 23 seconds reporting on gas prices in the middle of his broadcast. Apparently, Scott Pelley has some perspective and he is not interested in sensationalizing a non-story just to get ratings. I think there's a word for someone like that--it's called "journalist".
***The next story was about the politics of birth control. It dealt with the different ways Democrats and Republicans view the role of government in reproductive health. During his intro, Brian said, "This (debate) happened really out of nowhere...." What an appallingly ignorant thing to say. The debate on birth control has been going on continuously for more than a hundred years. Just because Brian ignores something for months at a time does not mean it is not an important and ongoing issue. Brian is like an ostrich with his head in the sand. Every so often, he pulls his head out and squawks about "Birth Control!" "Death Penalty!" "Race!" "Religion!" or some other issue. And then he smugly congratulates himself for calling attention to these issues, like he's doing the American public a big favor. Brian thinks that if he doesn't discuss an issue, then it's not being discussed by anyone else. What a narcissist. 
***While telling us about seven marines that were killed in a helicopter crash near the California-Arizona border, Brian made sure to tell us that the helicopters were "a Cobra and a Huey" because it's really important for him to show us how much he knows about military aircraft. He does this all the time. Last Nov. 30, after Ann Curry reported live from a U.S. military base in Baghdad, Brian said, "And Ann, you can hear those c-17 and c-130 cargo planes in the air above you...." Brian never misses an opportunity to try to show us exactly how smart he is by dispensing useless information that no one cares about. I guess he likes advertising the fact that he's a sycophantic military wannabe who never served a day in the armed forces but makes a point of knowing all sorts of irrelevant military data.
***We then got a report about the "Wild Weather". It was mild in the northeast and cold in the upper midwest. It was windy in Boulder. Boston might get 1"-3" of snow. Chicago and Detroit might get 4"-6". Portland might get an inch! Wow. That's really worth taking up 1:45 of valuable news time, huh?
***Next, we got another ridiculous alarmist story about the "Hidden Risks" of dirty surgical instruments. Except the story was titled "Hidden Risks?" for legal reasons (see last Friday's entry for more about that). Is this really a problem? The FDA says "no". But Nightly News did the story anyway.
***Brian then said, "We wanted to show you some spectacular images of a partial solar eclipse seen from space." We? I think Brian means he wanted to show us these images. If anything happens in space, Brian reports it. Here's a suggestion: Maybe he should spend more time reporting on events here on earth.
***It was also important for Brian to tell us that the Fuller Brush company has filed for bankruptcy, the U.S. Postal Service plans to close 200 sorting centers and that Sears lost $2.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2011. Interesting--Brian still hasn't admitted that NBC lost $225 million on the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but he's happy to report about Sears' troubles. By the way, these three stories together took up 50 seconds. Earlier, Brian spent a total of 32 seconds combined reporting on the situation in Syria and a bombing in Iraq that killed 55 people. How screwed up are Brian's priorities?
***Here's some breaking news: Brian told us that in Slovakia, they want to name a bridge after Chuck Norris. I think Brian was secretly disappointed that the Slovaks didn't want to name the bridge after him. It's really galling that he has the nerve to waste our time reporting garbage stories like this.
***Speaking of garbage stories, Brian then told us that Danica Patrick crashed during a qualifying race for the Daytona 500. This was really just a 30-second promo for Brian's interview with Patrick that will be seen on Friday's Nightly News. How do we know that? He ended the story by plugging the interview.
***The last story was a report telling us that the AMPAS members who vote for the Oscar winners are overwhelmingly white and male. Hmmm...where have I heard that before? Oh yeah--on last Monday's broadcast. This was just an expanded version of that story. Like with the John Glenn story, the producers showed a short version of a story followed later by a longer version of the same story. I think that's called a "rerun". This 2:40 story on the Film Academy voters didn't really contain any more information than Monday's 40-second story. Rather, the extra time was spent showing gratuitous shots of stars like Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman and Hilary Swank. We also saw clips from "The Hurt Locker", "Avatar", "The Artist", "The Descendants" and "Hugo". The producers even dug out some older film clips like "Cross Creek" from 1983 (because it was a Universal Picture) and "King Creole" from 1958 because Elvis is still popular and gets good ratings for Brian.
Fri. Feb. 24--During his intro to a story about protests in Afghanistan over mishandled Korans, Brian said, "There were some tense moments this morning for our own correspondent Atia Abawi when she and her camera crew found themselves in the midst of the chaos in the capital city of Kabul." Brian never misses an opportunity to make the news about NBC, rather than about the actual story. Guess what? Reporting from a war zone is always dangerous and tense. I never hear other anchors draw attention to their correspondents' situations like Brian does. But other anchors are not shameless self-promoters like Brian. Side note: Why does Atia Abawi always face the camera at a 30 degree angle? Why doesn't she face the camera directly? Maybe she's trying to show her good side in case any Hollywood producers are watching.
***What a surprise--another story about gas prices. Obviously, the NBC News research department has informed Brian that viewers really like stories about how the evil oil companies keep raising gas prices and these stories keep people tuned to Nightly News.
***The next story was called "Storm Front". Slush and winds in Chicago. A storm system moved east from the Dakotas through the Great Lakes. Wow. Really newsworthy. Thanks.
***Brian reported the breaking news that a man on the cover of Time's current issue (about the voting power of Lations) wasn't really Latino. OMG! Say it isn't so, Brian.
***Here's how Brian introduced the final story--his interview with Danica Patrick: "A lot of Americans are excited for Sunday because Sunday is the Academy Awards. Some of US, however, are additionally excited to watch something earlier in the day--the Daytona 500, the official start of the NASCAR season...." Some of us. Because the news is always about Brian. So if Brian wants to do a three-and-a-half minute story about NASCAR racing, he gets to do it. (Of course, the main reason he did this story is because he gets good ratings by pandering to the middle-America blue-collar good-ol'-boy NASCAR demographic.) The most hilarious thing about this 3:30 "interview" with Patrick was that Brian spoke for 2:26 and Patrick only spoke for a minute! Of course, I don't think anyone really expected that the interview would be about Patrick. The interview consisted of Brian asking her silly questions designed to show how much he knows about racing, rather than asking her anything important, such as about sexism in the sport. And for the most part, this was one big commercial for, Patrick's main racing sponsor. When she was on-screen, the logo was all over her uniform and car, and Brian was even nice enough to show clips from Patrick's TV commercials. As someone who spends a significant amount of time promoting his sponsors on Nightly News, Brian obviously understands the importance of allowing Patrick to do the same. Does Brian care that this idiotic story was longer than any other story that aired this night? Longer than the stories on Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, the Republican presidential candidates--even longer than the story on gas prices? Of course he doesn't care. Brian knows what we all know--that Nightly News is a joke. No one takes it--or him--seriously.

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