What a great week on Nightly News! It was Whitney, Whitney and more Whitney. And lots of rerun stories. Plus a Chelsea Clinton sighting. And as always, Brian and his producers did everything they could to plug their sponsors. Here are the highlights:
Sat. Feb 11--There was a "Winter Blast" in the central part of the country. Really? In February? That's amazing. Thanks for the news flash.
***Lester Holt informed us that the Powerball jackpot was up to $325 million. I don't see how this is news, but it's nice to know that someone might end up being as rich as Brian Williams.
***The final story was a 2:30 piece about the Knicks' newest sensation, Jeremy Lin. Obviously, the Nightly News producers get most of their story ideas by searching trending topics on Google, Twitter, Yahoo, ESPN and other websites. During the story, Lester described Lin as "Chinese-American". He's actually Taiwanese-American and that's an important distinction. The story included such overused cliches as "Lin-Sanity", "Lin-Spiration" and a "modern-day Cinderella story". What a brilliant piece of journalism. Or perhaps I should say "Jour-Lin-ism".
Sun. Feb. 12--Obviously, the lead story was Whitney Houston's death. Nightly News spent the first eight-and-a-half minutes on Houston before reluctantly spending a fraction of that time reporting other news stories like Greece (1:30), Syria (25 seconds) and the Republican candidates (2:00).
***Despite the amount of time devoted to Whitney Houston, there was still time to report a "Winter Blast". Temperatures as low as zero in northern Minnesota and North Dakota! Really? In the 20's across the middle of the country and the east coast! You don't say. In the 30's and 40's in the south! Omigosh. Two to four inches of snow in Kansas City and St. Louis! Can it be? One to three inches in Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland! Amazing. I mean it's amazing that Nightly News wastes our time night after night reporting idiotic stories on cold weather and snow in February.
***We saw a thrilling 2:15 story on the record-high gas prices. Nightly News loves to show these "consumers-are-mad-as-hell-and-we-aren't-going-to-take-it-anymore" stories because they earn high ratings for the broadcast. People just love to watch other people complain about high prices (gas, milk, heating oil, whatever). No newscast ever lost viewers by pandering to the public's anger over price inflation.
***This next story was a doozy. It was about a New York State prison inmate serving 25 years to life for killing a police officer--and he claims he is innocent! Wow! This nearly-three-minute story was lifted from Dateline to fill time on Nightly News and, of course, ended with Lester reading a promo telling us that we could see the full story later that night on Dateline. Obviously, one of the most important functions of Nightly News is to serve as a promotional vehicle to boost the ratings for NBC's anemic prime-time lineup. This story was reported by Luke Russert who once again demonstrated that he has no journalistic talent or ability whatsoever. In case there is anyone out there who doesn't know Russert's story, he was personally handed a coveted on-air job at MSNBC by Brian Williams after Tim Russert (Luke's father and Brian's pal) died. Apparently, Brian made some sort of Mafia-like vow that he would look after the kid (much like Tony Soprano looked out for Christopher after his father died), despite the fact that Luke had no background in television journalism. There are thousands of seasoned, veteran television journalists out there looking for jobs, and Brian just hands one to Luke Russert. Bravo, Brian. Well done.
***The broadcast ended with another minute of Whitney Houston clips because obviously eight-and-a-half minutes just wasn't enough to tell this story. It's pretty appalling that on a night when almost half the broadcast was devoted to Whitney Houston, the Nightly News producers still wasted our time with pointless stories about high gas prices, cold weather in winter and a prison inmate who claims he is innocent.
Mon. Feb. 13--No mystery here. The lead story was again Whitney Houston. This three-minute story was pared down from the previous day's Whitney-thon. There was no new information to report, it was just a rehashing of previously-aired stories. But, of course, that never stopped the Nightly News producers before.
***Have I mentioned how much I love Pete Williams? As he does with all the correspondents, Brian introduced Pete with a syrupy "Good evening, Pete." (Apparently, Brian wants his viewers to believe that the correspondents actually like him. As if.) But Pete (reporting on Justice Stephen Breyer's robbery) refused to say "Good evening, Brian." As usual, he just ignored Brian and launched right into his story. If only the rest of the sappy Nightly News correspondents could take a cue from Pete Williams (especially Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander, who always respond with an overly enthusiastic, "Good evening to you, Brian!") the world would be a much better place.
***The story on the Greek financial situation was titled "Greek Tragedy". That's very clever...not. Brian ended the story by saying, "Scary weekend there over the weekend." Huh? I think that phrase must have come from the Department of Redundancy Department.
***A story about the shortage of the leukemia drug methotrexate was really just another exploitative kids-with-cancer story. Nightly News runs these stories frequently because they get high ratings by shamelessly playing to the viewers' sympathy. Half of this two-minute story consisted of close-up shots of sad-looking kids with leukemia lying in their hospital beds. Exploiting cancer-stricken kids for ratings is despicable, but it doesn't seem to bother the Nightly News producers. They do these stories over and over. The last one--on Oct. 17--was about...a shortage of cancer drugs for children. Sound familiar? By the way, correspondent/shill Robert Bazell told us that one explanation for the shortage of cancer drugs is that the drug companies often choose to produce their more profitable drugs instead of the less profitable cancer drugs. But of course Bazell didn't mention any of these drug companies by name because his main job is to promote or protect companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer (both of which are major Nightly News sponsors). Exploiting kids with cancer and protecting the drug companies. The Nightly News producers really hit the daily double with this story.
***Brian spent more than a minute giving us his recap of Sunday's Grammy telecast. About Adele he said, "She chose her classic, the break-up anthem of the decade, 'Rolling In The Deep' and delivered a stunning performance to thunderous applause in the hall. She positively sparkled and she just about walked away with the whole night." Kiss ass much, Brian? Okay--first of all, no matter how great a song "Rolling In The Deep" may be, it was only released a year ago and certainly cannot be called a "classic". "Smoke On The Water" is a classic. "Honky Tonk Women" is a classic. "Free Bird" is a classic. "L.A. Woman" is a classic. "Rolling In The Deep" is not a classic. And since when is it a news anchor's job to give us personal opinions about music, or anything else for that matter? But of course, Brian Williams is not a news anchor. He is a carnival barker reporting on entertainment, like Kevin Frazier of "The Insider" or Mario Lopez of "Extra". And by the way, on Monday's CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley did not even mention the Grammys--and they aired on his own network! That tells us everything we need to know about the difference between Brian Williams and Scott Pelley. Pelley forgoes an opportunity to promote his own network's Grammy telecast because he would rather report actual news, while Brian goes out of his way to give us his own personal Grammy review. I think Brian deludedly imagines himself as some sort of music guru and believes that viewers are actually interested in hearing what he has to say about the Grammys. Can you say "massive ego"? At Nightly News, entertainment is obviously much more important than news. Maybe Brian should change the name of his broadcast to NBC Nightly Entertainment. And with all his yapping about the Grammys, Brian somehow forgot to mention the show's phenomenal ratings. I guess that's not surprising since Brian only brags about the ratings for NBC shows. According to the 2/14/12 New York Times, "The Grammy awards telecast on CBS Sunday night smashed every recent ratings record for that show and for any awards broadcast...(T)he Grammys attracted 39.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched nonsports program of the television season. It was the second-biggest audience for a Grammys show ever...." So if Brian is shameless enough to tell us (twice!) that the Super Bowl was THE most-watched TV show in history, he could at least have mentioned the Grammys' sky-high rating.
***Next, Brian told us all about Jackie Kennedy's 1962 TV tour of the White House. There is no doubt that Brian has a sycophantic and bizarre JFK fixation. This was the ninth JFK-related story he has reported in the past five months. Of course, let's also not forget that it's easier and cheaper to show 50-year-old news footage than to prepare a new story from scratch. If Brian bowed to Pres. Obama, I can only imagine how he would have prostrated himself and groveled in JFK's presence.
***Brian spent 30 seconds reporting the important story of Olympic swimmer Matt Grevers, who proposed to his girlfriend on the awards podium at a swimming event in Missouri. Obviously, this story isn't news, but Brian will report any Olympic-related story because his job is to promote the upcoming Olympics for NBC Sports. In 2010, he spent 160 minutes promoting the Vancouver Olympics on Nightly News. I'm guessing that Brian will spend even more time promoting the 2012 London Games. Maybe he'll set a new Olympic record for promoting.
***The broadcast ended with another Whitney Houston story (you didn't think they would show only one Whitney story, did you?). As Brian introduced this 2:45 story, the words "The Voice" (the title of the story) appeared over his left shoulder for more than 15 seconds, below some video of Houston. This was no accident. It was obviously a shameless and heartless way for NBC to use Houston's death to promote their singing competition show, also called "The Voice", which would be airing later that same night. There is absolutely no doubt that Brian and the Nightly News producers intentionally titled this story "The Voice" to promote the NBC show of the same name. (This is not the first time Nightly News has used a story's title to promote one of NBC's prime time shows. On the 12/1/11 broadcast, a story about the auctioning of Liz Taylor's jewelry was given the title "Rock Center" to promote Brian's "Rock Center" show.) This is one of the most grotesque and crass displays of sleazebag marketing that I have ever witnessed. Is nothing sacred? Is it really necessary to use Whitney Houston's death to promote an NBC entertainment show? Brian Williams and his producers should be ashamed of themselves. They owe an apology to Houston's family and fans, and to all the Nightly News viewers as well. Meanwhile, on Monday's CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley did not even mention Whitney Houston until he was more than nine minutes into his broadcast. Before reporting a modest 2:40 story about Houston's death, Pelley reported stories about Syria (his lead story that night), Iran and Israel, Greece, Wall Street, the U.S. economy and the U.S. debt and budget. I think it's obvious which anchor is concerned with reporting real news and which anchor is intent on reporting entertainment stories as a weaselly way to increase his ratings. I'll let you decide which is which.
Tues. Feb. 14--The lead story was a 2:45 report on the record-high gas prices. That sounds familiar. Where have I seen this before? Oh yeah--now I remember. It was on Sunday's Nightly News. Tuesday's story (reported by John Yang) was virtually identical to Sunday's story (reported by Kevin Tibbles). That's right--Nightly News reran a story they had aired only two days earlier. On Sunday, Tibbles was at a Mobil Station in Chicago. On Tuesday, Yang was at the same Mobil station. On Sunday, Tibbles reported that by Memorial Day, gas prices were expected to reach a national average of $3.95 per gallon, including high prices in Atlanta ($4.60 per gallon), Los Angeles ($4.70 per gallon) and Chicago ($4.95 per gallon). On Tuesday, Yang reported that by Memorial Day, gas prices were expected to reach a national average of $3.95 per gallon, including high prices in Atlanta ($4.60 per gallon), Los Angeles ($4.70 per gallon) and Chicago ($4.95 per gallon). On Sunday, Tibbles explained that these high prices were partly due to rising tensions in the Middle East and reduced capacity in some east coast refineries. On Tuesday, Yang explained that these high prices were partly due to rising tensions in the Middle East and reduced capacity in some east coast refineries. On Sunday, Tibbles profiled a soda delivery company that is being affected by the higher gas prices. On Tuesday, Yang profiled a bakery/sandwich shop that is being affected by the higher gas prices. This was absolutely ridiculous. It's hard to believe that with all the important news going on across the country and around the world, the Nightly News producers insult us by showing a story that is a virtual rerun of a story that aired only two days earlier. They must really think we're morons.
***During a story about the U.S. visit of China's Vice President Xi Jinping, Andrea Mitchell showed a clip from "Saving Private Ryan" (because Xi liked the movie). Obviously, the Nightly News producers were concerned that viewers would lose interest in this news story so they spiced it up with a little Spielberg. Well done.
***The idiotic Anne Thompson reported a story about allergies in February. Maybe the producers should have attached a "breaking news" banner to this one. At one point during the story, Thompson was walking through a park in Pine Mountain, Georgia. This reminded me of Thompson's Jan. 31 story about the mild winter weather, when she was walking through New York's Central Park with a rental dog that we were supposed to believe was her actual dog. So why couldn't she find a rental dog in Georgia? Maybe the dog rental company wouldn't deliver one because of the high gas prices.
***In a story about the best and worst airports for on-time arrivals and departures, we were shown an NBC News animation made to resemble an airport arrival/departure board. On the board was a list of randomly-chosen cities like Phoenix, Oakland, Atlanta and Seattle. Anchorage was also on the board, except the Nightly News producers misspelled it as "Ankorage". This is not the first time this has happened. Actually, it's the third time. Nightly News used the same animated flight board on Jan. 14 and Jan. 18. And on both those days they also misspelled Anchorage. Come on guys, it's been a month now. Fix the damn problem.
***Brian spent 45 seconds narrating a story about Pres. Obama's speech in which he implores men not to forget Valentine's Day. News reporting at its finest.
***After that, Brian spent another 45 seconds on a story about the "hidden danger" of lead in lipstick. Nightly News loves to run stories about the "hidden danger" of this or that because alarmist stories attract viewers and get high ratings. The bottom line? Some lipstick does contain lead, but the FDA considers the lead levels to be completely safe. Hidden danger, my ass.
***The final story was about Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple who were chased out of Virginia more than fifty years ago because he was white and she was black. They didn't return to Virginia until the Supreme Court overturned the state's ban on interracial marriage in 1967. It was an interesting story, but Nightly News only reported it because the Lovings are currently the subject of an HBO documentary. So it's actually an entertainment story. At Nightly News, a story isn't really news until it's been on TV. By the way, Rehema Ellis began the story by saying, "For Richard and Mildred, it was love at first sight." In fact, the Nightly News story was titled "Love At First Sight". But that wasn't the case. In the HBO film, Mildred Loving says, "When we first met I didn’t like him, I don’t know, he was arrogant. But I got to know him and he was a very nice person." It's appalling that Ellis didn't know this. Did she even see the HBO film? Apparently not, or she wouldn't have made that glaring mistake.
Wed. Feb. 15--In a story about the continuing hostility between Israel and Iran, a man named Yoram Schweitzer was identified in a Nightly News graphic as being from Israel's "Institute for National Securities Studies". Actually, it's the Institute for National Security Studies. Schweitzer doesn't study securities (i.e stocks and bonds). He looks for ways to keep Israelis safe from terrorist attacks. There's a difference. Someone should tell the Nightly News producers.
***In a story about the Michigan Republican Primary, we were shown a gratuitous clip of the Clint Eastwood "Halftime in America" Chrysler ad. That's not surprising. One of Brian's main jobs is using Nightly News to promote Chrysler. While this certainly rewards Chrysler (a regular NBC advertiser), it is also self-serving. It bolsters the image Brian has carefully cultivated for himself as a "good old red-meat-eating NASCAR-loving American-car guy". Every time Chrysler launches a new ad campaign, Brian covers it extensively. And this time is no exception. Excerpts from the "Halftime in America" ad have been shown several times already in Nightly News reports, and the campaign is barely a week old. Just one problem--during this story, the Nightly News producers misspelled Chrysler as "Chyrsler" in the ad's on-screen credit line. Not too bright. Brian busts his ass shilling for Chrysler and his idiot producers screw it up by misspelling the company's name. Oops. Brian ended this story with a "quick program note" (which is, of course, a euphemism for "promotional announcement") for a "Rock Center" story later that night about a GM plant in Flint (you didn't think that Chrysler was the only car company Brian shilled for, did you?). By the way, that "program note" wasn't all that quick. Brian's promo for "Rock Center" actually lasted longer than the entire story on Syria he had narrated earlier in the broadcast. Well, at least Brian has his priorities straight.
***In a teaser for an upcoming story about dolphins that are beaching themselves on the shores of Cape Cod Bay, Brian said, "We'll check in with the good folks trying very hard to solve a mystery." Good folks? How does he know they're good folks? Has he ever met any of them? Of course not. But when you're a serial panderer like Brian, everyone is "good folks".
***Brian then told us about the winner of the Westminster Dog Show. He mispronounced the dog's name (Malachy) as "Machaly" before correcting himself. The entire 20-second story consisted of video of the dog show (which was televised by the USA Network--owned by NBC/Universal) so Brian was really just promoting an NBC property. Nice job.
***In a story about a J.D. Power survey of the most reliable and least reliable cars, Brian had the unenviable task of telling us that Chrysler placed dead last in reliability. Ram, Jeep and Dodge (all made by Chrysler) were also among the least reliable cars and trucks. How on earth did this story get on Nightly News? Brian's job is to promote Chrysler, not to report bad news about it. I am at a loss to explain this. It was a bad day for Chrysler on Nightly News. First the producers misspelled their name and then this negative story came out. Maybe their "promotional" payment to Brian was late so he decided to show them what would happen if they didn't pay on time in the future.
***The broadcast ended with a 2:20 story about the Knicks' newest sensation, Jeremy Lin. That sounds familiar. Where have I heard it before? Oh yeah--now I remember. It was Saturday. When Nightly News did a story about...Jeremy Lin. And this "new" story was virtually identical to the earlier story. Well, at least the producers waited four days before rerunning the Jeremy Lin story. That's better than the mere two days that separated the stories about high gas prices. I'd call that progress. Naturally, before signing off, Brian gave us one more plug for "Rock Center". Just because he can.
Thurs. Feb. 16--The lead story was about General Motors' recovery. This was little more than a 3:05 rah-rah commercial for GM cars and trucks (oh how Brian loves plugging American car companies). This story included an old Nightly News clip (from 6/1/09) that showed Brian announcing that GM had filed for bankruptcy. I thought flashbacks were only used in entertainment shows. But Brian loves them because they're a cheap way for him to get more screen time. And that's what it's all about for Brian. Him, him, him. Meanwhile, I'm just wondering how much an actual three minute commercial on Nightly News would have cost GM. Free advertising. Gotta love it.
***A story about the Congressional hearings on birth control featured a clip from "Andrea Mitchell Reports" in which Santorum campaign contributor Foster Friess said, "Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly." The only reason this quote made it onto the air was because Friess mentioned Bayer aspirin. Bayer is by far the single largest advertiser on Nightly News (usually running commercials for three or four of its products each night) and the producers would never miss an opportunity to give a plug for their biggest sponsor. More free advertising. Bravo.
***Reporter/shill Tom Costello did a 2:15 story about arsenic in foods. As always, Costello's main goal was to protect the NBC sponsors who might be adversely affected by this story. So Costello and his producers made sure to only use generic illustrations of products instead of showing actual products. The one product they did show (apple juice) had the labels removed. I'm sure the people at Mott's appreciated that.
***Nancy Snyderman wasted three minutes on a story about adult children who take the car keys away from their elderly parents. I'd like someone to explain how this qualifies as news.
***Brian wasted 25 seconds telling us about a "medical condidion" in which people have a fear of being out of cell phone range. Great. Thanks.
***The broadcast ended with a "Making A Difference" story reported by (trumpet fanfare, please) Chelsea Clinton. This story was ostensibly about education at an elementary school in Central Falls, Rhode Island, but I can assure you that the Nightly News producers don't care about education in Rhode Island. The story was really about Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea. Look--there's Chelsea helping a student read! There's Chelsea observing the class! There's Chelsea interviewing the kids! There's Chelsea talking to the teachers! All told, Chelsea was on screen for 42 seconds of this 2:20 story--that's 30% of the time. Compare her screen time to that of some other correspondents on this broadcast. During his 2:30 story about the Michigan primary, Ron Mott was on screen for 15 seconds--only 10% of the time. During his 2:15 story about arsenic in foods, Tom Costello was on screen for 10 seconds--only 7.4% of the time. And during her 2:25 story about the House hearings on birth control, Kelly O'Donnell was on screen for 10 seconds--only 6.5% of the time. Clearly, Chelsea is the new star at NBC News and her stories are meant to highlight her much more than the subject she is reporting on. Brian is using her as a prop to attract viewers. But I guess turnabout is fair play--after all, Chelsea is certainly using NBC News to bolster her resume. Although with the declining relevance of NBC News, I don't know how much Chelsea will actually benefit from the association.