The big story this week wasn't on NBC News, it was about NBC News. NewsBusters.org reported that NBC News selectively edited some of George Zimmerman's 911 tapes to make it appear that Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin was racially motivated. The tapes were edited to make it seem as if Zimmerman volunteered the information that Martin was black, when in fact he only gave that information after being asked by a 911 dispatcher. NBC News pretended to be shocked by this revelation, much in the same way that Capt. Renault professed to be shocked that gambling was going on in Rick's Cafe in the movie "Casablanca". Meanwhile, NBC News failed to take any decisive action. The total fallout from the story was the dismissal of a single NBC News producer, and neither Brian Williams nor any other Nightly News anchor ever mentioned this egregious display (much less apologized for it) on Nightly News. (Read the New York Times report on the story at http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/06/nbc-fires-producer-of-misleading-zimmerman-tape/.)
Here's all the other great stuff that happened on Nightly News this past week:
Sat. March 31--The lead story was the "mystery" over who the three winners were in the Mega Millions $640 million jackpot. This is what passes for news at Nightly News--and the lead story, no less. The story included a clip from the movie "Funny Farm", because the Nightly News producers are incapable of telling a story without movie or TV clips. This story was reported by the intrepid Kevin Tibbles, who has also recently reported important stories about Pringles snack chips and Barbie's 53rd anniversary.
***A story about the Trayvon Martin shooting included a clip of Al Sharpton, who was identified as the host of MSNBC's "PoliticsNation" because the main responsibility of the Nightly News producers is to promote other NBC-affiliated shows. Al Sharpton is a buffoon who has been regurgitating the same race-baiting screed for decades. No one takes him seriously or pays much attention to him--except NBC News because he has a show on their sister network.
***In a story about the GOP presidential race and the Wisconsin primary, a live shot of correspondent Ron Mott once again showed him with a U.S. flag over his left shoulder. It is standard operating procedure at Nightly News to show as many flags as possible each night because the producers try to position their broadcast as the most patriotic newscast ever to appear on the air. What they are really doing is just shamelessly pandering to the viewers' sense of flag-waving rah-rah gung-ho faux-patriotism. This story began with a double flag shot--a flag animation was waving behind Lester Holt at the same time we saw a clip of Mitt Romney speaking in front of a giant flag. And the story ended with 15 seconds of promos. First, we were shown a promo for "Meet the Press", then we were shown a hilarious promo for Sarah Palin's "exclusive" appearance as guest host on Tuesday's "Today Show". Obviously, this was just a desperate attempt to provide counter-programming against Katie Couric's upcoming stint as co-host of ABC's "Good Morning America" the following week. And calling Palin's appearance "exclusive" was laughable. She appears on Fox News every week, so a single appearance on "Today" hardly constitutes an "exclusive" appearance.
***In a story about the murder of Susan Powell, a law enforcement official was identified as "Miguel Almaguer". Almaguer was actually the Nightly News correspondent who reported the story. The law enforcement official was never properly identified. Another screw-up in the Nightly News graphics department. What a surprise. Not.
***Next, we got a 2:20 story about the "Extreme Weather", reported by the idiotic Anne Thompson. Thompson repeats the exact same story every few weeks (the last one was on March 14) without adding any new information. It's appalling that she is allowed to milk the same old climate change story over and over and over again. Appalling, but not surprising. This is, after all, Nightly News.
***After that, we saw a 2:20 story titled "The Homework Debate". Some kids may be getting too much homework. Wow--that's really newsworthy. Tell me more.
***The final story was about the town of Buford, Wyoming (population 1) that is up for sale. Somehow, this qualifies as news at NBC. These final two stories did not contain a shred of actual news, yet together they took up nearly five minutes of valuable news time. Business as usual at Nightly News.
Sun. April 1--Nightly news began 13 minutes late this night (on the east coast) because golf ran long. At NBC, there's really no question that sports is more important than news.
***A story about the Trayvon Martin shooting contained two clips of Al Sharpton, because apparently one clip is not sufficient to promote Sharpton's MSNBC show. Naturally, Sharpton was identified as the host of MSNBC's "PoliticsNation".
***In his live shot at the end of a story about Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Ron Mott was standing in front of a sign reading "Freedom". This is one of the funniest things I have ever seen on Nightly News (and that's saying a lot). We all know that Nightly News political correspondents are required to stand in front of U.S. flags during their live shots in order to pander to the audience (see above). But apparently there was no flag in the area this night, so the genius producers decided that a sign reading "Freedom" was the next best thing. Seriously. This was an actual executive decision they made. So what would they have done if there was no "Freedom" sign available? What was plan C? To position Mott in front of a "Liberty Mutual" sign or an "American Airlines" sign because they contain the key patriotic words the producers demand? I thought that all Nightly News producers were required to carry U.S. flags with them for just such an emergency. Some producer must have been slacking off. She probably got a reprimand.
***We saw another promo for Sarah Palin's "Today Show" appearance because promoting NBC's morning show is one of the Nightly News producers' main responsibilities.
***The final story of the night was about Hollywood's current remakes of 80's movies and TV shows. The story included clips from the original and remade versions of "Arthur" and "21 Jump Street", as well as clips from the 80's movies "National Lampoon's Vacation", "Back to the Future", "Hot Tub Time Machine" and a montage of Arnold Schwarzenegger films. There were also clips of Billy Crystal, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone. Altogether, these clips took up more than half of this 2:15 "news story". Nightly News shows movie clips in their stories almost every night. And every few weeks they make a point of devoting an entire story to movies (on March 16 & 23, for example, they ran stories on "The Hunger Game"). They do this for two reasons. First, they bring high ratings. When viewers see movie clips on the news, it keeps them interested, and interested viewers don't change the channel. Movie clips are certainly a lot more entertaining than watching another car bombing or political speech. And entertainment is clearly the business that Nightly News is in. Viewers understand that Nightly News is the newscast that will show the most movie clips--lots more than ABC or CBS. Since Jan. 1, Nightly News has shown movie or TV clips on 41 different nights--that's about half their broadcasts (many of these broadcasts contained multiple clips or featured clips in more than one story). Another reason the producers show so many movie clips is to thank the movie studios for all their advertising dollars over the years. And for all we know, the Nightly News stories about movies are actually part of paid ad packages. Maybe the studios purchase packages that include a set number of commercials in addition to a news story about their film that airs on "Today" or Nightly News. I wouldn't be at all surprised. Of course, some of these movie and TV clips are inserted simply for self-promotional purposes. It's become standard operating procedure at Nightly News to pepper their news stories with clips from "Saturday Night Live", "30 Rock", "Ellen", "The Office", "Seinfeld", "Celebrity Apprentice", "Golden Girls", "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and other current and former NBC shows. And it goes without saying that Universal movies enjoy lots of free publicity on Nightly News (the "Hunger Games" soundtrack was released on a Universal label). To put it succinctly, the Nightly News producers are sleazy scumbags. They have no qualms about using movie or TV clips to boost their broadcast's ratings, to help their pals at the studios or to promote other NBC properties. And do the producers even realize the irony of this story? A newscast that shamelessly uses old movie and TV clips to boost its ratings did a story about how the movie studios are shamelessly remaking old movies and TV shows to gain a new audience. I'm guessing the producers failed to see the irony.
But the most appalling thing about this particular story was that the Nightly News producers stole it right from the front page of the March 30 New York Times. The Times story, called "In Hollywood, an 80's Moment", was about the current remakes of 80's TV shows and movies. The story included references to "21 Jump Street", "National Lampoon's Vacation", "Hot Tub Time Machine" and "Arthur" as well as previous and forthcoming movies starring Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone--the same films and actors featured in the Nightly News story. In fact, all of the Nightly News source material came right out of the Times story--without any attribution or acknowledgement. There's a word for that--plagiarism. There are other words, too, like sleazy and shameless.
And finally--let's not forget that because of golf, this Nightly News broadcast was only about half the length of a regular broadcast. So with all the news going on across the country and around the world, the producers thought it would be a good idea for a severely shortened broadcast to devote 2:15 to a story about movies? Was this their idea of an April Fool's joke?
Mon. April 2--During the lead story about the deadly shooting at Oakland's Oikos University, one of the witnesses that was interviewed was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "Death For Dessert" (the word "Death" was in huge letters). That's not exactly what I would call a display of sensitivity on the part of the Nightly News producers.
***A story about women's rights featured a clip of Bill Clinton being interviewed by Luke Russert. That was pretty funny considering that both Luke Russert and Chelsea Clinton were handed gift-wrapped, lucrative on-air jobs at NBC News simply because their fathers were/are (respectively) Tim Russert and Bill Clinton. I hope that every single day, Luke and Chelsea thank their patrons Brian Williams and NBC News president Steve Capus for giving them jobs that actual journalists (without famous fathers) often spend 20 years trying to get.
***After that, Brian read yet another promo for Sarah Palin's guest-hosting gig on Tuesday's "Today Show". As Brian read the promo, an animated U.S. flag was waving behind him because obviously, Palin stands for everything that we love about America.
***A story about tornado early-warning systems included three gratuitous shots of tattered, U.S. flags waving in the tornado-ravaged rubble. It's sad and pathetic that the Nightly News producers use flags as just another prop to pander to the viewers. But we all know the Nightly News mantra--anything for ratings.
***Brian read another story about the record heat in March. Doesn't he get tired of saying the same thing over and over and over again? I guess not. He likes hearing himself talk.
***Brian then told us about a survey listing the best-performing airlines. Never mind that this isn't news and is really just of interest to him. He gets to report on whatever he wants, and obviously aviation is one of those subjects. Remember--the purpose of Nightly News is not to report the most important news stories, it's to report the stories that are of greatest interest to Brian.
***Speaking of which--the broadcast ended with a story about the 1940 census. Here's how Brian introduced the story: "Finally tonight, for those of US who are interested in who WE are, how far our nation has come and how much WE'VE changed in a very short time, the federal government today released a gold mine. They released the 1940 census." We. Us. It's always all about Brian. The Nightly News producers love stories like this. Obviously, it's cheaper and easier to report on 70-year-old stories than current news because the old stories don't require much new footage. The producers just throw together some old stock footage and clips of talking heads and voila--instant story. However, I can't help thinking that maybe Brian should have done a little more research for this story. He told us that the reason the census data was only now being released was, "...because the government has decided that so much time has passed that it shouldn't be confidential anymore...." Um, not exactly. There's a specific reason census data is kept confidential for 72 years. It's called the Right to Privacy Act, and it's set at 72 years because that's the length of the average human life span (or at least it was when the law was written). The census bureau is protecting each individual's census information for the presumed length of his or her life. But by all means Brian should not let the facts get in the way of what he reports. He hasn't in the past, so why start now? By the way, this story featured an interview with a 100-year-old woman who participated in the 1940 census. Nightly News never misses a chance to trot out a centenarian and parade her around. This is at least the third centenarian Nightly News has featured in the past few months. I guess they must bring in high ratings. Why else would the producers bother with them?
Tues. April 3--A story about women and obesity was titled "Growing Epidemic" because obviously the producers thought it would be funny to have a laugh at the expense of plus-size women. And I imagine that the only reason they even ran this story was because plus-size women are a desirable ratings demographic and can help with the broadcast's Nielsen numbers.
***Kevin Tibbles spent 1:38 on the story of an 80 year-old woman who landed a plane after her husband had a heart attack at the controls. This story could have been fully reported in 20 seconds, but the Nightly News producers have to turn every pseudo-news story into a Lifetime movie. Naturally, the final shot of the story was a flag at half-staff. Another ridiculous fluff story from the ridiculous Kevin Tibbles.
***Did you know that there's a Japanese "ghost ship" adrift in the Pacific near Alaska? Well, now you do. Are there actual ghosts on board? Brian didn't say.
***The broadcast ended with a story about museums' art collections that are now viewable on-line. Maybe I'm missing something, but can someone please explain to me how this qualifies as news? The story included a clip of Jackie Kennedy giving a White House tour because Brian has ordered his producers to include Kennedy clips in as many stories as possible. Apparently, the NBC News research department has informed Brian that Kennedy clips boost the ratings. It also included a clip from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" because Brian has ordered his producers to include movie clips in as many stories as possible. Apparently, the NBC News research department has also informed Brian that movie clips boost the ratings. Part of this story took place in New York's Museum of Modern Art. That reminded me of the 3/23/10 Nightly News story about the Last Supper, in which a painting was attributed to the "Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art". I guess the producers thought that New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art had merged with the Museum of Modern Art. But now they understand that these are two different museums. Look at how much the Nightly News producers learned in just two short years!
Wed. April 4--BBC World News reported that a Somali suicide bomber killed 10 people at Mogadishu's National Theater while the Prime Minister was giving a speech. Naturally, Brian did not report this because international news (especially stories from Africa) generates low ratings.
***Instead, Brian began the broadcast with two stories (totalling more than five minutes) about the tornadoes in Texas. In his intro to the second story, he called the video of the tornado "Some of the most dramatic storm footage ever captured on television." Really, Brian? You're not just exaggerating to keep people tuned in, are you? Of course not. He would never do something like that.
***A story about whether or not the Augusta National Golf Club will admit women was virtually identical to a story that ran the previous Friday. But Brian was off on Friday, so that story apparently didn't count. This story was titled both "Course Correction" and "Teed Off". It would be nice if the producers picked one title and went with it.
***A story about unnecessary medical tests was titled "Too Many Tests?" Again with the questions. I can remember a time when news broadcasts answered questions instead of asking them. It was also titled "Testing, Testing...." More multiple titles. Great. Twice during this story, there were on-screen references to the "ABIM Foundation" but Nancy Snyderman never explained what this is (it's a non-profit foundation established by the American Board of Internal Medicine). I guess Dr. Snyderman assumes that her viewers possess the same amount of medical knowledge that she does.
***Brian then spent 40 seconds reporting on pandas at the Edinburgh zoo. He said they'd "been thrown together into a mating area in the zoo not unlike the Poconos." He also said, "Of course, zoo officials still have the option of piping in some Marvin Gaye music." I wonder what Nightly News would be like if Brian didn't waste time reporting stupid stories about pandas and if he abstained from using stories just to set up his idiotic jokes. I guess it would be like the CBS Evening News.
***Next, Brian told us about a two-pound hot dog being sold at the Texas Rangers' Arlington Stadium. He quoted Nolan Ryan in calling it a "tremendous wiener". What is the deal with Brian's adolescent obsession with talking about male genitalia on the air? This certainly isn't the first time it has happened. On David Letterman's 1/3/11 show, Brian felt compelled to tell us that his recent trip to California 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 genitalia. He also told Dave that there was "almost too much testosterone" in the room (I think we all know where in the body testosterone is made). And on Jimmy Fallon's 2/5/10 show, Brian called the luge bodysuit the "the most package-enhancing outfit...." It's really creepy to hear a supposedly professional network news anchor making repeated references to "shmegegges", "packages", "Dave and the twins" and a "tremendous wiener". From now on, whenever I hear Brian use an odd or unfamiliar phrase on his newscast, I'll be wondering if it's really a coded reference to his "shmegegge". Gross. I think I need to take a shower now.
***One thing I like about Brian is that he is never shy to tell us just how much he knows about a subject. To wit: in a story about the Civil War death total being revised upward, he said, "True U.S. history buffs grow up knowing the death toll in the Civil War was just north of 600,000--618,222 to be exact...." Therefore, by the transitive property of mathematics (if a = b and b = c, then a = c), Brian is telling us that he is a "true U.S. history buff". Another thing I like about Brian--his modesty.
***In a story about a burst water line on the White House grounds, Brian referred to the President's residence as "The People's House". What is wrong with him? Why can't he talk like a normal person? Why does he have to talk like he's part of his own imaginary Rat Pack? He also made the same idiotic reference twice before--on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
***The final story was about the ongoing construction of New York City's new Second Avenue subway line. Huh? This is news? Maybe the producers thought they were producing a segment for Discovery Channel's "Extreme Engineering". During this story, two different women were identified as "Jean Evans Rich--Second Avenue Resident". I guess that must be a very popular name on the Upper East Side.
***Let's recap. On this broadcast, we learned all about horny pandas, Brian's tremendous wiener, Brian's Civil War knowledge and the Second Avenue subway. But we didn't hear a thing about the suicide bombing in Mogadishu. Great work, Brian.
Thurs. April 5--In a story about George Zimmerman, Michael Isikoff went to great pains to show that Zimmerman's previous calls to the police did not mention the race of the "suspicious characters" he was reporting until he was asked about it. Isikoff also made sure to interview friends of Zimmerman who swear that he is not a racist. Obviously, this pro-Zimmerman story was meant to quell all the criticism that erupted earlier in the week after NBC News selectively edited the Trayvon Martin 911 tapes to intentionally make Zimmerman appear racist. Sorry--too little, too late. Here's an idea for the Nightly News producers: If you don't edit tapes to make someone look like a racist, you won't have to then scramble to produce favorable reports to counteract your earlier stupidity.
***Time for another story on the Augusta National Golf Club--the third Augusta story in less than a week. They're still not admitting women. Thanks for the update.
***A story about whooping cough was just another Nightly News alarmist story meant to scare people into not changing the channel. "OMG! I better watch this report so I don't get whooping cough!" I really don't think whooping cough is such a big problem that it merits a Nightly News story.
***We then saw a report on Syria. This one caught me by surprise, since Nightly News stories on Syria are so rare. I thought maybe the Nightly News producers were mad at Syria and that's why they've been ignoring it for so long.
***It had been 48 hours since Nightly News showed some Jackie Kennedy footage, so it was high time. Tonight, it was a story about Clint Hill, Jackie's Secret Service agent during her White House years (or perhaps I should say her "people's house" years). We saw lots and lots of video of JFK and Jackie, and of course it also included the clip of young John Kennedy, Jr. saluting his father's body as the hearse passed by. That clip has become a Nightly News trademark. They show it every week, sometimes several times a week. This is the 16th story about the Kennedys (or that featured clips of them) that Nightly News has shown since the beginning of the year. Apparently, Brian has a Kennedy fetish which is why he has ordered his producers to show Kennedy stories over and over and over. This story was reported by Savannah Guthrie, who was anchoring the broadcast in place of Brian that night. I guess Brian was spending a long weekend with his family at the Williams Compound in Hyannis Port. I bet he played a lot of football with his kids.
***Next, we saw another story about the 80 year-old woman who made a "miracle landing" after her husband died at the controls of his plane. You didn't think Nightly News would only do one story about this, did you? This story included cockpit voice recordings of the woman as she was being given instructions by air traffic controllers. I wonder if the Nightly News producers edited the tapes to make her sound racist, like they did with the George Zimmerman tapes.
***Since this was a broadcast full of repeat stories (Augusta, Jackie Kennedy, the "miracle landing"), it was only fitting that we would be shown another story about the Japanese "ghost ship" adrift off the coast of Alaska.
***The broadcast ended with a story about Miami's thriving film industry. And what a surprise--the story focused almost exclusively on Telemundo's Spanish-language soap operas and the USA Network's "Burn Notice". Telemundo and USA are both owned by Comcast/NBC Universal, so this "news story" was really just a 2:15 plug for NBC-owned properties. This shameless story was reported by Janet Shamlian. Maybe she should change her name to Janet Shameless. Well, at least she had the integrity to mention that Telemundo and USA were owned by NBC Universal. Let's be thankful for small things.
Fri. April 6--After spending more than a minute telling us about an anonymous Mega Millions lottery winner in Kansas, Savannah Guthrie spent 15 seconds reporting on the solemn ceremony in Sarajevo commemorating the 20th anniversary of the start of the Bosnian war. I guess that means that the lottery winner was four times more important than the Bosnian war and the estimated 200,000 people who died in that war. It's nice that the Nightly News producers have their priorities straight.
***Did you feel that Thursday's 3:45 story on Jackie Kennedy's Secret Service agent was not nearly long enough for you? If so, you're in luck. Guthrie presented part 2 of the story--and this time it clocked in at 4:15. Naturally, this story once again included the clip of John Kennedy, Jr. saluting his father's body as the hearse drove past. They should just play that clip over and over again on a continuous loop behind Brian (or whoever is anchoring). It would be a lot better than that idiotic animated waving flag we see so often. So this means that over two days, Guthrie wasted eight minutes of valuable news time showing old video of Jack and Jackie. Great job. Really. I mean it.
***Guthrie then took 22 seconds to promote a screening of "To Kill A Mockingbird" that would be airing Saturday on the USA Network. "Mockingbird" is a Universal film and USA is an NBC Universal network. So she's promoting a Comcast/NBC Universal film that will be airing on a Comcast/NBC Universal network. How special. This is the second night in a row that Nightly News has promoted something on the USA Network. I guess one of the NBC Universal corporate weasels ordered the Nightly News executive producer to start rabidly hyping the USA Network. By the way, the "Mockingbird" promo was longer than the story on the Bosnian war memorial ceremony so I guess it was more important.
***Then it was time for the third story on the Japanese "ghost ship". This time, Guthrie and her producers took 2:25 to tell us that the U.S. Coast Guard sank the ship. I can't be sure, but I thought I saw a brief clip of young John Kennedy, Jr. saluting the sunken ship.
***The final story was about an Oakland woman who opened a sandwich shop. That's it. That was the story. And it took them 2:20 to tell us about it. What would happen if the Nightly News producers devoted the entire broadcast to reporting actual news instead of bullshit? Oh well, it's a moot point. That will never happen. Not on Brian's watch.