Here's something interesting: Brian Williams only anchored Nightly News one day last week (Tuesday, May 29). That seems odd. Why would he take Monday off, return Tuesday and then take Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off? If not for Tuesday, he could have had a vacation of nine consecutive days. Well, remember that nothing at Nightly News happens randomly or by accident. There was a very specific reason why Brian anchored the broadcast for one day. It has to do with ratings. On those weekdays when Brian is off and a substitute anchors the broadcast, the ratings are always lower than when Brian anchors (all three network newscasts have lower ratings when the regular anchor is off). So on those days when Brian isn't anchoring (and he and his producers know the ratings will be lower), they submit Nightly News to the Nielsen ratings company intentionally misspelled as "Nitely News". When that happens, Nielsen counts the lower-rated "Nitely News" shows in a separate category from Nightly News, and thus they don't detract from the Nightly News ratings. For example, suppose Brian anchors Nightly News Monday and Tuesday and those broadcasts get a 7.5 rating, and the other three broadcasts (with a substitute anchor) average a 6 rating. The total average rating for the week is actually 6.6. But because Brian and his producers submitted the Wednesday-Friday broadcasts misspelled as "Nitely News", they are not counted in the same category as Nightly News. So Brian can claim that Nightly News has a 7.5 rating for the week based on just two broadcasts. That's why Brian made sure to anchor one broadcast this past week. Whatever rating Brian achieved on Tuesday will be considered the Nightly News rating for the entire week, since the other four (lower-rated) broadcasts were submitted to Nielsen as "Nitely News". It's fudging the numbers and playing the system. Another way to describe it: Cheating. It's like giving a false name to the police so they won't know you have outstanding warrants under your real name. This practice of intentionally misspelling Nightly News as "Nitely News" has been going on for years with the full blessing of Brian and NBC News President Steve Capus. This is the type of dishonest, sleazy organization they preside over. Their only concern is earning high ratings, since that allows NBC to charge higher ad rates.
Here is some of the other stuff that went on at Nightly News (or perhaps I should say "Nitely News") this week:
Sat. May 26--What a surprise--Nightly News began with four minutes of weather stories. What a ridiculous abuse of the public trust. Instead of covering real news, the producers devote 10%-20% of every Nightly News broadcast to reporting on the weather solely as a way to justify the $3.5 billion that NBC Universal paid for The Weather Channel. That's journalistic malpractice. During one of the weather reports, ace journalist Kerry Sanders interviewed a Miami high school senior whose graduation party had to be moved indoors because of the heat. Great investigative journalism! That ought to win a Peabody Award or two.
***If there's anything the Nightly News producers love (aside from reporting on the weather), it's trying to scare the viewers with alarmist bogus medical stories. This time, it was the "Heart Risk?" from calcium supplements. Notice how the title contains a question mark? The producers frequently put a question mark after the title because that protects them against any legal action from the industry they are slandering. In this case, they aren't stating that there's a link between calcium supplements and heart attacks, they're simply asking the question. Obviously, the whole point of these stories is to boost the broadcast's ratings. People get scared that they're at risk for something, so they stay tuned to find out the details. It's a cheap and sleazy way to get ratings. This is the 16th alarmist medical story Nightly News has run in the past three months. Most of them are reported by Dr. Nancy Snyderman, although Robert Bazell reported this story. As a physician, Snyderman should be ashamed of what she's doing. Reporting these tawdry stories is a violation of the Hippocratic oath. On the other hand, Bazell is not a physycian and therefore has no moral or ethical responsibility to report the truth or to be concerned about the sensationalist crap he's spewing. During this particular report, a physician named Ethel Siris was identified as being from "NewYork [sic] Presbyterian/Columb...." I don't know what came after that because it faded off the screen and got lost in her white lab coat. And memo to the producers: "New York" is two words, not one word like it appeared in the graphic.
***Later, we saw a 2:20 story about the rising average age of visitors to America's National Parks. Really? This is news? No, but this is what passes for news on Nightly News. What a joke. In his intro, Lester Holt referred to these parks as "national treasures". Obviously, this was just another Nightly News propaganda piece designed to draw visitors to the National Parks. Why? Because Brian has made it one of his goals over the past six years to be a cheerleader for the National Parks. His greasy fingerprints are all over this story.
***Here's how Lester introduced the next story: "We wanted to show you the viral video that's got a lot of folks talking once they pick their jaws up from the floor." It was about an 81-year-old sky diver who fell out of her harness and had to hang onto her instructor during descent. When did it become the job of a news organization to show viral videos? Isn't that why we have YouTube? Lester ended the story by telling us that the sky diver would be appearing on Sunday's "Today Show". Oh, now I get it. The only reason they showed this idiotic "news story" was to promote the next day's "Today Show"! What an appalling breach of journalistic ethics. When is the FCC finally going to revoke NBC's license to broadcast this sham newscast?
***The final story was about a Vietnam veteran in Idaho who created a "field of heroes" to memorialize the servicemen and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Okay--that's a nice thing to do. But it isn't news. In truth, it was just another one of those Nightly News rah-rah, gung-ho, flag waving, God-Bless-America stories designed to boost ratings with its pseudo-patriotoc gobbledygook. Nightly News airs these stories all the time because Brian and his producers have calculated that these types of stories attract lots of viewers. And I'm sure they do. No one ever lost viewers by showing a few dozen waving flags. Just ask the people at Fox News. By the way--twice during the broadcast, Lester promoted this as a "Making A Difference" story, but when it finally aired it didn't carry the MAD logo. I think Lester should start attending the afternoon production meetings.
Sun. May 27--Because of a DVR screw-up, I missed the first 20 minutes of the broadcast. So I'd like to give a great big shout out to all the incompetent idiots at Time Warner Cable and their crappy DVR recorders. Thanks a lot, guys!
***Fortunately, I did get to see the final story of the night. It was about a guy who staged an elaborate musical number as a way to propose to his girlfriend. Lester told us that it has already been viewed over two million times on YouTube. I guess that means it qualifies as news. Not really, but then again, when did the Nightly News producers ever care about news? They care about showing the stories that will garner the largest audience so Brian and Lester can get the highest ratings. It's that simple. So that's why we saw a 2:20 story about a YouTube wedding proposal. Absolutely idiotic. On the one hand, it's amazing that the producers could treat the viewers with this much disdain. But on the other hand, it's equally amazing that the viewers allow themselves to be treated this way. Nightly News viewers are like people in an abusive relationship. The abuse goes on and on, but they never leave. Sad.
Mon. May 28--For a change, Nightly News began with more than four minutes of weather stories. The first three minutes was about Tropical Storm Beryl, which had already been downgraded to a Tropical Depression. The rest of the weather segment was devoted to telling us about the "Heat Wave" across the upper midwest, as if that's news. Let's face it--for every single day of the next three months, there will be a heat wave somewhere in the country. Is Nightly News going to report on every one of these heat waves? Actually, yes they are. Anytime the temperature hits 90 degrees somewhere in the U.S., Nightly News does a story on it. Well, it's certainly a cheap way to fill time. The Weather Channel correspondents and producers are already set up on site and reporting these stories, so there's virtually no added expense for the Nightly News producers to tap into these stories. Cheap stories are good. It keeps the overall profit margin high. And that's what really matters--the bottom line. If you don't think that network news is meant to be a money-earning operation, there's a bridge over the East River that I'd like to sell you. After a report from Jim Cantore, Savannah Guthrie (who was sitting in for Brian this night) said, "Our friend Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel." Why is it so important for every Nightly News anchor to pretend that the correspondents are their friends? Meanwhile, how silly Scott Pelley must have felt--over at CBS, he began his broadcast with reports about the Presidential campaign and the world financial markets before mentioning Beryl.
***Guthrie then took 25 seconds to scare us with a story about falling debris from an Air Canada jet taking off from Toronto. She called it an "Air Scare"--the standard phrase Nightly News uses to frighten viewers. The producers like to frighten viewers because frightened viewers tend to stay tuned in to find out what's going on. I'm not saying this story isn't newsworthy, but it certainly doesn't deserve to be reported in the first five minutes of the broadcast.
***News flash! College students are spending about 40% less time per week studying than they did fifty years ago. This is what merits two-and-a-half minutes of news time on Nightly News. This story could have been reported in 20 seconds, although I don't know why it was even reported at all.
***Guthrie then told us about two very important stories. First, she told us about the 75th anniversary celebration party for the Golden Gate Bridge. Sound familiar? It should--Brian spent two minutes reporting it on Friday's broadcast. Another Nightly News rerun story. Then Guthrie informed us that "Men In Black 3" was the top-grossing movie over the weekend. This entire 20-second story was comprised of clips from the movie. Because the producers know that a constant barrage of movie clips keeps the audience tuned in.
***The final story was a "Making A Difference" piece about an 84-year-old Montana woman who volunteers to help second-graders improve their reading and math skills. It's great that she's helping kids learn. But why is this news? Answer: It isn't. But since when is Nightly News concerned with reporting news? The producers' main concern is showing stories that are likely to attract viewers. News stories don't generate money. Sappy human-interest stories, however, do.
Tues. May 29--OMG! Nightly News began with a three-minute story about Syria. That's like a real news broadcast! Amazing. What could have possibly gotten into the producers? Someone must have temporarily de-programmed them from their cult.
***A news story about Mitt Romney was really about Donald Trump. That's a no-brainer. Trump has a show on NBC ("Celebrity Apprentice"), so it's the job of the Nightly News producers to promote it relentlessly. There's Trump on CNBC's "Squawk Box" spewing his birther garbage. There's Trump endorsing Romney. There's Trump holding a fund-raiser for Romney. There's Trump, Trump and more Trump. All of Trump's video and audio clips in this story added up to nearly a minute of free publicity for "Celebrity Apprentice". (Although the show is done for the season, it--and its ads--are still available on demand.)
***A story about the high murder rate in Chicago was titled "Deadly Days". Why do most Nightly News story titles sound like Daily News headlines? I guess it's because the Daily News (and all tabloids) and Nightly News share the same goal--to attract readers or viewers with tawdry, sensationalistic headlines.
***I had to watch this next story twice because I couldn't actually believe that a newscast would bother running it. But here it is: Women get shorter as they get older. Does this have anything to do with college students studying less? I cannot believe that the producers would devote two-and-a-half minutes to this story. But they did! Honey, I shrunk your grandma!
***It had been almost two weeks since Nightly News did a story about the Kennedy family, so one was long overdue. Brian showed us video of a ceremony to mark what would have been JFK's 95th birthday at Arlington National Cemetery. Funny thing--I've never seen Brian do a story commemorating the birth of Chester A. Arthur or James K. Polk. But then again, Brian doesn't have a teenage-like obsession with Arthur or Polk like he has with JFK. And remember--Brian gets to do whatever the hell he wants. End of discussion.
***Speaking of which--Brian's obsession with space-related events is almost as strong as his Kennedy obsession. Which is why he took 30 seconds to tell us that NASA is taking steps to protect American landing sites on the moon. The story carried the title "Sacred Ground". A bit overwrought, don't you think? Well, maybe not if you're Brian Williams. Subtle is not part of his shtick.
***This next story was stunning. At least that's what Brian thinks. In a story about Serena Williams' first-round loss at the French Open, Brian used the word "stunning" twice in 30 seconds to describe the upset. And the on-screen title was "Paris Stunner". So I guess "stunning" is the Sesame Street word of the day. Oh, by the way--do you know which network is showing weekend coverage of the French Open? That would be NBC. So this story was really just a way to promote to NBC's sports coverage.
***Next, Brian told us about Manhattanhenge, "when the setting sun perfectly lines up with the cross streets to create some spectacular views." I wish I had a dollar for every time Brian used the words "stunning" or "spectacular" on Nightly News. In the past month, he's used one or the other of those words to describe a solar flare, the space shuttle, a Mt. Etna eruption, the Northern Lights, a "Making A Difference" segment, an eclipse (for which he used both "stunning" and "spectacular") and the Golden Gate Bridge. Remember a time when anchors actually reported the news, instead of forcing their opinions onto the viewers? Ah, the good old days.
***The final segment was about this year's recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We saw clips of President Obama giving the medal to John Glenn, Toni Morrison, Madeleine Albright, John Paul Stevens, Pat Summitt and Bob Dylan. But of course, we couldn't expect Brian to show clips of some of the other recipients like Dolores Huerta, Shimon Peres or William Foege. Because they're just not glamorous enough. You get good ratings by showing clips of Pat Summitt, Bob Dylan and John Glenn, not by showing people the viewers have never heard of. If they're not famous or sexy, they don't get on Nightly News, goddammit.
Wed. May 30--Lester told us that, "A 747 cargo jet clipped the tail of a small commuter plane at Chicago's O'Hare airport today...." As he said this, the words "Runway Collision" appeared in giant letters over his left shoulder. What actually happened was that the 747's wingtip hit the commuter plane's tail. That is hardly a "collision". The Nightly News producers constantly blow facts out of proportion in order to make news stories appear more sensationalistic. That's not reporting, it's exploiting.
***OMG! I could not believe what I saw next. Lester actually reported that former Liberian President Charles Taylor had been sentenced to 50 years in prison by a court at the Hague for aiding and abetting war crimes that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in Sierra Leone. Taylor's trial had been going on for years, but Nightly News never mentioned it before--with the possible exception of the time two years ago when Naomi Campbell and Mia Farrow testified as witnesses. Granted, tonight's Charles Taylor story was only 20 seconds long, but nevertheless, that's progress. It should be noted, however, that the producers had to wait until a night when Brian was not anchoring in order to sneak this story onto the broadcast. Brian never would have reported it because he knows that foreign news brings in lower ratings than stories about dogs, celebrities and the British Royal Family.
***A story about Nelson Mandela's appearance at an event marking the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress made me think back to Brian's 7/12/10 MSNBC.com Daily Nightly blog entry where he spelled Mandela's name as "Mandella". (The entry was subsequently corrected in an effort to protect Brian's credibility.)
***We were treated to a 2:15 story about the hidden fees of college-sponsored debit cards. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for Nightly News to report on CNBC host Suze Orman's shady pre-paid debit card. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Brian to report this story. But fortunately, you can find out all about it by googling "Suze Orman debit card".
***So what news is really important on this day? A six-year-old girl participated in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. This story was given 50 seconds of valuable news time--more than twice as much time as Lester devoted to the Charles Taylor story. Nightly News has its priorities, after all.
***Speaking of which--among Brian's and Lester's biggest priorities is promoting other NBC-affiliated programs. Which is why we saw a two-and-a-half minute "news report" about the History Channel's "Hatfields & McCoys" miniseries. This story was reported by sleazy shill Anne Thompson, who never disclosed that Comcast NBC Universal owns 15% of the History Channel's parent company, A & E Television Networks. So Nightly News was promoting a program (and a channel) that they profit from. But it gets even better. Last month, according to Wikipedia, "NBC Universal announced that it is selling a substantial part of its stake in A & E Networks". So using Nightly News to promote History's "Hatfields & McCoys" could drive up the value of the channel and bring in more profit when Comcast NBC U sells its stake in A & E. Double sleazy. But then again, this is Nightly News, king of the sleazebag newscasts. What else would you expect from them? By the way--just for good measure, Thompson and her producers threw in some clips from The Flintstones, Bugs Bunny and Family Feud. Because pandering to viewers with old TV clips is a proven way to boost ratings. And that's really what Nightly News is all about--boosting the ratings any way they can.
Thurs. May 31--Matt Lauer anchored the broadcast this night. If I were Brian, I would interpret this as a sign of things to come. A glimpse into the near future. Next time Brian thinks about taking a day off, he would do well to remember Wally Pipp. If you don't know who Pipp was, google him.
***After four-and-a-half minutes of reports about the mistrial in the John Edwards case, we were forced to endure another two minutes of Savannah Guthrie's pointless commentary. If Guthrie ever got her own show on MSNBC, it would have to be called "Stating The Obvious With Savannah Guthrie" because that's all she seems capable of doing. After Guthrie's simplistic, monotonous analysis, Lauer said, "NBC's Savannah Guthrie in the studio this morning". Morning, evening, whatever.
***We saw a 2:50 story about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's intent to ban sales of sugary sodas in cups larger than 16 ounces. Ron Mott began and ended the story in Times Square standing in front of a giant video screen displaying an American flag. This was hilarious. We all know that Nightly News correspondents make a point of standing in front of flags whenever they are reporting political stories. It's de rigueur. A flag background is yet another way for the Nightly News producers to pander to the viewers' pseudo-patriotic God-Bless-America feelings. It's a ratings gimmick. Like they do on Fox News. And Mott is one of NBC's chief flag-seekers. He's drawn to the flag like a moth to a flame. But this wasn't even remotely a political story. It was a lifestyle/health story. Yet there was Mott standing in front of a giant flag. And he looked absolutely ridiculous. During the story, Mott told us that, "The federal government says Americans consume at least 22 teaspoons of sugar a day." But the accompanying on-screen graphic read "22 tbsp/day". So while Mott was talking about teaspoons, the graphic used the abbreviation for tablespoons. Big difference--a tablespoon contains three teaspoons. That reminds me of the 1999 NASA Mars Orbiter craft that crashed on Mars because the software was written in metric Newtons but the ground crew was entering data in imperial pounds. All I can say is--it's a good thing that Mott and his producers aren't working for NASA. After the story ended, Lauer saud, "Ron Mott in New York City this morning," Someone really should buy him a watch. And because this is such an important story, we also got to hear Dr. Nancy Snyderman's views on the subject for an additional 1:40. Finally, Lauer made sure to inform us that Mayor Bloomberg would be appearing on the following day's "Today Show". Of course. Because promoting other NBC shows is one of the main jobs of the Nightly News producers and anchors. Especially in this case because Lauer was promoting his own show.
***Later, we saw a story about teen drivers with ADHD. Is this really such a big problem that it merits a 2:20 story on Nightly News? When this story is added to the stories on the Edwards trial and the stories on Mayor Bloomberg's vendetta against sugary soda, they represent thirteen-and-a-half minutes--more than half the broadcast. That seems a bit excessive. Isn't there any real news going on? Obviously there is, but the Nightly News producers don't feel like reporting it.
***The broadcast ended with a 2:20 story about George W. Bush returning to the White House for the unveiling of his official portrait. I think this story could have been reported in...oh, let's say 20 seconds. But if they spent that little time on it, the producers would have had to report some real news. God forbid.
Fri. June 1--After a 4:15 story about jobs and the economy, Lester brought in David Gregory to spend a minute-and-a-half telling us that jobs would be a defining issue in the presidential race. Really, Nostradamus? You don't say. Gregory frequently gives Savannah Guthrie a run for her money as chief spokesperson for the "stating the obvious" contingent. Of course, the only reason Gregory was trotted out was so that he and Lester could promote Sunday's "Meet The Press". Mission accomplished.
***A story about the John Edwards mistrial featured "Today" footage of three of the jurors explaining their inability to agree on a verdict in five of the six counts. I guess if Lester is going to promote "Meet The Press", he also has to promote "Today". It only seems fair.
***Going into the second commercial break, the producers played a clip of Marilyn Monroe singing "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" as a promo for an upcoming story on Monroe. This is just another ratings-boosting trick of the weaselly Nightly News producers--using popular songs as a way to keep viewers tuned in. Of course, it works. When viewers hear a song they're familiar with, it keeps them from changing the channel. The producers did this eleven times in May (for example, on May 6, as a way to promote one of their many Supermoon stories, the producers played both "Fly Me To The Moon" and "Moondance").
***Here's how Lester introduced a story about the Scripps National Spelling Bee: "Now to yesterday's big moment from suburban Washington D.C...." Really? In the middle of the week in our nation's capital Lester thinks that the spelling bee was the "big moment" of the day? I think what he really meant was that it was the moment most likely to keep viewers interested in the broadcast, as opposed to all the boring economic and political stories he reports (or, more likely, fails to report).
***Finally it was time for the previously-teased Marilyn Monroe story. Today would have been her 86th birthday! Along with Elvis, JFK, the Beatles and James Dean, Monroe remains one of the defining pop culture icons of the 20th century. So the producers make a point of including her (and all those icons) in Nightly News broadcasts as often as possible.
***Lester took 25 seconds to tell us that it was National Donut Day. Or was it National Doughnut Day? The Peabody-winning Nightly News investigative staff didn't fully answer that question. Maybe they'll do a follow-up to this breaking news story. And Lester made sure to tell us that "Entenmann's pitched in with a giant box of doughnuts" because it's important to include product placements for NBC advertisers.
***To end the broadcast, we saw a three-minute story about Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. Naturally, the story included several clips of Prince William talking to a BBC interviewer. Because when it comes to the British Royals, William (along with Kate and Harry) is the money shot. Something tells me that this won't be the last story we see on the British Royals over the next week. Just a feeling I have.
***Meanwhile, there were more executions and murders in Syria, and Ireland voted on the European Union fiscal treaty. Nightly News didn't cover these stories, but at least we know all about the spelling bee, Marilyn Monroe's 86th birthday and National Donut Day. Great job, Nightly News producers!