From watching NBC Nightly News this past week, you'd think there were only three stories: The death of Neil Armstrong, the Republican National Convention and Hurricane Isaac. Apparently, Brian Williams, Lester Holt and the Nightly News producers don't see their job as reporting all the week's news--they see their job as overreporting those few stories that are guaranteed to earn high ratings while ignoring the rest of the important news from across the country and around the world. Here's what happened this week--according to Brian, Lester et al.:
Sat. August 25--Nightly News spent 9:40 reporting on Hurricane Isaac and 5:40 reporting on the death of Neil Armstrong. Nearly two minutes of their Isaac coverage was devoted to how the storm is affecting Haiti, as if that somehow makes up for the way Nightly News abruptly discontinued their coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake in order to spend massive amounts of time promoting the Vancouver Olympics (which started one month after the Haiti earthquake).
***At least 330 people were reportedly killed in a government-sponsored massacre in Syria. So how much time did Nightly News devote to this story? Two minutes? One minute? Nope. It was given all of twenty seconds. Obviously, the Nightly News producers do not care about foreign news (unless it's NBC's own Olympic coverage or stories about the British Royals) because foreign news brings much lower ratings than sensationalistic stories about hurricanes.
***The final segment of the broadcast featured weatherclown Al Roker giving a rambling, repetitive litany of previously reported Isaac facts. He ended his "report" by telling us to stay tuned in to the Weather Channel (which is owned by NBC Universal) and "The Today Show". So this really wasn't about the hurricane, it was about promoting NBC properties. Great job, Al! Thanks! By the way, Roker's show on the Weather Channel is called "Wake Up With Al". That's really, really creepy. I think I need to take a shower now.
Sun. August 26--Nightly News increased their Isaac coverage to more than 10 minutes. This included a pompous 90-second piece from Brian Williams--making a rare self-promotional weekend appearance--in which he again tries to desperately convince us how much he cares about New Orleans. Obviously, the NBC News research department continues to inform Brian that the more he pretends to love New Orleans, the more compassionate he seems, and the higher his ratings climb. So he never misses an opportunity to pander to the people of Louisiana, because pandering is what he does best. Wouldn't it be nice to have a news anchor who reports on stories based solely on their news value, and not based on how they can help his or her ratings? Oh yeah--now that I think of it, there was such an anchor--his name was Charles Gibson.
***During one of the reports on Isaac, we were shown a clip of some comments from Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor. However, she was never identified. I guess the Nightly News producers just assume we all know who she is.
***The broadcast also spent more than five minutes reporting on something just as important as Isaac--the upcoming Republican National Convention. By "reporting on the convention", what I really mean is "promoting the convention". In the following week, NBC will be devoting a large chunk of time to the convention, including programming on CNBC, MSNBC, "The Today Show", Nightly News and several hours of prime time coverage. So by promoting the convention, they are really promoting their own coverage of the convention. And let's face it--promoting NBC programming is one of the main responsibilities of the Nightly News anchors and producers. Remember the two-and-a-half hours Nightly News spent shamelessly plugging the Olympics over those 17 days? Of course you do--it was just a few weeks ago.
***News flash! Ann Romney is the new Michelle Obama. The Nightly News producers have discovered that Ann Romney is very popular and brings huge ratings to their broadcast, so they now make a point of putting her on the air as often as possible. Look--there she is making pancakes! There she is going to church! Isn't she awesome? She's almost like Kate Middleton! First Ladies (and potential First Ladies) are always popular (and always bring high ratings to news broadcasts), so for the Nightly News producers, filling up newstime with Ann Romney is a no-brainer. And by giving her lots of TV exposure now, they're setting themselves up to be in her good favor should Mitt Romney win the election. Then we can look forward to seeing Ann with Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Carson Daly, Matt Lauer, Ellen, Steve Harvey and Jeff Probst. And of course, with Brian Williams.
***Although the Nightly News producers spent more than fifteen minutes reporting on Isaac and the Republican Convention, they nevertheless thought it would be a good idea to waste 2:25 on a pointless story about the TSA and airport shoe removal. Apparently, air travelers will still be removing their shoes for years to come. This trite story could have been reported in fifteen seconds, but they dragged it out to ten times that length because this story was easier to present than real news. And also because Brian has a fetish for stories about air travel. And we all know that whatever Brian wants, Brian gets. Even on nights when he isn't anchoring.
***Speaking of real news, the producers devoted 24 seconds to the Syrian massacre that killed 330 people. That's four seconds more than the previous night's broadcast. I guess you'd have to call that progress.
***Lester Holt spent another 1:40 on a tribute to Neil Armstrong because the ratings go up every time a Nightly News anchor says the word "hero".
***The broadcast ended with a final minute on Isaac because the more scared they can make us, the more likely we will be to watch tomorrow's broadcast. The producers are basically using a cliffhanger ending taken right from the soap operas. Will the levees hold? Will Darlene be able to save her dog Skippy? Can Lonnie rescue his bedridden wife? Will the police arrest Mr. Vandrusz for profiteering? Will gramps be saved by an army helicopter? Tune in tomorrow to see how many people lost their homes! Lots of people will cry! On "As The Hurricane Turns" (AKA NBC Nightly News).
Mon. August 27--Brian and his producers pared their Isaac coverage down to a threadbare 7:20 so they could spend even more time (nearly six minutes) promoting NBC's Convention coverage. Real classy.
***Brian then reported these stories: Two U.S. troops were killed by an Afghan soldier, a Taliban mob beheaded 17 people attending a dance where music was being played and Syrian rebels shot down an army helicopter that was firing on civilians. Brian devoted a total of 37 seconds to these stories. Brian doesn't give a shit about foreign news because it doesn't help his ratings.
***Brian introduced a story about a possible link between a woman's weight and the recurrence of breast cancer. At the top of the broadcast, he previewed this story by calling it "an important story". Um...question for Brian: Aren't all the stories on a network newscast supposed to be important? Well, yes--they're supposed to be. But on Nightly News, that's rarely the case. I guess Brian made a point of calling this story important in order to distinguish it from all the trivial, pointless Nightly News stories about dogs, whales, space travel and planets, British Royals, taunted elderly bus monitors and the Olympics. So remember, Nightly News viewers, if Brian says a story is important, you'd better pay attention. Especially because important stories are so infrequent on Nightly News.
***Brian spent 25 seconds telling us that the FAA plans to study whether air travelers really need to put away their electronic devices before takeoff. A story about a study that may not even change anything? This isn't even worth mentioning. But as I already said, Brian has a fetish for air travel stories and he gets to do whatever he wants.
***Brian ended the broadcast with another tribute to Neil Armstrong. Even though Lester Holt spent more than seven minutes reporting this story over the past two nights, we all know that a story isn't really a story unless Brian himself reports it. Before the final commercial break, Brian promoted the story by calling Armstrong "The last modest hero we ever had." After the break, Brian called him "The last truly modest hero our nation ever produced." So I guess if you say the exact same thing twice, it must be true. Brian's fetish for air travel stories is only eclipsed by his fetish for space travel stories. When it comes to astronauts, Brian is a fawning, ass-kissing sycophant. And his 1:20 laudation for Armstrong was just about the most ass-kissing sycophantic testimonial you could ever imagine hearing. Brian is too wrapped up in his own personal ego trip to understand this, but if you heap praise on someone over and over and over again ad nauseam, it tends to lose meaning. Because of his personal fetish, Brian has zero credibility as an objective reporter about Neil Armstrong (or any other astronaut for that matter). Of course, Brian has zero credibility as an objective reporter about anything. How can he be objective when his main goals are promoting himself and his broadcast, promoting NBC's sports and entertainment programming, promoting his sponsors and pandering to the viewers with a litany of stories designed specifically to attract ratings rather than provide information? Brian isn't a reporter, he's a cheerleader and carnival barker for himself and NBC. Brian is the exact opposite of a "modest hero". He's self-promoting buffoon.
***The self-promoting buffoon signed off for the evening by telling us to watch "an update on the storm on your late local news tonight and of course the Weather Channel all evening long." Even down to the last second, he's still shilling, shilling, shilling. And that's sad, sad, sad.
Tues. August 28--Nightly News spent a combined 17:20 reporting on Hurricane Isaac and the Republican Convention. So you might think that leaves a lot of time to report on other news. Wrong. When you remove all the commercials, the promos and the self-promoting story introductions, Nightly News is essentially a twenty minute broadcast. So how much time did they spend reporting stories other than Isaac and the Republican convention? Less than two minutes. That's ridiculous. A newscast is supposed to report all the day's news, not just the stories that will bring in high ratings. It is absolutely irresponsible for a newscast to devote so little time to reporting the rest of the day's news. But then again, no one ever claimed that Nightly News was a responsible broadcast.
***When Brian introduced John Yang's report from the convention floor, he made sure to tell us that Yang was with the delegates from "the great state of Maine." These major political conventions must pose a real logistical challenge to Brian. So many states to shamelessly pander to, so little time.
***Right after that, Brian told us that Luke Russert "has made his way to the great state of West Virginia". Why doesn't Brian just take a few minutes at the beginning of the broadcast to call each individual state "the great state of..." Then he won't have to worry about doing it during the broadcast. Russert sounded like he was doing an ad for the West Virginia board of tourism. Of course, the larger issue is this: Why is Luke Russert even on the air at all? Before being hired, he had no experience whatsoever as a journalist. His only credential is that he's the son of Tim Russert. And since Brian liked Tim, he gave Luke a coveted on-air job. There are hundreds--maybe thousands--of experienced television correspondents looking for work, and Luke Russert gets handed a plum job. It's nice to see that nepotism is alive and well an NBC News. Obviously, Brian has taken Luke under his wing and is personally guiding his career as a favor to Tim's memory. It's the same way Tony Soprano took Christopher Moltisanti under his wing and guided his career.
***Brian spent 40 seconds reporting the death of photojournalist Malcolm Browne. Brian likes to report the obits of real journalists because it allows him to pretend that he's in that club. He isn't.
***The final story was about a man in New Orleans' lower ninth ward who is going door to door checking on his neighbors. That's a nice thing to do, but how is this news? It isn't. But sappy human interest stories like this get higher ratings than actual news, so every year, Brian packs his broadcast with hundreds of minutes of this drivel. On a night when Nightly News presented so little actual news, it's shameless that they would include this story. But shameless stories get good ratings, and that's all that matters to Brian and his producers. On this night, Nightly News did not even bother reporting on Syria. But at least we know all about the man who goes door to door checking on his neighbors.
Wed. August 29--The lead story on the effects of Hurricane Isaac featured four different shots of dogs (with their owners) being rescued. This is not an accident. Nothing on Nightly News happens by accident. NBC News research shows that Nightly News viewers like dogs, so part of Brian's strategy for boosting his ratings is to include dogs as often as possible in news stories. If research showed that viewers liked armadillos, he would use armadillos in Nightly News stories.
***Here's how Brian introduced a segment with the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore: "Jim, I'm watchin' the coverage--seeing a lot of streets and neighborhoods--even structures that I'm familiar with...." That HE's familiar with. Because the news is always about Brian. And notice how Brian dropped the "g" from watching (and pronounced it as "watchin'")? That's part of his strategy to appear less patrician and more like the "regular good old middle-American folks" whose ratings he so desperately craves. At the end of Cantore's report, Brian said, "Jim, I do remember seven years ago tonight the water approaching that very intersection where you're standing...." Again, the news is about Brian and what HE remembers.
***Brian spent more than three minutes talking with Ann Romney. She's popular now and trending on many social media websites, so Brian makes a point of including her on Nightly News as often as possible (she was also featured prominently in the preceding story). Dogs, Ann Romney--anything that can be used to pander to viewers and grab ratings is fair game to be exploited by Brian and his producers.
***Next, we saw a three-minute story about the new book by a former Navy SEAL detailing the killing of Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, over at CBS, Scott Pelley actually interviewed the book's author, who goes by the pseudonym Mark Owen. Brian spends a good chunk of time kissing ass to Navy SEALs (and every other member of the U.S. military) and Owen chose to ignore Brian and speak with Scott Pelley instead. It seems as if Navy SEALs don't really like Brian.
***Later, Brian spent twenty seconds telling us about the opening ceremonies for the Paralympic Games. Brian doesn't really care about the Paralympics because they don't generate any money or ratings for NBC, like the London Olympics did. In fact, NBC is so uninterested in televising a ratings loser like the Paralympics that they've relegated those Games to their NBC Sports cable channel, where they will get a paltry few hours of midweek coverage--but nothing on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The only reason Brian aired this story was because it allowed him to show a clip of Will & Kate.
***Once again, Nightly News did not report on the civil war in Syria. But at least we know all about dogs being rescued in Louisiana and Ann Romney.
Thurs. August 30--The broadcast began with nine-and-a-half minutes worth of coverage on the Republican Convention. Part of this time was devoted to Brian's "interview" with Paul Ryan. During this interview, Brian incorrectly asserted that the Republican platform does not allow for abortion exception in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Ryan had to correct Brian--twice--by reminding him that the platform is silent on the issue and the President sets policy. It's obvious that Brian's main goal in this sham interview was to try to trip up Ryan and catch him in a contradiction, but Ryan ended up running circles around Brian. Score: Ryan 1; Brian 0.
***Next, Brian brought in Tom Brokaw for some commentary. Big mistake. Whenever Tom appears with Brian, he reminds viewers what it was like to have an actual journalist as anchor of NBC Nightly News, instead of a talking head reading off a teleprompter. Tom's enormousness makes Brian seem feeble and slight by comparison. Note to Brian--it's not a good idea to have Tom Brokaw on your broadcast.
***Pete Williams is still my hero. On this night--as he does on all nights--Brian introduced Pete with a treacly, "Good evening, Pete." And as usual, Pete refused to return Brian's greeting with an equally syrupy, "Good evening, Brian." Instead, Pete ignored Brian and launched right into his story on voter ID laws in Texas. Contrast Pete Williams with fawning Nightly News sycophants like Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander who always respond to Brian's greeting with a hearty, "Good evening TO YOU, Brian!" I applaud Pete for having the balls to stand up to Brian. It's just sad that Brian is so desperate to appear well-liked by the Nightly News correspondents. From what I understand, that's not the case at all.
***A story on the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana featured multiple shots of dogs being rescued. Once again, this is just Brian's way of pandering to dog-loving viewers in the hope of getting a ratings boost.
***Here's how Brian introduced Jim Cantore's segment on Isaac: "Jim, we're gonna come on up there and join you tomorrow to see for ourselves...." Of course Brian has to draw attention to himself and announce what HE will be doing, because that's much more important than what's actually going on in New Orleans.
***Brian took 30 seconds to tell us that a 100-year-old man in L.A. accidentally drove his car into a group of school children. It's obvious that Brian has no clue about the difference between local and national news items. Or perhaps he does, but chooses to report on sensationalistic local stories because they bring in ratings.
***Stop the presses! Breaking news! MTV is cancelling "Jersey Shore". This is what Brian has decided merits 30 seconds of newstime on Nightly News. Can you imagine Scott Pelley running this garbage as a news piece on CBS Evening News? That would never happen--even though CBS and MTV are both controlled by the same corporate entity! But I guess it's not fair to compare Brian Williams to Scott Pelley. Pelley is a news anchor whose responsibility is informing his viewers about important stories happening across the country and around the world, and Brian is a carnival barker whose main goal is to run stories that boost his ratings and promote his network and sponsors. Totally different job descriptions.
***Here's how Brian introduced the final segment: "Thanks to the good people of the New Mexico delegation on the floor of this convention, Andrea Mitchell has set up shop there to offer us a few final thoughts" on the convention. Clearly, Brian's goal for covering the two political conventions is to refer to the people in each of the fifty states as "the good people of..." because shamelessly pandering for ratings is what he does best. I guess the nine minutes-plus that Nightly News devoted to the convention at the beginning of the broadcast just wasn't enough, so we needed another 1:10 to close the show.
***The broadcast ended with 30 seconds of theme music, accompanied by shots of the Tampa skyline. So let me get this straight--Nightly News did not report a single story from outside the U.S.--no Europe, no Africa, no Asia, no Syria--but they wasted 30 seconds of dead air at the end of the broadcast. That's appalling. But at least we learned about some important stuff--like the 100-year-old man who ran over some kids and that "Jersey Shore" is being cancelled. Great job, Brian!