Anyone who's watched NBC Nightly News more than a handful of times knows that one of its main goals is self-promotion. Brian Williams, Lester Holt and the Nightly News producers have made a conscious decision to use their broadcast as a promotional vehicle for NBC sports, entertainment and news programs. Some of these promotions are subtle--such as the repeated inclusion of clips from "Meet the Press", "Dateline", "Rock Center", MSNBC and CNBC shows--and some of these promotions are about as subtle as a brick to the head. During the 17 days of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Nightly News spent an astounding 130 minutes "reporting" on Olympic-related stories as a way to aggressively promote viewership of their prime-time Olympic coverage (they also spent an additional 30 minutes on Olympic stories that were reported before and after the Games). When you consider that a Nightly News broadcast contains less than 20 minutes of actual news, those 160 minutes represent the equivalent of 8 entire broadcasts. For the 2012 London Olympics, the totals were even more egregious: Nightly News spent 147 minutes rabidly promoting the Olympics during the 17 days of competition plus an additional 45 minutes of Olympic-related stories leading up to the Games. That works out to the equivalent of more than 9 entire Nightly News broadcasts. I think we can safely say that Brian Williams, Lester Holt and their producers do everything they possibly can to shamelessly promote the Olympics for NBC (I can only imagine how much time they will spend promoting the 2014 Sochi Games).
But it doesn't end with the Olympics. The highest-rated regular-season shows for NBC are the Sunday Night Football games they broadcast. In fact, Sunday Night Football is usually the highest-rated network broadcast of the week. So it would be an understatement to say that Nightly News (which precedes the game on Sunday nights) aggressively promotes NBC's Sunday Night Football. On Sundays during football season, the last "news story" of the night is often a football-related story. And more often than not, it's a story involving a player, players or teams scheduled to play later that night on NBC. 2010 was a standout year for Nightly News's promotion of Sunday Night Football. Here are a few examples: On Sept. 8, Nightly News ran a story about the Vikings' Madieu Williams. And the following night, Brian Williams actually anchored the broadcast from New Orleans just so he could promote that night's Saints-Vikings season opener on NBC. On Sept. 19, Nightly News did a story on Eli and Peyton Manning--right before NBC's Giants-Colts game. On Sept. 26, there was a story about how the NFL recruits young fans. On Oct. 17, we saw a Nightly News story about how members of the Washington Redskins were raising awareness about breast cancer--immediately followed by the Redskins-Colts game. On Oct. 24, the story was about a college football coach who was recalled to active duty in the navy reserve. And on Nov. 28, the final story of the night was about a charity run by the San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers--right before the Chargers-Colts game. But my favorite Nightly News football promotion story was on a Tuesday (Dec. 28, 2010, to be exact). That week's Sunday night game in Philadelphia had been postponed due to a blizzard, and the game had been rescheduled for Tuesday. That night, beginning at minute nine (before the first commercial break, which is considered prime news space), Brian spent an incredible 5:45 talking about that night's Eagles-Vikings game--first with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (nattily attired in a Comcast jacket) and then with NBC Sports commentator Bob Costas. Obviously, the only reason for this segment was to make absolutely certain that viewers knew the game would be airing THAT NIGHT ON NBC. It's hard to imagine a sleazier, more unethical promotional segment than this one. (A similar Rendell interview had already aired on Monday in addition to Brian Williams' two-minute talk with Michelle Kosinski about the rescheduling of the game to Tuesday.) Clearly, none of these stories qualified as actual news--Nightly News ran them for one reason and one reason only--to promote NBC's Sunday Night Football.
And to this day, nothing has changed. Brian and his producers continue to use Nightly News as a promotional vehicle for other NBC sports, entertainment and news shows. Here are some examples from just this past week:
Monday 6/17/13--During a story about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Andrea Mitchell mentioned an interview that President Obama had given to Charlie Rose. Mitchell told us that the interview would be airing "tonight on PBS". That's true--but Mitchell intentionally omitted an important piece of information. The Obama interview was also scheduled to run on Rose's other gig--Tuesday's "CBS This Morning". Mitchell didn't mention that because "CBS This Morning" competes with NBC's "Today Show". And we all know about "Today's" recent anchor troubles and ratings slippage. So Mitchell intentionally refused to mention CBS in order to protect "Today". That's pretty unethical. And sleazy. I used to think that Mitchell was an honest, respectable reporter, but as it turns out, she's just another NBC shill. Also during her Snowden story, Mitchell showed some old Nightly News footage of herself from 1995 because if there's one thing Nightly News anchors and correspondents love reporting on, it's themselves.
The final story of the night was a frivolous, vapid piece about how Russian President Vladimir Putin supposedly stole a Super Bowl ring from New England Patriots' owner Robert Kraft. This is hardly a legitimate news story, but football season is less than three months away and it's time to start promoting NBC's Sunday Night Football.
Tuesday 6/18/13--Again reporting on Snowden, Andrea Mitchell showed a clip of Rose's interview with Obama--from his PBS show. There was still no mention that the interview had also aired on "CBS This Morning". The overwhelming mandate ringing through the halls of NBC News's 30 Rock studios is to protect and promote "Today" at all costs. Even if it means a once-reputable NBC News correspondent like Mitchell has to lie.
Also on this broadcast, we saw a two-minute story about the protests in Brazil. This was somewhat curious, considering that Nightly News doesn't pay much attention to foreign news. But of course, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is the site of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games (which, of course, NBC is airing), so naturally the Brazil story got coverage. I can guarantee that if it weren't for the Rio Olympics, this would have been a 20-second story, if it even got any coverage at all.
Wednesday 6/19/13--An obituary for Slim Whitman included a clip of him on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson (Carson was featured in the clip, as well). "The Tonight Show" is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Brian's promotional largesse. He loves to constantly promote it under any circumstances, but with the impending changeover from Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon, "Tonight" will no doubt be receiving plenty of extra promotion from Brian and the other Nightly News anchors. And if you think that showing an old clip of "Tonight" doesn't have any current promotional value, you should check with the NBC research department. They'll set you straight.
Earlier in the broadcast, while Brian was reporting on the 1996 crash of TWA flight 800, he showed an old clip of himself reporting the crash on MSNBC in 1996. I guess in the game of narcissistic one-upmanship, Brian refused to be outdone by Andrea Mitchell's 1995 clip of herself that she showed on Monday.
Thursday 6/20/13--Because promoting the 2016 Rio Olympics is so important to NBC, correspondent Miguel Almaguer was hastily dispatched to Brazil to cover the riots. Almaguer made a point of specifically mentioning the Olympics in his story.
During Brian's unbelievably long 4:40 obituary for James Gandolfini, he included some footage of himself interviewing Gandolfini. Because let's face it--the news is ALWAYS about Brian.
Friday 6/21/13--Again reporting from Brazil, Miguel Almaguer mentions the 2016 Olympics. Since Tuesday, Nightly News has spent 5:20 reporting on the Brazil riots. That's 5:20 of free promotion for the 2016 Olympics.
During a report about teaching math to Chicago grade-school students, correspondent Rehema Ellis asks a little girl what she likes so much about forensic science. The girl responds that it makes her feel like "the detectives on Law & Order". I wonder how many times Ellis had to shoot the scene before the girl said "Law & Order" instead of "CSI".
Saturday 6/22/13--The final story of the night was an idiotic 2:18 piece about the two men who sing the National Anthem for their respective hockey teams--the Bruins and the Blackhawks--at the Stanley Cup Finals. Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals would be airing later that night on NBC so this was just a sleazy way to promote the game. And just to make sure we didn't forget, Lester Holt ended the broadcast with another "reminder" for us to watch the game. On NBC. By the way--the story was titled "The Voice"--the name of an NBC entertainment show. So in a story that shamelessly plugged NBC's Stanley Cup Finals, they also managed to throw in a plug for their idiotic singing competition show. Nice job.
Maybe Lester should concentrate more on reading the news and less on plugging NBC sports and entertainment shows. Earlier in the broadcast, he referred to Edward Snowden as "Eric" Snowden.
Sunday 6/23/13--A story about "Extreme Weather" featured the Weather Channel's Julie Martin. Nightly News spends a lot of time promoting the Weather Channel. That makes sense, since NBC/Universal owns the Weather Channel. And spending 2 or 3 minutes a night reporting on the weather is a cheap way to use existing Weather Channel resources to fill news time. And keeping costs down increases profitability.
The final story of the night was a ridiculous 2:20 "news story" on Nik Wallenda, who was preparing to walk across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope later that night. Both Lester Holt and correspondent Ben Fogle told us that Wallenda would be crossing the Grand Canyon. And both of them lied. Wallenda would actually be crossing the Little Colorado River Gorge, which is adjacent to, but not part of, the Grand Canyon. Calling it the Grand Canyon was just a way to further sensationalize the story. The story included lots of promotional footage from the Discovery Channel, which would be televising the walk live later that night. Fogle did everything he could to build anticipation, including telling us that Wallenda was "putting his life on the line". This was nothing more than a 2:20 commercial for the Discovery Channel special airing later that night. And like he did with the Stanley Cup Finals story in Saturday, Lester ended the broadcast with another plug for Discovery's "Skywire Live" (including a full-screen promo) and told us that it would be hosted by Natalie Morales and Willie Geist--two anchors from "The Today Show". That's a lot of promotion for a Discovery Channel special. But there's something Lester Holt and Ben Fogle didn't tell us: The Discovery Channel Special was being produced by Peacock Productions--a production company owned by NBC. So obviously NBC had a financial stake in the special and NBC had an interest in boosting viewership. So NBC used Nightly News to plug a Discovery Channel special that they were producing. And profiting from. That's not just sleazy, it's unethical. And Lester Holt and Ben Fogle are sleazy scumbags for refusing to disclose NBC's financial interest in Wallenda's walk.
And once again, maybe Lester should have concentrated more on reading the news than promoting NBC-produced shows. During a story about the Dayton Air Show crash, he described the wing-walker who was killed as Jane "Walker", rather than Jane Wicker, her actual name.
Monday 6/24/13--Before the second commercial break, Brian Williams said, "We're back in a moment with news of a big loss in the entertainment world." A big loss? Is it Barbra Streisand? Tony Bennett? No--it was Gary David Goldberg. Who? He was the creator of "Family Ties"--a show that ran on NBC in the 1980's. No disrespect to Goldberg's family, but he isn't a big loss. Hardly anyone knows who he is. The only reason Brian reported this story was to boost sales of "Family Ties" DVD's and other memorabilia at the NBC on-line store. And just to whet our appetites, this 45-second story included 25 seconds of "Family Ties" clips. We all love Michael J. Fox, right? Right.
Later, Brian reported that Paul Giamatti would be joining the cast of "Downton Abbey" next season. The story featured lots of "Downton Abbey" clips. But Brian neglected to mention one little fact: "Downton Abbey" is produced by Carnival Films--which is owned by NBC/Universal. So Brian used Nightly News to promote an NBC property without disclosing NBC's involvement. Sleazebag.
Brian also reported a 30-second story on Paula Deen's crumbling empire. He ended the story by telling us that Deen would be appearing on Wednesday's "Today Show". Brian had already spent 2:30 reporting on Deen's troubles on Friday's Nightly News, but this "news story" allowed him to promote "Today". Shameful.
Brian ended Monday's Nightly News with a 2:15 story--I should say another story--on Nik Wallenda's Sunday tightrope walk across the not-quite-Grand Canyon (at least Brian admitted it was "across a gorge NEAR the Grand Canyon"). As was the case with Lester Holt and Ben Fogle, Neither Brian nor correspondent/shill Anne Thompson (who reported the story) disclosed that NBC had produced Sunday's Discovery Channel Special, although Thompson made sure to tell us that 13 million people had watched and that it had been seen in 217 countries. So that's the second "news story" on Wallenda's walk in two days--4:35 of prime news time wasted on a story whose only purpose was to promote an NBC-produced show. But why would Brian and his producers bother promoting a show that had already aired? Because in this day and age, TV shows are never really over (except for "Rock Center", Brian's failed exercise in narcissism). Discovery's "Skywire Live" special continues to air on Discovery On Demand--along with lots of "extras" and behind-the-scenes clips. So any additional ad revenue that Discovery derives from the repeat airings, DVD's, etc., will certainly be shared by NBC.
So let's recap: Monday's Nightly News was an opportunity for Brian Williams to plug "Family Ties" DVD's, Downton Abbey and Discovery's "Skywire Live" special. That's a pretty good day for NBC.
Here's a little irony: On Sunday and Monday, Lester Holt and Brian Williams both reported on the start of the George Zimmerman trial. And after their stories, they each read this disclaimer: "We should note that George Zimmerman has sued NBC/Universal, the parent company of NBC News, for defamation. The company has strongly denied his allegations." What Brian and Lester are referring to is Zimmerman's lawsuit against NBC for intentionally altering his 911 tapes to make him appear racist. (Even after this became public, Brian and Lester never once acknowledged on the air that this misdeed had actually taken place.) So when it comes to offering a weaselly denial/disclosure that helps NBC, Brian and Lester are more than willing. But when it comes to disclosing that NBC is producing "Downton Abbey" and the Discovery "Skywire Live" special, they suddenly become tight-lipped. Brian Williams and Lester Holt are scumbags of the highest order.