Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Brian Williams Insults Jews, African Americans And Latinos On NBC Nightly News

On NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams often reports stories about inappropriate action or speech directed at religious, ethnic and racial groups.  He has already reported on Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Sterling's racist comments, and we can expect Brian to continue reporting this story in the coming weeks.  Not only will he report it, but he will do so with outrage and derision.  Because Brian Williams is a fair and just man with no biases or prejudices against any group.  Or so he would have us believe.  As we watch Brian report on Donald Sterling's comments, we should take a moment to remember some of Brian's own inappropriate comments.

On January 26, 2009, Brian wrote one of his Daily Nightly blog posts titled "Old man river at Obama's inauguration".  (http://dailynightly.nbcnews.com/_news/2009/01/26/4373517-old-man-river-at-obamas-inauguration?lite.)  (The blog's title referred to Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who was a guest at President Obama's first inauguration.)  A brief history lesson for Brian: The lyrics for the song "Old Man River" (also known as "Ol' Man River") were written by Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1927 play "Showboat".  And although the song was later sanitized, the original lyrics were extremely racist and even included the vile "n" word to describe African Americans.  It hardly seems appropriate for America's most trusted news anchor to reference a once-racist song title in a blog post about the inauguration of our nation's first African American president.

Later that year, speaking at the 2009 Nantucket Film Festival (as reported by the 6/22/09 bostonherald.com website [http://business.highbeam.com/3972/article-1G1-202214900/nbc-newsguy-steals-show-nantucket]), Brian told his audience, "Welcome to the Nantucket Film Festival--where Jews come to be honored.  Nantucket is actually a Yiddish word meaning where the WASPS live."  Isn't he hilarious?  That Brian--such a badchen!

And on May 29, 2013, Brian reported an NBC Nightly News story about President Obama having lipstick on his collar during a public appearance.  (Let's ignore the fact that this didn't remotely qualify as a news story and it didn't belong on a national newscast.  Obviously, Brian Williams makes a living reporting frivolous stories with no news value.)  During his introduction to the story, Brian said, "The President of the United States had a bit of splainin' to do last night...."  The reference was familiar to "I Love Lucy" fans--Desi Arnaz's Ricky would often tell Lucille Ball's character that she had some "splainin'" to do.  (Senator Tom Coburn had also used "splainin'" while questioning Sonia Sotomayor during Ms. Sotomayor's 2009 Senate confirmation hearing.  Coburn's use of that word set off a firestorm of criticism that the word was insulting to Ms. Sotomayor's Latina heritage.)  I don't think there's any question that this word is derogatory and insulting to Latinos and Latinas.  It's no different than affecting an exaggerated Chinese or Italian accent to mock a person from China or Italy.  It's surprising--not to mention disappointing--that Brian actually had the nerve to use this offensive word on a network newscast.

So as we watch Brian Williams reporting on Donald Sterling's racist remarks this week, let us not forget some of Brian's own words.  Of course, his comments raise a larger question: If these are the types of things Brian is saying in public, what exactly is he saying in private?

Friday, April 18, 2014

NBC Nightly News's Dr. Nancy Snyderman Is A Shill For Merck

On Thursday, April 17, 2014, NBC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman reported a story about allergies for NBC Nightly News.  During this story, she informed us that allergy shots could alleviate allergy symptoms.  Then she added this: "But now there are alternatives to injections.  Two new prescription pills just approved by the FDA treat certain grass pollen allergies.  Both melt under the tongue.  Grastek is for ages 5 years to 65, Oralair for ages 10 to 65.  Another, Ragwitek is approved for ragweed pollen."  During Snyderman's narration, three animated prescription pads appeared on the screen, each prominently containing the name and logo of the drugs she had just described.  Two of these drugs--Grastek and Ragwitek--are manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Merck (Oralair is manufactured by Stallergenes and distributed in the U.S. by Greer Laboratories).

Exactly one minute after Snyderman's story concluded, Nightly News aired a commercial for Shinglesinfo.com--a pseudo-informational website sponsored by Merck that contains a link to another site for the shingles vaccine drug Zostavax, which is (not surprisingly) manufactured by Merck.  Five minutes after the shingles ad, Nightly News aired a commercial for Dr. Scholl's P.R.O. Pain Relief Orthotics--another Merck product.  There was a precedent for Snyderman's dubious behavior: She had previously plugged Merck's Grastek in an allergy story that aired on the 12/11/13 Nightly News, a broadcast that also carried a commercial for Merck's Oxytrol.

It seems pretty obvious what's happening here.  At the very least, Snyderman made a point of plugging one of NBC's big sponsors in her allergy stories.  But I suspect a much less innocuous situation.  I believe that both of these allergy stories were concocted by the NBC Advertising and Marketing Department for the sole purpose of plugging newly-approved Merck drugs.  They may have even been part of a package deal.  NBC could have offered Merck a certain number of weekly or monthly ads on Nightly News--plus one or more in-story promotional plugs--for a special rate.  Certainly a plug from NBC News's Chief Medical Editor offers gravitas--a tremendous benefit for a pharmaceutical company whose products are fighting for attention alongside all the other products that are crammed into a 2½ minute commercial break.  And many (if not most) viewers ignore or zip through commercials, so an in-story product placement virtually guarantees that people will be watching.

Even before these allergy stories, Snyderman had already shilled for Merck.  On 6/4/13, she reported a Nightly News story about the benefits of sunscreen as a skin protector and anti-aging agent.  That report began with a clip from a Bain de Soleil ad (including the familiar jingle "Bain de Soleil for that Saint-Tropez tan").  Later in the story, the camera panned across a well-placed studio array of seven bottles of sunscreen, including three bottles of Coppertone--which were prominently positioned in front of the other sunscreens.  Both Bain de Soleil and Coppertone were, at the time, manufactured by Merck [Note: As of July, 2014, Coppertone was acquired by Bayer].  Eight minutes after Snyderman's story aired, Nightly News ran a commercial for the aforementioned Dr. Scholl's P.R.O. Pain Relief Orthotics--which are (as previously noted) also a Merck product.  This is no coincidence.  NBC Nightly News producers, anchors and correspondents have a history of using "news stories" to plug NBC sponsors' products.  (For a detailed list of NBC Nightly News plugs and product placements, see this blog's 6/12/13 entry: "Brian Williams Uses Product Placements In NBC Nightly News Stories" or click on this link: http://nightly-daily.blogspot.com/2013/06/brian-williams-and-his-producers.html.)

But please don't get the idea that Merck is the only company that Snyderman shills for.  On 1/2/13, Nightly News aired Snyderman's story on fructose.  It included ad clips for Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers and the weight-loss drug Alli--which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline--a frequent NBC advertiser and Nightly News in-broadcast sponsor.  A 7/15/13 Snyderman story on high blood pressure included a plug for Fritos (ironic, to say the least).  Her 8/2/13 story on gluten-free food options prominently featured gluten-free products like Ian's, Amy's, Glutino, Tastykake and Mi-Del.  On 8/10/13, Snyderman's story on new health insurance choices included 30 seconds of interior and exterior shots of a Starbucks.  Her 9/3/13 story on Diana Nyad featured a Dairy Queen plug.  On 1/15/14, Snyderman reported an alarmist story about how acetaminophen (most frequently sold in the U.S. as Tylenol) can damage the liver.  This story was clearly meant to hurt Tylenol and help its competitor Aleve--a pain-relief product manufactured by regular Nightly News sponsor Bayer.  On 2/27/14, she again railed about the dangers of acetaminophen.

It's shameful that any NBC producer, anchor or correspondent would use a news broadcast to plug a network sponsor, but it's even more shameful when done by a medical correspondent--and a physician, no less.  Of course, if NBC is, in fact, getting paid for these in-story product placements, that elevates the situation from shameful to unethical, and perhaps even to the point of illegality.  I don't see how viewers can possibly trust Nancy Snyderman to report honestly and objectively when one of her primary goals seems to be promoting the products of NBC sponsors.

UPDATE 10/13/14: Since this post was originally published, Nancy Snyderman has continued to plug pharmaceutical companies and other NBC advertisers in her NBC Nightly News stories.

5/30/14: Snyderman reported a story that plugged the hormone therapy drug Zoladex. Zoladex is manufactured by AstraZeneca, maker of Crestor, Prilosec, Nexium and Symbicort--all of which currently advertise or did advertise on Nightly News and other NBC-owned networks.

7/1/14: A Snyderman story on allergies included a plug for Xolair, made by Novartis/Genentech.  Novartis also makes Theraflu, Excedrin, Benefiber and Prevacid--products that advertise on NBC.

7/15/14: A Snyderman story about dosage mistakes included a 13-second product placement for Tamiflu--manufactured by Genentech/Roche.

7/29/14: Snyderman's story about skin cancer featured a product placement for Coppertone sunscreen, which Bayer had acquired from Merck earlier that month.  Snyderman didn't waste any time shilling for Bayer--which is Nightly News's biggest sponsor.

8/29/14: During her report on walk-in medical clinics, Snyderman spent 40 seconds specifically plugging Walmart's walk-in medical clinics.  Walmart is a big NBC advertiser.