Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why I Didn't Like Fleetwood Mac In The Summer Of '77

   In the summer of 1977, I went on a teen tour across Europe, a follow-up to my successful 1976 teen tour of the U.S.  For those not familiar with teen tours in the '70's, it was a group of several dozen teenagers guided across Europe (or some other continent) by a woefully inadequate number of adult chaperones (three, in our case), while the tour operators huddled in their New York offices and prayed that no one died.  My memory of all the specific cities we visited is a bit hazy, although I recall being in London, Paris, Rome, Munich, Vienna, Bern, Amsterdam and Madrid.  (I would consult my photos for verification except that I don't have any.  During a reunion with some of my tour-mates the following year, I asked a friend of mine to hold my photos in her bag during dinner and I forgot to get them back before we said goodbye.  I haven't seen her since.)
   While we did a good part of our traveling by plane that summer, we also spent a lot of time on a chartered bus driven by a German guy named Hans (although most of the girls on the tour called him "Hands" because he was always trying to grope their titten und arschen).  Our bus was equipped with a cassette deck and a decent sound system, but because we weren't told about this amenity in advance, we only had 4 tapes among the 3 dozen-or-so teens on the tour.  These were the pre-Walkman days when people didn't routinely travel with cassettes because a high-tech portable cassette player looked like this:

 
   Our music choices that summer were limited to the Beatles' 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (affectionately known as the "Red" and "Blue" albums) and Fleetwood Mac's 1975 eponymous album and its follow-up, Rumours.  (I can't recall whose tapes they were, but I'm guessing that one person brought the Beatles tapes and another person brought the Fleetwood Mac tapes, because if four people had randomly brought those four tapes it would have been a really weird coincidence.  Or maybe one person brought all four tapes.  It was 39 years ago.  I really don't remember.)  On the bus there were two distinct camps: Those (including myself) who always wanted to hear the Beatles, and those who always wanted to hear Fleetwood Mac.  (There was a smaller contingent of 4 or 5 girls from Florida who were obsessed with Bad Company, but unfortunately for them we didn't have any Bad Company tapes.)  As soon as we took our seats for the start of a bus trip, the shouts would begin: "Beatles Red!" "Beatles Blue!" "Fleetwood Mac Rumours!" "Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac!"  (No one ever shouted out "Fleetwood Mac eponymous!")  Over the course of the summer, I would guess that we probably heard each album about the same number of times, but at the time, it seemed like Fleetwood Mac was always playing and that the Beatles were hardly ever playing.
   Prior to the summer of '77, I sort of liked Fleetwood Mac.  I wasn't a huge fan, but I certainly didn't dislike them, like some of my friends who dismissed them as "that California easy-listening faux-rock shit."  It would, of course, have been impossible to listen to pop/rock radio in the mid-to-late '70's without hearing a healthy dose of their songs (at the time, my radio station of choice was New York's WPLJ-FM) and I was certainly not immune to the catchy charms of "Monday Morning," "Second Hand News," "Over My Head," "Don't Stop" or any of Stevie Nicks's shawl-encrusted songs about lost love, witches or past lives.  I have a vague recollection of seeing them do a filmed concert performance (later called a "music video") of "Rhiannon" on "The Midnight Special" in 1976.  That may have been the first time I saw Fleetwood Mac perform, as opposed to just hearing the radio versions of their songs.  I don't exactly remember what I thought of that 1976 performance at the time, but now it's nothing short of amazing.  I only wish that the editor had included more shots of Stevie dancing during the instrumental break, because the close-up of Christine's hands playing piano isn't particularly stimulating.  (I'd also like to go back in time 40+ years and tell Stevie that "Love can be unkind" would be a good rhyme for "Dreams unwind," but I think the song turned out pretty good without my help.)



   During that teen tour summer, however, I grew to resent the Fleetwood Mac supporters and, by extension, the band itself.  I saw my pro-Mac tour-mates as obstacles whose main goal was to rock-block me from hearing those 54 exquisite Beatles songs over and over and over.  And then over again.  (Ironically, though, one of the rituals among my friends and I that summer was to form a circle with our arms around each other and sway back and forth while shout-singing "The Chain."  At the time, I thought that we could have just as easily picked "A Day in the Life" or "Let It Be" as our group song, but in retrospect there was something about the droning melody and lyrical simplicity of "The Chain" that readily lent itself to teen rituals like dancing around in a circle or slaughtering farm animals.)
 
 
   While I didn't exactly hate the band or their songs, I opposed them in the way one might root against a college sports rival.  You always want your team to win, and that summer, my team only had a .500 record.  I carried my Fleetwood Macrimony through my college years and into the mid-'80's, but sometime around 1987–the year Lindsey left the band–my distaste for them faded and I once again found myself able to appreciate and enjoy their songs (the two events were completely unrelated–I'm certain that Lindsey didn't leave Fleetwood Mac because the band was back in my good graces).
   In fact, when Fleetwood Mac reunited for the The Dance in 1997, I became mildly obsessed with them.  I used to study that concert video like the Zapruder film, looking to discern subtle meaning from the body language and looks exchanged between Lindsey and Stevie, especially on "Landslide."  (I also found Mick fascinating, with his glaring eyes and intense facial expressions, but Christine and John not so much.  They seemed remote and disinterested–not only in each other, but in the songs, as well.)  A woman who lived in my building at the time was similarly obsessed with The Dance, and we used to watch the video together in her living room while mimicking Lindsey and Stevie's mannerisms and stage moves  (I usually got to be Lindsey).  At the end of "Landslide," we would even exchange the "Thank you Lindsey"/"Thank you Stevie" closing salutations–just like the real Lindsey and Stevie!  (Watching that video today makes me nostalgic not just for that time in my life, but for that time–and earlier times–in Lindsey and Stevie's lives.)  My friend and I thought our Lindsey/Stevie moves were pretty slick, but in hindsight, we were probably like a couple of out-of-shape exercisers who thought they were doing a good job keeping up with "The 20 Minute Workout." 
 
 
(Although I must admit that I still think I did a pretty good job of swinging my imaginary guitar neck from one side of the mic stand to the other, like Lindsey did [at 5:04] during "Silver Springs."  I owned that move.)
 
 
   Decades removed from my anti-Mac bias of the late '70's and '80's, I have now come to realize that Lindsey (with his strummy-picky-plucky playing style) is one of the great guitarists of his era and "Go Your Own Way" is one of the great songs of the 1970's, although for 25 years I was mis-hearing the song's lyrics.  Whereas Lindsey was singing "Loving you/Isn't the right thing to do" and "You can go your own way/Go your own way," I had thought he was singing "Loving you/Is the right thing to do" and "You can go your own way/Don't go away" which would have made it one of those passive-aggressive "go/don't go" songs, instead of the straightforward end-of-a-relationship song that it is.  I'm grateful for the lyrics sites on the internet that finally allowed me to learn the actual words to that song and others.  (For example, it was nice to find out what Mick was singing on "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Gimme Shelter."  And for years I thought that the "Honky Tonk Women" line "I laid a divorcee in New York City" was "I later did four straight in New York City.")  But keep in mind that not all lyrics sites get the lyrics–or titles–right:


The version of "Go Your Own Way" from The Dance is my favorite live version of the song, not only because of Lindsey's exuberant guitar playing and enthusiastic stage-roaming, but also because of Mick's incredible drumming (with a percussive assist from Lindsey at the end).
 

   I don't own any Fleetwood Mac studio albums, I've never seen them in concert, and the radio station I currently listen to rarely plays them, but  it seems that they're destined to enter my life–for better or worse–every 20 years.  So now I'm curious what they have planned for 2017.  Maybe a Rumours fortieth anniversary tour.  If that happens, perhaps I'll get in touch with some of my old tour-mates and arrange a reunion with them at one of those concerts.  And maybe then I'll finally get my photos back.
 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Some Thoughts On Brian Williams' Successor At NBC Nightly News

Now that Brian Williams has been exposed as a self-aggrandizing liar and has become the laughingstock of the internet (and has decided to take a leave of absence as detailed in this memo: http://press.nbcnews.com/2015/02/07/a-personal-note-from-brian-williams/), the NBC powers-that-be are, of course, huddled in their caves desperately reading the tea leaves and trying to figure out a way to salvage the shining jewel of their news empire.  At for-profit network news organizations, ratings are just as important as they are in the entertainment divisions because they determine ad rates and affect lead-ins to prime-time programming.  And even though Brian's crown is now badly tarnished, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Nightly News's ratings have gone up in the days since Brian's lie was exposed.  People love seeing a pompous news-ebrity knocked off his haughty pedestal by a phantom RPG and I'm sure that many viewers have recently tuned in to Nightly News in the hope that they can catch Brian telling another lie, or perhaps get the chance to see him fall on his sword on live TV.  Nightly News is now the season's hottest reality show.  But the long-term effect of Brian's plunge from grace will ultimately be measured in dollars.  If Nightly News cedes its top spot in the all-important Nielsen ratings, NBC News President Deborah Turness and Chairperson Pat Fili-Krushel won't hesitate to David Gregory Brian's ass (assuming he returns from his leave of absence).  Even if Nightly News maintains its slim ratings lead over David Muir's ABC World News, the question remains as to whether Nightly News can continue with a damaged anchor who is trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons.  If Turness and Fili-Krushel do decide to make a change, I can think of a few worthy candidates--and some less-worthy ones, as well.  (Like many people, I would love to see Tom Brokaw back in the Nightly News anchor chair, but considering his age and recent health problems, that seems unlikely.)


Brian Williams reporting on "Stolen Valor" on the 2/22/12 NBC Nightly News...

...and in a later photo.

Lester Holt: Holt has over 30 years' experience as a reporter and anchor, including 14 years as a local news anchor in Chicago.  For the past seven years, he has anchored the Nightly News weekend edition and ably filled in back in 2013 when Brian needed shoulder surgery from constantly patting himself on the back.  Despite my occasional criticism of Holt, he is a skilled and smooth anchor who I believe has earned the right to move into the weekday anchor chair should that spot open up.  He has a good sense of humor, although, unlike Brian Williams, he is not desperate to appear funny and does not report gratuitous news stories for the sole purpose of leading up to a punch line.  Holt is concise where Brian is verbose, and understated where Brian is grandiose.  His affability seems genuine, rather than part of a calculated persona to be donned every night before airtime.  Ironically, Holt is an accomplished pilot and musician, two things that Brian desperately dreams of being.  Holt's main drawback is that he may not be thought of as a strong enough personality (meaning ratings-grabber) to be the public face of NBC News.



Ted Koppel: As a well-respected and veteran news anchor, Koppel would instantly return prestige and credibility to the NBC Nightly News anchor chair (which I would argue has been missing for a lot longer than three days).  Koppel has recently worked as a special correspondent for Nightly News and "Rock Center" (also known as "Brian's Folly"), so he has an association with NBC News.  Despite some accusations that as Nightline anchor he was a mouthpiece for the U.S. government, there's no doubt that Koppel would bring some much-needed gravitas to Nightly News.  However, even if Koppel was interested in the job, it seems unlikely that he could stomach the constant litany of idiotic stories that he would be required to read about dogs, celebrities, viral YouTube videos and Allison Williams' latest NBC role.  The main drawback to hiring Koppel is that at age 74, he is less likely to attract and maintain the all-important 25-to-54-year-old ratings demo that is so important to news broadcasts.



Charles Gibson: In my opinion, Gibson was the best network news anchor in the post-Rather/Jennings/Brokaw era.  He was the last of the hardy journalist-anchors who once dominated evening newscasts.  When Gibson signed off for the last time as ABC World News anchor in late 2009 after a 3½-year stint, it occurred to me that I knew nothing about him.  I didn't know if he preferred dogs or cats or ferrets.  I didn't know what his favorite football team was, or if he even liked football.  I didn't know anything about his family.  I didn't know if he drank beer, wine or scotch.  I didn't know anything about his favorite charities.  Because I shouldn't.  There's no need for viewers to have that information.  Of course, Brian Williams shares that information (and more) on a nightly basis.  He constantly self-references in a desperate effort to make himself seem appealing to viewers by presenting a faux working-class, blue-collar, regular-guy image.  A guy you'd love to have a (domestic) beer with.  "If you're a Giants fan like me...," "For those of us who love dogs...," "As a hockey fan...," "For those of us who drive...," "The huge ATM fees banks get from all of us..." and "All of us who pay taxes..." are among the expressions Brian uses to insinuate himself into news stories and come off as an average Joe.  You would never catch Charles Gibson using a cheap trick like that.  But like Koppel, Gibson's age (71) would not make him a good draw for the coveted younger viewers.



Gwen Ifill: Ifill spent five years with NBC News in the 1990's, but she has been with PBS since 1999.  As an African American woman, Ifill would certainly bring a much-needed perspective to the anchor chair, but a PBS anchor moving to a network presents problems for both parties.  Network executives may conclude that a PBS anchor would be perceived as too elitist and liberal for their viewers, while a PBS anchor may not want to read the type of pointless drivel that passes for news on the networks.



Here are a few longshot candidates:

Donald Trump: With no experience as a news anchor, Trump may seem like an unlikely choice.  But what could be more natural than replacing the biggest ego at NBC with the second-biggest ego?  It would be an easy transition for Nightly News viewers, who are already accustomed to having their news delivered by a self-promoting narcissist.  It should also be noted that Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" regularly had better prime-time ratings than Brian's "Rock Center".



Ann Curry:  Curry was unceremoniously dumped as a "Today Show" anchor in 2012 and recently left NBC to form her own production company.  But America loves a comeback.  Or at least, in this case, might be willing to tolerate one.  Curry's main drawback is that she isn't a very good news anchor.  She talks too fast, slurs her words, mispronounces names and combines words to form new words (she once transformed "Obama Administration" into "Obaministration").  But this may not be an insurmountable problem since network news anchors rarely say anything of importance, anyway.  And Curry has perfected the look of fake concern that is so vitally important to news anchors who pretend to care about the people they exploit.



Jon Stewart:  Since Stewart was recently offered the moderator's job on "Meet the Press", it's no secret that NBC covets Stewart's talent.  And Stewart (for the next two years, anyway) is actually part of the much-desired 25-to-54-year-old Nielsen demographic.  A 2009 Time magazine poll listed Stewart as the nation's most trusted newsperson--ahead of even Brian Williams, who had not yet been widely exposed as a liar.  Tapping Stewart to anchor Nightly News could create an interesting situation--Brian could then lobby for the open anchor spot at "The Daily Show" since he believes that he is the funniest person in America.



Michael Douglas:  Douglas is already familiar to Nightly News viewers as the voice that introduces Brian most nights, so he would be a natural choice to replace Brian.  As an added bonus, Douglas could report news stories in the voices of the characters he has played on television and in the movies.  He could report financial news as Gordon Gekko, crime and law enforcement news as Inspector Steve Keller, adventure stories as Jack Colton, music news as Liberace and political news as President Andrew Shepherd.  And if he's feeling ironic, he could hire Brian to introduce him each night.



The million-dollar question (Brian's monthly salary) is: Can Brian Williams hang on?  At this point, no one can say.  Brian's strategy in dealing with public relations problems (such as the self-enriching agendas of NBC News's military consultants or the doctoring of George Zimmerman's 911 tapes) has always been to ignore them and wait until they blow over.  But that may not be possible as long as #BrianWilliamsMisremembers continues to trend on twitter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Brian Williams Is A Serial Panderer On NBC Nightly News

On 12/1/14, Brian Williams ended NBC Nightly News with a very important news story.  It was a story about Farmersonly.com--a dating site for farmers.  Here's how Brian introduced the story:

"Finally tonight--how many Americans this Thanksgiving paused right before digging into stuffing to think about where the wheat came from to make the bread to make the stuffing?  Well, the answer is: A farm in America where someone cares about that crop.  Someone turns in at night before dark and gets up the next morning before sunrise to care for that crop--and that's during a good year.  Farming life isn't for everyone and cultivating a meaningful relationship can be tough.  That is where a new website comes in as we hear tonight from bona fide Midwesterner Harry Smith."

Anyone who's watched Nightly News more than a handful of times knows that Brian is a serial panderer.  A fawning, obsequious toady who will ingratiate himself with any demographic that can boost his Nielsen ratings.  On this night, farmers got the nod.  Some of his other favorite targets for pandering include sports fans (especially fans of so-called blue-collar sports like football, hockey and NASCAR), car owners (most often American cars like Chevys, Chryslers and especially the Ford F-150 pickup) and Rust Belt or Midwestern cities (the "good people" or "hardy souls" of Detroit, Buffalo, Chicago and Minnesota are frequently singled out for praise).  Brian loves to pander, but, of course, being Brian, he does so in a narcissistic, self-referential way.  He'll extol your sports team, car or city while craftily painting himself as a clock-punchin', jeans-wearin', beer-drinkin' good ol' boy--albeit one whose annual salary has been estimated at $13 million per year.  He loves to burnish his faux-working-class image by using phrases like, "For those of us who love football...," "For all of us who've ever loved a Mustang" and "Those of who enjoy riding up high [in a Chevy Suburban]."  Yes, Brian is just like you--the middle-American, sports-loving, working-class viewer he's pandering to.  In fact, you and Brian have something else in common--you both love watching Brian every night on the TV news.

Here's what Brian said on the 7/9/13 Nightly News after a map on the previous day's broadcast omitted New Hampshire:

"And this calls for a reminder of great things about New Hampshire: It's got the best motto--'Live Free Or Die'--and it is the home of the first-in-the-nation primary.  Its entire elected delegation is women--Governor, two U.S. Senators and members of Congress.  And while they are all serious people, New Hampshire has also given us Seth Meyers and Sarah Silverman.  And the inventor of Tupperware is from there and paper towels were invented in New Hampshire.  So to the great people of the great state of New Hampshire--from the peaks of the White Mountains to the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee--please accept our apology."  It should be noted that Brian pronounced "Lake Winnipesaukee" with a fake New England accent, because his superior ego just can't resist the urge to mock the people he's pandering to.

Brian probably doesn't have many Canadian viewers, but that didn't prevent him from saying this on the 7/1/14 Nightly News:

"If you've been unable to reach a Canadian friend today, that's because it's Canada Day, celebrated throughout the land by our neighbors to the north in a number of ways--including beverage consumption.  In the hands down best video of the day, which we have put on our website tonight, two brothers from Canada--one of them a national hero--celebrate their nation in song.  Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and his brother Dave composed and recorded a song called 'In Canada'--as you might have gathered.  And it will make you happy because it's as sweet as maple syrup and they embrace their own wholesomeness and corniness and their own unabashed love of country."

And here's how Brian began Nightly News on 11/19/14:

"Good evening.  The people of Buffalo, New York don't scare easily.  President McKinley was assassinated there in 1901 and they moved on.  They have loved their Buffalo Bills from the good years through the bad years and now that they're good again.  They have given the world not only Tim Russert, but also Wolf Blitzer.  And while Buffalo is a tough town, they may have finally met their match.  A relentless snow storm has dropped nearly six feet of snow coming right in off the lake with upwards of two more feet on the way.  Daily life has simply come to a halt for many across a big area and the storm has already cost several lives.  It is officially a state of emergency tonight across a whole region."

Now, if Brian Williams hasn't heaped a proverbial ton of praise on the place where you live, don't feel bad.  It doesn't mean that you're not hardy, tough or nice.  It doesn't mean that you scare easily.  It doesn't mean that you don't live in a great (or iconic) American city or that you and your neighbors aren't good people.  It doesn't mean that you don't love football or Chevys.  It just means that Brian hasn't yet gotten around to pandering to your particular town, city or state.  But he will.  Sooner or later.  Remember Brian's motto:  So many places to pander to, so little time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Brian Williams Reports Breaking News on NBC Nightly News

Here are two breaking news stories that Brian Williams reported on the Nov. 5, 2014 edition of NBC Nightly News:

Story #1:  "The first newly-restored victim of that awful sinkhole in the Corvette museum is all fixed up and now on public display.  It's an '09 ZR1--a rocket ship they call the Blue Devil.  It was the least damaged of all the cars and required six weeks of work to replace the damaged parts."

(I should point out that it is insensitive and inappropriate, to say the least, for Brian Williams to refer to a Corvette as a "rocket ship" a mere five days after a Virgin Galactic test pilot died in the crash of an actual rocket ship.)

Story #2:  "A giant has been sacrificed in Pennsylvania so that it may entertain millions here in New York.  A couple in Bloomsburg, PA [sic] donated the 85-foot Norway Spruce and after a three-hour drive, they'll set it up in our backyard here at 30 Rock and they will light it up on December 3."

It should be noted that on this night, Brian Williams did not report any news from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Ukraine, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea.  In fact, he did not report any news at all from South America, Europe, Eastern (or Southeastern) Asia or Africa.  He did, however, introduce a brief 84-second story about violent clashes in Israel.  This is notable because it is the first foreign news story that had been reported on NBC Nightly News in eight days.  Meanwhile, here are some of the other important news stories that Brian and Lester Holt reported in that time:

➜Crash test dummies are being made larger to represent the increasing girth of the American public. (24 secs)
➜LeBron James played his first game of the season in his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. (14 secs)
➜A Washington University study revealed that scratching an itch can cause a person to want to scratch it even more. (18 secs)
➜John Spinello, who created the board game "Operation", is himself in need of an operation.  Some of his friends who are toy executives and inventors have contributed money to help him pay for the surgery. (2:16)
➜As part of their annual Halloween show, the hosts of The Today Show dressed up as Saturday Night Live characters. (38 secs)
➜Millions of Americans are buying Halloween costumes for their dogs, including correspondent Janet Shamlian, who dressed her yellow lab Bella as a bumblebee. (1:50)
➜Babe Ruth's first Yankee contract is going up for auction. (27 secs)
➜NBC sponsor Walmart is implementing major price rollbacks for the holiday season. (1:52)
➜In Alexandria, VA, there is an exercise gym for dogs. (2:10)
➜We saw a preview of Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk between two Chicago buildings.  (NBC News's Peacock Productions is producing the Wallenda special for The Discovery Channel.) (3:10)
➜This was followed, a day later, by a recap of Wallenda's tightrope walk. (16 secs)
➜Tom Cruise did a daring stunt (clinging to the exterior of a flying plane) for "Mission Impossible 5". (24 secs)
➜Two NASCAR drivers got into a brawl following a race at Texas Motor Speedway. (29 secs)
➜A girl with terminal brain cancer played in a college basketball game and scored several baskets. (2:13)
➜A baby hippo was born in the L.A. Zoo. (31 secs)
➜A Minnesota car dealership gave a job to a 17-year-old mentally challenged young man who loves cars. (2:12)

Altogether, these stories took up 19:24 of news time, which is the length of an entire NBC Nightly News broadcast (when commercials and promotional material are filtered out).  So Nightly News may have gone eight days without reporting any foreign news stories, but at least we got to see dogs working out in a gym and Kathie Lee & Hoda dressed as Wayne & Garth.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

What Brian Williams and NBC Nightly News Reported On In July

Without comment or editorial, I present this partial list of stories that Brian Williams and NBC Nightly News reported during July, 2014:

Miscellaneous:
➣Lightning strikes--4 stories (in addition to being included in 4 other stories)
➣Prince George--3 stories
➣The Supermoon--3 stories
➣Dust storms--2 stories
➣Kansas City's Verr├╝ckt water slide--2 stories
➣Manhattanhenge--1 story
➣Swimming babies--1 story
➣Scenic tour of Route 66--1 story
➣Mayfly swarm in Wisconsin--1 story
➣5-year-old girl crying because she doesn't want her baby brother to grow up--1 story

Animals:
➣Whales--2 stories
➣Bear cub with its head stuck in a cookie jar--1 story
➣Panda cub--1 story
➣Wolf pups--1 story
➣Surfing dog--1 story

Movies and TV Shows:
➣The Emmys (to air on NBC Aug. 25)--1 story
➣"Jaws" (released by NBC/Universal in 1975)--1 story
➣"50 Shades of Grey" (to be released next Feb. by NBC/Universal's Focus Features)--1 story
➣"When Harry Met Sally"--1 story
➣"Sharknado 2" (which aired on the NBC-owned SyFy Channel)--1 story
➣"Peter Pan" (to air on NBC Dec. 4 and starring Brian Williams' daughter Allison)--1 story
➣"A Hard Day's Night"--1 story
➣"Seinfeld"--1 story
➣"Boyhood"--1 story

Celebrities & Athletes:
➣Tracy Morgan--2 stories
➣George Clooney--1 story
➣Robert Redford--1 story
➣Adele--1 story
➣Jimmy Fallon/Halle Berry--1 story
➣LeBron James--2 stories
➣Derek Jeter--2 stories
➣George Harrison--1 story

The total time for all these stories combined was 47 minutes 38 seconds, which is the equivalent of more than two entire Nightly News broadcasts. However, in July, Nightly News did not report a single story on:

➢Syria
➢Egypt
➢Pakistan
➢India
➢China
➢Taiwan
➢Iran
➢Thailand
➢Sudan
➢South Sudan
➢Kenya
➢South Africa
➢Mali
➢Somalia

On the NBC News Twitter feed (@NBCNews), the moderators describe it as, "A leading source of global news and information for more than 75 years." The NBC Nightly News Twitter feed (@NBCNightlyNews) makes no such claim--the moderators simply refer to the broadcast as, "America's most-watched evening news broadcast."

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.