The Daily Nightly from NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams

About this blog

The Daily Nightly began on May 31, 2005. As Brian wrote in his first post it aims to provide a narrative of the broadcast day and a window into the editorial process at NBC Nightly News. Brian weighs in every weekday and NBC News correspondents and producers post regularly.

Brian Williams became the seventh anchor and managing editor in the history of NBC Nightly News on December 2, 2004. Read his full biography.

Dress rehearsal

My day, at least editorially, started just after I'd chosen a spot on the couch for the 9:30 a.m. editorial daily planning meeting. I arrived early and was finishing up the newspapers when an e-mail came into my BlackBerry -- it was from a producer in our control room, watching the incoming feed from Iraq. The President was minutes away from what was billed to us as a "give and take...a back and forth" with soldiers on the ground in Iraq. The e-mail said they were rehearsing their answers to the President's questions. It went on to say they were receiving coaching from yet-unnamed government officials on HOW to deliver their lines once the President appeared.

We've all been party to media events and blatant photo ops. Members of the media have known full well when events in the past have been thoroughly scripted to bring about the desired response. While this kind of thing gets reported when germane, it's a given in political campaigns, just as it was a given during the series of town meetings this President held, the guests were invited and questions were at very minimum strongly encouraged by subject manner, if not outwardly planted. It's what the home team gets to do. It's part of politics and both parties have made it something of an art form. In this case, however, the advance billing and final execution were at odds. And what we witnessed -- the comments first rehearsed then repeated verbatim with minor deviations once the President entered the discussion -- was rather stunning to see on television, as viewers will see on our air tonight.

The story developed steam as the day wore on, and as more in the media realized what they'd just witnessed, and the White House briefing reflected it. Press Secretary Scott McClellan has since admitted to our own Kelly O'Donnell that he did NOT know the extent of the situation and how it played on television when he answered reporters'  questions about it today from the podium. Beyond that, I'll let the reporting of Andrea Mitchell speak for itself on tonight's broadcast. 

We also have solid reporting tonight on the run-up to the Iraq elections, the flooding here in the Northeast and the continued suffering in South Asia. And since the suffering continues in the South...two terrific bits of reporting on what people are doing for shelter having lost all in Katrina. For now, duty calls...off to a story conference, and we hope you can join us tonight.

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COMMENTS

I agree with Kip. As Brian Williams said, "In this case, however, the advance billing and final execution were at odds."

In fact, the entire second paragraph in Brian's above posting is truly a remarkable piece of journalism. When the Administration in power is given that much leeway to stage events like those Bush "town hall meetings," and then they still so brazenly cross the fuzzy line -- as they clearly have, here -- I think it is the reporters job to tell it like it is. NBC gave this story proper treatment and I thank them for doing that.

Mr. Williams,
Just WHAT was scripted about this event? The soldiers were NOT given scripts.They were NOT told to rehearse. This was NOT a staged event. The soldiers who did "rehearse" made it clear that they were understandably nervous about speaking with the President. Ms. Barber only advised them to take a breath and try to remain calm. She did ask which soldier would able to best answer the specific questions from Mr. Bush -- I suppose in your mind this aside makes it a choreographed photo-op.

In reading these comments, I think that some are missing the point that the story was BILLED as a "give and take...a back and forth" not as a press conference with soldiers. If the media is being deceived by a source, regardless of their position, they need to be called on it. If you can't trust your leaders (from any party) to tell the truth about little things (like press conferences) how can you expect them to tell the truth about big issues (war)?

I don't know what is more disturbing, the fact that that the administration has to tell soldiers what to say in order to maintain morale or the blind zealotry displayed by the President's followers. I've read response after response where these people excuse or even expect the administration to lie to them as clearly occured in this case. I wish these officers had asked the president a real question such as if he had any idea where to look for WMDs. Which many people forget were the original reason we invaded Iraq. Perhaps the President was on the right track when he was looking for them in the Oval Office.

Leading the broadcast with the press conference story was a mistake. It is certainly important, but the lead should have been on the earthquake in Asia, flooding in NE, or the upcoming vote in Iraq. I know the story about the conference was interesting, but Nightly News should lead with the most important bit of news that happens during the day, not the most interesting. I am a 19-year-old college student, and I have watched Nightly News each evening for many years and I trust NBC more than any other network. However, I hope you do not continue to lead your broadcast with these soft stories, or you will lose my attention. Stay with the important stories, the hard news.

A staged event is a staged event. This administration ONLY does staged events and then they lie about it. I would love to see this President just pop up somewhere unannounced one day and talk to real unrehearsed PEOPLE. Maybe then he would understand why his poll numbers have tanked.

Surely your priorities were wrong last night. 30,000+ people are dead, unknown numbers are suffering in the Pakistan earthquake, aid is slow in arriving and you lead off the broadcast with a piece on how some soldiers rehearsed answers for a chat with the President? Time to take a broader look at what's going on in the world.

Last night's Andrea Mitchell report was only the top of the iceberg. The news media has played just as large a role in these charades, and has become an unwitting accomplice in the spin. I have long maintained that covering the White House is much like sports reporting: you don't bite the hand that feeds you. The fear is, that the harsher the coverage and questions, the less access they will have to the powers-that-be. This needs to be made clear to the public, which is increasingly media savvy but probably does not realize the extent to which the "game" is played.

I was sincerely dismayed to see the Nightly News devote 10 minutes to the non-story of the scripted presidential video conference. That is not news - how about covering stories like the student in Oklahoma that tried to bomb a football stadium? Or the man in California who was making bombs in his condo? Seems a little more important.

Thank Brian for your coverage on this story and the clear way that it was presented. I continue to watch NBC Nightly News because of your efforts on stories. Again, thank you.

Brian: When I saw you in New Orleans and you were telling the truth about what was really happening there, I couldn't believe it , then I saw your Internet article about the staged preformance of this administration. This was and has been obvious to most of Americans , but our media was either afraid to tell us the truth , or their bosses won't let them. Thank you for telling us the truth. It's so refreshing.

The liberal slant of the media is legendary. It is upsetting to many, however, when you use your own agenda to paint innocent people in a poor light. Your reporting of the military's video conference with President Bush was a prime example. In your fervor to paint POTUS in a bad light, you subtly paint those personnel on tape as being disengenuos and accuse them of duplicity. Those personnel were just average Joes & Janes, not accustomed to being in the limelight, with cameras rolling and answering questions & talking to the President. In an effort to spare them possible embarrassment in front of friends, family and the American public, they were given the questions the President would ask. This allowed them to gather their own thoughts, and express themselves as the intelligent human beings that they are.

Presidential events are consistently staged by both the Secret Service (for the protection of the president) and the White House press office (for the benefit of both the president and the media). Every move the president makes is scripted by somebody somewhere. From my reading of the AP report on the story, for the most part, it appears that the U.S. official was simply trying to organize what would take place, such as the order of questioning and if an issue came up, who would take charge, most likely because it was their specialty. You would not want a cook who hasn't left the base in months answering a question from the president about what it is like to go out on a patrol against the insurgency. This is a story that merited mention but also further "digging" to get the facts right on how a presidential event works. I would think that NBC would be willing to correct the record tonight. If not, then the entire staff of Nightly News has failed all Americans looking for a fair newscast.

I can understand how some people would want to defend their president and military and take umbrage with this story. I felt somewhat ambivalent myself as I watched it. But in the end, I was grateful for the way it was presented. Yes, rehearsals take place all the time. It's understandable. But the issue here is that the Bush Administration behaved in a disingenuous manner. And it reflects a pattern of behavior of which we need to be aware and talk about. I'm glad a media outlet is finally willing to do so.

I, too, am grateful and encouraged. The media need to report the truth, not propoganda, even when some viewers don't like it. The truth hurts but it shall also make you free and that's what a democracy is all about. Keep it up, please.

We were watching the "live and unscripted" show and both of us shook our heads in disbelief during the broadcast. Does the administration really think we (the American public) do not think critically? Do they really think the American public is this stupid? It is so depressing to be an American and realize that the entire world is watching this and shaking their heads in amazement as well. Kudos indeed go to you for reporting on this - keep up the good work.

I was delighted and encouraged to see your broadcast lead off with this story. I shouted out loud "It's about time!" It really was courageous of you to run it as the lead pice. Congratulations, your Nightly News gets better and better. They should make it an hour long.

I am glad to see that the mainstream media is finally telling it how it is.

I would really like to thank you for being one of the few newscasts that finally appear to have the courage to start telling the truth of what is happening to this country and how this administration likes to use smoke and mirrors to fake out those voters that refuse to pay attention to the TRUTH.

Brian, how refreshing to see the truth on MSNBC instead of Republican and White House propaganda. Welcome back, to you and Andrea. It's been too long.

I'm glad the media is finally reporting on the scripted media events. What is not true, however, is that both parties engaged in the same kind of scripting during the last political campaign as your post implies. Time after time, Republicans attended Kerry events and asked questions and were given respectful responses. Time after time, Democrats were not even allowed in to see their own President. This administration has presented not only scripted events, but also paid columnists, planted news videos, and outright fake news web sites from the DoD. The media has simply got to report the entire situation in one broad expose'. There is no comparison between what is happening now and anything that has happened in the past. This administration is a danger to the country. It has not been hysteria by the left, it has been honest reaction to what the rest of the country is finally waking up to. Give Bush a permanent paid vacation and turn the country over to the Congress.

Thanks for that insight Brian. And I very much appreciate the media telling us about this "scripting" and the real story behind the 'give and take" sessions that really aren't.

This was the best news segment that I have seen on any TV station in many years. It is not shocking, of course, that these presidential appearances are scripted; it is disconcerting, however, that such appearances--when they are about Social Security or other national political issues--are billed as candid. But when they are falsely billed as candid and the issue is a *war* we are fighting, such actions befit leaders of totalitarian regimes and not democracies. A democratic society deserves true candor and not propaganda when it comes to waging war. I hope this story gets wide play and is commented on in the blogosphere extensively. It is utterly damning to the credibility of this administration, which is shooting itself in the foot (again, and again).

Thankyou for showing us just how contrived that Bush video teleconference was on Thursday morning. If our prime minister here in Canada tried something similar,he and his entire cabinet would be subject to tough questioning from three opposition parties in the daily House of Commons Question Period.

I am 62 years old. Tonight, I switched to ABC for it's nightly news after many years with NBC. I did not like the emphisis placed on the "staged" conference with soldiers from Iraq. On ABC, it was not reported until after talking about the flooding in the NE and the earthquake in Pakistan. Your news stories should be presented in a more neutral way.

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Shocked, Just Shocked Network Reporters Hype “Staged” Bush Event with Troops Thursday's NBC Nightly News led, yes led, with how, as anchor Brian Williams put it, President Bush had that morning conducted “a staged event via satellite with ten U.S. soldiers and one Iraqi soldier in Iraq. “Today's encounter was b

Posted on Oct 13, 2005 10:02:15 PM at: NewsBusters.org