The Daily Nightly from NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams

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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.

About last night...

I can say with some certainty that the discussion in our newsroom at this time yesterday was the same discussion taking place in so many other newsrooms, broadcast and print, around the country: Where and how to play the Anna Nicole Smith story. Some of my colleagues thought it was the lead story. Others did not. I did not. Others pointed to the drop-everything, wall-to-wall live coverage all day on all three cable networks. To that argument I responded that I worked in cable for several years. I know cable. Cable is a friend of mine. We are not cable. Is it a news story? Yes. People have a funny way of deciding for themselves what is a news story sometimes, and those drawn to the coverage, and to her, can explain the interest in this 39-year-old former Playboy centerfold better than I can. In writing the lead to our coverage last night, I tried to indicate that her popularity may have more to do with our current media/celebrity culture than we realize.

Deciding the format of this broadcast (and those of our friends at ABC and CBS) is, last night and tonight, a classic example of one of our guiding expressions -- no organization can ever be "above the news." While public interest in a given topic cannot rule our judgment or decide our story order for us, it can and does affect our reporting and story order. It's not as if there aren't other news outlets for those viewers dissatisfied with our treatment of the story and the end of a tragic life.  People watch our broadcast presumably because they trust our reporting and our people, and because they agree with our editorial take on the day more often than not. The great thing about this era of media choice is that all those who find our broadcast lacking in any way are free to go to any number of Web sites where they can find video showing a cat flushing a toilet, or the explosive properties of Diet Coke and Mentos when mixed together.

We're not cultural arbiters or enforcers -- we are a network of journalists who put together a half-hour long newscast each evening. Tonight our broadcast will concentrate on the underpinnings of the war in Iraq and the first-hand account of one of our correspondents who is embedded with an American combat team -- and who earlier today came way too close to an IED explosion while on patrol. We'll end the broadcast as we always do on Friday nights, with a segment profiling someone who is truly making a difference in society.

On the topic of Anna Nicole Smith and the ongoing and ubiquitous coverage, I'd like to step aside and feature a piece of writing that Chris Colvin of our staff came across today and brought to my attention: It's reprinted (with our thanks) here with permission from the Philadelphia Daily News blog called "ATTYTOOD," the work of senior writer Will Bunch.

This is a special report.

Normally at this hour, we bring you some lighter fare, maybe the latest dumb comment from the world of sports, or even a tear-jerker like a picture of stranded polar bears. But tonight, there is one story that is so important that we are going to suspend all regular blog coverage, and ignore everything else that is going on in the world, from the presidential race to the gridlock in the halls of Congress to the indictment of the most powerful politician here in our hometown of Philadelphia.

This breaking news story is about the sudden, unexpected, and tragic death of a young woman, not to mention the family that she leaves behind.

Yes, people die every day, and too many do so before their time. But this woman was special, and the things that she did made an impact on all of us.

Oh, there were many things that this woman, so deserving of our undivided attention tonight, did not do. No, she didn't take off her clothes for a men's magazine for a big payday, work as "an exotic dancer" or marry a billionaire customer who was 63 years older than her. Nor did she spend most of her adult life pursuing that billionaire's estate in courtrooms from Texas to Washington, D.C., or record her life for a reality TV show, or abuse drugs, or give birth to a child whose paternity is the focus of a legal battle.

Frankly, we feel silly for even writing those things, because such a woman would clearly not be newsworthy.

No, unlike some women you might see on your newsstand this week, this woman liked simple things: According to one report, she "always enjoyed the water, including boating and scuba diving. She also liked yoga and music and spending time with family and friends."

This is what her aunt says about this unique woman that America mourns tonight:

"If you knew her, you loved her. She was a go-getter. She knew what she wanted in life and she was doing what she had to do to achieve that."

Her name is Jennifer M. Parcell. She was just 20 years old, and she graduated in 2004 from Fallston High School near her hometown of Bel Air, Md.

A couple of years ago, Jennifer Parcell went to Parris Island and watched the Marine graduation services for her older brother, Joseph. She decided that she, too, wanted to join the Marines, and eventually both Jennifer Parcell and her brother were sent to Iraq, even serving at the same post for a time.

But then, they separated. Yesterday, Jennifer Parcell was supporting combat operations in Al-Anbar province when she was killed in action.
Click here to read the rest from ATTYTOOD.

BACK TO THE NEWS
We hope you have a good weekend, and please join us for the Friday edition of NBC Nightly News. I'll see you again on Monday.

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COMMENTS

Day after day, night after night, all we see on your news from Iraq is car bombings, IED explosions, dead bodies, and the worst carnage imaginable. I realize that Iraq is undoubtedly the most horrible and dangerous place on earth. However, there must be SOME good news to report. Could you possibly give coverage to that every once in a while?

Brian-As always, you nailed it, and that's why I consistently rely on your broadcast for my day's news. Keep up the excellent coverage of the war, Katrina recovery (or lack thereof) and all manner of other REAL issues. It infuruiates me when Americans say "enough already". Just as we need to be informed/reminded of what's wrong in our world, it's also good to see "what works", and who's "making a difference". Thank you, and I'll see you tonight!

Dear Mr. Williams,
Thank you for your comments about the state of "news" in this country as you began your story on the death of Anna Nicole Smith.
It disturbs me that five seconds of evening world news coverage was devoted to her death. What did she do that was of any importance? Did she use her notoriety to make the world a better place?
When someone dies, and they make the world news, more than three people should be able to say, "Oh, that's too bad." News stories that report someone's death should be about people who matter - the soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, people who died in selfless acts of heroism, or people who worked hard for humane and humanitary causes. The death of a silicone injected bimbo is hardly worth the attention it received.

OK, Brian. Minor victory on the Smith death. One sentence would've been nicer, tops.

But what about Ehren Watada? FYI: He's the Lieutenant that is being court marshalled for refusing to deploy to Iraq, and the military is in a dither about how to bury the story. Never mentioned on your broadcast that I can find.

Oh, and by the way, the Guardian is reporting a planned attack on Iran in the spring. You might check it out.

I sure hope you guys don't blow it again--the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq on all sides are due in no small part to the failure of our media to objectively report on the build up and the falsehoods blatently spread by the administration. Where was your healthy skepticism?

I see now that public opinion has swung around, the negative reports populate all of our mass media reports. (Still no mea culpa about the screwups in 2003, though.)

Brian,
The Jennifer Parcell "mention" should have:
A. Been a complete story.
B. Been told BEFORE any mention of Ms. Smith.

Anna Nicole Smith did not deserve HALF the time you put into the story. Her passing should have been mentioned at the END of the broadcast - 15 seconds max.

Brian: I appreciate the content of last nights broadcast and in particular the balance of tragedy in the respective pieces. It is sometimes hard to create context to a reality such as the celeb and the servicewoman whos lives though stopped short are held in reverence and respect. We sometimes wonder about the ways that people justify spending time "spinning" their own realities and in the making sense of others fates. Is it news? It is if it provokes thought, measure and the raising of brows as which happened to me when a woman on a track machine next to me pointed at a monitor and said, "oh my god!" as the caption below Annas smattering of media stills read "-dead at 39;" it is sensational too I guess, but I did not feel it as such and continued my run - not skipping a beat...

Thank you brian. I was disgusted at the report about a woman who did nothing for this world and the coverage. When I have been part of many children with cancer who have died and they contributed more than Anna Nicole. Our family member is a Marine pilot in Irag and my grandfather and great grandfather served in World War I & II. Believe it or not my neighbor who drives around in the neighborhood watch vehicle contributes more than Anna Nicole and he would not be on Nightly News if he passed away.

Dear Brian:

Your judgement is excellent. I was so glad to see some news last night. I was afraid I'd see nothing but Anna Nicole.

I was also glad to see the story about the Office of Special Plans lead off.

Thanks for straightening out the right wing lies about Nancy Pelosi too.

All day I had heard about the tragic death of Anna Nicole and I kept saying to myself - what about the men and women in Iraq? Don't they deserve this publicity? I was a military spouse for over 20 years and a mother of an active duty son now in the military, and when I heard your words on Jennifer, I thought - Yes, someone does have a grip on the reality in our lives. Thank you.

A chapter from Hardball by Chris Matthews (which I was required to read for class recently) is titled "Only talk when it improves the silence." Your discussion above about the difference between news for the sake of ratings vs. news for the sake of educating epitomizes why NBC News is the one news source I reliably turn to every night. Even as a 22 year old news junkie who reads feeds from all sources, I know that when I watch the NBC video podcast each evening, the twenty-two minutes I spend will be time well spent.

Also, I loved the use of the Lloyd Bentsen reference.

I DON'T BELIEVE THAT THE LETTERS ABOVE COULD BE AN ACCURATE REPRESENTATION OF THE EMAILS YOU RECEIVED ON THE SUBJECT OF YOUR COVERAGE OF ANNA NICOLE SMITH'S
DEATH.
YOU WOULD BE RIGHT IN SAYING THAT YOU SHOULD NOT BE 'CULTURAL ARBITERS OR ENFORCERS' UNFORTUNATELY
IN THAT PIECE YOUR PERSONAL VIEWS WERE CLEAR. WORSE THAN THAT YOUR EGOTISTICAL CARRIAGE AND JUDGEMENTAL COULD NOT HAVE BEEN LOST ON MANY OF YOUR VIEWER--IT WAS HARD TO MISS.

With respect to those who were offended by your "condescension" in covering the death of Anna N. Smith, I can only wish that the rest of the media were as condescending toward all of celebrity culture. Author Neil Postman summed it up years ago in with the title of his critique: "Amusing Ourselves to Death."

First of all, thanks for the interesting report on how FEMA has handled Florida's tornadoes. I'd already figured that this disaster would have been handled better than had been Katrina and Rita, first of all because it was smaller-scale and affected a smaller area. And secondly, because Florida is a relatively affluent, populous state important to the GOP, unlike Louisiana.

Regarding "Making A Difference," I usually find those pieces inspirational and the honorees well-deserving, but last night's was disappointing. I wonder if the fix was in--if she'd been selected as a sop to the Bush Administration to show the good work being done by Americans overseas in places President Bush cares only about. It only brought home to me most acutely the fact that Bush obviously cares a great deal about Afghanistan, which he mentioned in his State of Denial address. While Bush cares not a whit about Louisiana and her people, neglecting her and treating her like--well, I would say a foreign country, except for the fact that several foreign countries such as Afghanistan are getting a better deal from the Bush Administration.

Parts of New Orleans, almost 18 months after Katrina, look much worse than the Afghan community "Making A Difference" was filmed in. As for the honoree, in keeping with Tuesday's first-rate New Orleans coverage, it should have a teacher in a troubled New Orleans school, struggling not only to get her students to learn amidst shortages of space, materials, textbooks and staff, but also to help them deal with the war zone-like conditions in which they must live difficult lives and heal their wounded spirits. Or it could have been a New Orleans doctor, police officer--anyone doing his or her small part to help that beleaguered city and her agonized people become whole. Or, for that matter, anyone doing similar work in Mississippi or elsewhere in the storm zone.

Now for what Douglas Brinkley, who wrote "The Great Deluge," has to say about New Orlean's prospects for recovery, which, in light of what was said on NBC Nightly about 2007 being a make-or-break year for that city, is most interesing.

Brinkley says New Orleans' future is bleak. At the University of Southern Mississippi he said much of New Orleans likely will never be rebuilt and that the manmade dimensions of the storm have yet to be addressed. He adds that leaders seem willfully to be resisting complete recovery and says, "The act of not doing enough is a policy; it's a decision."

Only a "Marshall Plan" could rehabilitate Louisiana's wetlands and rebuild her levees, he adds. Rather than spend money and time to make this project a national priority, officials would prefer New Orleanians to seek higher ground, with a small city consisting of the tourist areas and the port.

Brinkley says politicians continue to be disingenuous today, adding he hopes the upcoming presidential election will put rebuilding the Gulf Coast at the center of a national debate. He says that if Italians can save Venice, Americans can save Gulfport, Biloxi, and New Orleans.

I hope Brinkley's prediction of Gulf Region recovery's being a major 2008 campaign issue comes to pass, but feel it overly optimistic. I've previously noted how from Sept. through early Nov. 2006, when storm recovery should have been treated equally as important as the war in Iraq as a campaign issue, there was hardly any coverage out of New Orleans or the rest of the storm zone. I hope I turn out to be wrong--but I fear that during the 2008 campaign, as in 2006, negative Gulf Region news will be censored to help the GOP.

And even if Brinkley's prediction is right, New Orleans doesn't have that much time. The time to press for national attention to New Orleans' recovery is NOW, not 2008 when she may be dead. For New Orleans today is what counts--there may be no tomorrow.

Brian,
I think you were very wise to not make the death of Anna Nicole your lead story. While her death is certainly sad, how does it impact anyone's lives except for her friends and family. The death of the young soldier and all those who have died during this war should be reported. Their deaths and the sacrifices their loved ones have made should and do impact us. They have paid the ultimate price fighting under the flag of this nation. The placement of the news of this young soldiers death was well thought out. Another good call!

MY HUSBAND AND I APPLAUD YOUR INSISTANT COVERAGE ON NEW ORLEANS WHERE THE NASTY FACE OF RACISM IN THIS COUNTRY MAKES ME SICK. FEMA GOT A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FROM THE FLORIDA VICTIMS OF A TORNADO (MOSTLY WHITE) - WHY DON'T THEY CONTINUE IN NEW ORLEANS - I'M TOO OLD TO PHYSICALLY HELP THEM BUT IS EVERYONE ELSE TOO BUSY? OUR PRIORITIES ARE UPSIDE DOWN IN THIS COUNTRY. I'M INTESTED IN STARTING A MOVEMENT "GRAMA FOR OBAMA). MAYBE HE CAN LIFT US UP WHERE WE BELONG.

Mr. Williams, thank you for putting our news, our culture, our society in its proper perspective in your Friday evening broadcast. On a day where the Pentagon decides the evidence to go to war was fabricated by this administration; on a day where most everyone wanted to know how Anna Nicole Smith died; you paused in your broadcast to mention this 20-year old who was killed on the other side of the planet, away from her family, in an unjust war. Too bad our politicians can't have the same perspective. I keep waiting for the outrage about this senseless, costly, war to appear; the famous American intolerance of things that are plain wrong. But I suppose the only people who are hurt and outraged are those who lose dear children, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.

Brian, I watch your newscast each and every night and you have gained an avid fan for life after that strategic move last night in the Anna (what's her name cause I have forgot already) story. Anna abused her life and body longer than Jennifer M. Parcell had to live and enjoy hers and to think that she gave up her life for Anna"s freedom to do so just makes me weak. I and many others appreciate your judgement and your journalistic choice. PEACE Brother!

While I understand why the medai feels the need to air the story on Anna Nicole's death, it makes me sad that this story gets so much coverage despite other, more important stories that don't get told. I could give dozens of examples, but I'll spare you. It's just sad.

Brian & NBC News...
I am amazed so many people say Smith's story is tragic ??? Webster's definition of "tragedy: a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the progagonist and a superior force (as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that excites pity or terror". When the conflicts are self induced is it really a battle with a "superior force" or "destiny"??? I think not and appreciate your efforts to spare us the details.
Jeff Kohl

Great article

I hope everybody read this article

I was very impressed with the way you addressed the vapid coverage of the death of Ms. Smith, and that you brought out a real tragedy occurred in Iraq. Those daily tragedies should be our focus, and I thank you for that.

mr. williams, i have not read any of the above commentary/comments
regarding the death of anna nicole smith, but i just want to say that i thought your coverage of her death on the news tonight was condescending, and
frankly, beneath your journalistic integrity, and intelligence...i may be wrong, but i think your audience, the audience drawn to the high quality of your broadcast, is well aware of the irony, or lack of irony, attached to the incessant coverage of ms. smith's death, and your choosing to compare it to the death of a brave, faceless soldier, was completely wrong-headed, and for some reason i cannot articulate, diminished the death of both people...if you believe more attention should be paid to the unspeakable death of our soldiers, then i completely agreee, and you should report the names and faces of all soldiers who die in iraq, every day, as you did in the excellent piece two weeks ago in the coverage of the downed chopper, that was a tie-in with the newsweek story...it seems to me anna nicole was a poor enough soul, without having to hear a smug reprimand of what our attention should really be on..we get it...youre a great newscaster, making a lapse of judgement like this all the more apparent..thanks for your time, and i will see you tomorrow night...

Thank you for putting the sad silliness of Ms. Smith's passing in perspective with the truly meaningful report about the 20-year old Marine.

Brian - re: not making Anna Nicole Smith the lead story - you done good.

Brian,
Please, you're the leader of NBC News and you give this so high perspective of your coverage of Anna Nicole Smith. But, your very own Today show spent A LOT of time on it in their first "news" hour this morning. I know that it isn't your broadcast, but if you're going to hold yourself out as the Leader of NBC News, then you have to play the role.

Talk to your new boss Jeff about this. It doesn't make sense.

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