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

Brian -- I just want to thank you for your reports on "the other two women" tonight. Don't ever stop -- John

Im sorry about Ms Smiths death but it is no surprise amoung celebrities who dies in that industry from day to day. Nor does it affect our lives that she has passed i would rather hear you tell me about the soldiers over seas or at home. I am sure gas prices, and the war are far more better topics for you to discuss that do affect our lives. but i do send my sincerest regrets to her family this is very unfortunate.

Brian thank you for telling us about a brave soldier. I am sadden by Ms. Smith but Jennifer was serving all Americans. We should honor our brave soldiers maybe it will get through to some people that their lives are important and not just numbers.
Hopefully the elected officials will stop talking and do something to bring our troops home. We are tried of hearing of our soldiers being killed in the Iraq civil war. So many give lip service with the words Support our Troops but that's it nothing else. America is must better then this as we have been seen at our worse because of the incompetence of the White House. I pray our troops can all come home safe.

It’s up to the moderator if they want to list this, but I have a pretty involved thread regarding about 20 different armored vehicles that would help avoid so many deaths. It’s called
Hummers are too dangerous for peacekeeping duties! And is located at
http://boards.msn.com/MSNBCboards/thread.aspx?ThreadID=189744 where a discussion is already underway.

Thank you, Brian, for the sad but very strategically placed message tonight about the American soldier who gave up her life for our country at the age of 20 . While I have compassion for, and even a little understanding of people suffering from addiction, this woman led a life that did not deserve the adulation given her by the media while she was alive, or posthumously. From what I can see, she added nothing to the world but her chaos, and took whatever she possibly could.

Mentioning the death of an another important woman a 20 year old G.I. from Md, was true class! Doing this right after the Anna piece was a true example of the superior journalism NBC has. What an impact I felt when you said that, I hope it effected others like it did to me . WOW !

Brian and writers:
I don't appreciate your condescension in relation to my interest in the Anna Nicole Smith story or you tokenizing the death of a young soldier to make a point. Yes, I am interested in the Anna Nicole Smith story. Over the years, the media (including your broadcast) has reported on her life and I shouldn't be made to feel guilty about wanting to know what happened to her. If you don't want to report the story, don't report it. But don't report a story in the same breath as denouncing our interest in the story. I think that's how you define hypocrisy.

Your introduction to the Anna Nicole Smith obituary piece Thursday was snobbish, shoddy and unprofessional. She had been dead 3 hours, and at that time, a straightforward, matter-of-fact introduction was appropriate. Something tells me you spent way too much time writing a cute, condescending lead to show your superiority. If you want to exhibit your "above the fray" mentality, spread it all over your precious blog. But spare us your pontifications on the Nightly News. David Brinkley you're not.

I've already written too much but I'd like Richard Engel to take a look at this photo of a Hummer-like armored vehicle to see if something as robust as this would be much more appropriate to the dangers of Peacekeeping duties in Iraq:

http://www.defencetalk.com/pictures/showphoto.php/photo/17900/limit/recent

It is the OTOKAR Cobra and is just one example of impressive armored jeeps with sloped armored sides, which helps direct the blast of a mine detonation away from the vehicle! Even here at home, such vehicles would be great in hurricane zones as they can go through flooded streets and remain out rescuing people virtually in the eye wall of a hurricane. Hummers and other soft-skinned vehicles are meant for secure zones behind the lines. Instead, peacekeepers must operate where the potential threat is all around them. The Cobra and others like the VBL are also better protected from mines and dirty bombs with an NBC Nuclear/Biological/Chemical) filtration system. A Hummer is obviously not.

And so I respect you more today. Thanks.

Brian, I completely agree that we've heard way too much about Ms. Smith at this point already.I am sorry for the infant she leaves behind, but I frankly don't much care what these celebrities do.. or don't do... with their lives. Cable can't seem to figure out the difference between news and infotainment; it's a blessed relief to know that you can. Thank you!

Mr. Williams, I feel that the NBC Middle East Bureau does an excellent job in covering the War in Iraq. Please keep reminding them to stay safe. Mr. Engel takes great risk in being out on patrol with the troops on the ground, but I worry about his safety. I realize the story is extremely important to bring to the viewers, but peoples lives are priceless. Mr. Engel is a suberb journalist, but more importantly a person. People cannot be replaced. You all are great journalists and good people. Thank you for your broadcasts. Keep telling Mr. Engel to stay safe with the brave men and women of our military. Peace to all of them.

As long as Nightly News continues to present segments like Making a Difference, US soldier profiles, Katrina updates and so forth I suppose I can live with a few inane minutes of celebrity worship and tragedy.

Anna Nicole Smith deserves a mention in the broadcast only because she is known by so many. Why is she so well known? Because the news is slowly turning into entertainment.

The morning talk shows (I no longer call them news shows) devoted at least their majority of their first hour, or more, to the story. Each one looking for the headline making comments.

To summarize:

Question: We heard the paramedics gave her Narcan. Just what is Narcan?

Medical expert: Narcan is used to reverse the effects any narcotics in body.

Q: You mean she had narcotics in her system?

A: No, Narcan is given to any unconscious person if the paramedics don't know the cause or suspects the use of narcotics.

Q: By giving her Narcan does this mean the paramedics suspect drug use?

A: No, this is just routine. We won't know if there was any drugs in her system until the autopsy is done later today.

Q: But her death could have been caused by drugs?

A: We will know that when the autopsy results are released.

And it continued with report after report after report.

The children's programs on PBS were more informative than the talk shows today.

Please use the Anna Nicole story to point out to your management that the news division should be a separate division and not entertainment. Just because a program calls itself ENTERTAINMENT NEWS doesn't make it a news program.

Thank you Brian for the sanity in reporting the news.

Brian:

I watched the movie "Network" today and it is amazing how this 1970s movie hits on a lot of problems of today. We need someone like the person that Peter Finch played the part of. I would like to shout to the world exactly those words but I live where no one would hear me. I really looked up this site to comment on the movie and then say your blog on Anna Nicole Smith. Her death was no surprise. I agree it didn't deserve a lead story.

I truly like your broadcast and can see you put your heart into so many of the stories. Keep up the good work.

Thank you for your perspective on Anna Nicole Smith. I am sorry, for her newborn, that she had died. I am now eagerly awaiting the next news cycle, as I watched with disgust the live coverage on CNN of the coronor's press conference while stuck waiting for my car at the auto body shop. What a sad commentary as to the state of our nation when her death is so sensationalized.

Brian,

I appreciate your highlighting ATTYWOOD's report in your blog -- I read it myself this morning and was moved to tears. It really does slap you across the face with the warped perspective we have on what is worth our time and attention.

The media -- and yes, in particular, the cable channel -- deserve a good bit (perhaps the lion's share) of the blame for this. But before you pull a muscle patting yourself on the back for your restrained coverage, do take a look at the stats Think Progress pulled together here: http://thinkprogress.org/2007/02/09/anna-nicole-media-embarassment/

In particular, the relative coverage of the Iraq War and the Anna Nicole Smith story on the *network* news:

NETWORK ANNA NICOLE IRAQ
NBC 3:13 0:14
CBS 2:00 2:17
ABC 2:21 2:58

To be fair, I actually haven't seen last night's show(it's TIVO'd, so I will), but if these numbers are accurate, y'all have got some explaining to do.

American kids are dying *every* *single* *day* in a war that has been riddled with errors and incompetence by the political leaders of this country since before it even began. You have 30 minutes a night of a pretty powerful microphone. And you also have some exceptionally talented reporters and editors. The only thing you seem to lack is focus and priorities. And after 3,115 American deaths, that lack of focus is appalling, and the skewed priorities even more so.

Not suprisingly, Jon Stewart's got your number on this one too:
http://www.crooksandliars.com/2006/08/19/the-week-in-media-distraction/

Although Stewart's piece focuses on the cable networks, his initial observation about the relative importance of news seems to apply to the networks as well:
http://thinkprogress.org/2006/08/18/nsa-coverage/

NETWORK RAMSEY SEGMENT NSA SEGMENT
NBC 7:39 0:27
CBS 3:23 0:25
ABC 4:03 2:00

Brian:

Thanks for your description of the decision making process regarding the Anna Nicole Smith coverage. I am glad you are limiting your coverage of this tabloid story. Last night, when you did the lead in on the story and mentioned the wall-to-wall coverage on the cable stations, I was hoping that you would end with "and you should turn to those stations if you want more coverage of Anna Nicole Smith because you will find none here!"

And thanks also for the quote from ATTYTOOD. I totally agree with that perspective.

The Anna Nicole Smith story is tragic, and it does raise all kinds of questions about our national obsession with celebrity and sordid details of stories like this one. One thing is for sure: Anna Nicole Smith's death was the best thing that ever happened to the crazy, diaper-wearing astronaut. You can be sure she's been bumped from cable shows and tabloid papers. Meanwhile, there are historically significant things going on around this country and around the world. Good for you for keeping your eyes on them.

It's hard to say how much media coverage is warranted and if just limited to a sentence, it would have probably appeared to be a "who cares" sort of sentiment. As much as I disliked hearing any mention of her name in life, I couldn’t help but see her as another human being as I passed her photo time and again while online. That being said, I have to wonder, as Jack from Scottsdale has been, who is it that cares that we are about to go toe-to-toe with Iran? If we step back and look, it's like we've all essentially been taken prisoner on some sort of crusade of the administration's. Whether you feel the train moving or not, we are all heading slowly down the tracks to our appointed death camps. What death camps? The death camps that await us inside the nosecones of thousands of ballistic missiles should we (the U.S.) choose to try and control so much of the Middle East (as in Iraq and IRAN) at the same time. But, if 'rapture' is all you really want...

dear brian
I agree with the way you handled the anna nicole smith story. Keep your faith in your judgment of what kind of news broadcast you want to present. That's why we watch your show. Also, I loved the piece on the blog from the Philadelphia Daily News.

Mr. Williams,
Your team does a great job every night and always makes the right choices on what to cover. Thank you to your staff for your quality.
Bill Kelly

Brian -

You and NBC made the right choice about limiting the Anna Nicole coverage. I was furious at MSNBC for giving it more than 15-20 minutes. What ever happened to their MSNBC is the station for Politics theme?

The Pelosi plane situation shows me that perhaps you and I understand the government more than the Senators and Representatives do. She is 3rd in the Presidential line of succession and since 9/11 the Sargent at arms has provided security for the Speaker of the House. Makes sense to me - apparently no one ever cared that former Speaker Hastert had 'a plane'. Of course, he had a much shorter trip and could take a plane with less range.

Years ago, when I started writing Letters to the Editor, and contributing to some websites and now blogs, I gave up my political party memberships ( I admit I had vacillated a bit). Right now, I'm glad I'm not affiliated with either one!!

I really enjoyed the piece on the young female marine that was killed today. That to me is much more important than any story about Anna Nicole Smith. I realize that she is news, due to the high profile nature of her life. However, to most of the ordinary people, who make up the majority of the people in the U.S.A. the Young Marine's death and the upcoming primary elections trumps Anna Nicole Smith. Also, anyone who "Makes a significant difference" also matters. In that vein, I lost my dog this last week. However, that death made a difference in my hometown of McKinney, Texas. You see, she was killed by a Bobcat who reached through the fence and bit off her head. Her name was Coco, and yes in her death she indeed make a difference. Thanks to the 100's of people besides me who loved her the bobcats in McKinney will be caught and relocated.

One problem is that NBC IS the news - you and many of your colleagues are so enmeshed with the very subjects as reprters, you should be investigating, have now eliminated any credibility of reporting.

There are TWO questions which need to be asked of every potential story: So what? and Who cares?
The significance of the story -its impact on people and its influence on their being able to make informed deicsions is just as important to a journalist as how many people are interested. An interesting story (Anna Nicole Smith) may have zero significance. It should not meet the test for national news. On the other hand, significant and layered conflicts of interest: Russert, Mitchell, Gregory and Williams (P and B) should be transparent to viewers, and all conflicts achknowledged. That meets the test of significance and interest.

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