Thursday, April 21, 2011

Objectivity Champion

In my estimation, “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” provides the most objective news broadcast among the major networks.  It more or less continues that trend this week.

This story focuses on the changes being made to the Homeland Security Advisory System and the reasons why changes were implemented.  Anchor Brian Williams introduces the current system as one of the “most routinely ignored and misunderstood” policies to date.  He then mentions how the system will be discontinued and then passes the report to justice correspondent Pete Williams.  Williams begins with footage from late 2001 of former Homeland Security Secretary John Ashcroft announcing the Advisory System.  He goes on to discuss how the system’s color coded levels were not heeded by the public and provided fodder for late-night comics.  Williams next presents the changes to the system which will take effect in two weeks.  Footage of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano describing the new system is shown, along with a graphic explaining the two threat levels.  The first level is “Elevated” and will be used when the government has “credible information” about terrorist plots in the United States. The second tier is “Imminent,” which will be used in the event an attack could happen soon.  Williams talks about how the new alerts will have more information and be more specific, allowing citizens to know which areas to avoid and how they can help out.  The alerts will be more targeted to the certain threats, making sure Americans know to stay away from malls or airports, rather than to have a general sense of “awareness.”  Williams reports that these alerts will also expire two weeks after issuance, unless further information is added to them.  The Department of Homeland Security will let people know about these alerts in a myriad of ways, by posting to Facebook and Twitter along with traditional media sources.  Williams closes by answering a question about whether or not these new alerts will be better understood and heeded by Americans.  His response echoes the idea that the targeted broadcasts will let citizens know more, thus reducing panic.
                Both Brian and Pete Williams do a great job staying in the middle for this report.  This Advisory System has been the target of so many jokes and continuing ridicule in the years since it was first implemented.  I am glad to see that there was little mockery of the existing system.  Pete Williams makes it clear that a change was needed, yet without skewing the current alerts.  When he gets to the facts about the new method, he may be a bit overzealous, though.  He makes it sound like this new system will make people safer when going to work or buying groceries and the simple fact is that it will not.  The Bush administration had the same idea with the color code, which was not understood by the majority of Americans.  Also, in terms of fairness, it would have been nice for Williams to have included an interview with someone who either supported the current system, helped shape it, or worked to fix it, rather than just including an interview with an opponent of the Advisory System.  As to Brian Williams’ piece of the story, his word choice may have been a bit strong for some viewers.  I feel it is appropriate for this situation.  It will be interesting to see how well this new system works and whether or not history remembers it in the same way as the Homeland Security Advisory System.

This feature details the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the ongoing clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.  Williams opens this segment with a note about how the survivors and family members of victims of the oil rig explosion flew over the disaster site to commemorate the event.  He mentions how the oil spill is still thought of with a “sense of grief mixed with anger.”  The report then shifts to correspondent Anne Thompson in Venice, La.  She begins by talking about how BP has filed suit against the makers of the faulty blowout preventer which caused the rig explosion.  Thompson then explains that there is still oil in the gulf and Louisiana’s wet lands.  Footage of crews cutting marsh shrubs is shown along with commentary about whether or not the efforts are actually worthwhile.  Thompson interviews James Peters, a fisherman who reports still seeing “oil sheen” on the water.  She highlights Cat Island, where mangroves are dying.   The National Wildlife Federation’s David Muth questions if the clean-up efforts are effective without any coastal rehabilitation.  The report ends with an aside about the United States government disputing an Associated Press report about 3,200 oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico not having “cement plugs.”  The government assures the public that all of those wells have been inspected and are in proper operating condition.
                This segment had a bit more slant, but like many other events, it is hard to give good press to one of the parties, namely BP.  Thompson focused more on the environmental aspect of the oil spill than anything else, barely touching the human or economic impact.  She should have mentioned how the economies of the Gulf States have tried to bounce back after last summer and examined whether or not tourism took as great a hit as was projected.  She also depicts the progress in terms of clean-up to be minimal, while in fact, it is quite astounding how much has been done.  Thompson does mention that there is no more oil in the gulf, but breezes past this fact, rather than highlighting it for the achievement it is.  All of the recovery efforts she looks at have a negative bend: the marsh cutters find oil, the fisherman sees sheen, and Cat Island is in danger of erosion.  Yes, the public understands that this was a disaster.  Yes, there will be detrimental ecological effects from this spill.  Why must Thompson beat this dead horse on the anniversary when she could have produced a more positive message about how BP kept its promises, how the coastal culture came together to help, and what has been done already to stem the ecological impact?  Furthermore, there is only one mention of BP in this report.  An interview with a spokesperson or executive of BP was in order for an anniversary story.  Thompson’s own bias toward environmentalism colored this story in an unnecessary manner.

1 comment:

  1. I think the new system will cause absolute panic with its sense that an attack is planned and credible. If they issue an alert, I bet people will freak. However, it's nice that basically the new system means that there is no terrorism to worry about in a general way. Perhaps that's the best angle. As to the Gulf, all the evidence I hear is that there is plenty of oil still there in nasty "mats" on the bottom.