NBC News Responds

My counterparts at NBC News took exception to my last post about their reporting during the Olympics. Seems I missed a few things when I suggested that NBC's news division had been co-opted by NBC corporate to help promote the Games.

NBC News didn't exactly dispute my main point. But they did offer a few more facts to fill out the picture.

The main fact: Not all of the stories on "NBC Nightly News with Brian Wiliams" have been so upbeat about China or so rah-rah about the Olympics. Some of the stories have actually been just as tough and hard hitting as anything you'll see or read elsewhere, NBC News said. To make its point, the network sent me a list of its toughest and hardest-hittingest work before and during the Games.

It's a fine catalogue, to be sure. "Nightly" has done stories on pollution in Beijing, on China's efforts to block journalists' access to certain web sites, on China's crackdown on pre-Olympic dissent and other relevant subjects.

No questions there.

But one thing jumped out at me: NBC's list includes stories on China or the Olympics that have aired since July 29. The Olympics started on Aug. 8. So why start on July 29th? NBC News doesn't say, but it seems a bit arbitrary to me.

So that's why I'm not listing all of NBC News' 18 hand-picked stories (see below). Since my posting addressed NBC News' cuddly-as-a-panda-bear coverage during the Olympics, I think it's only fair to assess how "Nightly News" has done during this period, not before it. (Because I'm such a fair and balanced guy, I'll even spot NBC one, moving up the start date to Aug. 7, the day before the Games opened).

Once you get past that technicality, we're really talking about 11 stories that NBC considers substantive and tough. Still a pretty good list, just a bit shorter than the one NBC News would like.

Ready? Here's what NBC News says are its greatest hits from China (Aug. 7-Aug. 21). I cleaned up some of the descriptions but this is more or less what "Nightly News" sent me:

Aug. 7: Brian Williams and John Yang report on President Bush's arrival to Beijing. Story talks about Bush's criticism of Chinese government and the negative reaction from the Chinese government ... Also mentions problems with press corps' arrival in Beijing -- arguments [about] how to handle baggage and gear on plane.

Aug. 8: Nancy Snyderman talks about the air quality in Beijing. She confirms that the "thick" air is mainly humidity, but that China has been criticized for not taking care of the environment.

Aug. 8: Mark Mullen reports on army of workers who constructed the iconic Olympic buildings. Profiles the tough life of one migrant worker who has been on the road for 14 years to find work throughout China and only sees his family once a year. Beijing has now shut down most construction projects leaving many migrant workers without a job

Aug. 10: John Yang reports on President Bush's reaction to the murdered [American] tourist [in Beijing].

Aug. 10: Ian Williams reports on the Uighur Muslim population in China, which the government says is the biggest security threat to the Olympics. In Khotan, mosques under close surveillance and people required to speak Chinese.

Aug. 11: Broadcast from Tiananmen Square. History of the square and the 1989 uprising.

Aug. 11: Ian Williams reports on the "charm offensive" and the training the Chinese have been through to host the games including how to act in front of tourists.

Aug. 12: Ian Williams reports on China's one child policy. Parents who lost their children in the earthquake demand answers from the government on why shoddy schools were built.

Aug. 15: Making a Difference: Ian Williams reports on the rise of volunteerism among China's 20-somethings.

Aug. 16: Lester Holt reports on the legacy of one pro-democracy demonstrator.

Aug. 18: Piece about the lack of protests. Not one of 77 applications approved, Richard Engel visits a Beijing jail where someone who had applied for a protest permit is locked up.

Now, I've got my own list.

This one (courtesy of the Nexis database) shows all the other Olympic-related stories that "Nightly News" has aired since the Olympics began. It speaks to my original point about how its news agenda has been shaped by its corporate parent's massive investment in the Games. Somehow, the other network newscasts missed most of these stories:

Aug. 8: Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony goes off without a hitch.
Aug. 8: Number eight very powerful for Chinese, bringing good, bad luck.
Aug. 8: Making a Difference; Former 'Lost Boy' of Sudan Lopez Lomong to carry flag for US Olympic team in Opening Ceremony.
Aug. 9: Swimmer Michael Phelps discusses what he hopes to achieve at the Olympics.
Aug. 9: Chinese beach volleyball players come to California to train for the Olympics.
Aug. 10: Olympic results update.
Aug. 10: Yao Ming feels pressure from celebrity status.
Aug. 11: Olympic results update.
Aug. 12: Olympic results update; Olympic medal count.
Aug. 12: Between Speedo LZR, the Cube, swimming records being broken at Olympics.
Aug. 12: Rowdy Gaines (NBC swimming analyst) discusses how swimming and sports are evolving.
Aug. 12: Lip syncing by girl in Beijing opening ceremony.
Aug. 12: Gymnast Shawn Johnson competing in Olympic Games.
Aug. 13: Olympics update; Olympic medal count.
Aug. 13: Rowdy Gaines (NBC swimming analyst) discusses Michael Phelps.
Aug. 13: Companies using Olympics to advertise.
Aug. 13: Table tennis player's long road to the Olympics.
Aug. 14: Olympic update; Olympic medal count.
Aug. 14: Project 119 helps China's athletes prepare for Olympics
Aug. 14: Michael Phelps sparking interest in swimming in U.S.
Aug. 14: Reese Hoffa, adopted as child, prepares for track and field events.
Aug. 15: American women take gold, silver in individual gymnastics, Chinese woman takes bronze.
Aug. 15: Olympic medal count.
Aug. 15: Taylor Phinney, with help of Olympian parents, takes up family sport of cycling.
Aug. 15: NBC Olympic intern learns English by watching 'NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams' in her English class
Aug. 16: Olympic medal count; Olympic update.
Aug. 16: Rowdy Gaines (NBC swimming analyst) on covering the Olympics.
Aug. 16: Science of timing athletes at the Olympic Games more precise than ever.
Aug. 16: America working to clean up its image of having athletes using banned substances.
Aug. 16: Forty years later, John Dane trying to win gold medal in sailing after not qualifying his last time out.
Aug. 17: Olympic medal count; Olympics update.
Aug. 17: Dara Torres wins two silvers at Olympics.
Aug. 17: Michael Phelps talks about his Olympic experience (part one).
Aug. 18: Olympic medal count; Olympics update.
Aug. 18: U.S. basketball team hoping to redeem its performance from four years ago.
Aug. 18: Michael Phelps discusses his Olympic experience (part two).
Aug. 19: Olympic medal count, Olympics update.
Aug. 19: Air cleanest it's been in 10 years in Beijing.
Aug. 19: Tour of a Beijing hutong (back alley).
Aug. 19: BMX is latest sport added to Olympic roster.
Aug. 20: Olympic medal count, Olympics update.
Aug. 20: Allyson Felix hoping to sprint for gold in Beijing
Aug. 20: Lang Ping, Chinese volleyball star, coaching Team USA.
Aug. 21: Olympic medal count; Olympics update.
Aug. 21: Lopez family hoping to make history in Olympics in taekwondo.
Aug. 21: Two members of US water polo team hail from unlikely Commerce, California.

Um, not quite so solid, guys.

And here's a whiny little follow-up question, just for kicks: Why didn't NBC News tell me a thing about the stories that "The Today Show" is doing while it's been in Beijing for the past two weeks? "Today" is part of NBC's news division, too.

Surely it couldn't be because "Today" has become a virtual infomercial for NBC's primetime Olympics broadcast, could it? Just wondering.

By Paul Farhi  |  August 22, 2008; 12:51 AM ET
Previous: NBC News: Olympic Tout? | Next: Sure, He's Fast. But Can Usain Bolt Sell?


Please email us to report offensive comments.

So NBC says nice things, as opposed to the WAPO which has gone out of its' way to be nasty?

Why not try to explain the big chip on the shoulder of WAPO reporters when it comes to China?

Is the need of the military-industrial complex to create enemies so that the huge defense appropriations can be justified?

The bias is so obvious and so strong, that it really begs for an explanation!! Come on, tell us the secret. Why does the Washington Post hate China?

Posted by: PatrickInBeijing | August 22, 2008 4:39 AM

Oh I don't know, Patrick... maybe the Washington Post is critical of China because it's run by a Communist dictatorship hellbent on stifling human rights and destroying the environment?

Posted by: ScottInDC | August 22, 2008 4:55 AM

Today part of NBC news: for 8 minutes in the first half hour. Remainder fluff. Shame.

Posted by: S Zawalicz | August 22, 2008 5:30 AM

Nice piece of reporting!
Take a look at CNBC. While Carl Quintanilla is doing a creditable job on location in China under difficult conditions, and Becky Quick is still an accomplished newsperson, Joe Kernen talks like the Olympics coverage cheerleader/huckster. Fortunately, the Olympic gushing stops when Erin Burnett & Mark Haines start reporting.
(Huntley & Brinkley have been dead for a long time, and it was CBS that hired Edward R. Murrow.)

Posted by: lmiller328 | August 22, 2008 5:42 AM

Dear ScottInDC, Destroying the environment? You do know that China has banned free plastic bags, is the number two producer of solar panels, and is moving quickly up the wind power ladder? Or do you merely rely on the inaccurate reporting of the WAPO for your information?

A "Communist Dictatorship", hmm, that is akin to "Hoofed and Horned Demon" and about as useful. Can you describe how the Chinese government actually works at any level? Or do you merely use demonizing language to discredit it? (It reminds me of my youth when protesters screamed about "Fascist Amerikka" as if that said it all..).

Hellbent on destroying human rights? Again, nice sloganeering, but pretty weak on information.

One of the reasons that I and others complain is that the coverage is so unbalanced that people who rely on it are left ignorant. Unfortunately (not necessarily any fault of your own), your comments prove my point.

In terms of destroying the planet, you should get out more. Most of the world thinks the headquarters for environmental destruction is in Washington DC. Sadly.

But, yours is a clever response!

Posted by: PatrickInBeijing | August 22, 2008 9:09 AM


Try this. The Chinese pledged to set up protest zones. No one's been allowed to protest in them. Two 80-year old women were just sentenced to a labor camp for simply asking for the right to protest.

Posted by: Franconia | August 22, 2008 10:06 AM

What are they supposed to do? Go to China and bad mouth the place. We all know what China is about, but if the games are there...What are you going to do? If you look. the computer you are using and the monitor you are looking at are probably made in China.....


Posted by: DT | August 22, 2008 11:43 AM

Hey, Patrick: The only people left ignorant are the Chinese people who are cut off from the outside world by their power-hungry quasi-communist government that -- only as a method of staying in power -- have sold out on their own political philosophy and traded a kind of capitalism for the ability to keep their boots on the neck of the people.

Posted by: Whatever_Patrick | August 22, 2008 11:50 AM

Sadly, the old ABC Sports - which knew how to cover an Olympics - doesn't exist any more. And if you think NBC is commercializing these games, imagine what ESPN/Disney would do...

Posted by: DrBear | August 22, 2008 12:13 PM

The paper that wasted all that time on the idiotic Chandra Levy story has no room to talk.

Posted by: Truth hurts | August 22, 2008 12:27 PM

The puff piece on the Three Gorges Dam is all you need to see re the measure of NBC's news coverage in China.

Posted by: Strebor | August 22, 2008 12:35 PM

Far more American viewers are upset about NBC Sports' coverage of the Games than NBC News' coverage.

Posted by: Matrixman | August 22, 2008 2:01 PM

re: Posted by: DrBear | August 22, 2008 12:13 PM

Seriously. The synergy and constant spin would have been insane. If Fox did it, they'd fly in the cast of every Fall show, place them strategically at events, and be sure to point them out and measure their reactions to the action...CONSTANTLY. I used to like CBS's Winter Olympics coverage...

Posted by: 2&2 | August 22, 2008 3:08 PM

China's human rights issues et al are a story ALL THE TIME. They should be reported ALL THE TIME--not boxed into a 2 week span of Olympics, when frankly we kinda want to hear more about the OLYMPICS than Tiananmen Square.

If you're going to critique NBC, do so for not digging in on China's abuses every other month of their history. Right now, they're trying to focus their coverage on the events that WE--and not just media critics and Amy Goodman--want to see right now.

Posted by: Jeremy | August 22, 2008 4:46 PM

"Two 80-year old women were just sentenced to a labor camp for simply asking for the right to protest." - Franconia.

Did they really? or are you trying to prove Patrick's point for ignoramus.

It is funny that the people in this country, good old USA, seem to think they know what is going on the world, when in fact they know very little. Traveling through biased TV News and movies is not a good source of knowledge, neither is going to resorts in other countries. OH, oh, there comes Rod Serlin...

Posted by: LOL | August 22, 2008 4:49 PM

I have a totally different issue with which I have a problem... I'm a Jamaican, who served in the US Army and even put my life on the line for this country in the first Golf war. Now to hear the likes of Mr. Costas, Mr. Boldon and more than likely after being pressured, the IOC president, complaining about Usain Bolt enjoying his moment of victory is typical !!! How quickly they selectively forget how Maurice Green, Justin Gatlin, Michael Johnson(just to name a few), celebrated their victories in the past... Oh I get it, do as I say, not as I do!!!

Posted by: Thomel Findley | August 23, 2008 5:02 PM

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