NBC Blues

Low ratings, editing errors haunt once dominant network


NBC News, once a dominating force in network television, has fallen on hard times. This week news broke that the network is looking to replace Ann Curry on the “Today” show, which until recently had enjoyed a 16-year streak as the top morning show on television.

“For the first time in more than a decade, NBC News appears adrift,” the New York Times reports.

NBC’s major news shows, including “NBC Nightly News” and “Meet the Press,” have lost ground to rivals in the last year, causing wider concerns about the health of the news division, which has been the No. 1 television news operation in America for the better part of two decades. For now it is still No. 1 by almost every measure, but it appears to be more vulnerable than it has been at any time in years. …

Beyond “Today,” which is down about 4 percent in total viewers and about 9 percent in that 25-54 age group, “NBC Nightly News” has declined about 11 percent among those 25-54. Its main rival, ABC’s “World News,” also is down about 8 percent. (CBS’s newscast is up 1 percent.) On Sundays, “Meet the Press” is still the most watched show, but its lead over the second place “Face the Nation” on CBS has shrunk to just 2 percent in total viewers, while “Nation” is now ahead in the 25-54 group.

And NBC’s effort to start a newsmagazine, “Rock Center,” led by its chief anchor, Brian Williams, has been greeted with some of the lowest ratings in prime time. NBC News remains committed to it, however.

The network has made a concerted effort to boost ratings over the past several years in part by assuming a distinctly partisan (i.e., left-wing) bent, particularly through its affiliate channel MSNBC. But NBC’s reputation has suffered from a series of journalistic errors, including two instances of selective, misleading editing.

The network fired one of its producers in April after the “Today” show aired a deceptively edited clip of George Zimmerman’s 911 call. Zimmerman has been charged in the controversial killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, who was black. The edited clip implied that Zimmerman had volunteered information about Martin’s race when in fact he had simply responded to a question by the police dispatcher. The network issued a formal apology for the error.

Earlier this month, MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell aired an edited clip of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney talking about the touch-screen ordering system at WaWa, a chain convenience store. The clip suggested that Romney found the touch screens “amazing,” when in fact he had been referring to private-sector innovation.

Mitchell later addressed the misleading edit, but did not apologize, saying she “didn’t get a chance to play” the clip in its full context.

Most recently, a Politico reporter Joe Williams was suspended for remarks he made on MSNBC’s “Martin Bashir Live.” Williams suggested that Romney was only comfortable around “white folks.”