ABC’s Muir Seems to Think Using ‘Tonight’ Works Muiracles

David Muir of ABC News works the tonight shift. No matter when a story breaks—yesterday, last night or today—he seems bent on shifting it to tonight. So almost every story he delivers when anchoring World News (Saturday or weekday) becomes a tonight story. He persists in doing that even when his using tonight is a stretch–or worse.

When Muir substituted for the regular anchor, Diane Sawyer, on Dec. 30, he used tonight 27 times. And correspondents sprinkled in five more tonights. In addition, the announcer contributed one tonight. As a result, the 30-minute broadcast offered 22 minutes of news—minus 33 tonights. That’s an average of more than one tonight in every minute of news—a waste of time that could have been used for more news.

Muir introduced David Wright, a Washington correspondent, and used tonight twice, but Wright’s first word was today. Wright talked about critics lambasting the administration, then said, “Tonight, the White House communications director responded….” But Wright was wrong. The White House communications director had posted that response at 3:34 p.m., EST. That’s not tonight. Not even close. Various news outlets soon carried the response—long before nightfall. (Tonight can be a good word to use, but only if it’s needed and if it’s correct.)

When Muir introduced another Washington correspondent, Muir used tonight three times and sandwiched in an evening, “We’ve learned this evening of another very similar plot a month ago to carry powdered explosives onto a plane.” Learned this evening? In fact, the AP moved that story more than 10 hours earlier. The Detroit Free Press Web site posted the AP article at 8:12 a.m., EST—long before Muir went on the air. The ABC correspondent on that story used tonight twice (not in connection with the similar plot), and when Muir thanked him, Muir added, “Pierre Thomas on the case again tonight.”

Next, Muir asked a single question of an ABC consultant and wrapped up the interview with another gratuitous tonight, “All right, Richard Clarke with us tonight.”

One of Muir’s oddest tonights that night: “We do move on tonight into a very deadly day for Americans in Afghanistan.” Pairing tonight and today? Yes, and he uncorked another oddity like that: “Meantime, in the Netherlands tonight, where the suspect boarded that flight, they announced today they will now begin using full body scanners within three weeks….”

Then he served up a sentence that starts with tonight and ends with tonight: “Tonight, we’re being told [by whom?] the T-S-A might crack down even more, and Eric Horng is monitoring this part of the story from Chicago’s O’Hare tonight.” How many viewers know what TSA stands for? How many anchors know?

One of Muir’s most misleading tonights that night: “And as we continue here on World News, the major Tylenol recall that was under the radar until tonight.” Under the radar? (That cliché means unnoticeable or undetectable.) Until tonight? After that tease, Muir said: “We are learning more tonight about a major recall from Tylenol that’s apparently been in the works [in the works? it was already under way] for several weeks now. Johnson and Johnson is recalling Tylenol arthritis pain caplets….[Correspondent] David Kerley on the case tonight with why it took so long for so many to find out.”

Kerley said: “In early November, Tylenol posted a small recall on its Web site. Twelve days ago, all six million bottles were recalled. But it wasn’t until a nationwide F-D-A [Food and Drug Administration] medical alert just this Monday [two days earlier] that most people even learned the bottles had been pulled…. Tonight, the FDA said it is, quote, ‘looking into the reason for the delay….'”

Although Muir said the recall was under the radar, Johnson & Johnson had issued several press releases announcing the recall, including one on Dec. 19 and one the previous month. On the day before Muir’s broadcast, CNN carried an item on the recall—at 7:48 a.m. Also on that day, ABC’s own Web site posted a story about the recall. And that evening, 24 hours before Muir said the recall had been under the radar, NBC’s Brian Williams carried the story on Nightly News.

In one of the ABC newscast’s opening headlines on Dec. 30, Muir said: “And the mystery at sea. The sea lions that suddenly disappear. Tonight, the before and after photos and the surprising menu that might hold the clue.” The mystery, if any, is at San Francisco’s Fishermen’s Wharf. That’s where the sea lions hung out. Disappeared suddenly? Surprising menu? Why be surprised that sea lions eat fish? Muir would have learned about that the previous evening if he had watched NBC’s Nightly News. Referring to the sea lions, Brian Williams had said, “They’ve likely just moved on looking for their favorite foods, which happen to be anchovies and sardines.”

Muir had introduced the package by saying, “In San Francisco tonight, they’re asking what happened to the sea lions.” He wondered, “Could it be they were mad [angry!], they ran out of a menu that would leave most of us holding our noses?” Speak for yourself, Mr. Muir. The sea lions began leaving San Francisco’s waterfront around Thanksgiving. (Did they go looking for turkey?) The CBS Evening News ran a package about the sea lions on Nov. 24. It didn’t mention their diet or their departure. If the sea lions ran out of food at Pier 39, maybe they just ran out for more.

Or perhaps they went away because of pier pressure.

Muir presented the last section of his newscast with another twofer: “And finally tonight here, it was ten years ago this week we were asking so many questions right here on this broadcast….Tonight, our people of the decade….” Tonight twice in one intro and here twice in one sentence.

No wonder Muir’s motto seems to be “The Muir the merrier.” But his tonighting everything in sight does not leave me merry.

© Mervin Block 2010