How NBC Newscasters Turn Day into Night

Today–the adverb, not the show—is treated by some anchors like a dirty word. Let’s look at some recent NBC transcripts and see how newscasters performed some fancy footwork to sidestep today.

“There’s word tonight,” said NBC’s Lester Holt, “of a major settlement between the N-F-L and thousands of former players who sued, accusing the N-F-L of concealing the long-term dangers of concussions, among other things….”

There’s word tonight? Eight hours earlier, at 10:28 a.m. ET, Aug. 29, NBC News posted 105 words. Their mid-morning post about the football settlement began, “The National Football League has agreed to pay $765 million to settle lawsuits by former players over head injuries, it was announced Thursday.”

Two hours later, at 12:30 p.m. ET, the settlement was announced by a federal judge—more than six hours before Holt spoke of the word tonight. He was filling in on the “NBC Nightly News” for the anchor Brian Williams. (A book I wrote, “Weighing Anchors,” shows how Williams and ABC’s David Muir, both frequent time-shifters, seem to be competing to set a record for tonighting news. Come to think of it, I once suggested that the “Nightly News” be renamed “Tonightly News.”)

Holt’s telling viewers on Aug. 29 there’s word tonight suggests that the story just broke. posted a story about the settlement at 12:38 p.m. reported the settlement at 12:41 p.m., and the AP moved a story at 12:42 p.m. At 1:14 p.m., the players’ committee announced a press teleconference for 2 p.m. By that time, there was a torrent of stories about the settlement all across the Internet and the airwaves.

The next morning, an NBC correspondent, Tamron Hall, read the news on the Today show. She, too, reported the football settlement—with a time element as unusual as Holt’s. She said:

“Brain injuries have become a major concern in professional sports, and this morning there’s word of a 765-million-dollar settlement to end a lawsuit brought against the National Football League by thousands of players.”

This morning there’s word? Didn’t Lester Holt pass the word the previous night? That word sure gets around.

Another manipulation of language: An NBC correspondent, Kate Snow, was sitting in as anchor of “NBC Nightly News” when she tried to make a story newer and newsier:

“From London tonight, a surprising announcement from the British police. Scotland Yard said it is studying new information about the deaths of Princess Diana and her friend Dodi Al Fayed in that car crash in Paris 16 years ago this month….”

From London tonight? The news Kate Snow delivered on Aug. 17 did not come from London tonight. It did come from London, but it landed in Manhattan more than seven hours before Snow presented it at 6:30 p.m. And scads of news sources reported the today story before she nighted it.

The [Daily] Mail Online posted the story at 11:24 a.m. ET, the AP ran it at noon ET, CNN at 1:08 p.m. ET, ABC News at 1:20 p.m., and CNN broadcast it at the top of its newscast at 3 p.m. ET.

Even NBC itself ( posted the Princess Di story in early afternoon, at 1:47 p.m. ET–about five hours before Kate Snow told viewers it was a tonight story. But let’s credit those NBC anchors with this: they didn’t call their stories exclusive–or “breaking news.”

© Mervin Block 2013