On the same day that news of attacks on U.S. troop and Iraqi targets are at an all-time high, what does NBC Nightly News lead with last night?
The dangers of over-the-counter pain relief medicine.
The breaking news? Warning labels will now accompany acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin, alerting users that exceeding the recommended dose could lead to serious health risks. Of course, these risks, such as liver damage from taking too much acetaminophen, have been known for years. It is only the labeling, therefore, that’s news.
And while spreading the word, which will already be spread through this labeling, cannot be a bad thing, could anyone rationally argue that it is more newsworthy than, say, the ever-deteriorating situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, genocide in Darfur that’s spilled into Chad, ongoing political turbulence in Mexico, national elections in Iran, or, here at home, the forgotten daily struggles of Katrina victims?
Once again, anchor Brian Williams trots out NBC’s Chief Medical Editor Nancy Snyderman after her pre-taped report. Katie Couric style, Brian and Nancy chat about the new labeling practice and why it’s so important for the American people (did NBC miss the memo that this kind of soft news, highlighted each day on the morning talk shows, appears to have contributed to Couric’s poor ratings?). Then, as if pre-empting more pressing news for this gratuitous focus weren’t silly enough, Williams decides he isn’t milking the “I feel your pain” moment to his satisfaction and launches into a completely unrelated health issue with Snyderman.
“Now, while we have you, a story broke last night that the First Lady Laura Bush has had what they’re calling minor surgery for skin cancer on her leg, her shin. What should we know about this? What have we learned today?”
She had minor surgery for skin cancer. What should we know about this? Just that. Millions of people have this performed daily. Fine, she’s the First Lady. So it’s news, I guess. But there’s no further there, there. Yet Snyderman fills us in anyway, with sharp medical observations, like Laura probably got it from sunbathing. Then she delves into the now well-known dangers of the sun, as well as warning signs to detect possible cancerous lesions.
Meanwhile, Baghdad burns.
The full segment on pain relievers lasts three minutes and eleven seconds. A report on Bush’s plan to surge U.S. troop levels in Iraq (which follows) clocks in at a mere two minutes and fifty-six seconds. Over a half million people have already died from the war in Iraq. Should we increase our forces rather than put an end to this pointless, unwinnable and immoral war, hundreds of thousands more will die.
Weigh that against the dangers of popping an Advil.
Brian Williams closes the health segment with Snyderman by saying, “All right. A lot of ground to cover in the health world, tonight,” seemingly attempting to sweeten the sell of this as a lead story. Williams, however, without a doubt the sharpest among the three major network anchors, certainly knows there's no viable means to justify putting this story at the top of his broadcast.
It’s just the kind of reporting that makes me reach for the nearest pain reliever.