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video thumbnailNBCWinter weatherTransportation disrupted in air, on highwaysTom CostelloMaryland
video thumbnailCBSHealthcare reform: employers must cover contraceptionNuns sue, object to certifying their oppositionJan CrawfordWashington DC
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video thumbnailNBCSochi Winter Olympic Games in Russia previewedPresident Putin inspects Ring of Steel securityJim MacedaRussia
video thumbnailABCOlympic ice skating Harding-Kerrigan feud of 1993ESPN docu The Price of Gold on knee attackJohn DonvanWashington DC
ANCHOR SCOTT PELLEY LEAVES CBS EVENING NEWS The severity of anchor Scott Pelley's on-camera style made him a necessary choice to replace Katie Couric in the anchor chair while the ravages of the financial collapse of 2008 were still being felt.

When he arrived in 2011, he immediately stamped his mark on the agenda at CBS Evening News with a decisive focus on the still-struggling economy. In contrast to the story selection at the nightly newscasts at ABC and NBC, Pelley increased the attention paid to the crippled real estate housing market, to mass unemployment, to the ballooning federal deficit, to Occupy Wall Street.

The limited emotional range of Pelley's on-air persona -- strict and steely, disavowing both charm and irony -- turned out to be entirely appropriate for the straightened national mood. His was a newscast that took serious events seriously -- even though such a decision should properly have been made immediately by the executives at CBS News, as soon as the collapse occurred.

The decision by CBS to install a 60 Minutes correspondent as its Evening News anchor was a signal that the news division would address its weekday ratings woes (in third place among the three broadcast networks in both the morning and the evenings) by trying to extend its successful weekend brand: not only is 60 Minutes a perennial hit on Sunday evenings but CBS is also a powerhouse on Sunday mornings.

Thus, accompanying Pelley's austere style and the hard-edged stories he introduced, under his anchorship CBS Evening News has shifted towards a storytelling style that is not breaking-news dependent (simultaneously ABC World News Tonight under David Muir has moved in the opposite direction).

Pelley's newscast delivers more international reporting than its rivals, especially war reporting, often taking the form of features, vignettes capturing sights and sounds from the front, rather than the incremental new development of the day. Pelley's CBS Evening News looks like 60 Minutes too, relying more on its own proprietary video edited with soundbites, less on graphics, visual effects, found footage, chyrons, and display headlines. If you want to see how CBS News handles breaking news, its 24-hour digital channel performs that chore.

This long-term brand-shifting strategy at CBS News has indeed paid ratings dividends. Unfortunately for Pelley, success has confined itself to the morning timeslot, where Charlie Rose's more serious story selection has made CBS' entry more competitive with Today and Good Morning America than it has ever been. No such luck for the evening newscast, which dwells as doggedly in third place as it has since the final years of Dan Rather's tenure.

It cannot be Scott Pelley's fault that CBS News is so successful on Sundays and so unsuccessful on weekday evenings. The significant difference between the two is that Sunday's programing does not rely on a lead-in local news audience. Enormous damage was done to local news in CBS-TV's affiliate structure 20 years ago: that damage neither Pelley nor Couric nor Tyndall's favorite CBS Evening News anchor -- Bob Schieffer -- has been able to overcome.

That long view aside, it is nevertheless the case that Pelley's removal occurred during the tumultuous first few months of Donald Trump's Presidency. It is a time of heightened interest in political news -- increased subscriptions to legacy newspaper sites, increased audiences for cable news networks -- yet none of the three network nightly newscasts has been able to cash in. Even though all three still have sizable audiences, averaging in total almost 22m viewers every night, they each have smaller audiences than they did this time last year, and the drop-off at CBS has been the steepest.

Clearly the general agenda of the network nightly newscast does not match the taste of the politically-focused, analysis-and-commentary-hungry audience that Donald Trump has stirred up. Pelley attracted attention to himself with his harsh and direct characterizations of Trump in action. Some mistook his fearless refusal to be mealy-mouthed as partisanship. I am on the record in disagreement: "It is not commentary. It is actual reporting." I stand by that assessment. Pelley, remember, was White House correspondent during the impeachment of Bill Clinton: his tone was as strict, as upright, as censorious back then.

The Trump Presidency does certainly not represent normal times for political journalism. Yet, perhaps, censoriousness is too narrow a tone to adopt in response to it. Perhaps that journalistic response should be leavened with bemusement and irony. The financial collapse of 2008 was a more serious crisis, crippling the lives of millions.

In other words, perhaps CBS Evening News needs a little bit less of the influence of 60 Minutes, a little bit more of CBS' Sunday Morning and Face the Nation. After Scott Pelley, why not anchor Jane Pauley with John Dickerson as her sidekick commentator?

TRUMP'S FIRST 100 DAYS ARE (ONLY SLIGHTLY MORE THAN) PAR FOR THE COURSE The First 100 Days of the Trump Administration may have seemed like all-Donald-all-the-time. Yet it turns out that the coverage of our Golfer President has only been a little more than par-for-the-course.

These First 100 Days mark the fifth arrival of a brand new administration in Tyndall Report's database. We can compare the amount of attention lavished to inside-the-Beltway politics by the network nightly newscasts with the arrival of Barack Obama in 2009, with George W Bush in 2001, with Bill Clinton in 1993, and with George HW Bush in 1989.

Federal domestic politics in the age of Trump turns out to have been in the middle of the pack: slightly more newsworthy (933 mins) than Clinton (891) or GW Bush (902), slightly less newsworthy than GHW Bush (979) or Obama (947). Trump's only major legislative initiative -- to repeal and replace Obamacare -- fizzled. His major appointment to high office -- Justice Neil Gorsuch -- was confirmed with few headlines and none of his Cabinet nominations attracted prolonged opposition in the Senate.

Trump's foreign policy, by contrast, has been unusually prominent. True, foreign has been less newsworthy domestic (648 mins vs 933) -- but traditionally that disparity is even more pronounced. Foreign policy during Trump's First 100 Days (648 mins) received twice as much attention as it did for GHW Bush (301) or Clinton (333) or Obama (342). Only the incoming GW Bush Administration was close (566): remember the stand-off with Beijing 16 years ago over a USNavy spy plane forced down after flying over the South China Sea.

Based on Trump's campaign rhetoric, one would think that the major foreign story to kick off his Presidency would have been that wall on the border with Mexico. But coverage of the wall since Inauguration Day (36 mins) has been overshadowed by Trump's attempt to put a freeze on travel from seven Islamic-majority countries (139), by the investigation into the Kremlin's interference in last year's election (137), by his response to the nerve gas attack in Syria (102), and by his plans for North Korea's nuclear missiles (98).

In total then -- domestic and foreign policy combined -- Trump's First 100 Days were indeed more newsworthy than that of his predecessors, but not overwhelmingly so (1581 mins vs GW Bush 1468, Obama 1289, GHW Bush 1280, Clinton 1224). These numbers measure federal coverage on the broadcast networks' weekday nightly newscasts (ABC, CBS and NBC combined). A bookkeeping note here: historical data, strictly speaking, represent a proxy for the hundred days (actually 89 days), namely the three full calendar months of February, March and April each year; data for coverage of individual stories and deployment of correspondents start at Inauguration Day.

Yet, even with the context that this history provides, President Trump's arrival at the White House seems unprecedented. I suggest two factors:

First, there is the contrast between the frenzy of the new arrival with the excessively languid lame duck status of the Obama Administration. In 2016, the networks provided unprecedentedly low levels of federal coverage, both domestic and foreign. So the reversion from dormancy to activity inside the networks' DC bureaus -- especially at the White House -- is all the more startling. In just the first three months of his Presidency, Trump attracted almost three-quarters as much federal domestic coverage (933 mins vs 1292) as in the whole of 2016. The foreign policy contrast was yet more startling: coverage during Trump's three months outnumbered Obama's entire lame duck year (648 mins vs 617).

Second, there has been a remarkable lack of substance to the coverage. Trump's First 100 Days were newsworthy not because of major political conflicts or legislative initiatives, but despite them. As a result, it has been Trump the Phenomenon that has attracted headlines, rather than the public policies that the new administration represents. In terms of volume of coverage devoted to individual aspects, as noted, the failed repeal-&-replacement of Obamacare (160 mins) was ranked first, followed by the blocked travel ban (139), followed by the Kremlin investigation (137) -- and then a story that literally does not exist: the wiretapping of Trump Tower (130). Over two hours of network news time was devoted to the President's unproven -- apparently unproveable -- fantasy.

After the doldrums of the late Obama years, the arrival of President Trump has renewed the careers of the networks' White House correspondents. ABC World News Tonight and CBS Evening News have both deployed a double team to chronicle the action: since Inauguration Day, ABC has given the White House pride of place, assigning over four hours of airtime to its team (Jonathan Karl 146 mins, Cecilia Vega 127); CBS has been less White House heavy (Major Garrett 85 mins, Margaret Brennan 82) even though its total amount of federal coverage has been heavier.

On the basis of the busyness of its White House team, NBC Nightly News appears to have made the same commitment. NBC's triple team, too, has logged at least four hours of coverage since Inauguration Day (Hallie Jackson 95 mins, Kristen Welker 82, Peter Alexander 66). Yet NBC's coverage has been the most top heavy -- more focused on the phenomenon that is Trump and less on the federal scene as a whole. That distinction is most glaring when it comes to assignments for the three Capitol Hill correspondents: NBC's Kasie Hunt has been barely visible (13 mins) compared with ABC's Mary Bruce (100) and CBS' Nancy Cordes (75).

So even though NBC has kept very busy covering Trump's White House in his First 100 Days, it finds all other aspects of the federal government less newsworthy than either ABC or CBS. Total federal coverage -- domestic and foreign combined -- for the last three calendar months looks like this: NBC 469 mins, ABC 527, with CBS the leader 585.

ISSUES? WHAT ISSUES? It is remarkable how little attention has been paid to issues coverage during this Presidential cycle.

Here are the network-by-network trends (in minutes of airtime) for issues coverage for each Presidential year since 1988 on the three broadcast networks' weekday nightly newscasts. Issues coverage is differentiated from candidate coverage thus: it takes a public policy, outlines the societal problem that needs to be addressed, describes the candidates' platform positions and proposed solutions, and evaluates their efficacy.

The amount of time spent on issues coverage represents the attempt by television news to establish a political agenda that is driven by the perceived problems that the country faces rather than those talking points that the candidates select to promote their own causes.

This year's absence of issues is an accurate portrayal of the turf on which the election is being played out. It has turned into a referendum on the candidates' fitness for office, hinging on attributes such as honesty, trustworthiness, judgment, temperament, stamina, good health, comportment and boorishness. If the candidates are not talking about the issues, the news media would be misrepresenting the contest to do so.

With just two weeks to go, issues coverage this year has been virtually non-existent. Of the 32 minutes total, terrorism (17 mins) and foreign policy (7 mins) towards the Middle East (Israel-ISIS-Syria-Iraq) have attracted some attention. Gay rights, immigration and policing have been mentioned in passing.

No trade, no healthcare, no climate change, no drugs, no poverty, no guns, no infrastructure, no deficits. To the extent that these issues have been mentioned, it has been on the candidates' terms, not on the networks' initiative.

year (mins) Total ABC CBS NBC
1988 117 36 40 42
1992 210 112 38 60
1996 98 29 53 17
2000 130 45 39 46
2004 203 40 119 44
2008 220 41 119 66
2012 114 13 70 32
2016 (YTD) 32 8 16 8

CALLING ROGER'S BLUFF & POETIC JUSTICE AT FOX NEWS CHANNEL We are watching a game of bluff between Roger Ailes and the Brothers Murdoch over the future of FOX News Channel.

Until now -- during the ancien regime when Murdoch Pere held the reins, not his boys -- Ailes has been able to assert an exemption of impunity based on a claim that he is the indispensable man at FNC: without Ailes at the helm, the channel's golden formula would be lost and the ongoing torrent of revenue from 21st Century Fox's cash cow would dry up.

Enforcing this status of impunity has meant that in the past Ailes has persuaded his Fox bosses to write checks attached to non-disclosure-agreements to make pesky problems, such as Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit, go away. Ailes' clout has not only protected his own position but has also provided protection -- and thereby purchased the enduring loyalty -- of the key on-air stars of his operation.

So, has Ailes been bluffing all this time? Can FNC, in truth, continue successfully without him at the helm? Can the Brothers Murdoch afford to resist his willful claims of impunity?

If yes, then he will have been an important man for FNC (a Roone Arledge style figure at ABC News; perhaps a Ted Turner at CNN) but not an indispensable one. If yes, FNC will turn out to have a corporate culture rather than a cult of personality, and Ailes will be seen to have been rightly laid low by his own hubris.

However, there are two strong arguments that Ailes is not bluffing and that the Brothers Murdoch would be unwise to jettison him.

First, unlike their right-wing-tabloid father, the next generation of Murdochs does not have that automatic grasp of the reactionary-populist-nativist-nationalist worldview that Rupert and Roger share. As such the brothers may fail to appreciate how fully-formed and coherent the Ailes vision is, and how skilled a television producer he is at articulating that vision. In other words, they may not realize how difficult Ailes is to replace.

Second, Ailes is not just a television producer par excellence, he is also a brilliant manager of personnel. The remarkable thing about the FNC line-up is how stable it has been throughout all the years of its success (only Glenn Beck has parted company after becoming a star). Ailes -- by a combination of inspiring loyalty and instilling fear -- has prevented other channels, or other media outlets, from poaching his talent. The glue that holds that line-up together is personal loyalty to Ailes rather than to the corporate brand.

The poetic justice of this moment cannot be overstated: the very week when Ailes' Nixonian vision for the conservative movement and the Republican Party is realized, is the week of his (probable) downfall. Donald Trump, a populist champion of the white working class, an unreconstructed pre-feminist beauty pageant entrepreneur and reality TV star, has his moment of triumph, the apotheosis of FNC's tabloid brand of conservatism, a repudiation of the corporate county-club austerity-minded elite alternative.

Further: given the unreconstructed stereotypes of the coverage and presentation of the genders on Ailes' FNC -- crusty curmudgeonly white men paired with miniskirted leggy blondes -- it is absolute poetic justice that the one woman Ailes allowed to cross those gender lines is the woman who delivers the coup de grace. Megyn Kelly may be blonde and leggy but she is also independent, articulate and self-assured. She turns out to be the exception to the wall of loyalty from FNC's on-air talent in the face of the Carlson lawsuit.

Ailes, the king at the crossroads of conservative politics and conservative media: usurped from his media throne at the moment of his political triumph; punished for his pre-feminist chauvinism by the only woman for whom he disavowed that chauvinism in order to elevate as a star.

LET THE TRUMP CIRCUS CONTINUE The Donald may seem larger than life. He may seem to have dominated the news agenda during this Presidential primary season. It may feel as if he has sucked the oxygen out of all other headlines.

Yet taken as a whole, this primary season turns out -- with one exception -- to be par for the course.

Yes, coverage of Campaign 2016 during the first four months of the year has occupied the lion's share of the newshole of the broadcast networks' weekdays nightly newscasts (27% of all coverage on ABC, CBS and NBC combined -- 1284 mins out 4750). And yes, coverage of Donald Trump's candidacy has occupied the lion's share of that campaign coverage (26% --- 333 mins out of 1284).

But those statistics should be put in historical context. This is the eighth primary season in Tyndall Report's database, whose first Presidential race was Campaign 1988. Those eight divide into two categories: those with open primaries in both parties, and those in which an incumbent President was running for re-election.

Thus 2016 is akin to 2008, 2000, and 1988 in its two-pronged capacity to make major headlines during the primary season; it is unlike the one-sided contests of 2012, 2004, 1996, and 1992 (although incumbent George HW Bush did receive a spirited challenge from Pat Buchanan that year).

Here are the totals for three-network campaign coverage for the primary season (the first four months) for each contest:

1988 -- 1100 mins
1992 -- 844 mins
1996 -- 587 mins
2000 -- 705 mins
2004 -- 739 mins
2008 -- 1492 mins
2012 -- 736 mins
2016 -- 1284 mins

Thus 2016, even with the oversized presence of Donald Trump, turns out to be no outlier at all but roughly comparable to both 1988 and 2008. At this stage in 2008, the prominence of the two political parties was reversed compared with this year. This year, specifically partisan coverage has split in favor of the Republican Party (564 mins vs 239 for the Democrats); eight years ago the numbers were reversed (509 mins for the Democrats vs 228 for the GOP).

If this year is the Year of the Donald (333 mins), with Hillary Rodham Clinton (89 mins), Bernie Sanders (87 mins), and Ted Cruz (71 mins) playing back-up roles, then 2008 at this stage was already shaping up to be the Year of Obama (243 mins), with Hillary Rodham Clinton (193 mins) and John McCain (138 mins) as back-ups.

So the data so far for 2016 reveal that its coverage falls easily within historical norms. The anomaly turns out to be 2000 when, in retrospect, the networks' political teams seem to have inexplicably dropped the ball. Instead of the election, the first four months of that year were dominated by 440 minutes devoted to the custody dispute involving Elian Gonzalez, the refugee boy kept from his father in Cuba by his dead mother's relatives in Miami.

So Elian then was more newsworthy than Donald now.

(By the way, the major non-campaign-related news stories of the first four months of 2016 have been the Brussels bombings -- 132 mins, the winter weather -- 125 mins, the Zika virus -- 122 mins, the Flint water supply scandal -- 86 mins, and the war in Syria -- 68 mins)

In the end, of course, Campaign 2000 was, too, heavily covered, but only after all the campaigning was finished and all the votes were cast. The year that began with Elian in Florida, ended in Florida too, with hanging chads. Of all the eight Presidential campaigns in our database, Campaign 2000 -- the one with the least circuslike atmosphere during the primary season -- was the election whose result was least transparent, brought least resolution, and provoked most acrimony.

If the tabloidesque excesses of the current Trump-dominated season are the price to be paid for a contest that will, in retrospect, seem to have been exhaustively covered and decided in an open, informed and democratic fashion, then: Let the Circus Continue!

DONALD TRUMP, KING OF ALL EARNED MEDIA (This is a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter cross-posted here)

"Earned" is the media-business nickname for publicity and promotion given to a political candidate that is not paid for. It mostly refers to journalism: the dissemination of campaign messages through news outlets rather than through paid advertising.

Needless to say, Donald Trump is the King of All Earned Media.

To take just one example, look at coverage of the Trump Campaign on the old-school nightly newscasts of the three broadcast television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC combined), whose average audiences each evening total some 25 million viewers. So far this year, Trump has attracted more airtime (175 mins) then all other candidates combined (Hillary Rodham Clinton 60; Bernie Sanders 44; Ted Cruz 32; Marco Rubio 14 and so on -- data through the end of last week, March 11th, weekdays only).

Because "earned" media is not bought-and-sold like advertising, such coverage is sometimes dubbed "free." This is misleading since it implies that news outlets just give their airtime away. Of course they don't. Trump gets coverage because he provides the raw ingredients for compelling television. As Les Moonves, the network boss, joked: Donald Trump is "damn good for CBS." Trump has worked for his earned media. He earned it fair and square. Let's count the ways.

1. News: Not to belabor the obvious, a phenomenon gets more coverage when it is newsworthy, when it breaks the mold. Trump's candidacy is not only unprecedented -- his lack of traditional credentials, his disdain for accepted civil discourse, his cursory interest in public policy issues -- it may also precipitate the disintegration of a major political party. That's news.

2. Soundbite: Trump understands that the threshold for what makes headlines is different for political journalism than for other news beats. With other types of breaking news, reporters deliver the underlying details of a newsworthy event and then seek soundbites in reaction to it. The soundbite is secondary. In politics, an inflammatory or outrageous soundbite is newsworthy per se. Trump, with his years of practice as a reality TV character, knows how to say something that grabs headlines.

3. Discipline: For a traditional candidate, an attribute prized above all others is Message Disciple -- the Bernie-Sanders-like ability to return any question, any issue, back to the underlying core principles of his candidacy. Trump's discipline belongs to a different category. Campaigning as a Strong Man who will Make America Great Again, Trump does not rely on a core message, but rather on a core persona. Persona Discipline makes him stay in character, whatever happens to come out of his mouth. Message Discipline makes for boring television, because it is so predictable. Persona Discipline permits that unpredictable outrageous soundbite.

4. Access: With the proviso that Trump persuades producers to bend the rules for him, by allowing him the phone it in without a video feed, Trump combines the promise of freewheeling, unpredictable soundbites with a openness to be interviewed live on air in formats that a more buttoned-down candidate would consider risky. Having dispensed with the shackles of Message Discipline, Trump feels free to riff on the entire range of topical news developments that his rivals might shy away from for fear of ill-informed gaffes. Thus Trump is golden for MSNBC's Morning Joe and all the Sunday morning interview shows.

5. Innovation: On the network nightly newscasts, the traditional formats for covering a Presidential campaign are the horse race -- the jockeying for position of the rival candidates as they face various electoral hurdles -- and the issues, their respective policy platforms, which can be compared and contrasted apples-to-apples. These formats allow TV news to maintain an approximate parity and neutrality with regard to all candidates, with the reporter's job being to observe them as they go about the business of campaigning, with get-out-the-vote efforts and paid media. Trump's campaign is not out there, to be observed by TV news. On the contrary, TV news is the medium through which it is being presented. That old position of parity and neutrality is untenable; the new one is participation and cooptation. Trump is not apples-to-apples with his rivals, but apples-to-Orange, to coin a phrase.

6. Rallies: In recent weeks, we have caught a glimpse of how the Trump Campaign will unfold in the months to come. As the feasibility of his candidacy becomes more apparent, the opposition to it is becoming more organized. Trump's rallies were always potentially newsworthy events, since his speeches are largely extemporaneous, relying on scant Message Discipline, and the crowd-manipulation skills he learned with Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania. An outrageous soundbite or interaction with supporters was always likely to occur (remember his "Pussy" scold of a female fan). Now, however, there is the possibility that more serious news will break out, as protestors grow more vociferous and supporters more combative in response. Trump seems to be beefing up stadium security at his events. Imagine if he starts dressing his security in uniform shirts, dark-colored shirts. Now that would be newsworthy.

Donald Trump's candidacy is a threat to the Republican Party establishment. Obviously, it threatens to dismantle key components of the GOP policy platform: abandoning free trade in favor of tariffs, imposing a religious test for entry into the country, ordering mass deportations, abnegating the Geneva Convention on war crimes. His candidacy also threatens the party establishment in another way: the entire industry of political operatives -- the consultants, the fundraisers, the pollsters, the microtargeters, the oppo-reasearch ad-makers -- sees its business model disappear if elections can be won on the basis of Earned Media alone.

WHY IS CAMPAIGN 2016 SO NEWSWORTHY? Campaign 2016 received only 246 minutes of coverage on the three broadcast networks' weekday nightly newscasts during January. That is far less than the last three election-year Januaries.

Here is the sequence for the month of January for the last eight cycles: 2016 -- 246; 2012 -- 363; 2008 -- 520; 2004 -- 324; 2000 -- 211; 1996 -- 70; 1992 -- 107; 1988 -- 245.

What has happened? Can our senses be deceiving us? It feels like the news is all-election all-the-time. So why the lull?

Never fear, politics fans. The January number is merely an aberration of the calendar. This year the Iowa caucuses were not held until February 1st so there was no actual voting in January 2016. By contrast, in 2012 and 2008, not only had the caucusgoers of Iowa met before January ended, but votes had been cast in the primaries of New Hampshire and South Carolina and Florida too.

The first week of February has already logged an additional 117 minutes of campaign coverage. We are well on track to continue the trend of 2015 (see the Year in Review 2015), which was the second heaviest penultimate year of campaign coverage in our database, second only to the build up to Campaign 2008.

This increased attention paid to the Presidential election campaign appears, at first sight, to represent an increased interest in politics. Yet it coincides with two contradictory countervailing trends. First, the interest in non-Presidential electoral politics (the mid-term elections, statewide Senate and Gubernatorial campaigns) has actually fallen at the same time as Presidential coverage has increased (see the Year in Review 2014). Second, coverage of actual politics (rather than electoral politics), namely the business of the federal government in its various branches, has also fallen (trend data here).

So, the enormous attention paid to the Presidential campaign represents a shift in the mix of political coverage rather than an increased interest in politics per se. So much interest in who is going to be the next President! So little interest in what the President does as soon as he (or she?) enters the Oval Office!

I draw two conclusions. One concerns the structure of the permanent Presidential campaign, which is that of a Reality TV contest, with easily identifiable, oversized, caricaturish personalities, a format that is tailor-made for television. The second suggests that the Presidential campaign is not just about politics: in addition, it stands proxy for the vast socio-economic and demographic disruptions that are roiling the nation, dramatizing issues of far greater scope than the mere power of the federal government.

Think of the most newsworthy of all Presidential elections, Campaign 2008 -- McCain, Rodham Clinton, Obama -- in which a trio of oversized personalities represented issues as huge as the legacy of the Vietnam War, the impact of the Feminist Movement, the rise of multiethnic multiculturalism.

The same, I suspect, is happening now during Campaign 2016, with its own new cast of oversized personalities, and its own set of overarching abstract themes that television journalism has a hard time covering directly, precisely because of their abstract nature, but is able to refer to symbolically, via the coverage of the candidates.

Here, finally, we find, embedded in the dramatic structure of a Reality TV contest, a forum where we can grapple with the societal resonance of the War on Terrorism following 9/11, of the Financial Collapse of 2008, of Globalization & Immigration. Here finally, the inchoate forces of the nativist Tea Party and the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street find their embodiment, in the figures of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

And who knows? If the fate of the Democratic nomination turns out to be decided by a contest over who wins the African-American vote, Campaign 2016 may be the vehicle by which Black Lives Matter, too, enters the political mainstream.

CAMPAIGN 2016 COVERAGE: ANNUAL TOTALS FOR 2015 1. During 2015, Campaign 2016 logged more than 17 hours of coverage on the broadcast networks' weekday nightly newscasts (ABC, CBS and NBC combined).

2. The annual total of 1031 minutes is higher than any other penultimate year of the last seven Presidential campaigns, except for 2007 (1991 = 146; 1995 = 294; 1999 = 339; 2003 = 167; 2007 = 1072; 2011 = 790).

3. NBC Nightly News has covered Campaign 2016 more heavily than its rivals (417 mins vs ABC 324, CBS 290). NBC spent most time on both the Republican race (278 mins vs ABC 235, CBS 189) and the Democratic race (104 mins vs ABC 76, CBS 69).

4. The Republican race is more than twice as newsworthy than the Democratic race (701 mins vs 248 -- with 82 mins of coverage with no partisan focus). Besides the fact that there are many more Republican candidates than Democratic ones, the GOP debates have made much more news than the Democrats' (123 mins vs 25).

5. Donald Trump is by far the most newsworthy storyline of Campaign 2016, alone accounting for almost a third of all coverage (327 mins or 32%), more than the entire Democratic contest combined. The other GOP candidates, in order of prominence, were Jeb Bush (57 mins), Ben Carson (57), Marco Rubio (22).

6. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been the second most newsworthy candidate (121 mins), with an additional 88 mins devoted to the controversy over her e-mails as Secretary of State and 29 mins to the investigations into the Benghazi Consulate attack. The second most newsworthy Democrat was a non-candidate: 73 mins on Joe Biden's decision not to run.

7. Noticeably under-covered have been the current second-placed candidate in each party's national opinion polls: Ted Cruz has attracted only 21 mins, Bernie Sanders only 20 mins.

NOTE: this post originally contained Year-to-Date numbers for the first eleven months of 2015. Those prelminary data have been updated and replaced by these annual totals. The addition of the final month made no material change to these findings.

DONALD TRUMP POSES LOOMING LOYALTY TEST FOR FOX NEWS CHANNEL This guest column for The Hollywood Reporter is cross-posted here.

"Are we in a reality show?" asked NBC's Chuck Todd on Meet the Press on August 16th. "No. This is not a reality show. This is the real deal," replied Donald Trump.

Trump was dissembling. Of course, we are in a reality show. Trump's answer implied a binary: either he is a reality TV character or his candidacy is authentic. The choice is false: his candidacy is authentic and the campaign is structured according to the principles of reality television.

Just as in reality TV shows, modern Presidential campaigns are a series of ordeals that place candidates under such a spotlight that we can glimpse their true character under stress. So far in Campaign 2016, only Trump's persona -- as the nativist populist with no time for political correctness -- has captured the imagination, which is why he has dominated coverage to date. The debates are the winnowing process for Trump's main rivals to hone their alternate personas.

For the mainstream television news media -- the broadcast networks and CNN -- this reality TV structure offers a safe haven in increasingly polarized times. The mainstream craves a political position of impartiality. The highly partisan mid-term elections of 2014, for example, held no appeal for the weekday nightly newscasts of the broadcast networks, attracting only 133 minutes of coverage all year, fewer than any of the previous six midterm cycles. By contrast, in the first seven months of 2015 (some eighteen months before Election Day), Campaign 2016 already has attracted 242 minutes.

The emergence of Trump is golden. So far this August, the three broadcast networks' supposedly-august Sunday morning political shows all have waived their usual insistence that interview subjects appear on camera. Trump was allowed to phone it in. The skilled reality-TV performer has an ear for the outrageous soundbite, all the better to lead a newscast. He understands that confrontation makes compelling television, thus freeing journalists to be less mealy-mouthed in their interviewing.

Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly, when she confronted Trump about his history of sexism, must have been aware that reality TV can make a star of the panel member as easily as of the contestant. For Kelly, this was her Simon Cowell moment. The resulting feud was priceless: Trump's vision of a bleeding Kelly; the journalistic high ground seized by Chris Wallace, FNC's Sunday anchor, refusing to accept Trump's phone-in; a conciliatory call between Trump and Roger Ailes, FNC's chief; Trump's reappearance on FNC programs as Kelly took her vacation.

Vince McMahon could not have choreographed a finer brouhaha with his WWE wrestlers.

Reality TV false-feuds aside, FNC may face a serious issue arising from Trump's candidacy that the mainstream networks can happily ignore. The problem stems from FNC's dual role: a media enterprise whose objective is to maximize ratings and a political enterprise whose objective is to maximize the electoral prospects of the Republican Party. It has not happened yet, but the day may come when FNC's media ambitions and its political ambitions collide. It could be that Trump's brand of nativist, chauvinist populism that drives ratings might turn out to be toxic to the Republicans' prospects of assembling an electoral majority.

If such a day comes, FNC may have to decide whether its loyalty is to its viewers or to Republican would-be rulers. My bet is that Ailes, if forced, prefers to make reality TV rather than real governments.

DONALD TRUMP HOGS HEADLINES -- AND QUITE RIGHT TOO Last week's shenanigans concerning John McCain's heroism (here, here, and here), Lindsey Graham's cellphone number (here, here, and here), and a whistlestop to Laredo for a border inspection (here, here, and here) confirmed Donald Trump's position as the leading newsmaker of Campaign 2016 for the season to date.

Trump was the Story of the Week last week (30 mins vs 23 for Sandra Bland, the Texas jail inmate found hanged). He was the lead story on NBC Nightly News last Monday and Tuesday and on CBS Evening News on Monday.

Here are the statistics for the summer so far (data represent coverage since the beginning of June through last Friday, July 24th, on the weekday nightly newscasts of the three broadcast networks):

-- Coverage of Donald Trump now accounts for more than half of Campaign 2016 coverage on all three newscasts combined (60 minutes out of 114 -- 52%)

-- NBC continues to cover Trump much more heavily than its two rivals, both in absolute time (35 mins vs CBS 16, ABC 8) and in proportion of Campaign 2016 coverage (62% vs CBS 53%, ABC 31%)

-- NBC is the overall leader in Campaign 2016 coverage of all types (56 mins vs CBS 31, ABC 27) yet its emphasis on Trump has not been at the expense of other aspects of the campaign. The three newscasts are closer to parity in total time for non-Trump-related campaign stories (NBC 21 mins vs CBS 15, ABC 19)

So, have the networks, and NBC in particular, made the correct journalistic decision to treat Trump as the main campaign event of the summer?

Huffington Post, famously, disagrees with the network newscasts, deciding that Trump belongs in the same category -- "Entertainment" -- as the Kardashians and The Bachelorette and has removed him from its "Politics" section. At PressThink, Jay Rosen endorses HuffPo for its "sensible proposition." This is how Rosen understands its stance: "There's a different logic driving Trump's campaign. So we re-classified it."

As for me, I dissent from my friend Professor Rosen and the Huffington decision. I side with the networks and the leadership position taken by NBC News.

Clearly, the rationale for NBC's decision could be based on nothing more than the network's institutional memory of Trump as a ratings magnet when the star of its primetime reality TV Apprentice franchise. Add in a sprinkling of corporate animus as NBC-Universal prepares to face off with the billionaire in a court case over its decision to cancel Trump's Miss USA and Miss Universe beauty pageants. Assume that Trump's candidacy will eventually self-destruct, and you can imagine the suits at Rockefeller Plaza taking extra pleasure from watching it do so in a hefty blaze of publicity, courtesy of their own news division.

Be that as it may -- crass ratings grabbing and potential schadenfreude aside -- I have two civic-minded arguments for agreeing that Trump warrants the prominence he has been afforded so far this campaign season.

First, to dismiss Trump's Presidential candidacy as a sideshow to the Republican primary contest proper because he is unelectable, and because his policy platforms are facetious, is to misconstrue the political function of the primary process.

Granted, eventually, the primaries culminate in the party's selection of its nominee -- but only eventually. Equally important, and preceding the selection itself, every four years the primary contest functions as a re-evaluation of the relative strengths of the various components of a party's coalition: a proving ground for those positions that have acquired more salience, a waste disposal system for those that no longer resonate, and the establishment of the pecking order for the coalition's constituent sociological and ideological groupings.

In his buffoonery, Trump appears to be the caricature of a Republican that the imaginings of an Occupy Wall Street protestor might dream up: a know-nothing nativist, ranting about Mexican rapists…an unreconstructed chauvinist, organizing televised contests of breast-enhanced bikini-clad beauty queens…a workplace nightmare of a boss, delighting so much in employee insecurity that he makes You're Fired his catchphrase…the embodiment of the inequality of wealth distribution in this second Gilded Age, insisting that a plutocrat, and only a plutocrat, is fit to rule this republic.

Yet it turns out that Trump's participation in the primary contest is a test. How much is he a mere caricature? How much does his worldview represent a significant faction of the Republican coalition? NBC's political director Chuck Todd is certain that Trump's support is not imaginary. He describes them as voters "who feel marginalized themselves." Trump's bombast, for his supporters, represents the plain-speaking of one unconstrained by mainstream rules of political correctness, of one wealthy enough not to have to curb his tongue to kowtow to fat-cat contributors.

It is one of the failings of the networks' nightly newscasts that they find Presidential primary politics easier to cover than Congressional legislative politics. The large personalities of the stump are so much more vivid than the corridors of the Capitol. Were that not the case, the networks' political correspondents would already have reported on the extent of the influence of the reactionary populists to whom Trump appeals. They may "feel marginalized" but their marginalization does not exist in fact: they have sufficient veto power within the House Republican caucus that legislation that could have attracted a bipartisan majority -- on immigration, for example, or carbon emissions, or infrastructure funding -- never came to a vote.

Trump's supporters may represent a base that is indispensible to Republicans to maintain control of the House, yet their attitudes may be so toxic that they constitute an insurmountable obstacle to assembling a national majority to gain control of the White House. Such are the trade-offs of coalition building. And he embodies them.

Second, Trump's candidacy represents a crossroads in conservatism.

It is one of the perennial conundrums of contemporary television news: why -- when the electorate is evenly divided left and right, Democrat and Republican -- is the conservative-targeted FOX News Channel so much more successful than MSNBC, its liberal-progressive counterpart?

Leaving aside the question of whether FNC produces more compelling programing, delivered by a more accomplished roster of talking heads, the disparity between the sizes of their audiences also tells us about the asymmetry of contemporary politics.

Groups belonging to the left-leaning electoral coalition enjoy a diverse, and non-overlapping, assortment of media outlets for self-expression: many are not part of the news media, but belong in the spheres of entertainment, lifestyle and ethnic identity instead. Thus MSNBC's left-leaning political programing is marginal and only partially representative of the coalition's cultural identity.

The diversity of the right-leaning electoral coalition, on the other hand, is represented much more readily by political markers. Sociological and cultural formations on the right find an easy shorthand in hot-button public policy issues: the right-to-life, the Second Amendment, border security, the War on Christmas, suspicion of Islam, global warming skepticism and so on. To be sure, all of these (except the War on Christmas) are active political issues -- and therefore exist in the sweet spot of news coverage for a cable network like FNC -- but they are also markers of an identity that is cultural rather than political to the component groups of conservatism.

FNC is therefore a news channel and a cultural one, comprehensively, for conservatives in a way that MSNBC cannot mirror. Put another way, contemporary conservatism is simultaneously a political formation and a cultural one. As a consequence, it has spawned an entire media-industrial complex -- not just FNC, but talk radio, and book publishing, and the lecture circuit -- and a splendidly lucrative one at that.

This is where Trump comes in. The logical conclusion of conservatism-as-culture rather than conservatism-as-politics is that it creates -- and attracts -- celebrities. None is more adept at exploiting that spotlight than Trump. While his stylings may not be designed to appeal to voters but to audiences instead, his logic turns out not to be "different" at all, as HuffPo would put it, but mainstream conservative.

This is the second reason why Trump's participation in the Republican primary contest is not only newsworthy but politically important. Trump is exposing the contradiction that lies at the heart of contemporary conservatism. Is it a political movement, whose goal is governing? Or is it a cultural movement, whose goal is maximizing audiences by offering a sense of identity to an embattled minority resentful against a changing world? If the latter, Trump's inimitable mixture of bombast, outrageousness, polarization, insult, and egoism fits right in. If the former, the electoral necessities of outreach, bridge-building, the big tent, and constructive policy proposals make Trump anathema.

Coverage of the campaign has not yet reached the point of choosing nominees, let alone the process of choosing a President, with its conventions and debates and opinion polls and swing states. When those phases do arrive, Trump will be old news.

In the meantime, the Republican Party is engaged in resolving these two crucial contradictions. First, does it jettison its reactionary nativist-populist minority -- at the risk of losing control of the House of Representatives -- in order to have a better chance at winning the White House by detoxifying its image? Second, does it decouple from the embattled, resentful conservatism that is such a powerful and lucrative media phenomenon? Does it present itself as a majority party of government rather than a minority party of culture?

The prominence of Trump proves that these questions are currently much more important than the question of who the eventual nominee might be.

ON THE TELEPHONE WITH LESTER HOLT As part of its promotional efforts to introduce its new Nightly News anchor, the public relations people at NBC News slotted me in for a 15-minute q-&-a with Lester Holt on the telephone. Holt likened himself to an air traffic controller handling landing slots as they piled up over LaGuardia Airport.

In order to cover as many issues as possible in the landing slot provided for me, I e-mailed him my six questions in advance. With the questions thus stipulated, our exchange was more conversational than a formal question-&-answer interview, so I am paraphrasing his answers here rather than quoting him verbatim. To make sure my paraphrases were not misleading, I ran them past the PR people at 30 Rock.

I was most impressed by his answer to #5, and his reflections on the role of the newscast anchor in the social media age. I suppose that impressed me most because I happen to agree with it.

Here is my pre-interview submission: "Some of my questions are based on premises that I have generated from my own work. Since I do not want these assumptions to seem like an ambush in an interview, I thought it would be wiser to submit my questions in writing in advance. In this way, if you cannot answer any question because you challenge my assumption, you can do so directly, without being evasive or seeming to stonewall. Since I am submitting my questions in writing, please feel free to answer them by e-mail in writing, if you would prefer. Otherwise I look forward to talking by telephone, as agreed."

Here are the results:

1.You have been given the job of nightly anchor without the accompanying position of managing editor, as is customary. You know that my opinion is that the managing editor title is honorary and symbolic, not functional, so the nature of your relationship as anchor with the executive producer will be no different from that of your predecessors. Am I correct in this opinion? If not, which of the traditional roles and responsibilities of the anchor will you not be exercising because of your lack of managing editor status?

No, in the process of daily story selection the title of managing editor included the power of veto, or insistence on inclusion. Without such a title the anchor is merely one of a group of three that makes daily decisions by consensus, the other two being the executive producer and the senior broadcast producer. Holt's role involves persuading the other two, if there is a disagreement, not overruling them, a role he has always occupied, never having been the managing editor of anything. As for long-term strategic planning by NBC News management -- as opposed to daily story conferences -- Holt expects to have a consultative role not a decision-making one.

2.As you know, I have found it useful to describe NBC Nightly News as a "Goldilocks newscast," positioning itself midway between the format, style and story selection of the rival newscasts at ABC and CBS on a series of different metrics. There is an alternate way to differentiate the three newscasts: not as positions on a linear spectrum, but in triangular fashion, characterizing each as having skills and specialties that are distinct from the other two. What triangulated specialties does NBC's newscast possess that I am overlooking with my Goldilocks formulation?

Holt asserts that he makes it a point of principle not to scrutinize the content of his rival newscasts, so he does not feel qualified to characterize the relative strengths of the three. He says he routinely watches ABC World News Tonight and CBS Evening News, live, out of the corner of his eye, on monitors at the anchor desk. I find this claim credible, since he congratulated both his rivals for producing a quality newscast. If he were watching closely, that compliment would apply only to one of them. The hallmark attribute he claimed for NBC Nightly News was "relevance," a term that one hears so frequently from broadcast journalists to describe their product that it has become devoid of meaning.

3.Specifically, for many years, both before and after the death of Tim Russert, a unique hallmark of NBC Nightly News, and NBC's news division generally, was the pre-eminence of its DC Bureau. In recent years, NBC has scaled back inside-the-Beltway. For example: the White House is no longer the most important correspondent position; the 2014 mid-term elections received record low coverage; no replacement has been hired to fill Lisa Myers' investigative position; the DC bureau is no longer assigned the daily political agenda-setting hour at 9am on MSNBC. Should the DC bureau and coverage of the role of the federal government have pride of place on the NBC Nightly News? Or is it appropriate that its role has been scaled back?

Holt refuted the claim that the DC bureau has lost its pre-eminence recently, either compared with its status under Russert, or compared to the other two bureaus. He emphasized that NBC News has a full-time Congressional correspondent in Kelly O'Donnell, the mention of which I interpreted as a reference to ABC's lack thereof. My statistics do indeed show that NBC's DC bureau is vibrant vis-à-vis ABC, but not vis-à-vis CBS. He defended the recent heavy coverage of local stories (Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia) on his national newscast by invoking the most recent such local headline, the AME church massacre in Charleston SC, as an event of national and historical scope.

4.Concerning the relationship of NBC Nightly News to its NBC-Universal corporate siblings: at the moment there is minimal visibility for MSNBC (Andrea Mitchell aside), CNBC (no coverage of Greece & Euro, very little on the Pacific Trade debate), The Weather Channel (extreme weather is covered by meteorologists like Al Roker rather than climatologists in the context of global warming), or Telemundo (Latin America, except for Cuba, is low on Nightly's agenda). Can we expect similar disdain for NBC Sports next summer in Rio de Janeiro? Will Nightly News, under your anchorship, discontinue its shameful shilling for your corporate sibling NBC Sports and its Olympics coverage?

There was no sign of enthusiasm from Holt for expanding or deepening the synergies between his newscast and other parts of NBC-Universal's newsgathering operation. He said he consulted the feed from his corporate siblings at his daily assignment meetings but gave no indication that he was interested in giving them especial prominence, nor in cross-promoting his own newscast on those sibling channels. I told him that I mentioned the Olympics merely as a provocation and did not need to hear his answer. He understood the exchange in the spirit in which it was framed.

5.The prospects for audience growth for your newscast lie not in television, a mature medium, but online, specifically in mobile video. Is it your view that the traditional 120-second-long correspondent's package is the appropriate format for re-purposing in mobile video? If not, and if mobile video requires a different tempo and visual style from television, does this mean that NBC Nightly News will adapt its style to make its content re-purposeable? Or does it mean that packages have to be produced in two separate visual styles: one televisual, one mobile?

Holt has a clear strategy for expanding his newscast through social media, but it is not by retooling its visual style. He is committed to promoting his correspondents as experts in their various beats, consulting with them before airtime on how to preview their packages, and having them provide supplemental and detailed information on their reporting, using their identities as an NBC brand to make it accessible on social media not just at the newshour but round the clock. In answering this question Holt was clearly talking the talk of the anchor as the enabler of a cohort of correspondents rather than the persona through whom all news flows each evening.

6.Last, on a personal note, Brian Williams confessed that it was when he stepped away from the newsroom that he became "sloppy" and told tall tales. Has NBC News management applied those lessons to you? Have you been instructed that you may not promote the newscast in non-journalistic environments such as late-night talkshows and comedy skits? If you have received no such instructions, will you restrain yourself from accepting such invitations voluntarily? What steps will you take to ensure that you remain a journalist and do not become a celebrity?

No, management had laid down no ground rules for avoiding show business. No, he would not talk about his predecessor's problems. No, he rejected the premise that it was possible for a nightly news anchor to fail to become a celebrity. The fact of appearing in millions of households each and every night and the fact of the television medium, which makes anonymity impossible, makes celebrity unavoidable. And no, Holt does not see that such celebrity inevitably leads to sloppiness in truthtelling (that was the closest I could come to get him to refer to Williams).

MY EGO IS GETTING THE BETTER OF ME This is cross-posted at The Hollywood Reporter:

For the sake of argument, let's take NBC News at its word. Let's assume that Brian Williams really has been assigned to MSNBC "to strengthen its daytime coverage by further leveraging NBC News' expertise in breaking news," as the press release says. Goodness knows: MSNBC is the biggest single headache facing NBC News management. The cable channel needs all the help it can get.

Never mind that the decision to assign Williams to MSNBC after removing him from his Nightly News anchor chair for transgressions against the truth looks like an insult to MSNBC and its viewers: "Not truthful enough for Nightly, but good enough for MSNBC." Williams looks like sloppy seconds.

Never mind that this second humiliation of the once-vaunted anchor -- first a suspension without pay, now a demotion to the minor leagues from whence he came -- appears to amount to pressure on Williams to resign of his own accord, thus relieving Comcast of the cost of buying out his extravagant contract. It certainly looked like humiliation at the end of the second part of his interview on Today with Matt Lauer, when the normally too-cool Williams had beads of sweat running down his face as he composed his own obituary: "…chastened and grateful…mindful of his mistakes...hoping for forgiveness and acceptance…"

Never mind that the reassignment is accompanied by the absence of any specifics about its rationale. Neither NBC News nor Williams himself in his interview with Lauer elaborated on the "number of inaccurate statements about his own role and experiences" found in the network's own extensive internal review. So it conveniently avoids any accounting by management for its culpable lack of oversight of its star. As Williams confessed to Lauer: "I told stories that were not true over the years."

Let's, for the sake argument, give NBC News and its newly re-appointed president Andrew Lack the benefit of the doubt and assume that Williams has been reassigned as part of the plan to restore the news division to the place of pre-eminence it occupied when Lack was last president and, in particular, to revive the fortunes of MSNBC.

First, concerning MSNBC: Comcast, when it took over NBC-Universal, made the fateful decision to end the integration of MSNBC and NBC News on the broadcast side. It set up a Chinese wall between broadcast and cable, each with its own president, who reported in turn not to a journalist but to Pat Fili-Krushel, an administrator. The rationale for this separation was ideological: a centrist broadcast news division would not alienate political partisans; and a liberal-progressive cable news operation would appeal explicitly to a partisan audience.

This separation was a disaster. The potential advantage of ideological clarity that it afforded turned out to have been far outweighed by its journalistic disadvantages. MSNBC has been weakened as a venue for coverage of breaking news by its diminished ability to tap the resources of NBC News. NBC News has been weakened by no longer being able to use MSNBC as a farm system to test its up-and-coming talent and as a showcase for its correspondents' expertise.

The rehiring of Lack, with control over both broadcast and cable, was a signal that Comcast was rethinking this separation. Until the reassignment of Williams, however, he had not yet implemented important changes at MSNBC on the programing level. So, giving Lack the benefit of the doubt, this could be the first sign of reeling MSNBC's ideology back in, reconfiguring it as a news channel rather than a politics channel. Hence Williams' reference -- to my ear a disingenuous one -- to his cable roots as a breaking news anchor in the second part of the Lauer interview, claiming that when viewers stop him in the street they remind him of his coverage of the TWA 800 crash or the death of Lady Diana.

By the way, while he is at it, it would behoove Lack also to reincorporate CNBC into the NBC News fold. As an independent channel, CNBC has scaled back on its coverage of the macro-economy, monetary, fiscal and trade issues. Instead it has become a talking shop for stock touts and day traders. When the global financial system collapsed in 2008, the coverage at NBC News was superior because it could call on the economists, financial reporters and banking experts of CNBC. Lack should want them available again for when the next crisis happens.

Second, concerning Williams: let's give him the benefit of the doubt, too, and accept his explanation that it was the celebrity spotlight -- the occasions when he was away from the newsroom -- that made him tell stories that made him seem "sharper, funnier, quicker" than he actually is. The urge to show off in a show-business environment "came from a bad place…a bad urge inside of me," he confessed to Lauer. In the most convoluted phrase of the interview, Williams described the phenomenon as "my ego getting the better of me."

In the announcement of Williams' reassignment to MSNBC there was no mention that he would have to stay away from the environment that made him stray from the truth. No more late-night talk-show couches. No more slow-jammin' the news. No more Saturday Night Live skits. No more college commencement addresses. No more New York Rangers games with decorated veterans.

The best way for a news organization to promote its journalism is journalistically, not through celebrity stunts. Williams the late-night-raconteur was a counterproductive image for an anchor, even if had been scrupulous with the truth while telling his anecdotes. If, when he is out of the newsroom he is also out of the celebrity spotlight, that will be good-faith evidence that he has found a way to resist the "bad urge inside me" to deviate from the truth. It will also make NBC News as a whole seem more trustworthy.

We'll see.

LESTER HOLT'S CARETAKER ROLE Lester Holt wins his promotion. Brian Williams has been demoted instead of fired. Announcing Holt's new job, Andrew Lack, president of NBC News, called him "an exceptional anchor, who goes straight to the heart of every story and is always able to find its most direct connection to the everyday lives of our audience."

To decipher press release code, Lack's praise for Holt includes a backhanded swipe against the departing Williams, whose prose style when introducing each night's lead story had become increasingly ornate over the years. During Williams' unpaid leave of absence from the anchor chair, one of the clearest changes that Holt has made to NBC's newscast has been to revert to a short, declaratory introduction to the day's top story before self-effacingly handing over to the actual correspondent reporting from the field.

An analysis of NBC's newscast under Holt-as-caretaker offers clues about what to expect now Holt is permanent anchor. Notably, Holt has not been named managing editor as well, as is customary. Inside Cable News argues that this is a sign of trouble ahead for Holt. I disagree: the executive producer always has the guiding hand over the composition of the newscast; the title of managing editor is a mere honorific.

The data quoted here cover the three full months of Holt's role as caretaker: March through May (the stint also included portions of February and June, not counted here). During that period, more than half of the three-network newshole (1940 minutes out of 3635) consisted of local stories -- rather than national, federal, or global ones -- led by a trio of big-city headlines from the northeast corridor: the Boston Marathon bombing death penalty trial, the Philadelphia Amtrak derailment, and police misconduct in Baltimore.

Under anchor David Muir, ABC has generally skewed its story selection in order to emphasize local news (712 minutes vs CBS 587, NBC 640) so Holt's newscast during these months found itself playing to ABC's strength. All of the three trips Holt made to anchor from the field during this time period were for such local stories: to Philadelphia and to Baltimore -- and to South Carolina to interview the videographer of the killing of an unarmed man, shot in the back while running away by a police officer.

Holt inherited a newscast whose format and story selection occupied the middle ground between its two rivals. ABC is becoming more quick-paced, more video-centric, more action-oriented than ever (the average length of a correspondent's package on ABC is now 87 seconds vs CBS 121, NBC 121). Scott Pelley's old-school newscast at CBS continues to cover foreign policy, international affairs and the federal government most heavily. NBC under Holt, as much as under Williams, aimed for the Goldilocks touch...

…not too much Crime-&-Storms-&-Accidents (in minutes of coverage)

Crime: ABC 204, CBS 188, NBC 181
Weather: ABC 154, CBS 111, NBC 137
Transportation: ABC 174, CBS 117, NBC 135

…not too little Policy-&-Diplomacy-&-Globetrotting

Domestic Federal Government: ABC 101, CBS 155, NBC 148
US Foreign Policy: ABC 63, CBS 115, NBC 88
International: ABC 140, CBS 227, NBC 162

Away from the headlines, Lack's reference to Holt's ability to find the "most direct connection to the everyday lives of our audience" was presumably an oblique reference to his non-celebrity status, compared with Williams.

It is significant that both the internal investigation into Williams by NBC News and Williams' own mea culpa interview on Today with Matt Lauer pointed to Williams' celebrity as his problem. Both asserted that in the role of on-air journalist Williams' misstatements of fact were negligible; the tall tales, embellishments and self-aggrandizement occurred for the most part in his celebrity appearances in the role of late-night raconteur.

As early as last September, five months before Williams found himself in trouble because of his fib about his Iraq War helicopter flight, I noted that, to coincide with Muir's arrival at ABC, his newscast had increased its celebrity spotlight. In addition, Williams made a daily feature of the Third Block, some 20 minutes into the newsast after the second island of commercials, to showcase his special talents: his sardonic sense of humor, observations on pop culture, a potpourri of celebrity obituaries, viral headlines and offbeat curiosities. Here too Holt has modified the newscast to make the anchor's role less prominent. Under Williams during 2014, the average length of the Third Block was 135 seconds; the self-effacing Holt's lasts just 86.

When it comes to the selection of topics for feature coverage, instead of a celebrity focus, NBC under Holt has tended to opt either for social issues or for human interest. Recent series on social issues have included such topics as hacking and Internet security (here, here, and here) or the drought in California (here and here). Human interest series have included cancer patients bankrupted by the astronomical price of medication (here and here), genetic testing for potential diseases (here, here, and here), and, to coincide with the Caitlyn Jenner story on ABC, Kate Snow's pair of profiles of transgender in pre-pubescence (here and here).

Holt's four-month probationary period has been remarkably light on headline-grabbing stories, on inside-the-Beltway controversies, and on international crises. Campaign 2016 is still in its infancy, although under Holt, NBC has decided to cover it heaviest, earliest (40 mins March-May vs ABC 18, CBS 23).

Under its current configuration, ABC is least well equipped to cover serious and consequential news when it does break out: its DC bureau, for example, has become the neglected orphan (114 mins vs CBS 210, NBC 199). Even though he was talking in code, Lack's promise of an NBC newscast that is more straight-talking, less celebrity-oriented under Holt positions it properly for when the news environment turns more national and international, and more serious, as it surely will. The straws in the wind during Holt's caretaker role indicate that Lack's words are not mere flack-speak but have actual substance.

ABC NEWS MUST THREAD THE NEEDLE ON STEPHANOPOULOS First, let's stipulate that ABC's George Stephanopoulos was in the wrong when he conducted his This Week interview with author Peter Schweizer about the ethics of the Clinton Foundation. Stephanopoulos was a donor, at the $25K-a-year level, to the foundation and did not disclose the fact, either to Schweizer or to his audience, at the outset of the interview. This is a basic breach of obvious journalistic protocols.

According to The New York Times, Stephanopoulos also failed to disclose the donation internally at ABC News, in violation of its explicit policy that "an employee making a donation to a charity must disclose that to us before covering a story related to that organization." Stephanopoulos owed us all an apology -- and he duly delivered it via Dylan Byers at Politico.

So far so clear: if that non-disclosure is the limit to Stephanopoulos' wrongdoing then we should all accept his apology and carry on, business as usual. Yet business is not as usual. Stephanopoulos has formally recused himself as moderator of ABC News' debate during the Republican primary season (informally, obviously, the Republican candidates vetoed his appearance and ABC News decided not to expend its clout in order to stand by its man).

So what is unclear is whether ABC News considers that it is not just Stephanopoulos' non-disclosure that is the problem -- but the underlying donations themselves.

It would preposterous for a news organization to have problems with its journalists donating to charity. Clearly, the problem is not with a donation but a particular recipient. As npr's David Folkenflik put it on All Things Considered: "…the Clinton Foundation, this is not a -- this is not just the American Red Cross!"

What Folkenflik is implying here is that the Clinton Foundation is an illegitimate charity for a journalist to donate to. Why would that be? In the Times, Jeremy Peters & John Koblin come up with the insinuation without naming names that Stephanopoulos' motives were not altruistic at all: "He finds himself facing accusations that he was effectively trying to buy favor with his former employers as Mrs Clinton seeks the Presidency for a second time."

Even if we were to give Stephanopoulos the benefit of that particular doubt -- that his self-portrayal as an HIV-fighting tree-hugger is genuine -- that still leaves the question about The Clinton Foundation itself. Folkenflik characterized it as "a vehicle for President Bill Clinton's legacy in his retirement and also a vehicle for [Hillary Clinton] to have a national, global, public stature as she looked toward the White House herself." Following up on his criticism of Stephanopoulos in Politico, Jack Shafer e-mailed to me: "The primary sense in which the Clinton Foundation is a charity is in its paperwork."

This current storm may have George Stephanopoulos in its eye, but its underlying importance concerns the standing of the Clinton Foundation. ABC News has to decide whether it is a bona fide charity or a political placeholder for the Clinton Dynasty in its out-of-office years. If the former, then Stephanopoulos' only error was the non-disclosure and his disqualification as a debate moderator amounts to the news division's betrayal of its lead anchor.

If the latter -- the Clinton Foundation is not a legitimate charity but a fundraising front -- then ABC News (and npr's Folkenflik and Politico's Shafer and Erik Wemple at Washington Post and so on) is effectively challenging the legitimacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton herself, since the power base of her candidacy-in-waiting would be exposed as a tax fraud against the IRS and a shakedown of future favor seekers.

One only needs to look at the pushback to this idea from Bill Clinton in Cynthia McFadden's Exclusive from Nairobi on NBC to imagine the backlash ABC News would receive if it did take that extra step and decide that the foundation itself was an illegitimate recipient for donations. On the other hand, it is inconceivable that the Republican Presidential field would tolerate an ABC News position that such donations are legitimate philanthropy, as long as they are properly disclosed.

I expect ABC News to focus on George's disclosure error and to waffle on the question of the foundation's bona fides. Let's see if it can thread that needle.

UPDATE: Erik Wemple at Washington Post points out that Stephanopoulos second apology, on air on Good Morning America, added an admission that the underlying donations were a mistake -- not because the Clinton Foundation is a bogus charity, but because he "should have gone the extra mile to avoid even the appearance of a conflict."

My paraphrase: "I should have gone the extra mile in order to relieve my employer from having to decide whether the charity work I was supporting was bona fide, or a political front operation."

BOB SIMON'S LEGACY: NO ONE WAS BETTER AT SETTING WORDS TO IMAGES The Hollywood Reporter asked me to write a tribute to CBS News' foreign correspondent Bob Simon, who died in a car crash on February 11th, 2015, at age 73. I cross-post it here:

At the dawn of television news, a foreign correspondent had to file reports on film, which was then jetted to a laboratory back home for processing, ready to appear on air several days later. This meant that actual breaking news from abroad had to be read as copy by the anchor, and that the foreign correspondent's role was to provide non-time-specific background features.

The second phase saw a conversion from film to video, and transmission by satellite rather than jetliner. This phase allowed Ted Turner to assemble his global CNN brand. It allowed ABC World News Tonight to base Peter Jennings as its live anchor in London. And for the first time, breaking foreign news could be covered in real time on a nightly basis as easily as breaking domestic stories.

The third phase -- the current one -- sees a switch from satellite to the Internet, and from tape to digital. Lightweight equipment with better cameras and microphones allow smaller, more agile crews. Broadcast correspondents are now living in the same world as VICE video and digital freelancers.

Bob Simon is most vividly remembered as the long-form reporter at 60 Minutes, his assignment for the final 15 years of his career -- and rightly so. It was there that memories of him are freshest and where his audiences were largest. Funnily enough, although it represents the most recent phase of his career, 60 Minutes' stories turn out to resemble the features of the film era.

Simon's true claim to fame in the history of television news is as the preeminent foreign correspondent of the second phase, from-videotape-to-satellite, from his posting to CBS News' Tel Aviv bureau through the end of the civil wars of the former Yugoslavia, when the broadcast networks' nightly newscasts were still dominant, before the rise of the 24-hour news channels, long before there was such a thing as digital video.

Such was the enthusiasm at the network news for breaking foreign news during that period that Simon, and his rivals at NBC and ABC, would routinely file four weeknights out of five from Israel and the West Bank at the height of the first Palestinian intifada.

Desert Storm, the 1991 war to repel Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, should have been the sweet spot of Simon's career, when both he and the network television news divisions were in their primes. Chafing at the restrictions imposed on his reporting by the Pentagon, he and his crew set off into the desert to find their own stories and famously spent the war in an Iraqi torture cell instead. If his 60 Minutes career resembled the film era, this Gulf War episode resembles the dangers facing the modern gonzo digital era.

Sandwiched between Desert Storm and the Siege of Sarajevo -- and now mostly forgotten -- came the Marines Corps' so-called humanitarian invasion of famine-riddled Somalia in December 1992. Simon, naturally, was assigned to cover the warzone and it was here that he demonstrated the chops that his Iraqi jailers prevented him from showcasing in Kuwait.

This is how the Tyndall Report described Simon's stylings in March 1993:

"After one week the anchors went back home, but their presence had done the job, justifying the deployment of so many journalistic resources to such an unaccustomed corner of the world. CBS' veteran foreign correspondent Bob Simon took up the reins, and was there as the Humvees rolled to Baidoa, yet again proving to be nonpareil at his trade. A Simon sampler:

-- At the feeding center, the children's salvation had come in the form of men dressed up like chocolate-chip cookies.

-- The Marines rode down the road to hunger, to the town that starving children had put on the map -- from the Halls of Montezuma to a room in Hell called Baidoa.

-- As soon as the Marines move on the looters will be back. Villagers pleaded with Marines to stay with them -- before the Marines moved on. At the end of the food chain is a guy with a gun.

-- This country's only export is pictures of starving children, which it trades for bags of wheat.

The days of dominance for the evening newscasts are over. His successors at CBS News -- the trio of Holly Williams, Clarissa Ward, Elizabeth Palmer -- and Richard Engel at NBC have disadvantages and advantages compared with Simon. They report to smaller audiences and have less clout to shape the national news agenda; the occasional warzone danger that Simon's plight in Iraq dramatized is now ubiquitous, as the decapitations of freelancer James Foley and Japanese TV's Kenji Goto made brutally clear. On the other hand, today's digital correspondents have more agile equipment than ever; they can get closer to the action, can collect video in the most inhospitable of conditions, and are able to conduct interviews without encumbering crews and equipment.

These technical advantages have led to two innovative styles of reporting that were not available in Simon's heyday. The first humanizes a story: CBS' Arab-speaking Ward, in particular, adds drama to her war reporting by adding the anecdotal intimacy of individual profiles. The second provides action: NBC's Engel likes to file video from the actual battlefield.

(In passing, we should note that this latter virtue of immediacy can easily turn into a vice, leading to showboating by the correspondent, making him the central character in his own reality TV show rather than observing and reporting on the actions of others)

Despite these innovations, Bob Simon's legacy reminds us of a third way in which reporters impart immediacy and insight into their stories. The medium of video is, after all, properly an audio-video medium. The audio component encompasses wild sound, yes, and soundbites by interview subjects, too. It also allows for narration by the correspondent. No one was better at setting words to images than Bob Simon. In the hurly-burly of battles, the skill required to calm down, think clearly, and write aphoristically is rare indeed -- and one that modern digital video journalists should try to emulate.

BRIAN WILLIAMS IS NOT THE INDISPENSABLE MAN For those of you who do not watch NBC Nightly News as closely as I do (by which I mean almost the entire population) let me assure you that the suspension of Brian Williams from the anchor desk for six months is not that big a deal as far as the newscast is concerned.

If you watch the evening news, you will see that the important journalistic work is delivered each night by four or five pre-taped, edited packages filed before its first commercial break. These cover the major national and international hard news of the day. They constitute a summary of the most important and consequential developments of the previous 24 hours. The work of reporting, factchecking, interviewing, videography, graphics, writing, editing and presenting is done by correspondents, their producers and their crews.

For all significant intents and purposes, the nightly newscast is a correspondent's medium, not one that belongs to its anchor.

If you look at Williams' role on a typical nightly newscast, you will see that he showcases his special talents -- his smooth delivery, his sardonic understatement, his wry smile, his showcasing of his patriotic, Jersey Boy, blue collar roots -- in the two-minute segment, the so-called Third Block, between the second and third commercial island, some 20 minutes from the top of the newscast, far away from its important business.

So Williams' vaunted celebrity stylings act, as it were, as the dessert course, after the meat-and-potatoes are dispensed with. It is significant that the fib that brought about his downfall -- the grenade in the wrong Chinook helicopter -- was told in the Third Block in one of those Jersey Boy riffs.

To be sure, Williams' name is on the newscast, and in the vernacular, viewers will refer to it by his name -- "I watch Williams, not that guy Pelley" -- rather than by the name of the network. But this phenomenon is a Januslike one: as much as it projects personal attributes that belong to the anchor onto the newscast as a whole, the opposite is also true; the positive appeal, or negative defects, of the newscast as a whole is personified onto the blank slate that is the anchor's image.

It is on cable news that the anchor and content are truly merged. Bill O'Reilly or Anderson Cooper or Rachel Maddow are truly indispensible to, and inseparable from, the hour-long programs that bear their name.

Traditionally on broadcast news, the importance of the nightly introductory Teleprompter-reading role of the anchor has been a placeholder position for those times when he truly has to play the News Anchor proper. When major stories break (a 9/11 attack, the outbreak of war), or giant set-piece events are staged (such as a State of the Union speech or a Presidential election), that is when his skills kick in: the ability to be facile on live television, to evaluate the importance of events instantly as they arrive, the image of calm in a crisis and concern over calamity.

In the meantime there are two reasons that the anchor reads the Teleprompter each night: to become a familiar and reassuring face in advance of that crisis, and by immersion to acquire a thorough familiarity with the news of the day so that he will be prepared, whatever the source of the crisis might be.

Now comes Williams' suspension -- and a six-month experiment to test whether a celebrity anchor is as dispensable to those newscasts as I believe he is. Although the suspension is unprecedented, the experiment is not. This is its third occurrence and I have been vindicated both times before. CBS News made a bet on the indispensability of the celebrity anchor when it hired the Katie Couric to boost its evening newscast ratings; she did more harm than good. ABC News made the opposite bet when it delinked the role of evening newsreader from lead anchorman when it hired David Muir to replace the celebrity anchor Diane Sawyer; so far Muir has suffered few audience defections, in fact, if anything, he has attracted viewers.

Network nightly newscast audiences are remarkably stable, if gradually aging and declining. Audience size is determined much more by the performance of their lead-in local newscasts than by the identity of the newsreader. And, as said, journalistic content is determined much more by the performance of correspondents and producers than by the newsreader's personality.

If I am right, this is bad news for Brian Williams and the entire industry of agents and aspirants seeking to pocket their share of the network news divisions' diminishing revenues. However, it is not bad news for television audiences, or for the body politic, to the extent that it relies on sound and conscientious journalism from its remaining mainstream media outlets.

And it clearly can be quite good news for Lester Holt.

WHAT IS TRIVIAL AND WHAT IS SERIOUS ABOUT BRIAN WILLIAMS' FIB One of the advantages of watching the network nightly newscasts on broadcast television every night for almost 30 years now, is that when a controversy arises like the one swirling around NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and his 2003 reporting experiences during the invasion of Iraq, I can go to the videotape.

Yes, I actually watched his March 26th report from that year on that attack on Chinook helicopters on VHS tape from my archive last night. Erik Wemple at the Washington Post has the transcript here.

The main angle of Williams' report twelve years ago turned out not to be the rocket-propelled-grenade attack on the Chinook convoy in which he was traveling, but the ensuing sandstorm after the helicopters made their emergency landing in response to the attack and the Abrams tanks that protected them for a couple of days thereafter.

The human-interest tribute to Tim Terpak, the retiring sergeant who enjoys Rangers hockey, which precipitated the current crisis, also focused on the Abrams tanks not the Chinook helicopters, since the sergeant served on the ground not in the air.

The falsehood in Williams' account resides in the embellishment from "I was flying in a convoy of four low-flying helicopters that came under fire, one of which was hit, and was forced to land" to "I was flying in a convoy of four low-flying helicopters that came under fire, two of which were hit, including the one in which I happened to be riding, and was forced to land."

Incidentally, Stars and Stripes quotes helicopter crewmen who do not remember Williams as flying in the Chinook convoy in the first place, which, if true, would make Williams' woes much more serious than they are at present, since his original 2003 report would be impugned, too. Leaving that aside, Brian Stelter at CNN offers a timeline of Williams' various accounts.

Stelter reports that the first time that Williams is on the record as misrepresenting the grenade attack, redirecting it from the convoy as a whole to the particular helicopter in which he was riding, was ten years after the event, when he shared the anecdote with David Letterman on CBS' Late Show. This contradicts the apology Williams made last night on his newscast that his failure of memory occurred for the first time when he was composing his tribute to Terpak.

Be that as it may, journalistically speaking, Williams' fudging of these details is trivial. His embellishment of the level of danger in which he found himself twelve years ago does absolutely nothing to undermine his account of Sergeant Terpak's valor, nor of our understanding of the circumstances of the invasion along the Euphrates river valley. If Williams is in trouble -- and he is -- it is not because of an egregious error in his journalism.

So what is the problem here? Two quick thoughts:

First, the position of anchorman on a network nightly newscast is not just a journalistic one. Williams also has the status of a television celebrity (hence his appearance on Letterman) and as such his appeal to his viewers rests not only on his journalistic bona fides but also on his personality. Is he, personally, perceived by his audience to be intelligent, honest, trustworthy, proportionate, of sound judgment? So, granted, his little fib about which Chinook he was riding in has no journalistic import. Yet it has great import as a glimpse into a flaw in his character. To the extent that this fib makes him look vainglorious, self-aggrandizing, melodramatic, reckless and opportunistic, his journalistic "personality" is damaged as surely as his fudge of the facts turned out to be, journalistically, trivial.

Second, this particular fib that Williams chose to tell -- to identify himself all the more closely with the perils soldiers face in battle -- derives from his underlying editorial judgment to offer instinctive support to the members of the uniformed armed forces. NBC's Williams is not alone in this editorial judgment: CNN's Jake Tapper wrote a bestseller in praise of warriors in Afghanistan; CBS' Lara Logan famously undermined Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone in order to defend a special forces general; ABC's Bob Woodruff sponsors an annual celebrity fundraiser at Madison Square Garden for disabled combat veterans. And it is not only journalists that exhibit such "instinctive support," which is in truth a mere euphemism for "kneejerk adulation." Anyone who attends a major league baseball game observes the same unquestioning endorsement of the uniform and those who wear it.

Jim Fallows of The Atlantic recently observed that such "reverent" solidarity with our troops acts as a ring-fence that protects the entire military-industrial complex from the scrutiny it deserves. So the editorial importance of the fib Williams told is not only that it displays a reflexive desire toward identification with the military; it also represents his own newscast's self-disqualification as a dispassionate journalistic observer of the Pentagon's role in the domestic body politic and the nation's foreign policy. Thus his newscast functions more as supportive propagandist than as skeptical journalist where the armed forces are concerned -- and helps keep Fallows' ring-fence impregnable.

DAVID MUIR'S JOURNALISTIC STYLINGS Hollywood Reporter asked me to provide a primer for newly-arriving viewers of David Muir's ABC World News Tonight. It is cross-posted here.

Now that ABC's World News Tonight has all but climbed into first place in the evening news ratings race, David Muir, the new anchor, can expect an extra sampling from viewers unfamiliar with his journalistic stylings.

Needless to say, this is not your Peter Jennings newscast. Under ABC News president James Goldston, World News has cut back on international and political stories and introduced a sensibility closer to that of Good Morning America, complete with tabloid true crime, sports-and-celebrity coverage, news-you-can-use service journalism and buzz around social media.

Unlike at CBS and NBC, World News offers a cable-news-style graphic that makes a story's headline visible even when the broadcast is on mute. In the month since Muir's arrival, his newscast's pace has quickened and its newshole has shrunk at the expense of teases and promos. For his Instant Index roundup of the most-viewed video online, Muir spends nearly half as much time before the commercial pod telling us what we are about to see as we actually enjoy with the ensuing reveal.

The nightly newscasts initially were conceived as television versions of the news agenda found in major newspapers. To ABC's credit, it is trying to rethink its nightly news to make it medium-specific, news that can be uniquely found on television -- in other words, a video newscast rather than a newscast that happens to use video.

Some innovations are refreshing, others miss the mark, a few are frankly ridiculous. While they are not exclusive to World News, they are seen there more systematically. A sampling viewer should watch for ten telltale tricks.

1.Actuality: The underlying event is not really newsworthy. Either something almost happened but was averted, or the event amounted to local news but had no national consequence. But it happened to have been recorded on video. It's news because there is something startling to see, not because something startling happened. Related audio actuality (911 calls, etc) can get the same treatment.

2.Bait & Switch: Often the video of an event is not enough to sustain an entire package. Watch for a pair of techniques for spinning the story out: First, the use of "watch," whereby the correspondent rolls back the video to play it again, perhaps several times. Second, the bait and switch, in which we are told that the new video is similar to a previous, more serious story that was actually newsworthy.

3.Play One on TV: Cellphone video never will have the production values of fictional moviemakers. So watch for a news event being likened to a movie or TV series, so that it can be illustrated by star-laden footage. Related to the bait-and-switch phenomenon, sometimes a news story will be similar to something that happened previously -- to a celebrity.

4.Self-Promotion: The newscast needs to reassure its viewers that its newsgathering is of a sound pedigree. So World News mixes in file footage of an anchor's previous interaction with a newsmaker or showcases its own correspondents asking confrontational questions or includes a soundbite from an in-house expert like Brad Garrett (ex-FBI) or John Nance (airline pilot) in order to seem more authoritative.

5.People are Paying Attention: Completely nonscientific and unrepresentative popular reaction now can be obtained by quoting from Twitter and Facebook. It looks buzzy and gives the story an air of importance.

6.Reality TV: When Muir was a reporter, he was a master at inserting himself into the middle of a story. He's most famous for striding through factories high-fiving blue-collar workers for the Made in America series -- the journalist as central character in his own reality TV show. Now, Matt Gutman is partially filling Muir's shoes.

7.Soundbite Shortcuts: HBO's John Oliver had fun at 60 Minutes' expense with a montage of interviews with dramatically phrased, well-written soundbites -- except the bites all came from the correspondents' own leading questions. Muir takes no backseat to 60 Minutes. Related, see correspondents channeling Art Linkletter, sitting on the floor trying to get kids to say the darnedest things.

8.Korean Storytelling: When video is not available, ABC relies heavily on its Virtual View computer animation team to depict what they imagine the scene might have looked like. And to take viewers to far-away places, why use ABC's own cameras when Google Earth can do the job?

9.Special Effects: To give video that little extra help to be compelling, music is mostly used for inspirational feature stories (check out ABC's America Strong series), black-and-white video for a sense of personal danger (along with handheld camera), and video game-style, lock-on-target clicks for foreign threats.

10.Verb Mangling: Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley spotted the misuse of "-ing"-ending verbs more than a decade ago. That trend has found renewed favor at ABC, where reporters impart a sense of current urgency to past events by slipping in an "-ing" (example: Joe Biden's son [is] "testing" positive for cocaine). ABC's Paula Faris loving it.

FIVE NOTES FROM TYNDALL REPORT ON END CONTINUATION OF NBC NIGHTLY NEWS’ WIN STREAK: POSTED ON OCTOBER 7TH Last week, for the first time in over six years, NBC Nightly News failed to attract the largest audience among the broadcast networks' weekday nightly newscasts. The top spot went to ABC World News Tonight, and its newly installed anchor David Muir, who took over at the start of September.

Five quick points:

1.This should not be seen as the beginning of the ratings setbacks at NBC News nor the beginning of the advances at ABC News. Rather, the change in the evening newscasts is the last domino to fall. NBC had already lost its #1 spot with Today and Meet the Press. Until now, Nightly had been a holdout.

2.There is always greater churn in audience composition when there are changes in the anchor. A new face always inspires sampling: loyal ABC viewers who had been alienated by Diane Sawyer are tempted to return; longtime NBC and CBS viewers seeking variety have a reason to experiment. Such ratings volatility can be expected for the next few months before it can be called a trend.

3.Muir inherited a newscast at ABC that had already undergone significant content changes under his predecessor: "Certifiably Disneyfied," as I pointed out in my review of 2013's newscasts, spending least time on major stories, foreign affairs and politics; most on lifestyle, celebrity, show business and sports. If anything, Muir's newscast has adopted faster format too, pacier than its rivals, and his predecessor. An average hard breaking news package filed by an ABC correspondent lasts just 100 second (138 seconds on NBC, 121 on CBS); the length of an average feature is 120 on ABC (153 on NBC, 133 on CBS).

4.The major news story during Muir's first month as anchor was the war in Iraq and Syria. It is a complex of stories including ISIS, Kurdish peshmerga, USNavy airstrikes from the Persian Gulf, and refugees in Turkey. ABC spent only 38 minutes covering this complex of stories (just 10% of its newshole). By contrast, it would seem that NBC could claim a hard news edge, with 62 minutes last month (15% of its newshole). Yet viewers who wanted the most comprehensive coverage in that timeslot should have chosen neither. CBS Evening News spent the most time, 89 minutes (22% of its newshole).

5.Indeed there is evidence that NBC Nightly News has diluted its hard news appeal in the month since Muir took over. In part by subtraction: Chuck Todd, its chief White House correspondent, left the newscast to take over at Meet the Press. In part, NBC has focused more on celebrity profiles. In just one month (besides legitimate celebrity news -- the death of Joan Rivers, the suspension of Ray Rice, the conviction of Oscar Pistorius) NBC has aired celebrity profiles on Ben Affleck, Tim McGraw, Meredith Vieira, Joan Lunden, Keke Palmer, and Derek Jeter.

Ever since Scott Pelley took over the anchor chair at CBS, Brian Williams at NBC has tried to occupy the middle ground between old school hard news (at CBS) and an increasingly buzzy, tabloidesque, social media approach (at ABC). NBC's celebrity focus in September may be a sign that this middle ground is beginning to feel squeezed and that it has to compete more and more on ABC's turf. If so, it runs the risk of incurring more defections from those looking for serious content: not to Muir but to CBS Evening News.

UPDATE: on October 14th, Nielsen announced a correction to its ratings data to the effect that it had overstated the size of World News Tonight's audience by some 300,000 viewers. Therefore Nightly News' win streak has not been broken. My observations about the trends at play stand, nevertheless.

COMMENTS ON ABC NEWS' COMMENTS Allow me to respond to this statement by ABC News' Jeffrey Schneider regarding my characterization of its nightly newscast as having become Disneyfied in the past year: "Our mission is to give our viewers information that is relevant to their everyday lives. Winning the Murrow for Best Newscast in 2013 and enjoying our best season in 5 years is far more meaningful than Tyndall's method that confuses quantity with quality."

I have no argument with ABC News' characterization of itself as, instead of having a mission to present a serious newscast, embracing a mission to present viewers with "information that is relevant to their everyday lives."

Included among the changes in focus that this new mission represents, among others, are the following:

-- addressing its viewers as consumers (with tips on handling everyday life) rather than citizens (on decisions made by the body politic)
-- a turn away from global concerns (lack of resources spent on Syria-Egypt-Afghanistan) to domestic ones (in particular, the weather)
-- a preoccupation with what people are talking about (the viral buzz of the Instant Index) rather than with what is happening (public policy debates)
-- an emphasis on what entertains people (shobiz, sports, celebrity, human interest, true crime) over what affects them (gun control, healthcare reform, budget policy, surveillance)

Three quick points on quantity and quality:

-- I believe this Murrow award was for the best single day's newscast, not the best newscast day-in, day-out. My analysis takes the long annual view.

-- When ABC refers to its "best season", I believe it is confusing quantity (audience size per Nielsen) with quality, as the saying goes.

-- It is true that the method embodied in my Year in Review uses quantitative measures not qualitative ones. That does not mean that I concede that ABC World News' journalistic style remains unchanged, and only its deployment of resources has switched from seriousness. The Disneyfication of World News is thoroughgoing, embracing both story selection and story presentation.

Lastly, on the issue of ABC's cancelation of its subscription to my database some ten years ago [which is not part of Schneider's public statement, but has been mentioned by him to some media reporters, for example here and here], three more things:

-- If the cancelation was indeed the motivation for my analysis of ABC's 2013 performance, why would I have waited ten years to make this observation? ABC is the one that changed last year, not me.

-- If the executives at ABC believe that no one would notice the changes in the format and content of their newscast simply by resuming their annual subscription with me, then they are deluding themselves.

-- I resent any insinuation that my research findings represent some kind of shakedown: that I would suppress them if only ABC resumed its subscription. Prior to these insinuations, I had no animus towards ABC and would embrace any decision they might make to reverse course and resume serious coverage of the day's news.

UPDATE: here is a reminder of a Columbia Journalism Review article by Paul Friedman, a onetime executive producer at ABC World News Tonight, written 18 months ago. In it he presaged the wholesale changes that became evident during 2013. He quoted ABC's in-house label for their new style: Insurgent!