Rockets, Raucous Riots, and Penn State’s Pitiful Pupils

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Rockets, Raucous Riots, and Penn State’s Pitiful Pupils
| published February 25, 2015 |

By Thursday Review editors

For television’s most beloved quasi-celebrity journalists, it’s been a rough few months.

At first, the worst of the losing streak appeared to be limited to NBC News. In January, meteorologist Mike Seidel appeared in one winter clip to be peeing in the snow when anchor Lester Holt cut to him for a blizzard update (granted, Seidel’s back was to the camera when viewers saw what appeared to his final moments of bladder relief, including restoration of his zipper); Dr. Nancy Snyderman had to apologize for a deliberate break of protocol in her Ebola exposure quarantine (this after months of telling us just how deadly the disease really was); NBC anchor and news editor Brian Williams got pushed into a forced six month vacation without pay after it turned out he had been exaggerating for years his experiences in war torn Iraq back in 2003.

Then, NBC could finally breathe a sigh of relief when attention turned sharply to Fox News superstar Bill O’Reilly, now being accused (mostly by his former colleagues at CBS News) of inflating his own war stories of reporting and journalistic heroism in Buenos Aires during the Falklands War in 1982. O’Reilly has sometimes said he was in the thick of violent rioting in the Argentine capital when a cameraman nearby was shoved to the ground, slamming his head onto the concrete. O’Reilly says he helped drag the photographer to safety while vengeful police surged toward them. A few folks who were at CBS back in those days say O’Reilly’s account is pure balderdash—no such dangerous encounter occurred, at least not in those places where O’Reilly was reporting.

Days later, in a social media rant which appeared to be the result of caffeine or booze or both, ESPN’s Keith Olbermann chided Penn State students for being “pitiful” in a series of increasingly insulting Twitter messages. He called some of the students “morons” and suggested that they petition to have their tuition refunded. The Penn State students were promoting an annual on-campus event called THON, a dance marathon crafted to raise money for childhood cancer research; Olbermann says he was merely goaded into action by their poor use of grammar and context. ESPN was not amused, and gave the irascible Olbermann a week off (with pay) to consider his crimes against humanity.

But was booze or college degree-inflation the reason Dr. Snyderman seemed to fall into dizzying ineloquence during a news report about peanut allergy treatments the other night? In a brief report, Snyderman appeared to be slurring her words so badly that thousands of viewers took to social media to protest her drunkenness, or to express concern that she was having a mild stroke on air. (Remember the hilarious scene with Albert Brooks as a weekend guest anchor in the film Broadcast News?)

Snyderman says it was just too much of a tongue twister that night on air: Three out of every five people have a peanut allergy. This is a Viaskin peanut patch clinical trial…it’s a mouthful!

Only when it unfolded live on the air it did not come off as clearly as it does here in print. In fact, her delivery made it sound on the verge of incomprehensibility. (Also from Broadcast News, also Albert Brooks: A lot of light alliteration from anxious anchormen placed in powerful posts!)

Blame it perhaps on bad copy by the news writers who prepared her lines. Blame it on the excitement of being a journalist in such stressful times. Blame it on that rocket-propelled grenade that slammed into the chopper we were all riding inside. Even the “fake” news guy Norm McDonald of Saturday Night Live fame seemed to be woozy and wobbly during his brief appearance on SNL’s 40th Anniversary wingding earlier this month, but at least he never claimed to have dragged a bleeding Will Ferrell to safety while the riot cops converged.

Meanwhile Williams remains exiled in the quiet wilderness, waiting for what he hopes will be a return to the news desk at NBC without fanfare and after sufficient apologies. O’Reilly is angered by what he says is a political hit job by the leftist magazine Mother Jones, a few zealot liberals, and a few jealous former colleagues at his old alma mater CBS News.

Related Thursday Review articles:

O’Reilly’s Falklands War Experiences Challenged; Thursday Review; February 24, 2015.

NBC News: Credibility Versus Commerce; Thursday Review; February 10, 2015.