News

Lack: Videotape Fuss Is Finished

8/01/2001 10:22 AM Eastern

In a July 31 letter to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), NBC president and chief
operating officer Andrew Lack said the network considers Waxman's request to see
internal NBC News election-night videos to be a closed matter.

'Your continued pursuit of videotape and unfounded `rumors' cannot be
explained by any objective view of the facts,' Lack said in a one-page letter,
his third to Waxman on the subject since February. 'As far as we are concerned,
this matter has now been brought to a close.'

Since Lack's sworn House testimony Feb. 14, Waxman has been pressing NBC for
details about a rumor that General Electric Co. chairman and CEO Jack Welch
pressured NBC News to call the Nov. 7 presidential election for then-Texas Gov.
George W. Bush. GE is NBC's corporate parent, and Welch is a prominent
Republican.

Like many major news outlets, NBC called the presidential election for
Republican candidate Bush early Nov. 8, but then withdrew it after the Florida
results were deemed too close to call. The election turmoil ended about one
month later when the Supreme Court terminated the Florida recount.

Waxman aide Phil Schiliro, who declined to name his source, insisted that NBC
promotional employees shot videotape on election night that possibly captured
Welch's interaction with the NBC workers on the election desk.

Lack, in charge of the election desk, has repeatedly denied any Welch
interference, calling such a story a 'dopey rumor.' In a Feb. 22 letter to
Waxman, Lack denied the existence of videotape documenting interference by
Welch, although Lack has acknowledged that Welch visited the news department
that night.

Waxman, while grateful for Lack's personal assurance, said in a March 15
letter to Lack that Lack's responses to specific questions about the videotapes
have been evasive. Waxman wants to review the tapes, maintaining that no First
Amendment issue is at stake because his request would not impinge on
newsgathering or editorial decision-making.

In his letter Tuesday to Waxman, Lack effectively ruled out any hope that NBC
would surrender videotapes if they were found to exist.

'As I have said to you previously, there is simply no basis for a news
organization to turn over its internal materials, especially when the grounds
for the request is a baseless `rumor' that is dead wrong,' Lack said.

Schiliro, who called Lack's letter 'sarcastic' and 'defiant,' said Waxman
would not abandon his effort to obtain detailed responses from NBC on the
videotapes.

'After the [February House] hearing, we got very specific information about
where the tape was,' Schiliro said, adding that Waxman has a reputation for
persistence 'whether it's the tobacco companies or the pharmaceutical
companies.' Waxman, he added, was planning to send Lack a fourth letter
soon.

Waxman also has the option of asking House Energy and Commerce Committee
chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) to issue a subpoena for the videotapes. Tauzin has
subpoena power when the House is in recess. Otherwise, the subpoena has to issue
from the relevant subcommittee.

'We certainly would be interested in seeing anything that Rep. Waxman
uncovers, but chairman Tauzin has no intention of issuing any subpoenas,' Tauzin
spokesman Ken Johnson said.

Want to read more stories like this?
Get our Free Newsletter Here!
October