Waxman: Tapes Outside 1st Amendment


In an opinion article published in Monday's Los Angeles Times, Rep.
Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) defended his efforts, despite press-freedom concerns, to
pressure NBC to disclose in-house videotapes from last election night.

Waxman repeated his claim that NBC had no First Amendment right to withhold
the tapes. He believes the tapes may show interference with NBC's call of the
presidential race by General Electric Co. chairman and CEO Jack Welch. GE is
NBC's corporate parent.

'When credible questions are raised about a news organization's conduct, it
should be extraordinarily forthcoming, even if the disclosure causes
embarrassment,' Waxman said in a 733-word article.

Waxman has been dogging NBC since February to verify or debunk rumors that
Welch -- who was present at times in the NBC newsroom on election night -- urged
NBC news personnel to call the presidency for then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush,
the GOP candidate. Welch is a prominent Republican.

NBC and other major TV networks called the race for Bush, and then retracted the
decision when the Florida results were declared too close to call. For a while
on election night, Florida had been called for Vice President Al Gore, the
Democratic nominee.

NBC president Andrew Lack, who headed the network's election-night coverage,
has called the Welch allegation a bogus rumor and claimed that no tapes showing
Welch directing election-night coverage exist.

Waxman has said that at least one person at NBC, whom he didn't name, has
confirmed the existence of the tapes.

Testifying Feb. 14 before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Lack
promised Waxman under oath to furnish election-night footage shot by NBC
advertising and promotion staff. But he has backed away from that pledge in
subsequent letters to Waxman, citing NBC's First Amendment protections.

NBC spokesman Cory Shields said Monday that Lack appeared before the House
panel, which was examining election-night miscues, with concerns about
government intrusion into news operations.

'We were gratified that the hearings were conducted very responsibly and
professionally and some positive changes resulted,' Shields said. 'That's why we
find it so baffling that Rep. Waxman has persisted down this path when NBC and
the other networks have addressed the committee's concerns about election-night

In the article, Waxman asserted that NBC's videotapes were not protected by
the First Amendment and noted that Lack did not raise an objection in his House

'I almost always side with the media on the First Amendment questions and
believe government must tread lightly here. But the NBC video doesn't raise
these issues,' Waxman said. 'We are not talking about protecting confidential
sources or risking government intrusion into newsgathering.'

Shields said NBC was touching political bases in Washington in connection
with Waxman's effort, adding that NBC has no intention of turning over the tapes
to him.

Waxman's article appeared four days after the Los Angeles Times ran an
editorial urging Waxman 'to call off the chase.' The paper stated that the Welch
rumor 'defies credibility' when 'all of the networks were in a state of
meltdown' on election night.

Waxman has given NBC until Sept. 4 to turn over the videotapes. He threatened
to seek 'other means' of compelling their production, meaning a House subpoena
against NBC.