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Congressman, NBC clash over election night tapes

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From the Fall 2001 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 33.

From the Fall 2001 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 33.

Despite demands made by a California congressman intent on viewing internal NBC video tapes he believes exist, the network has not released video footage thought to capture decisions made in the network’s newsroom forecasting the presidential winner last November.

In a letter dated Aug. 2, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) offered NBC president Andrew Lack one month to reveal internal videotapes allegedly recorded on Election Night 2000. When the deadline passed on Sept. 4, NBC declined to furnish any recorded material.

Waxman wants to know if Jack Welch, then chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., interfered with NBC’s decision to prematurely call the presidential race in favor of GOP candidate George W. Bush. Waxman contends Welch had a distinct interest in Bush attaining the nation’s top post and influenced the network staff in its decision to call the race in Bush’s favor. NBC is a subsidiary of General Electric.

During a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing held in February, Waxman asked the NBC president to verify a rumor about the existence of videotapes capturing Welch’s alleged involvement with election forecasting. Lack denied knowledge of any such recordings, but he agreed under oath to provide tapes to Waxman if they exist. Lack also refuted a rumor that Welch interfered with the news process.

Waxman threatened at the hearing to subpoena NBC to dislodge the tapes, if necessary. Afterwards, in a letter to Lack, Waxman wrote that he would “take steps to try to compel the production of videotapes.”

In a series of letters written after the February hearing, Waxman continued to pursue Lack for videotapes. Waxman believes video cameras were recording the newsroom for advertising and promotional purposes.

“It would be highly inappropriate for us to share any such tapes with the Government,” Lack responded in a letter to Waxman.

The network wants to put the issue to rest, but it has yet to determine how to do this, NBC spokeswoman Kassie Canter said in September.

But it is unclear if Waxman will pursue legal action now, especially given the large tasks lawmakers are tackling in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. — GR