Editorial: What is NBC trying to hide?

Aug 13, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at NBC, where network President Andrew Lack is behaving a lot like a man scrambling to cover up an election-night blunder by Jack Welch, the outgoing chairman of NBC’s parent company, General Electric.
A rumor has been circulating since the presidential election that Mr. Welch intervened in the operation of the news department, convincing NBC’s election team to call the state of Florida-and with it, the election-for George W. Bush. The rumor caught the attention of Congress, particularly Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who grilled Mr. Lack about it in February at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Mr. Lack, then president of NBC News, dismissed the rumor. But what makes this rumor especially enticing is the revelation that at least one videotape, possibly two, may exist of Mr. Welch’s alleged shenanigans on election night. Mr. Lack has never confirmed the existence of such video but assured Mr. Waxman at the hearing, “You’re certainly welcome to the tape.”
Those words have come back to haunt Mr. Lack. After an apparent change of heart, he has spent the past six months fighting off a determined campaign by Rep. Waxman to get him to produce the tape.
The battle has been waged in a series of increasingly pointed letters between Rep. Waxman and Mr. Lack. The letters present a picture of Mr. Lack trying desperately to squirm off the hook-and not having much luck. The correspondence makes clear that Rep. Waxman has done his homework, and that he isn’t about to let the matter drop. He goes so far as to pinpoint the closet at NBC in which he believes at least one tape can be found.
What isn’t clear is exactly what happened at the NBC election desk on that chaotic night in November 2000. Maybe, as some have suggested, Mr. Welch is guilty of nothing worse than some embarrassing, ill-timed joking around. For that matter, maybe nothing even remotely improper took place at NBC on election night.
If NBC does have videotape in its possession that can shed light on the events of Nov. 7, Mr. Lack’s refusal to allow it to see the light of day has succeeded only in stoking the fires of suspicion, provoking the obvious question: Just what is NBC trying to hide?
We are leery when Big Brother government comes after a reporter’s notes or tapes. But the issue here is quite different. This is not a First Amendment matter, nor is it merely a question of what Mr. Welch may or may not have done. At stake now is the very credibility of NBC News.
Regardless of what is on the tape, it’s time for Mr. Lack to come clean before he does further damage to the network. He must abandon his game of evasion and hand over any tapes that will help get to the truth.
For a transcript of the letters between Rep. Waxman and Mr. Lack, see www.emonline.com.