Waxman still critical of Welch’s actions

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Backing off a notch in his battle with the Peacock Network, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., last week conceded that former GE Chief Jack Welch may not have actually coerced NBC News into calling the presidential election last fall for George W. Bush.
But according to the lawmaker, Mr. Welch spent several hours that night at the NBC News decision desk, contrary to the network’s usual policy, interpreting and discussing voting trend data with the expert in charge of the network’s election call-and that should be investigated to preserve the independence of TV news operations from their corporate owners.
“Mr. Welch’s presence was grossly inappropriate and a blatant violation of the separation that must exist between NBC’s news division and its corporate management,” Rep. Waxman said in a Sept. 10 letter to NBC Chairman and CEO Robert Wright.
In his letter, Rep. Waxman repeated his request that NBC release videotapes documenting Mr. Welch’s election-night behavior. He also asked the network to explain how it will attempt to ensure that the “bright line” between corporate interests and news gathering is not breached again.
Of interest to some observers, the lawmaker made no mention of his previous threat to seek a congressional subpoena for network tapes that allegedly document Mr. Welch’s election-night activity. But a source said the lawmaker has not dropped the issue.
“In light of this week’s [terrorist] developments, Rep. Waxman has postponed additional action until a later time,” said Phil Schiliro, the congressman’s spokesman.
For its part, the network is continuing to refuse to release the tapes. “As we have said repeatedly, the calls we made that evening were in no way, shape or form the product of Jack’s influence,” an NBC spokesman said.
“Even Congressman Waxman doesn’t dispute that assertion. In an eight-page tome, Congressman Waxman comes up with the shocking revelation that Jack Welch was interested in the results of what was perhaps the most riveting night in the history of presidential elections and that he supported George W. Bush. Not exactly a news flash.”
In his letter, the lawmaker said that at one point-after Fox News had already called the election for Mr. Bush-Mr. Welch put a hand on the shoulder of the NBC expert who was supposed to make the Peacock Network’s call and asked why NBC was not also calling the election for Mr. Bush.
“Shortly after this, Dr. [Sheldon] Gawiser [NBC’s decision desk expert] informed the control room that NBC would declare George W. Bush the winner,” Rep. Waxman wrote.