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NBC News Proclaims Ebersol’s Authority at Olympics

Aug 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

NBC News on Friday issued an unusual statement rising to the defense of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol’s personnel and attacking a story that portrayed a phalanx of NBC News people at the Olympics in Athens as being in position to take control of the network’s broadcasts from Mr. Ebersol and his crew if a big non-sports story were to break out.

The statement, attributed to NBC News President Neal Shapiro, did not specify which story NBC News is quarreling with, but the story was released Aug. 18 by the Associated Press, with a headline that read “Following terrorism scares, NBC News floods the zone in Athens.” The story quoted Steve Capus, executive producer of “NBC Nightly News,” on his role as “news producer in waiting” in Athens.

“What the news division does that sports doesn’t have to do is the news division has to play the game of `what if.’ We have to plan out if something happens and, if it does happen, what are we going to do about it? Sports is here to cover the things that are, by and large, predictable,” Mr. Capus told reporter David Bauder.

Here is the complete statement from NBC News: “A recent story characterizing NBC Sports and News operations at the Olympic Games in Athens was completely inaccurate.

“For large organizations it is crucial that lines of authority are clear and understood by all, particularly in the event of a crisis situation. In the case of NBC’s presence at and coverage of the Olympic Games, that authority is vested in Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBCU Sports and Olympics. By dint of their long experience and unique expertise, Dick and the NBC sports teams are the best in the business of bringing full coverage of the Games on all the NBC Universal platforms-an historic achievement.

“The story also says that an overnight producer in Atlanta in 1996 was ‘unequipped’ to handle the breaking news of the Olympic Park bombing. That is also wrong. The work of the sports division was exemplary-covering the news when it first broke and accurately dealing with every breaking angle of the story.

“Finally, any suggestion that news reporters would replace the outstanding collection of sports journalists in the case of breaking Olympic news is wrong. As we have in the past, the news reporters and producers would supplement the sports team, and, as in years past, the resources of the sports division would enhance our reporting for ‘Today,’ ‘Nightly’ and other news broadcasts. Dick Ebersol has taken the lead in planning for all imaginable eventualities in Athens and has made the News Division a vital part of that coverage-just one more example of how NBC is covering these great Games like no one else can.”

Asked whether the statement’s characterization of the AP story as “completely inaccurate” means NBC News is calling into question or otherwise disavowing the comments attributed to Mr. Capus, NBC News spokeswoman Allison Gollust said: “The points in the story that we take issue with are clarified in the statement.”

Associated Press spokesman Jack Stokes said, “The news department believes the story is fair and fine and declined to do a corrective.”