NBC takes new look at news rules

NBC president Robert Wright and news president Michael Gartner told company employees yesterday that they would “urgently and intensely” review the news policies that led to the company’s on-air apology to General Motors for fixing a crash test to prove a fault with a line of the automaker’s trucks.

NBC did not tell viewers about the rigged tests, which the web acknowledged on the air was a mistake.

So far, no one has quit or been fired because of the gaffe.

NBC’s apology to GM was the result of a November installment of “Dateline NBC ,” in which NBC used a minute of footage from a crash test to demonstrate potential danger in GM trucks built between 1973 and 1987.

GM’s trucks have been the subject of much controversy, with several safety groups maintaining that the “sidesaddle” mounting of the vehicle’s gas tanks makes the trucks more prone to explosions during side impact crashes.

However, when the NBC tests were conducted, the company doing the testing mounted model rocket engines under the truck to ensure a fire would start if gas leaked from the tanks. NBC failed to mention the use of the incendiary devices during its initial report. GM filed a defamation suit against the net earlier this week.

“In the 24 hours following GM’s press conference on Monday, it became apparent that the crash demonstration, as we had presented, was confusing at best,” said Wright in his memo to employees.

“‘Dateline’ labeled it unscientific, and it was,” Gartner said. “On Monday, we found out how serious that problem was. There were procedures that were questionable and conclusions that were not clearly presented. We made a mistake.”

One thing Gartner said the network learned from the mess, was that “unscientific” demonstrations should have no place in hard news stories at NBC. Both Gartner and Wright said that all policies would be reviewed and that they needed to find out what went wrong.

Tuesday night during “Dateline,” the show’s anchors Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips read a retraction, which resulted in GM dropping its suit.

“Dateline” staffers were told yesterday by a show executive that they had suffered a black eye, but that it was important for them to “look ahead.”

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