WASHINGTON — The showdown between NBC and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) gained momentum on Tuesday when the net extended the olive branch of negotiation over a tape — but not the tape itself — allegedly showing GE topper Jack Welch influencing Election Night news coverage.
In no uncertain terms, Waxman had ordered NBC topper Andy Lack to turn over the tape by late Tuesday night. The irate politico and net prexy had exchanged several letters on the subject, with Waxman saying Lack had backed off an earlier promise to deliver the inhouse tape.
Waxman was following up on a rumor that Welch, whose company owns the Peacock, had somehow steered NBC News coverage on Election Night 2000 by ordering newsies to declare Bush the victor. It’s a rumor that Lack — and Welch — have denied.
An NBC spokesman said that while the Peacock would not be meeting Waxman’s deadline in terms of turning over the tape Tuesday, net execs did want to find a workable solution.
“Our position remains the same. We’ve been in contact with Congressman Waxman’s office, and we hope that we can get the issue behind us,” NBC said in its official statement.
Waxman chief of staff Phil Schiliro said the net had indeed made contact.
“They called today, and they expressed an interest in trying to reach a constructive solution, which has been our interest all along,” Schiliro said. “They must follow through. Waxman absolutely stands by his position and his interest in the tape.”
In the current October issue of Vanity Fair, Welch said there was nothing clandestine about what transpired on Election Night as he visited NBC News headquarters in New York. He said several interns were cheering for prez candidate Al Gore, while he and several others cheered for Bush.
Initially, Lack told Waxman he had no problem turning over a tape, if it indeed existed. Later, Lack backed off, saying it wasn’t appropriate to forward such an item.
Also Monday, several watchdog media groups sided with NBC by sending letters to Waxman deploring his threat to subpoena the tape.
“We strongly believe such a course of action would run afoul of the First Amendment,” stated a letter sent by the Media Institute, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists.
What happens next is unclear, whether there will be face-to-face meetings between Waxman’s office and the Peacock, or phone negotiations. Some development is expected by the end of the week.