Skip to main content

Waxman Details Welch's Election Night

Taking his battle with NBC to new heights, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)
claimed Monday that then-General Electric Co. chairman and CEO Jack Welch
exercised improper influence at a critical time over the NBC official charged
with making state victory calls in last November's presidential election.

In a series of detailed disclosures, Waxman spelled out his toughest
allegations yet -- which he said came from 'the firsthand observations of Mr.
Welch by credible individuals' -- in a 3,100-word letter to NBC chairman and CEO
Bob Wright. Waxman did not name his sources.

Waxman alleged that based on his information, NBC suffered a complete
breakdown on election night in the wall separating the news division from the
network's corporate ownership. GE owns NBC. Welch stepped down as GE head
Friday.

Waxman repeated that NBC should turn over in-house videos that may show
Welch's activities that night, and he called on NBC to take steps to ensure that
the line between corporate officials and news personnel is not erased again.

'According to eyewitnesses, Mr. Welch, the CEO of NBC's corporate parent,
became a participant in NBC's election analysis, thereby violating the bright
line that should separate corporate management from news coverage,' Waxman's
letter said.

NBC has repeatedly denied any improper action by Welch, who has also gone
public with his denials. Under threat of subpoena, NBC has refused to turn over
the video, claiming that footage showing Welch acting improperly did not
exist.

Waxman did not repeat his subpoena threat in his letter to Wright. NBC also
said it has a First Amendment right to retain the video.

NBC spokesman Cory Shields rejected the notion that Waxman had unearthed
anything solid.

'In an eight-page tome, congressman Waxman comes up with the shocking
revelation that Jack Welch was interested in the results of what was the most
riveting night in the history of presidential elections, and that he supported
George W. Bush -- not exactly a news flash,' Shields said.

In the letter, Waxman said Welch -- a prominent Republican who was pulling
for GOP nominee then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush -- hung around the NBC election
desk for several hours, analyzing incoming election data with desk chief Dr.
Sheldon R. Gawiser, who helped Welch to interpret the data.

Waxman said Welch influenced -- perhaps in a not-so-subtle way -- Gawiser's
decision to call Florida and the presidential contest for Bush soon after Fox
News Channel had gone on the air with its call that Bush had won Florida and
captured the White House.

'Immediately after [the FNC] announcement, Mr. Welch was observed standing
behind Dr. Gawiser with a hand on his shoulder, asking why NBC was not also
calling the election for Mr. Bush,' Waxman said. 'Shortly after this, Dr.
Gawiser informed the control room that NBC would declare George W. Bush the
winner. NBC subsequently did so.'

Shields said the news division called the election without any direction from
Welch.

'As we have said repeatedly, the calls we made that evening were in no way,
shape, or form the product of Jack's influence. Even congressman Waxman doesn't
dispute that assertion,' Shields said, referring to Waxman's statement in the
letter that Welch's level of influence 'may be hard to assess.'

Waxman said Welch's activities probably went unnoticed by key NBC news
officials because the New York election desk was isolated from the broadcast
studio and the control room. Welch, he added, first appeared at the election
desk about 11 p.m., after an NBC party on another floor had started to wind
down.

Some NBC people tried to remove Welch from the election-desk area, but they
were not successful as the race between Bush and Democratic nominee then-Vice
President Al Gore tumbled past midnight, Waxman said.

'Efforts were reportedly made during this time to escort Mr. Welch away from
the decision desk. These efforts did not succeed. Mr. Welch remained present at
the decision desk for approximately two hours, repeatedly distracting Dr.
Gawiser and his team of analysts from their critical responsibilities,' Waxman
said.

Waxman's latest letter to NBC -- his fifth on the subject since February --
was unusual in that he addressed it to Wright. Until now, Waxman had been
dealing with Andrew Lack, who was news-division president on election night and
who was later promoted to president of NBC.

In February, Lack, testifying under oath before the House Energy and Commerce
Committee, told Waxman he was welcome to the election-night video if it exists.
Waxman has been pressing NBC to make good on Lack's pledge. However, First
Amendment groups said last week that NBC still has a right to retain the video
despite Lack's testimony.

Waxman has insisted that his request to see the video - which, he said, was
shot by advertising and promotion crews -- was not related to newsgathering and
thus not protected by the First Amendment.

'Investigating Mr. Welch's actions doesn't threaten the First Amendment. To
the contrary, it strengthens the freedom of the media by helping to restore the
wall that should exist between the news media and its corporate owners,' Waxman
said.