WASHINGTON -NBC News president Andrew Lack dismissed as "untrue" a rumor that General Electric Co. chairman and CEO Jack Welch ordered NBC to call the presidential election for Texas Gov. George W. Bush early Nov. 8.
At last Wednesday's House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on election-night coverage, Rep. Henry Waxman (R-Calif.) asked Lack to address that rumor.
The seven-and-a-half hour hearing probed coverage by the four major broadcast networks, Cable News Network and the Associated Press.
"I have heard the rumor and it's untrue," said Lack, who was under oath. "I can state categorically that's it's just a dopey rumor, truly dopey."
Waxman set up the question by saying he had heard a rumor that Welch had intervened so that NBC called the election for Bush, presumably after declaring that Bush had won the state of Florida in the early morning hours of Nov. 8.
"I have been told that Mr. Welch's actions were observed by others and in fact were even captured on tape, filmed by NBC's advertising and promotions department," Waxman said, adding that he wanted the House panel to subpoena the tape if necessary.
Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), the commerce committee chairman, did not promise to use the panel's subpoena power to force NBC to produce the tape.
Lack said Welch had been invited to the NBC newsroom to observe the network's election coverage as it unfolded on Nov. 7 and into the next morning.
"I was aware that Mr. Welch was there. I saw him. I observed him. He was in the building to attend a political party, [a] network party," Lack said. "He was invited to observe on a very historic night, a very exciting election night, how we were doing and what we were doing. That's precisely the manner in which he was there."
Lack said he didn't know if the tape to which Waxman referred existed.
"You are certainly welcome to the tape," Lack said. "I know that advertising and promotions were around there. I don't know if there is a tape for you to look at."
Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes tried to put to rest another post-election controversy-namely, whether the president's first cousin, John Ellis, should have been working on Fox's election desk.
Fox was the first network-at 2:16 a.m. on Nov. 8-to call Florida for Bush. Some argued that erroneous decision fed public perception over the next month that Bush had won the election and Vice President Al Gore's challenge made him look like a sore loser.
Without mentioning Ellis by name, Ailes said the election desk was staffed by four people-three Democrats and a Republican. Calling a state for Bush or Gore, he said, required all four to be in agreement.
"So we had a unanimous desk," said Ailes, who added that he told the 35-person election staff that no one would get fired for a late call.
"These are people who are trying to get it right," Ailes continued. "They feel the worst about screwing up, which is what happened on election night. It was a monumental screw-up. They really are not trying to do anything weird."
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