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NBC Finds Rigged Crash Violated Rules : Media: A lengthy report says the 'Dateline' segment proved nothing about the safety of GM truck fuel tanks.

March 23, 1993|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — After reviewing a 70-page report on the incident, NBC President Robert Wright on Monday said a rigged GM truck crash demonstration that aired on "Dateline NBC" last year "showed seriously flawed judgment" that violated NBC news policy.

The report, prepared by two outside attorneys at NBC's behest, says the methods used in the test were seriously flawed. It also says test procedures were not adequately disclosed to viewers, although it found no evidence that "Dateline" intentionally misled the public.

"By sponsoring a $4,200 crash demonstration that involved pushing an old car down a country road and into the side of a parked GM pickup," the report says, " 'Dateline' (journalists) associated NBC News with an event of questionable safety and professionalism, which could not be presented as proving anything about the safety" of the fuel tanks on the GM trucks that were the subject of the Nov. 17 "Dateline NBC" broadcast.

In light of those findings, the network Monday accepted the resignations of "Dateline" executive producer Jeff Diamond, senior producer David Rummel and Robert Read, the producer of the segment.

Michele Gillen, who was the correspondent on the story, was not dismissed. According to the report, Gillen expressed some objections to "Dateline" producers regarding the GM truck tests from the scene in Indianapolis; "the only question is to what extent" she objected, the report concludes.

Gillen, who came to NBC from Miami, will be leaving NBC to be a news anchor at the network's Miami affiliate, WTVJ-TV. Before the "Dateline" incident, she had been under consideration for one of the three anchor roles on NBC's upcoming prime-time newsmagazine, "Prime Story."

NBC News President Michael Gartner, who resigned March 2, was criticized for his "incomplete inquiry" after General Motors' complaints, although he was not made aware by producer Read of GM's initial protests.

It was only after General Motors filed a defamation suit Feb. 8 that NBC fully investigated the methods used in the crash test. The network issued an on-air apology within one day of the suit.

The report, which was written by Robert S. Warren of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles and Lewis B. Kaden of Davis, Polk & Wardwell of New York, noted that neither Diamond nor Rummel conceived of the idea to use igniters in the "Dateline" test.

"These misjudgments and professional lapses were not the result of either an intention to present false information or a lack of professional qualifications," the report says. "The story of the ill-fated crash demonstrations and its aftermath is rather a story of lapsed judgment--serious lapses--by persons generally well-intentioned and well-qualified."

Nonetheless, Wright said the report exposed serious journalistic flaws. These "journalistic and administrative failures," Wright said, "are indefensible . . . should never have been allowed to happen and . . . must not happen again at NBC News."

The lawyers interviewed more than 50 people, including a committee of three NBC journalists regarding NBC standards. Wright and acting NBC News President Don Browne said NBC is undertaking a series of measures to prevent such an incident from happening again.

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