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NBC Blames Journalistic, Administrative ‘Failures’ for Truck-Crash Fiasco

March 23, 1993

NEW YORK (AP) _ NBC News went public Monday with an internal report blaming ″seriously flawed judgments″ for the rigged GM truck crash that toppled three ″Dateline NBC″ producers and NBC News’ president.

″These journalistic and administrative failures are indefensible,″ NBC President Robert C. Wright said in a statement. ″They should not have happened. They should never have been allowed to happen. And they must not happen again at NBC News.″

The network said it had accepted three ″Dateline″ resignations:

- Executive producer Jeff Diamond, a former senior producer at ABC’s ″20-20″ news show;

- Senior producer David Rummel, a former producer at ″20-20″ and CBS’ ″60 Minutes;″

- Segment producer Robert Read, a former producer for ″20-20″ and the syndicated ″Inside Edition.″

Michele Gillen, the reporter who narrated the GM crash story, had ″raised concerns″ about the crash. ″The only question is to what extent,″ NBC said. Gillen has agreed to reassignment as news anchor at WTVJ-TV in Miami.

NBC announced that Neal Shapiro, a former producer for ABC’s ″PrimeTime Live,″ will take over Tuesday as executive producer of ″Dateline NBC.″

NBC ordered the report last month, after ″Dateline NBC″ settled a General Motors lawsuit with a retraction and apology for a 55-second portion of its Nov. 17, 1992, report on the safety of ″sidesaddle″ gas tanks built in 1973-87 GM trucks.

The report was prepared for the network by attorneys Robert S. Warren of the Los Angeles firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Lewis B. Kaden of the New York firm Davis Polk & Wardwell.

The automaker sued after learning that a GM truck that burst into flame during what was called an ″unscientific demonstration″ was rigged with toy rocket engines to ensure that it would catch fire when hit by a car.

″Neither Mr. Diamond nor any other ‘Dateline’ journalist conceived of the idea to use igniters as a means of rigging the test results,″ and did not intend to present false information, the NBC report said.

The report did not specify whose idea the igniters were, but blamed the ″Dateline″ producers for failing to consider whether their use was consistent with NBC standards. The demonstration was conducted on NBC’s behalf by consultant Bruce Enz and his Indianapolis-based company, The Institute for Safety Analysis.

Then-NBC News president Michael Gartner said in early February that the use of the igniters was NBC’s idea. But the NBC report said Gartner’s comments at the time were based on ″inadequate information.″

Gartner resigned March 2 as NBC News’ president, saying he hoped his departure would help defuse the controversy. His successor has not been named.

″You can’t tar and feather a whole news division or a whole program for what happened in that report,″ said Steve Friedman, who launched ″Dateline,″ as executive in charge of production. ″Enough looking behind: Let’s look ahead.″

Monday’s report said NBC staffers failed to address five key decisions in the ill-fated segment:

- In commissioning crash demonstrations, ″Dateline″ journalists didn’t adequately question whether they were scientifically testing truck safety or illustrating a fire resulting from a side-impact collision. ″This fundamental ambiguity was never resolved,″ the report said.

- The $4,200 crash - which pushed an old car down a country road and into the side of a parked GM pickup - ″associated NBC News with an event of questionable safety and professionalism″ which proved nothing about sidesaddle tanks.

- ″The ‘Dateline’ journalists failed to report the results fairly and accurately″ by using multiple camera angles in the editing process and by juxtaposing their crash video with other crash tests.

- ″The ‘Dateline’ team failed to disclose the use of igniters, or sparking devices,″ during the test.

- ″Everyone involved with the script and the video, including NBC News management, the reviewing attorney and the ‘Dateline’ production team″ accepted the ″unscientific″ tag without asking what it meant.

The report also said NBC News management failed to adequately investigate GM’s allegations.

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