Must-Stop TV

When a public access program captured Tom Brokaw's off-the-cuff remarks, NBC brought out the big guns


Jennifer Nix
October 28, 1996 2:56PM (UTC)

Between snoozing and bemoaning civility at the first Presidential Debate
in Hartford earlier this month, broadcast reporters were busy complaining about having to watch their tongues.

"Careful what you say that kid in New York is probably taping you,"
was uttered by many a contemptuous correspondent especially those on the NBC payroll.

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It seems one evening back in August, at the famously well-orchestrated GOP Convention, the network's top truth-teller, Tom Brokaw, was not quite as tightly scripted as he should have been. During breaks in one nightly newscast, Brokaw was checking his hair, fixing his tie and gossiping mercilessly with his crew about CBS anchor Dan Rather all in front of an NBC
camera and an open mike.

NBC, it turns out, isn't always as careful as the other two networks in keeping not-for-broadcast signals from being transmitted to the roughly 3.5 million satellite dish owners who might've heard Brokaw letting loose that night. What's got NBC execs hopping mad, though, is one lone fan: "That Kid."

"That Kid," also known as 25-year-old Jed Rosenzweig, used his dad's satellite dish in Savannah, Georgia, to capture this and other never-meant-for-broadcast television moments for his public access show, "Wild Feed TV," on Manhattan's Channel 16.
"They should pay me to play this stuff," says Rosenzweig in his barren Brooklyn living room, as he gives a blow-by-blow commentary on Brokaw being primped and prompted by producers. "The man works under tremendous pressure and he's really very graceful despite all the distractions."
The solid half-hour selection of Nightly News footage both on- and
off-the-air is pretty slow fare, intended to, as Rosenzweig says, expose television's magic tricks. The SUNY/Purchase film school grad, who used to sneak into NBC studios to watch them tape shows,
says he's surprised by the network's actions of late. The network has been scrambling to keep this particular segment of "Wild Feed TV" from airing so far, successfully.

Rosenzweig freely offers a wrinkled, worry-worn letter in which NBC demands that the producer abandon plans to air his work, stating that "by scheming to steal and misappropriate the broadcast news property of NBC News," Rosenzweig has been breaking federal laws left and right, including those pertaining to copyright and wire fraud statutes.

"Come on, these guys ought to understand my right to exercise free speech better than anybody," Rosenzweig says almost too earnestly. "This stuff was sent out over public airwaves, and now this media giant wants to squash an independent producer's voice."
With his show sandwiched on Sunday nights between "Judaism Today" at 8:30 and "Socialism 96" at 9:30, Rosenzweig's offering would likely have enjoyed only a handful of New York viewers.
But the network's vociferous attempts to keep an embarrassing Brokaw remark off TV has led to unprecedented interest in Rosenzweig's little show.

The captured gaffe comes after a producer whispers to Brokaw that Rather had "breathlessly led" the CBS Evening News that night with the
story that Colin Powell would be named for a Bob Dole Cabinet position.
Brokaw laughs and makes reference to current Dole operative and former Nixon aide Donald Rumsfeld having regularly fed misinformation to Rather over the years:

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"Rummy used to get even with guys in the White House by leaking stuff to Rather that didn't have any basis in fact. And that famous story about ... you know when Ehrlichman went to CBS and complained about Rather, and it was, I mean it was ... he was factually wrong a lot of the time because he was Rummy's vessel. He'd fill him up and send him out," Brokaw says during a break.

NBC, to put it mildly, has not been thrilled at the soundbite's capture. But while the network keeps pounding at the concept of copyright and fraud, privacy is the issue that's sticking in Brokaw's craw.
"There's no doubt this was a reckless statement ... but that kid effectively came into my workplace and recorded a private conversation I was having with six of my colleagues," Brokaw says in a phone interview. "This was the equivalent of a bar stool conversation a 25-year-old piece of gossip from the days when I first arrived in Washington. This isn't news."
Though he claims the remarks have no news value, Brokaw admits he's been feeling the media heat for more than a month now. He's managed to keep the story out of at least one national magazine, TV Guide, after a piece had
been initiated. A TV Guide staffer, who insisted on anonymity, says editors
agreed with Brokaw in the end that it was a private moment unworthy of
repeating.

"Why should the media be held less accountable than the people they cover?" Rosenzweig argues, while behind him rolls video footage of NBC sportscaster Bob Costas combing his hair.
No lawsuit has yet been filed. Rosenzweig and NBC are now playing the waiting game. But with fines ranging from $10,000 to $250,000 and jail time both possible in his foreseeable future, Rosenzweig is holding back.
He does, however, plan to show the tape eventually and New York University law professor Robert T. Perry is working on the case pro bono.
Perry, who has a long history of representing producers and artists, most notably the band 2 Live Crew, thinks Rosenzweig's case raises interesting questions about Fair Use provisions in the Copyright Act, which allow for some copying without permission for purposes of media criticism and commentary. And Perry takes the content of Brokaw's off-handed remark very seriously.

"When David takes on Goliath, it's never pretty," Perry says as he ignores one of the many precariously-stacked mountains of papers on his desk as it slides to the floor. "But doesn't the public deserve to know that deceiving them seems to be a joking matter to members of the media?"

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Jennifer Nix

Jennifer Nix has written for New York, the New York Observer and the Nation.

MORE FROM Jennifer Nix

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