Last month during its coverage of the U.S. Open golf championship, you may recall, NBC produced a video to open its coverage. While it billed it as a “patriotic” piece, complete with several stirring images of Americana, it featured children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance — but omitting “under God” not once, but twice. “One nation, indivisible” also got the editing room chop. The entire affair created an instant uproar. Viewers burned up NBC’s phone lines, filled its e-mail boxes and posted their outrage all over the Internet, forcing the network into a rare on-air apology with a couple of hours.
However, some wanted more information from the great big Peacock. Among them, 108 congressmen of both parties, including Virginia fourth district Republican Randy Forbes. They sent NBCUniversal CEO Stephen Burke (Hollywood Reporter) a letter that week, which read, in part:
We live in a society where there are increasing efforts to remove all mention of religion from public life, and we remain dedicated to defending against such attempts. As a key player in shaping the national dialogue through various media outlets, we are interested to know what steps NBC has taken to prevent America’s religious heritage from being obscured in this manner. We request that you implement a policy to ensure that the Pledge of Allegiance is not altered in future broadcasts. (Read entire letter, here.)
It took a while, and the reply didn’t come from Mr. Burke. Rrather, it came from Kyle McSlarrow, the president of Comcast and NBCUniversal (Deadline.com), Comcast being the new owner of NBC. Here is Mr. McSlarrow’s letter (see copy of original, here):
Dear Representatives Forbes and McIntyre:
Steve Burke has asked me to respond to your letter of June 24, 2011, expressing your concerns regarding the opening of our U.S. Open coverage on June 19, 2011, concerns we fully understand and share.
Our intent for the opening feature of the final round of the U.S. Open was to produce a patriotic piece keyed off the fact that our national golf championship was being played in our nation’s capital. Unfortunately, a serious error in judgment was made by a small group of people. To be absolutely clear, this was not an ideological decision by the company and it was not discussed with or approved by any senior NBCUniversal official.
We have made quite clear — internally and externally — that the employees who made this decision were wrong. Not only were countless citizens justifiably upset, but also the actions of this small group cast a negative light on NBCUniversal, NBC, and NBC Sports, as well as our partners at the United States Golf Association. It was an inexcusable mistake in judgment and it will not be repeated.
As you noted in your letter, once senior management became aware of the issue, we immediately acknowledged our mistake on the air to a national audience and apologized — long before this became a well known incident. We also prepared a written apology and have made every effort to respond to every letter, email, and phone call reiterating our regret.
We are taking steps to prevent similar mistakes in the future. The employees involved have been reprimanded. And we have already implemented a new checks and balances process for preproduced pieces, ensuring that nothing will go on the air without senior-level approval, including and up to the executive in charge of production at any event.
We are confident that taking these steps will prevent further incidents and we are hopeful that our apologies will be accepted.
We think he sounds genuinely contrite and firmly committed to preventing anything similar from every happening again —and it sounds like those who produced the video got the once-over. (By the way, Mr. McSlarrow has served in a number of high profile positions and in the 1990s twice ran as a Republican for Virginia’s 8th Congressional district seat.) Furthermore, NBC seems to have acknowledged, contrary to its initial claim, that it was more than an accidental editing mistake. Representative Forbes and his colleagues also seem somewhat satisfied in Mr. McSlarrow’s response and we applaud Representatives Forbes (see his blog, here), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and the other 106 members of Congress for seeking this more detailed answer from NBC.