General Motors Like a Rock
General Motors provided a videotape of the Harry Pearce press conference with retractions by NBC and acceptances by GM. Also available from GM were two videotapes of Michelle Gillen’s interviews with a GM engineer and an attorney representing GM in the Moseley case. The contact was: Mr. Ed Lechtzin, Director of Legal and Safety Issues, GM Communications Staff, New Center One Building--7305, 3031 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit MI, 48202. A segment on the GM pickup trucks was broadcast on the McNeil-Lehrer Report, November 30, 1993.
The issue has three components: 1) the dispute over the safety of the pickup trucks, 2) the Dateline program, and 3) the public’s perspective on this affair. The issue that underlies all of these is safety.
With respect to the Dateline segment, it is clear (from the information presented in the case and subsequent disclosures) that NBC had fabricated the explosion and fire. GM concluded that this was the case, and management was incensed by NBC’s false presentation. One alternative was to do nothing, and that was what some media advisors frequently advocate; i.e., get the issue out of the public’s eye. In this case, however, GM should address the issue directly. In addition to the recent court judgment against GM, politicians and regulators might become more active on this issue. It is unlikely to go away, and activists would work to make sure that it does not. Indeed, the Center for Auto Safety planned a news conference in a few days.
A major decision for GM was whether to take this issue to the public or to deal with it behind the scenes. At some risk, GM decided that the right thing to do was to present its information to the public. Another alternative was for GM to file a defamation suit against NBC News, which GM did. In this case, GM had quite a good opportunity to win, since it is clear that NBC fabricated the fire, falsely reported the events, and knew it was doing...
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