NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - A former "Dateline NBC"
correspondent claims that in the aftermath of September 11, the
network diverted him from reporting on al Qaeda and instead
wanted him to ride along with the country's "forgotten heroes,"
John Hockenberry, who was laid off from "Dateline" in early
2005, wrote in this month's Technology Review that on the
Sunday after the September 2001 attacks he was pitching stories
on the origins of al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism. He
claimed that then-NBC programming chief Jeff Zucker, who came
into a meeting Hockenberry was having with "Dateline" executive
producer David Corvo, said "Dateline" should instead focus on
the firefighters and perhaps ride along with them a la "Cops,"
the Fox reality series.
According to Hockenberry, Zucker said "that he had no time
for any subtitled interviews with jihadists raging about
NBC News wasn't impressed by this or any of Hockenberry's
"It's unfortunate that John Hockenberry seems to be so far
out of touch with reality," an NBC spokesperson said. "The
comments are so utterly absurd, we will have no further
comment." Another NBC executive said it didn't sound like
Zucker, who was promoted out of the news division and was at
one time "Today" executive producer.
Hockenberry is a distinguished fellow at the MIT Media Lab
in Cambridge, Mass. But for more than 20 years, he was a
broadcast journalist working at National Public Radio, ABC News
and from 1996-2005, a correspondent at "Dateline."
Hockenberry's blistering article trained much of its fire on
the controversial NBC newsmagazine, which has been criticized
for its "To Catch a Predator" series -- a "highly rated pile of
programming debris," in Hockenberry's words.
Another bombshell is Hockenberry's claims that General
Electric, NBC's parent company, discouraged him from talking to
the Bin Laden family about their estranged family member.
Hockenberry asked GE, which does business with the Bin Laden
family company, to help him get in contact with them. Instead,
a PR executive called Hockenberry's hotel room in Saudi Arabia
and read a statement about how GE didn't see its "valuable
business relationship" with the Bin Laden Group as having
anything to do with "Dateline."
In another instance, Hockenberry claimed a story he did
about a Weather Underground member wouldn't appear on the
Sunday edition of "Dateline" unless its lead-out, the 1960s
family drama "American Dreams," did a show about "protesters or
something." And for another story on the abuse of mentally ill
inmates, Hockenberry was told by a producer that video of a
fatal attack on a prisoner by guards wasn't enough.