N.C. eye clinic to sue NBC over story on cataracts

August 19, 1993|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- For the second time this year, the broadcast news-magazine "Dateline NBC" has come under fire from one of its subjects, this time a North Carolina eye clinic that notified NBC yesterday that it intended to sue the network.

Andrew Lack, the president of NBC News, said the network considered its reporting on the clinic to be fair and accurate.

Under North Carolina law, a broadcaster must get five days' notice before a lawsuit is filed to allow time for a report to be retracted.

Mark McDaniel, the executive director of the clinic, the Southeastern Eye Center of Greensboro, said: "If we don't hear from NBC, a suit will definitely be filed. If the notification weren't required by law, we would have sued them today."

Several NBC executives said yesterday they doubted that the clinic would ever finish the process and take the case to court.

The letter sent to Mr. Lack by Rodney F. Page, the counsel to Southeastern Eye Center, does not ask for any specific damages, apart from an on-air retraction and apology from NBC.

Mr. McDaniel said that the clinic had lost 30 percent of its business in the wake of the report.

In another controversy involving "Dateline NBC," the show broadcast an apology in February as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by General Motors Corp. over a "Dateline" segment that questioned the safety of the company's pickup trucks.

NBC was forced to acknowledge on the air that it had attached incendiary devices to a GM truck so it would explode after a test crash.

After the apology to GM, the head of NBC News, Michael G. Gartner, resigned and was eventually replaced by Mr. Lack.

The most recent "Dateline" report at issue is called "Cataract Cowboys" and was run May 4. It dealt with what it described as unnecessary cataract surgery that is reimbursed by Medicare.

The gist of the report was that many elderly patients receive unnecessary cataract surgery because unscrupulous doctors can become rich off the Medicare money that pays for this treatment.

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