House Majority leader Tom DeLay fired off a letter to NBC Universal Television Group President Jeffrey Zucker Thursday calling "a failure of stewardship of our public airwaves," and a "brazen lack of judgment" a shot taken at him during NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent finale May 25.
According to a transcript exerpt supplied B&C by DeLay's office, the show's finale features a white supremacist who kills a judge's family, and the killing of an appellate judge. As the detectives hunt for the judge killer, one says: "Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt."
Saying he assumed it was a response to his comments about Congress closely monitoring federal judges, an obviously upset DeLay wrote Zucker: "To equate legitimate constitutional inquiry into the role of our courts with a threat of violence against our judges is to equate the First Amendment with terrorism."
NBC responded to the statement: "This episode is in keeping with the spirit and standards of the Law & Order brand.
"The script line involved an exasperated detective bedeviled by a lack of clues, making a sarcastic comment about the futility of looking for a suspect when no specific description existed.
"This isolated piece of gritty "cop talk" was neither a political comment nor an accusation. It's not unusual for L & O to mention real names in its fictional stories.
"We're confident in our viewers' ability to distinguish between the two."
Following is a full text of the letter:
"Dear Mr. Zucker,
"It was with grave concern I learned this morning of the disturbing misuse of my name on last night's episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. In the episode, a police officer investigating the murder of a federal judge suggested "put[ting] out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay t-shirt." This manipulation of my name and trivialization of the sensitive issue of judicial security represents a reckless disregard for the suffering initiated by recent tragedies and a great disservice to public discourse.
"I can only assume last night's slur was in response to comments I have made in the past about the need for Congress to closely monitor the federal judiciary, as prescribed in our constitutional system of checks and balances. I have explained all such comments - even those inartfully made and taken out of context - on numerous occasions, including with representatives of your network. When a responsible journalist like Brit Hume made an inquiry into such comments, he quickly understood them to be limited to Congress's oversight responsibilities and nothing more.
"Amerrican judges and law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our streets, our citizens, and our way of life. To equate legitimate constitutional inquiry into the role of our courts with a threat of violence against our judges is to equate the First Amendment with terrorism.
"Our constitution created and our people have a right to an independent judiciary, but millions of Americans in recent decades have grown concerned about the expansion of judicial independence into judicial supremacy. To compare such concerns, which, again, are shared by millions of Americans, to a violent crime is a reckless trivialization of a serious public issue.
"Last night's brazen lack of judgment represents a failure of stewardship of our public airwaves and as much evidence as anyone needs for the embarrassing state of the mainstream media's credibility."