A day after falsely reporting that one of the suspects in the Paris attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo had been killed and two others arrested, NBC News tonight finally addressed its dramatic error on-air – though once again the network didn’t take responsibility itself. “Starting overnight and into today, we’ve been correcting something we first reported here,” said anchor Brian Williams near the beginning of the East Coast broadcast of the NBC Nightly News. “We were told by not just one but two senior U.S. intelligence officials that this manhunt had ended last night with all three suspects either dead or captured. And while these sources have been reliable in our previous reporting, the intel they passed along to us last night turned out not to be correct.”
The on-air remarks by the anchor were similar to the statement the network put out late last night after it became clear NBC News had been wrong in its reporting — putting the weight on the shoulders of the sources not the judgment of the newsroom. “As soon as it became evident that our sources doubted their information, we immediately updated our reporting across all platforms and continue to do so as this fast-moving story unfolds,” said the Deborah Turness-led news unit late Wednesday.
This tale of journalist errors all started when NBC’s Justice correspondent Pete Williams declared Wednesday afternoon PT that one of the suspects who had killed 12 at the offices of satirical weekly earlier in the day had been killed himself. Citing U.S. Counter terrorism sources, the former Defense Department spokesperson also claimed police had taken others in to custody. While they’ve added to it since, NBC News put out the tweet below at the time.
There was no confirmation of this by French authorities.
Perhaps fearing a repeat of CNN’s big goof in April 2013 reporting an arrest in the Boston Marathon bombing, other outlets like the Jeff Zucker-run cabler were hesitant to make similar claims. As the hours passed and there was no confirmation of the NBC report, the network began to slowly walk back their “scoop” – though they did mention it on the East Coast broadcast.
However, that began to change afterward. Appearing on MSNBC around 5 PM PT yesterday, Pete Williams said, “to be fair here, we just don’t know exactly what the situation is in France.” Not long afterwards, on a posting on the NBC News website, he said his sources “later said the information that was the basis of that account could not be confirmed.” On the West Coast broadcast of the NBC Nightly News, reporter Bill Neely live from Paris told anchor Williams that “senior U.S. counterterrorism officials” now “can’t be certain of this or of the status of any of the suspects.”
Interestingly, it was a report by Pete Williams that followed Brian Williams’ not really mea culpa. The Justice correspondent was reporting on how security had been beefed up at French diplomatic operations in the U.S.