UPDATE, 8:08 PM: NBC News is partially copping to its mistake of earlier today when it reported that one of the suspects in the Paris attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo had been killed and two others were taken into custody — neither of which occurred. In a statement tonight, the organization is putting the responsibility on the shoulders of its American government sources. “NBC News issued an earlier report based on intelligence from two consistently reliable U.S. counterterrorism officials in different government agencies,” an NBC News spokesperson tells Deadline. “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.” Noticeably, the network news unit did not address its own judgment in the matter of the reporting.
PREVIOUS, 6:51 PM: Almost two years after CNN’s big blunder during the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, another major news organization stumbled on a fast-moving news story: the search for the men who killed 12 in and around the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo today. This time it is NBC News. More than two hours ago, the Comcast-owned outlet’s justice correspondent Pete Williams, M. Alex Johnson and Jon Schuppe reported that a suspect in the shootings had been killed and two others were in custody, according to U.S. officials. “Authorities identified the three men as Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, both French and in their early 30s, and 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, whose nationality wasn’t immediately clear,” said the NBC News report of 3:45 PM PST.
Now it looks likes they’re stepping way back from their earlier news. On the 6:30 PM PST broadcast of NBC Nightly News, reporter Bill Neely in Paris addressed the overreach — to put it mildly — of NBC’s earlier reports. In a live report, Neely told anchor Brian Williams that “senior U.S. counterterrorism officials” now “can’t be certain of this or of the status of any of the suspects.” Neely added news of one of the suspects had given himself up but stepped gingerly with a qualifier that “police are not confirming any of that and not confirming that anyone has been killed or arrested, so the manhunt is still on.”
AFP, CNN and NBC’s Pete Williams himself, now on MSNBC, are reporting that one suspect has surrendered and is in custody and two others are still at large, so it certainly does look like NBC took a leap on a headline a bit too soon without solid evidence.
Shortly after the original NBC News story hit, Pete Williams stepped back from his own report during a segment on MSNBC. “To be fair here, we just don’t know exactly what the situation is in France,” he said on-air around 5PM PST.
Williams, a Defense Department spokesman during the first Bush administration, further eased back from his earlier reporting with a posting on NBC News website. “Earlier Wednesday, two senior U.S. counterterrorism officials told NBC News that one of the suspects in the attack had been killed and that two others were in custody,” he wrote around 5:50 PM PST. “However, the officials later said the information that was the basis of that account could not be confirmed.”
With the spectre of CNN’s big goof in April 2013 reporting an arrest in the Boston Marathon bombing when none had occurred, all the cable news networks were very cautious today. CNN and FNC heavily qualified their reporting. Even with the news in the last half hour that an 18-year old suspect was now in custody, both cited AFP reporting.