In an attempt to be far out in front of the Charlie Hebdo terror attack manhunt story Wednesday night, NBC News ended up walking back what the network claimed was false information from U.S. counterterrorism officials. And in a series of appearances on MSNBC, justice correspondent Pete Williams had to radically change the story he was reporting.
It started with this tweet, posted just about 6:30 p.m. ET, claiming that one suspect was dead and two others were in custody:
BREAKING: One suspect in Paris terror attack killed, two in custody, U.S. officials say http://t.co/tOJVZu0Wwp
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 7, 2015
The accompanying story, written by Williams, cited multiple unnamed U.S. officials who provided the information to NBC. At the top of the 8 p.m. hour, the story was headlined at the bottom of MSNBC’s screen as Williams appeared on camera with host Chris Hayes. At this point, Williams was already amending his story.
“Well, I think to be fair here, we just don’t know exactly what the situation is in France tonight, well into the middle of the night,” he said. “There’ve been conflicting reports all afternoon about whether arrests have been made, the deputy mayor of Paris said he thought someone was under arrest, then he said no, that wasn’t true. We were told earlier this evening from two U.S. counterterrorism officials that one person was dead and two have been arrested, but there are other U.S. officials that say, they haven’t been told that.”
“The French aren’t saying much, there’s a natural desire by US officials not to get out ahead of the French, so I think in fairness Chris, we have to say we just don’t know exactly what the situation is there tonight,” he continued. “This has been something of a moving picture all day long about precisely what the status of them is, so I think we can’t say with 100 percent certainty what the deal is over there right now, there are conflicting reports is I think the honest answer.”
Watch video below, via MSNBC:
By the top of the next hour, when Williams joined Rachel Maddow on air, his original report had all but evaporated, replaced by the more widely cited information from Agence France-Presse and others that the youngest suspect, Hamyd Mourad, had surrendered to police and the other two older men were still on the run.
When Maddow asked Williams, “What do we know?” he answered, “That is a fraught question, it turns out, because this has been a day of rapidly changing information.” After reviewing the few facts that we do appear to know for certain, Williams attempted to explain how and why NBC’s story had changed.
“Earlier today, about less than three hours ago, two U.S. counterterrorism authorities told NBC News that a — a different account, that one of the suspects had been detained and two of the suspects had been killed,” he said, reversing the previously reported figures. “Now the counterterrorism officials tell us tonight that the information that was the basis of that report cannot be confirmed. So this is just been a day like this all day long, not unusual in one of these rapidly unfolding events.”
As it stands now, the headline of Williams’ online report says everything you need to know: “Confusion as French Hunt Magazine Attack Suspects.”
Watch video below, via MSNBC:
UPDATE — 10:53 p.m. ET: A spokesperson for NBC News has released the following statement:
“NBC News issued an earlier report based on intelligence from two consistently reliable U.S. counterterrorism officials in different government agencies. 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.”
[Photo via screengrab]
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