ABC Apologizes for Breaking News--No Joke

Posted: Sep 16, 2009 2:19 PM

From an "off-the-record" moment of candidness between President Obama and another reporter, ABC's "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran tweeted that he had overheard the president call singer Kanye West a "'jackass' for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won.  Now THAT's presidential." 

Obama was apparently weighing in on the MTV Video Music Awards that had taken place the night before, during which West grabbed the microphone from teen country singer Taylor Swift during her award acceptance to announce that Beyonce Knowles' music video was better.

Why do I care at all about Obama's remark or Kanye West's idiocy?  The truth is I don't.  But what is worth noting is the subsequent fallout from this seemingly insignificant moment, where the president offered his own unscripted (gasp!) opinion. 

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Apparently the tweet caused quite a stir in either the ABC newsroom or the oval office.  ABC actually issued an apology in which an ABC spokesperson commented:

In the process of reporting on remarks by President Obama that were made during a CNBC interview, ABC News employees prematurely tweeted a portion of those remarks that turned out to be from an off-the-record portion of the interview... This was done before our editorial process had been completed. That was wrong. We apologize to the White House... and are taking steps to ensure that it will not happen again.

Uh, what the heck is the big deal here?  Am I missing something?  Why did ABC apologize for Moran making an insignificant comment about the president?  Moran overheard the president use a "naughty word" and reported his own opinion on his own Twitter account. 

I'm not a member of the White House press corps, but I'm smart enough to know that if you're giving an exclusive interview with one network, you wait until other networks leave the room--ESPECIALLY since the "on/off-the-record" standard is one that exists between the interviewing reporter and the president.  If a janitor was cleaning a West Wing toilet and overheard the president talking with his friends about Oprah's latest hairstyle, would we expect him to be placed under a gag order as well? 

Journalists with a hot scoop from "unnamed sources" print stories that could potentially threaten national security or the safety of American troops abroad and the ACLU complains that the freedom of the press shall not be infringed.  But because President Obama made an unflattering, insignificant comment he didn't want the country to hear, ABC has to issue a formal apology?  Give me a break.

Update: Commenter Marty has reminded me of ABC's blatant hypocrisy on this matter.  Back in the day of that wicked old Bush administration, ABC had noooo problem reporting on comments from an aide who overheard Vice President Dick Cheney use the F-word in a private conversation with Senator Patrick Leahy. 

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I really don't remember ABC (of any other news outlet) issuing an apology for reporting that as a "legitimate" news story.  Again I say, give me a break.
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