For NBC News, it was another in a series of embarrassments on Thursday as it had to correct a story saying federal investigators had placed a wiretap on the phone lines of President Donald Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen.
As Fox News is reporting, the feds were monitoring only what calls were being made but weren’t listening in — contrary to NBC’s earlier reporting. The Peacock Network’s major turnabout was made more than four hours after the original story moved online Thursday, when it caused immediate chatter in the cable news universe.
NBC had attributed its original story to two anonymous sources with knowledge of the legal proceedings against Cohen. In an editor’s note preceding the rewritten story, NBC explains that three senior U.S. officials disputed the account, saying that the phones were monitored by a pen register, which records the phone numbers on both ends of the conversation, not the substance of the calls themselves.
The erroneous NBC report added to widespread speculation about what exactly the feds were able to seize in their April raid. Cohen’s lawyers and President Trump’s legal team have been battling in court over access to those materials.
NBC moved its original story online shortly after 1 p.m. on Thursday, and it became immediate fodder on MSNBC and other cable networks. The correction was issued online at 5:27 p.m. with that editor’s note, and was discussed on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily.”
The correction offered ammunition to the nation’s highest-ranked media critic: Trump has frequently criticized the mainstream media for catering to America’s left wing and coastal elite with “fake news.”
The screw-up also gave media watchdogs a chance to mock NBC online for its latest blast of “fake news.”
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, tweeted that the mistake was “pretty big.”
The correction is just the latest storm for a network reeling from them. It is currently dealing with unflattering stories involving sexual misconduct, secrecy, homophobia and bad decision-making, causing headaches for NBC and its news chairman, Andy Lack.
There’s the controversy over the findings of an internal review to determine who knew about disgraced “Today” host Matt Lauer’s bad behavior but didn’t report it in a timely manner; antigay slurs connected to MSNBC star Joy Reid’s blog posts; and the accusations that legendary anchor Tom Brokaw engaged in forceful and unwanted kissing of then-NBC correspondent Linda Vester in the 1990s.
Also still in play are persistent questions over why NBC sat on two major sex harassment stories: the “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump and the blockbuster reporting on alleged Hollywood sex predator Harvey Weinstein by Ronan Farrow, which won him the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for public service.
Then there’s the foundering and hugely expensive experiment with former Fox News star Megyn Kelly, who reportedly has been dragging down NBC News’ most important show by far, “Today.”
NBC has been silent on the Reid and Brokaw matters, the two most recent humiliations before the news story correction.
“If legendary icons like Matt Lauer and Tom Brokaw can be accused by apparently responsible individuals, the company should act as others have done and dispense with internal investigations and engage a high profile, independent investigator to determine the root causes as well as the specifics of these horrendous accusations,” famed reporter-turned-entrepreneur Porter Bibb previously told Fox News, adding that NBC was “seriously derelict” in not ordering an independent investigation of the entire company’s policies, protocols, and past performance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.