Several ABC News staffers jumped the gun in tweeting Obama’s ‘jackass’ remark


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Call it another case of being too fast on the Twitter.

The perils of dashing off observations on the microblogging site were brought into sharp relief Monday when several overeager ABC News employees -- including “Nightline” anchor Terry Moran -- rushed to tweet that President Obama had called Kanye West a “jackass’ for interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards on Monday.

The problem: Obama made the comment during off-the-record chatter as he was being miked for an interview with CNBC anchor John Harwood.


How exactly did ABC News get wind of it? The broadcast network’s Washington bureau shares a network fiber line with CNBC, and so ABC staffers in D.C. watching CNBC’s feed heard the exchange. What they didn’t hear, apparently, was the explicit agreement CNBC made with the White House that Obama’s chitchat was off the record.

The president weighing in on the biggest pop culture story of the day was too delicious to ignore. Soon, e-mails about Obama’s comment began circulating internally at ABC. Before news executives had determined whether the material was publishable, Moran and a handful of other ABC News staffers posted the remark on Twitter.

“Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a ‘jackass’ for his outburst at the VMAs when Taylor swift won,” Moran tweeted. “Now THAT’S presidential.”

The network declined to identify the other staffers who disseminated Obama’s remark, but noted that they were not public figures. Nevertheless, the news was quickly picked up in the Twitterverse, where Moran has more than 1 million followers. Within an hour, Moran and the other ABC News employees who had posted Obama’s comment realized their error and deleted their tweets. But by that time, the story could not be contained.

ABC News quickly called CNBC and the White House to apologize. In the news division’s 9:30 a.m. editorial meeting today, ABC News President David Westin addressed the need to follow editorial standards before sharing information on social networking sites.

“There should be a very dark, easily understood line between material that is approved, vetted and published, and material that has yet to reach that standard,” said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider. “The message to our employees is very clear: If it’s approved and published, then people can tweet it or share it on Facebook. ... Prior to that happening, the information is not to be shared.”


“One of the lessons learned here is that when somebody who is well known to the news audience tweets something, even on a private Twitter account, it has the same impact almost as publishing it,” Schneider added.

Others noted that the incident served as a reminder of another lesson: that in this age of nearly ubiquitous media, it’s difficult for the president to ever truly be off the record.

For his part, a somber West apologized for his outburst, telling Jay Leno that ‘it was rude, period.’

[Update at 11:25 a.m.: When asked today how Obama felt about his comment being reported, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton declined to comment. ‘Look, I’m not going to get into what the president had to say in an off-the-record conversation,’ he told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama flew to Ohio. ‘But you should see what Rahm [Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff] said about it.’]

-- Matea Gold