We have learned an instructive lesson on the perils of instant Internet posting. We wanted to share with you what happened, what errors we made and what we have learned.
In an effort to give viewers and readers a richer experience, we are all encouraged to provide more content online -- background, transcripts of interviews, documents we use in reporting -- than typically appears in our television reports on NBC Nightly News or elsewhere on the network.
As part of a Nightly News report on domestic eavesdropping and national security Tuesday, January 3, Andrea Mitchell interviewed James Risen of the New York Times who broke the story of domestic spying and whose book on the subject came out that day. In the course of a long taped interview for the Nightly report, Andrea asked Risen a question about something that had been picked up by one of our producers, namely that some reporters, including CNN's Christiane Amanpour, may have been spied upon by the National Security Agency. Risen told her he had not heard that. (Intelligence officials have since told NBC News that Ms. Amanpour was not specifically targeted for eavesdropping.)
Nightly News obviously did not report on this because it was an unsubstantiated tip, though we continued to follow other leads on the NSA story. Unfortunately, without Andrea's approval, the entire transcript was posted on the web, including the brief exchange about Ms. Amanpour. When questions started surfacing in the blogosphere, it became clear that the publication of the transcript had inadvertently called attention to an allegation that had not been verified. We quickly decided to edit out that portion of the Risen transcript while we continued to check out the story. It's no surprise that readers were curious if not suspicious about the whole thing.
It's important to point out that Andrea was doing exactly what good reporters do, namely, follow leads including those that go nowhere and then report only verified information. We never intended to share unsubstantiated material with the public.
As for the publication of her transcript, we've learned an important lesson. The Internet audience wants to know more than just the filtered facts. We, too, see the importance of giving additional information, longer interviews, and greater context than what we can fit in limited airtime.
This incident shows that sometimes that goal collides with our professional responsibility to pursue the truth. We're not trying to hide anything; but when we keep hearsay off the air and off the web, we feel we are simply doing our jobs.