Breaking Tweets Chicago

The Deleted Tweet: Obama, Kanye, and Terry Moran's "jackass" mistake

When ABC Nightline co-anchor Terry Moran tweeted to his one-million-plus followers that President Barack Obama called Kanye West a "jackass" for his VMAs outburst at Taylor Swift's expense, Moran became the jackass.

What was he thinking?

Clearly not about journalistic ethics and the fact that the American public's faith in journalism is eroding by the day according to a new Pew study.

What better way to contribute to that than a shady tweet, only to be deleted after the fact? It's a great way to upset the White House while you're at it.

The problem with this situation (and the tweet below) is that this portion of the interview was "off the record." It was not meant to be recorded or distributed in any way, rather it was informal conversation off air between a journalist and the President of the United States.

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Making matters worse, it was also during an interview by another network, CNBC, further embarrassing ABC and this uncalled for breach of trust.

News organizations have begun to develop social media policies to avoid such mishaps:

  • The Wall Street Journal tells reporters to not disclose information about interviews or meetings until it is formally published.
  • The New York Times instructs employees to not publish anything on social networking sites that wouldn't be published in the Times itself.
  • BBC says to its staff not to write anything that could damage the reputation of the company.

No such policy could be found for ABC. Maybe it's time the network penned its own social media policy, in light of this disgraceful act from a professional journalist -- again, further damaging the name of journalism and eroding the trust of members of the general public, the White House staff, and the President himself.

(It should be noted that Moran has not been afraid to inject himself into controversy in the past on Twitter. His last six tweets have been about Congressman Joe Wilson's outburst at Obama's recent healthcare address, including his opinions. That's all fine and well, because the event happened in the public space, but this was behind closed doors.)

What do you think? Am I being a bit harsh or is there something to be said for Moran's act being incredibly stupid? And furthermore, what do you think of the POTUS calling out Kanye?

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46 Comments

Mr. Brown Thumb said:

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I think you're being very harsh on Terry Moran.

As you noted the interview was with CNBC and Terry Moran works at ABC. How did Terry Moran know what was said in an "off the record" portion of that interview? This was an all-around set up. Unless it is common practice for journalists who work for competing outlets get to sit in on interviews, Terry Moran had to be told by someone else that the President called Kanye a "jackass." And if he was told by someone else & he didn't have an agreement with the President that it was "off the record" then he shouldn't have to abide by the tradition.

And really, this was always meant to get put out there. It was the President's sister souljah moment and his attempt to lure back the white voters he lost during the "stupidly" remarks.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Perhaps.

I'm not sure your background, Mr. Brown Thumb, but with a journalism background, I can tell you that this sort of thing is so upsetting -- gives the rest of us a bad name.

Maybe Terry Moran didn't know it was off-the-record, fair enough, and I don't think that's a stretch. But also, as journalists, we need to do our homework, check and doublecheck the facts, and make sure of something before we publish, broadcast, or in this case tweet it to a million people. If he was just eavesdropping or someone told him that, that's not doing your homework... Then there's the whole question if such a statement is newsworthy to begin with... just my two cents.

Mr. Brown Thumb said:

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I don't have a background in journalism and I don't see this as giving you all a bad name. I can cite plenty of examples of things that I think journos do that would give you all a bad name and this doesn't even rank.

Who knows how he heard about the off the record name calling, I don't know if he was eaves dropping or if he was told about it by someone at CNBC. That's what you all should be trying to figure out, how did this person who wasn't conducting the interview and who doesn't even work for the media outlet that was found out about this. If he was told about it by someone at CNBC then that's who is giving you all a bad name.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Fair enough. I wonder about that too. Whoever leaked it, or if he was eavesdropping, I mean, that bit was a bit irresponsible.

Mr. Brown Thumb said:

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TMZ now has audio of the comment. http://su.pr/2QiCn4

The thing I noticed is that after the President calls him a jackass he attempts to say that it is off the record when he says,"...now, all this stuff, I'm assuming all this stuff...where's the pool?"

So he was in fact not off the record and didn't ask to be prior to giving his opinion but just assumed he was.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Seems like he was setting up for an interview, MBT, which is typically off the record. At the same time, he should know better... and you're right, I just heard the audio too. He seems to catch himself. Oops.

SKB said:

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I think you're not in tune with what journalism is. No respectable journalist would ever betray the ethics of "off the record" with the president by repeating, much less twittering what was held as gospel after the President proclaimed okay, we're off the record. It is NOT a matter fo competing outlets or anything else. It's journalism, it's ethics. It isn't done. Are so-called journalists now sinking so low that it's okay if it's 2nd hand?
You're wrong, my friend.... just wrong.

sallysue said:

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You are not being too harsh. Common sense dictates he shouldn't have repeated that. Hopefully so good will come out of this and ABC will get a social media policy

Craig Kanalley said:

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Thanks for the comment, sallysue. Of course I'm with you 100%. I hope so too.

chidre said:

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is it possible that the his twitter account is a personal account and not affiliated with any news outlet whatsoever? or is that incredibly naive?

is twitter the future of journalism? if so, you should be sad. but not about this guy and his actions--about your choice of profession.

also, i know this is a blog, which i don't believe has to adhere to any mythical "journalistic integrity," but isn't your question at the end (Am I being a bit harsh or is there something to be said for Moran's act being incredibly stupid?) a little biased?

Craig Kanalley said:

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No, because he has a Verified Account checkmark on his Twitter account.

I can't answer your next question definitively, but I'd say Twitter will play a part in the future of journalism. It already has.

No, I don't see it as biased. Either you agree with me or not. I'm just wondering what people think.

Thanks for your comment.

chidre said:

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you're right. i've reread it multiple times. it's not biased, just poorly worded.

Craig Kanalley said:

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fair enough. thank you.

Jimmy Greenfield said:

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I fail to see how what Terry Moran did is anything different than what we're doing now. He came across information honestly and passed it on.

If he was told it was off the record, that's one thing. But nobody has suggested he knew the information he had was supposed to be off the record.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Jimmy, I have a few other issues with Terry Moran's post that I don't mention or elaborate on above.

He has more than a million followers. If you have that many followers, and you're a *journalist* you're better be careful what you say. Credibility is huge in the profession and having to go back to delete something that got retweeted hundreds of times is obviously embarrassing. Also, no follow-up tweets, retraction, or apology from him. So he tried to hide it but you can't do that.

If it was passed on to him, and he's quoting the president of the United States, it just comes across as kind of shady to me. It wasn't reported elsewhere yet and even if he trusts the source, it wasn't his interview.

That being said, I see where you're coming from too. And I can respect that.

Mike Doyle said:

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Meanwhile the rest of us probably think the exact same thing about Kanye West so I doubt anyone thinks anything less of Obama for voicing it.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Yeah, I'm with you here, Mike.

eabern2 said:

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uhh thank you Mike, I was reading down the comments waiting for someone to say it.

bumstead57 said:

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This is a terrible lapse in judgment. I suspect Moran was trying to get the scoop - is that a fair assessment? And in so doing, he violated what has to be almost as sacred as what a priest hears in confession. This is not hyperbole. Gutting the integrity of off-the-record negates a powerful tool the press can use to root out malfeasance. This is especially true in this mob-insider infested county, where silence ensures your life but can perpetuate bad things.

Mr. Brown Thumb said:

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He wasn't off the record with the President. He doesn't even work for the network that the interview was conducted with. He did nothing wrong and didn't violate any trust.

SKB said:

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baloney. If he considers himself a journalist then he well knows the boundaries and the fine line. You obviously have as little ethics as he does. Are you by chance an unemployed sub-prime mortgage lender?

bumstead57 said:

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Just want to also note that he shouldn't tweet anything the president says unless he knows the circumstances. He has gravely dented the press' credibility.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Ditto. That's my biggest issue with this.

Jimmy Greenfield said:

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I don't understand this. The President DID say it. The source was not only credible but RIGHT. Moran did nothing wrong.

Craig Kanalley said:

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You're right, he did say it. But it was not meant for public ears and if you listen to the audio, he was joking around and it was very informal. Seems it was taken out of context and splashed on a tweet for a scoop..kinda tabloidy/sensational. No?

juschillin said:

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why hasn't terry moran gotten the memo that only positve things are to be reported about obama. only report what is on the teleprompter and definitely do not show how much golfing he does. can u imagine if reporters did their job and all the little people knew he has spent more time golfing already than bush did in 8 years?

Skyhawk_maintainer said:

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And the rest of the time he spent in a coma.

JudeeB said:

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While I support Obama, I expect the media to be objective in reporting the negative aspects of his Presidency, just as it did during the campaign, a la Rev Wright, for example.

And Obama spent most of his vacation presenting town hall meetings on healthcare reform, and slightly more than a week on Martha's Vineyard. Even I get 5 weeks of vacation per year!

Also, you might be too young to know this--or care--but it was said that the media turned a blind eye to President JFK's extracurricular activities, out of respect to him and the office.

If only the media had respected President Clinton to that extent as well :)

Chicago Squirrel said:

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Here's the main thing: On the record or off the record, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the leader of the free world probably shouldn't be quoted in such colorful language. If you're working for a major news organization, you tone it down, clean it up, or probably just not mention it at all.
That kind of "news" is best left to those upstanding folks over at TMZ.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Right on. But that being said, he shouldn't have said it either; he knows too.

Constant Weader said:

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I agree with Craig. You can hear the President make hs off-the-record comment on www.RealityChex.com -- a ways down the center column.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Thanks. We also have the audio here

loopillini said:

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Ummm...don't say anything unless you can stand behind your statements Mr. President...Kanye is a jack@$$, you know it, I know it so stand behind your comment!

Craig Kanalley said:

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You can tell from the audio, he knows he shouldn't have said that. He's human and I think we need to cut him a little slack.

That being said, yeah, definitely dumb of Kanye to do.

SKB said:

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Amen. And I'm thinking that unlike myself who doesn't have the rest of the world watching, he probably didn't say to himself "oops, did I say that out loud? I only meant to think it"

Railbird said:

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When I walk into an interview, I am carrying a tape recorder, notebook, etc. Typically, it takes a minute or two to go to a quiet spot with the person I am interviewing, turn the recorder on, etc. During that time, I typically try to banter a little with the person to loosen them up, to build a little rapport with them; not only does it relax them so the interview will go much more smoothly, but it may clue me in to things I can ask them about in the formal interview itself. I make sure they see, very clearly, when I am turning the recorder on and off, or I let them know, OK, we’re rolling. Anything they say while we are getting set up, when the red light on that recorder is not on, is off the record.

From what I have heard, the comment Moran is quoting was made in much the same context. The network was miking the president, adjusting cameras, and setting everything up for the interview, and they were having a casual conversation much like I’ve referenced. The president made an off-the-cuff remark that he expected would be off the record, since the formal interview had not begun. Moran violated a trust by reporting this information because the unspoken rule is that it’s off the record until the formal interview has begun. If someone caught it on audio and wanted to use it, again, since the formal interview had not begun, the appropriate move would have been to ask “can I quote you on that?”

Being able to go off the record is a powerful tool for journalists. As I mentioned earlier, having a friendly conversation with a source can clue you in to things you can ask about during a formal interview later. Sometimes, a source might not be willing to give certain information for a vital story on the record, but will tell you off the record and point you in the direction of another source who can help you out (I’m having very fond memories of student government scandals in college right now). By violating the trust of an off-the-record source, Moran has just given others another reason to be leery of our profession. He has damaged the trust of this particular source, and of OTHER sources who now may think "better watch what I say around this guy...or any other reporter, for that matter." He's hurting his ability (and by extension, the ability of others) to do a job that requires trust.

Twitter can’t replace journalism, and I absolutely cringe when I see college students running around who think they ought to win a Pulitzer because they have a blog and a Twitter feed. Nothing can replace solid reporting practices and ethics. I do think Twitter can be a positive supplement to journalism, however. It provides portability; when I went to the inauguration, I tweeted live updates from the middle of the National Mall, since I obviously wasn’t going to carry around a laptop to live blog all day. And I’ll often tweet links to stories I’ve written simply to expose them to a wider audience.

However, because of this convenience and simplicity, people can get reckless and sloppy when they tweet. I strongly stand behind a policy like that from the NYT, which says that reporters shouldn’t put something on their Twitter unless they would put it in a story for the print edition. Quality and ethics shouldn’t go out the window because the medium is different.

And Craig, I don’t think the way it was worded was too harsh. But this is clearly an editorial, unlike the majority of this site’s other posts, which “report” on events with tweets as “quotes.” I feel this ought to be labeled as an editorial.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Thanks for the back up, Railbird.

Another thing that bothers me about this situation is it wasn't news to begin with...it was tabloid in nature and celebrity based. The press and 4th Estate should be about providing a public service, a public good, and this "he said," "she said," gibberish is often just used to sensationalize, cause drama and controversy. Now I know some will argue this is newsworthy, but I say it's absolutely not...it's a sensational snippet from a longer conversation (one word, really) to stir controversy and readership.

In fact, Obama even knows he made a mistake...listen to the audio here. He didn't want it to be another "fly" situation. Well, it was. Blown way out of proportion too.

As for your last point, Breaking Tweets bases all of its reports on Twitter/tweets, and of course this post centers around one of the more talked about tweets in recent memory - one that circulated widely despite being deleted shortly after it was posted (it remains in the Twitter archive). So, even though it wasn't a "traditional" post, I think it makes sense to cover it here, and I was just adding my voice. I think in this case it was appropriate, as people can click my user name and learn that I'm a journalism guy with an interest in Twitter.

Madmopar said:

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Have Senior News Journalist(?) decided to throw out the rules of professionalism in their day to day job?

It seems that President Obama is the most accessible President we have ever had. However, bad judgement by the senior reporters who have access will eventually place a screen between the news reporting community and the President. But maybe a bit of restraint from the White House is needed too! There appears to be too many sound bites.......

Craig Kanalley said:

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You have to wonder about the White House putting up more barriers if these blunders continue. It's a concern for sure.

oneyedjack37 said:

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Have to say that I agree with Railbird, as I do the same things and have done it that way for the 45 years that I've been in and around this profession. And in some cases (time allowing) I will go over rough copy with the subject.
I suppose I could be called an anachronism; but, tweeting, twittering and the facebooking phenomenons do nothing for me and I also "cringe" when well-meaning folks equate that kind of "over-the-fence-gossiping with reportage or, journalism. That's not to say that I do not read them (especially journos), it tends to give me a lot of insight into their personality.

And an aside for Chicago Squirrel; Presidents' since the very first have used (intentionally or non) colorful language and no self-respecting news organization would "either tone it down or clean it up," that stuff goes with the territory. That said; most news organizations have clear headed policies in place when it comes to vulgar language...whether real or perceived.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Good comments here. Interesting about the presidents and vulgarity too. I haven't been around long enough to know this, but it doesn't surprise me.

ChiCitiGirl said:

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Disagree Craig...I'm tired of mainstream media trying to control information and how we get it. Obama said it and Moran Tweeted the fact.

Additionally, it's quite possibly the wisest thing I think our President has said all year.

Craig Kanalley said:

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Fair enough, but there's still issues journalistically here, in my view. It violates a trust.

Skyhawk_maintainer said:

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I supported Obama because Palin scares the bleep out of me, but I do believe our Commander in Chief could learn to control his tongue regarding certain social issues of a personal nature. He called that cop stupid when his friend was breaking into his own house and now this. If he could either refrain from commenting or simply stating their behavior was thoughtless or inconsiderate and not impugn the individual, it might not create such a national feeding frenzy.

I also realize that while reporters are only human, some of them could use some training in their chosen field. I lived in Saint Petersburg, FL during and after that travesty laughing referred to as the 2000 election. I can’t tolerate Katherine Harris, but what she said on the radio in reference to the ballot punch outs was “some of them were a chad lose,” which precipitated the myth of the lose chad. I wasn’t an English major, but when an adverb becomes a noun, I wonder what else got twisted. While she may have a pronounced accent, it wasn’t difficult to follow.

Another classic journalistic blunder was GI. Not knowing it stood for “General Issue,” just about anything but weapons, a reporter who didn’t research anything assumed it must mean the troops, who have been branded GI ever since. If you ever called my Dad GI, his response was “I AM NOT GENERAL ISSUE!” If anybody ever called me GI when I was in the Navy, I didn’t respond with Dad’s ire, I simply stated I was not Gastro Intestinal.

integritynotatabc said:

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Mr. Tom Thumb, if you looked into the story about Terry Moran and his twittering incident, you would have found out that CNBC was using ABC's equipment/studio, which Moran had access to as he works for ABC. Journalism is supposed to represent professionalism and integrity and non-bias. Terry Moran showed immaturity, and brazenness to utilize someone else's interview information regarding John Harwood's recent interview with President Obama. Moran twittered an off-the-record comment from Pres. Obama regarding Kanye West's recent debacle and calling West a "J___A__". The industry standard in TV journalism interview's is that pre-show banter is off the record, as well as being Pres. Obama himself stated his Kanye comment was off the record. Terry Moran should be held accountable for his upsurping the interviewer John Hardwood, the interviewee, Pres. Obama, and CNBC's legally owned interview video contents. Why would ABC want to be associated with low morals, no integrity and total selfishness as displayed by Moran? Very low, low brow and my, something reeks...ABC

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