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Obama, Kanye West and trouble with Twitter

The president was off the record with CNBC when he called the singer a 'jackass' for interrupting Taylor Swift at the MTV video awards. But ABC News employees overheard the exchange and ran with it.

September 16, 2009|Matea Gold

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

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

The problem: Obama made the comment during off-the-record chatter as he prepared to do an interview with John Harwood, CNBC's chief Washington correspondent.

ABC News' Washington bureau shares a network fiber line with CNBC, and producers there monitoring 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 pre-interview 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 employees posted the remark on Twitter.

"Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a 'jackass' for his outburst at 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 spread on Twitter, 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 the story was already out.

ABC News quickly called CNBC and the White House to apologize. At the news division's 9:30 a.m. meeting Tuesday, ABC News President David Westin reminded the staff 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."

Schneider added: "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 ABCNews.com publishing it."

The incident also 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.

Obama appeared aware of the risk, belatedly catching himself after he called West a jackass, according to CNBC audio obtained by TMZ.

"I'm assuming all this stuff -- where's the pool?" he asked, referring to the group of White House reporters assigned to monitor his activities. "Come on, guys. Cut the president some slack. I've got a lot of other stuff on my plate."

--

matea.gold@latimes.com

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