NBC omits “tapp” tweet while ABC, CBS tackle spelling error head on

On March 4 President Donald Trump tweeted his unsubstantiated claim that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. In that tweet the word “tap” came out “tapp.”

When the networks reported this accusation on March 6, the question became how to deal with the president’s mistake.

NBC’s answer? Ignore it. The network instead showed only the tweet in which Trump claimed Obama had his “wires tapped” and compared this to McCarthyism.


This gets around dealing with the spelling issue, but also excludes Trump comparing Obama to Nixon and Watergate, and calling him a “bad (or sick) guy.”

ABC and CBS, however, dove right into the issue.

CBS anchor Scott Pelley mentioned that there were four Tweets, but only displayed this one:

After showing the tweet, Pelley said, “The spelling and punctuation are the president’s.”

In contrast, ABC showed all four tweets, although the reporter only read aloud the two mentioned above. Before showing the tweet with the misspelling, the reporter specifically pointed out the error.

These were all very different approaches to Trump’s tweets. Was NBC’s omission of the “Nixon/Watergate” tweet a smart way to avoid criticizing the president’s error?

Linda Mason, former CBS senior vice president for standards, pointed out that NBC’s approach showed a different side of the story.

“NBC showed three other tweets: all the illegal voters, Ted Cruz’s father and Castro, and Obama’s birthplace,” wrote Mason in an email. “It was a way to review the president’s use of tweets to share questionable ‘facts.’ I don’t know why NBC did not use the ‘tapp’ tweet with the reference to Nixon and Watergate.”

Former PBS NewsHour executive producer Linda Winslow thinks the spelling error is the least important part of the story.

“I think all three networks correctly focused on the widespread recognition of the enormity of the unsubstantiated charge made by Trump against Obama, and the on-the-record refutation provided by intelligence officials,” Winslow said. “A spelling error was beside the point.”

Mason thought both ABC and CBS did a good job of reporting the news of the day and dealing with the error.

“I think Pelley handled it just right — otherwise viewers might think the network made a typo,” Mason said. “I think it is also very important to show when the president—any president—makes such an error which says a lot about himself and perhaps a certain sloppiness.”


More from Linda Mason:

  • These tweets had been reported in various forms on social media and the radio. The network news audience, I believe, deserves to see the full content in a wrap up of the day’s news.

More from Linda Winslow:

  • None of the three network stories on March 6 was specifically concerned about how to deal with the president’s spelling error. They had each covered the specific language of the tweets, as well as their content, on March 4, the day they were issued. I think when Scott Pelley referenced the spelling as the president’s, it was to head off viewers complaining that the network had misspelled ‘tap.’
  • The media has a job to do: report the facts as fairly and completely as possible. If the president has his facts wrong, responsible journalists must point that out and provide the correct information, preferably attributed to a specific, unimpeachable source. If the president misspells something in a tweet, a television producer may want to make it clear that his or her organization did not make that mistake (à la print media’s use of “sic”) if the tweet is important enough to be used as a graphic on the broadcast. In this case, the president’s allusion to Watergate would have made me want to show the full quote, regardless of misspellings; oddly, not every broadcast chose to read that far into the quote.

Jacqueline Hyman

Jacqueline Hyman is a junior multi-platform journalism and English double major at the University of Maryland. She is the editor-in-chief of the Mitzpeh, the independent student-run publication catering to the campus Jewish community. This past summer, she was an intern at Washington Gardener Magazine. Previously, she was the opinion editor for Mitzpeh for two years and was a copy editor at both Unwind and the Writer’s Bloc on campus. Jacqueline hopes to go into editing professionally for several years before becoming an English (and maybe journalism) high school teacher. She can be contacted at jbhyman0508@gmail.com or via Twitter @jacqbh58.

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