THE BLOG
10/17/2008 05:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Reporting the Report: In Which I Ask NBC's Brian Williams for an On-Air Correction


On last night's episode of NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams introduced a short profile of Todd Palin by NBC reporter John Larson. A little more than halfway through the segment, Larson reported --- as fact --- that last week's Troopergate report found that Sarah Palin "did not break any laws."

Problem is, the lead finding of the report --- the lead finding! --- is that "Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39/52/110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act" (emphasis mine). The finding --- all 67 words of it --- is on page 8 of the report. The one-page section titled: "Findings." Top of the page. "Finding Number One." Underscore in the original.

How much clearer could the report be? Perhaps I'm being generous, but one would have thought that, faced with such an abundance of clarity, an NBC national reporter and who knows how many producers and editors --- including Brian Williams? --- could have kept from creating, finalizing, signing off on, and broadcasting on the national airwaves a piece on Todd Palin --- Todd Palin! --- that got one of the two key findings of the Troopergate report utterly wrong. Was it really too much to ask, simply that NBC say what the report said so plainly --- that Sarah Palin broke the law?

But fair enough. Let's be even more generous. After all, even NBC reporters and producers and editors are human. People make mistakes.

What would be unacceptable --- especially given how neatly NBC's misreporting of the Troopergate findings dovetails with the McCain campaign's spin on the report right now --- would be for NBC, once presented with its error, to leave it uncorrected on the table.

In an effort to keep that from happening, I sent Brian Williams and his executive producer, Alexandra Wallace, the following email this afternoon:

From: John Lumea


Date: Fri, Oct 17, 2008 at 2:15 PM

Subject: FACT CHECK --- NBC Misleadingly Reports That Investigation Said Palin "Did Not Break Any Laws"

To: brian.williams

----------------

Brian,

Do you plan to issue an on-air clarification of the following?

Starting at 1:32 in the profile of Todd Palin that aired last night on Nightly News, John Larson reported that (emphasis mine):

State investigators noted in their report the pressure Todd Palin used to try to get his brother-in-law fired, and that Governor Palin's firing of Monegan, who resisted that pressure, was an abuse of power, though she did not break any laws.

As will be obvious to you, the last half of that sentence makes a complete hash of what the Branchflower report says.

The report does not say that Palin's firing of Monegan was an abuse of power. In fact, Finding Number Two of the report says that the firing itself was "a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority."

The abuse of power citation has to do with the pressure that Palin and her delegates applied to Monegan and others to get Wooten fired.

Moreover, Finding Number One of the report --- the finding that addresses the abuse of power issue --- states that it was precisely by breaking state ethics law that Palin abused her power (emphasis mine):

For the reasons explained in section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39/52/110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) provides

"The legislature reaffirms that every public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust."

Incredibly, the McCain campaign has been trying to spin Finding Number Two --- the one which states that Palin was within her constitutional and statutory rights to fire Monegan --- as the sum total of the report.

It is only from the perspective of someone who lives in that fantasy bubble --- in which moose fly and Findings Number One, Three, and Four don't exist --- that Sarah Palin in recent days has been able to tell reporters --- here and here --- that

(1) "there was no abuse of authority at all in trying to get Officer Wooten fired"; that

(2) "that report...showed there was no unlawful or unethical activity on my part"; and that
(3) "I'm very very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing...any hint of any kind of unethical activity there."

Regrettably, NBC's report last night put its viewers --- most of whom also are voters --- in Palin's bubble.

But wrong as it was to report, in unqualified terms, that the Troopergate investigation found that Palin "did not break any laws," it would be even more wrong simply to leave that error uncorrected and on the table.

The Branchflower report's top finding is that Sarah Palin broke state ethics law.

I strongly urge you to take a moment on tonight's broadcast to correct last night's report by saying so.

Best regards,

JOHN LUMEA
Brooklyn, N.Y.