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NBC News Tweaks Snowden Description, From 'Accused Spy' To 'Admitted Leaker'

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Esquire's Charles Pierce wrote Thursday that Lester Holt, filling in for Brian William as "NBC Nightly News" anchor, described former NSA contractor Edward Snowden the night before as an "alleged American spy."

While the Obama administration has invoked the Espionage Act in charging Snowden, part of a pattern in cracking down on unsanctioned leaks to the media, there's no evidence Snowden spied for any foreign country.

News organizations typically go with the more neutral "leaker" rather than "whistleblower," as many view Snowden. So did Holt really use "spy"?

Here's what Holt said at the beginning of Wednesday's 6:30 p.m. broadcast in New York, according to TVEyes, a service that allows for searching past TV broadcasts: (emphasis mine)

"While the cold war has been over for more than 20 years, the growing chill of late between Washington and Moscow became downright frosty today as President Obama called off his planned meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin, a response to Russia's grant of asylum to accused American spy Edward Snowden..."

But a clip of the broadcast on the NBC News website features Holt using a different description:

"While the cold war has been over for more than 20 years, the growing chill of late between Washington and Moscow became downright frosty today as President Obama called off his planned meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin, a response to Russia's grant of asylum to admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden..."

It appears that NBC News tweaked the language for the West Coast broadcast, which would air three hours later. Holt describes Snowden as an "admitted NSA leaker" in the broadcast that aired in Los Angeles, according to a TVEyes search.

Update: An NBC spokesperson confirmed the language was changed. The spokesperson added that while the original language is correct, based on the espionage charges against Snowden, the network "made an editorial decision to update the broadcast for the sake of clarity and consistency with past reporting."