NBC Apologizes for Story Accusing Nixon of Ordering Murder

On Saturday's NBC Nightly News, anchor John Seigenthaler retracted and apologized for a story, which ran on December 17, 2005, accusing former President Richard Nixon of ordering his aides to target journalist Jack Anderson for murder. On the Saturday February 4 show, Seigenthaler declared: "While there were reports that Nixon aides discussed a plan to kill Anderson, there is no evidence to suggest President Nixon authorized a plan or was even aware of one. We apologize for the error."

The original story from the December 17 NBC Nightly News, filed by Seigenthaler, was inspired by the death of investigative journalist Jack Anderson, a frequent Nixon administration critic. At one point, Seigenthaler ran a clip of George Washington University Professor Mark Feldstein saying that, according to some of the Nixon tapes, Nixon was "personally obsessed" with Anderson and repeatedly told his aides to "go after him." (Complete transcripts follow.)

Seigenthaler then clarified, "Go after him, incredibly, meant murder." Feldstein was then shown corroborating this assessment: "To my knowledge, that's the only time any president, however mad they got at reporters, ever had his administration plot to kill a journalist."

Returning to the February 4 show, Seigenthaler read a short item recounting their earlier claim that Nixon had ordered Anderson's murder. Notably, Seigenthaler characterized his earlier story as merely "implying" Nixon was behind a murder order: "We implied that President Richard Nixon had ordered White House aides to have Jack Anderson murdered." Seigenathaler then clarified that there was no evidence Nixon was involved in such a plan, noting there were merely "reports" of such a plan by "Nixon aides": "While there were reports that Nixon aides discussed a plan to kill Anderson, there is no evidence to suggest President Nixon authorized a plan or was even aware of one. We apologize for the error."

Below is a complete transcript of the original story from the December 17 NBC Nightly News, with critical portions in bold, followed by a transcript of the retraction and apology from the February 4 show:

John Seigenthaler: "Jack Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, died today at his home in Maryland after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was known for hard-hitting stories that often dominated front pages and caused some of the nation's toughest politicians to squirm. And he made front-page news when one of those politicians plotted to retaliate. Jack Anderson was known as a journalistic crusader. His primary enemy: government corruption."

Jack Anderson, Investigative Journalist: "The top secret stamp is being used in Washington to censor the news."

Seigenthaler: "One of his high-profile targets was President Richard Nixon. Anderson's reporting on Nixon won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1972, and the Nixon administration retaliated, putting Anderson on its enemies list and taking things to the extreme."

Mark Feldstein, George Washington University: "I've listened to the White House tapes, and Nixon was personally obsessed with Jack Anderson and repeatedly, time and time again, would tell his aides to go after him."

Seigenthaler: "Go after him, incredibly, meant murder."

Feldstein: "To my knowledge, that's the only time any president, however mad they got at reporters, ever had his administration plot to kill a journalist."

Seigenthaler: "Anderson was relentless and controversial. There were a few times when his stories were wrong, and other times when his tactics were questioned. He even went through FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's garbage to get a story. Hoover called Anderson a rat of the worst type. But through his column, Jack Anderson made it clear that he saw his role as a journalist to keep an eye on the politicians."

Feldstein: "He was really a pretty pivotal figure in American history, in journalistic history. Jack Anderson ultimately will be remembered for being the kind of missing link between the old muckrakers of a century ago and the new crop of investigative reporters who came up after Watergate. In many ways, he was the last of the old-fashioned muckrakers."

Seigenthaler: "Jack Anderson was 82."

Below is a complete transcript of Seigenthaler's retraction and apology from the February 4 NBC Nightly News:

John Seigenthaler: "We want to clarify a story we ran on this broadcast in December on the death of investigative journalist Jack Anderson. In that story, we implied that President Richard Nixon had ordered White House aides to have Jack Anderson murdered. While there were reports that Nixon aides discussed a plan to kill Anderson, there is no evidence to suggest President Nixon authorized a plan or was even aware of one. We apologize for the error."