NBC's Pete Williams: Media Hero of the Boston Bombing Coverage

The Atlantic
NBC's Pete Williams: Media Hero of the Boston Bombing Coverage
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NBC's Pete Williams: Media Hero of the Boston Bombing Coverage

When CNN became the butt of jokes for its erroneous reporting Wednesday, NBC's Pete Williams' clear, careful, accurate reporting in a sea of media confusion had made him the most lauded television news reporter working on the Boston Marathon bombing story.

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Williams uncanny knack for getting the right information first has been driven by his habit of not being quick to jump to conclusions. Williams has been covering the Justice Department since 1993 and, as the National Journal points out, and once described his approach to reporting this way: "the essence of journalism is the process of selection." The lesson there has been on display this week day after day, hour after hour.

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Wednesday

What Happened: Williams began to prove himself in the hullabaloo that was reporting on Wednesday. When CNN, Fox News and the AP reported that an arrest had been made, NBC, because of Williams' reporting, maintained that that had not in fact happened. And, of course, he was correct. 

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Footage: 

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Reaction: As we now know, Williams' cautiousness landed NBC on the right side of the story, and his NBC colleagues praised his work: 

Boston police say no arrest so does #SecKerry testifying everyone take a breath do what we do @nbcnews "listen to Pete Williams"

— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) April 17, 2013

And other reporters: 

Pete Williams is the Omar Little of the news media. "If you come at the king, you best not miss."

— The Fix (@TheFix) April 17, 2013

Thursday

What happened: Thursday morning, in the flurry of reports about what the FBI was going to release. At the time the Wire reported

 Over at NBC News, veteran Justice Department correspondent Pete Williams has been cautious and correct on nearly everything amidst the flood of anonymous reports in the Boston case. This morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Williams said authorities were looking for two men, partly because of "a bonanza of pictures" to come in from the crowdsourced pack of evidence, and partly because of surveillance camera footage. In a photo, Williams said, one young man has a heavy backpack that he sets it down just before he goes away — there is a clear picture of his face — and he also talks on a cellphone to another man.

The FBI never released the photo of a man on a cellphone. Even so, as for the incorrect photos spread—including the New York Post's cover—Williams disavowed them saying that officials have "tried to wave us off of them." Still, he wasn't as concrete as say, CBS's John Miller was

Footage: 

Friday

What happened: As events started unfold early Friday morning Williams connected them to the marathon bombings: 

RT @frankthorpnbc: Pete Williams on MSNBC says there is ample reason to think this is connected to the Boston Marathon bombing

— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) April 19, 2013

Later in the morning, Williams was slow to report the news of the suspects' names. He initially reported that they were "foreign nationals" who may have had military training but were in the United States for over a year and shot down reports that one was missing Brown student Sunil Tripathi. (Who he, albeit, may have been hinting about at one point.) By 6:43 a.m. Williams had the names of the suspects, but withheld revealing them. He also said they were brothers, and that they were 19 and 20. We'll add that his facts haven't been entirely right, reliable as he is: He initially spelled their last name wrong, one actually ended up being 26, at 7:46 a.m., after the he corrected his report to say that Dzhokhar was not born in Chechnya but actually Kyrgyzstan. 

Footage: 

Reaction: Throughout the morning Twitter flooded with Williams: 

Pete Williams is a machine.

— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) April 19, 2013

“@ellievhall: I want to be Pete Williams when I grow up.” same

— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) April 19, 2013

It should go without saying, but Pete Williams is the man. Brian Williams better watch his back. Pete's coming for that NBC Williams title.

— Jack Moore (@BuzzFeedJack) April 19, 2013

OH: "Turn that down, I want to listen to Pete Williams."

— Brett LoGiurato (@BrettLoGiurato) April 19, 2013

Dylan Byers of Politico published a piece about Williams' success, explaining how he was trending on Twitter. (Though Williams, who doesn't really tweet, said he doesn't "want to be trending on anything.") A source at NBC told Byers that "We're just sticking to what Pete approves right now." He added: "It is literally 'wait for what Pete reports' right now."

As of this early afternoon, Williams said that police are looking for "possibly" three people, including two "accomplices."

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