President Obama's Thoughts On Kanye West Become Center Of Controversy

President Barack Obama's candid thoughts about Kanye West are provoking a debate over standards of journalism in the Twitter age.

ABC News says it was wrong for its employees to tweet that Obama had called West a "jackass" for the rapper's treatment of country singer Taylor Swift.

The network said some of its employees had overheard a conversation between the president and CNBC's John Harwood and didn't realize it was considered off the record.

The network apologized to the White House and CNBC.

Harwood had sat down with the president to tape an interview following his appearance on Wall Street on Monday. Although they are competitors, CNBC and ABC share a fiber optic line to save money, and this enabled some ABC employees to listen in on the interview as it was being taped for later use.

Their attention was drawn to chatter about West, who was widely criticized for interrupting Swift as she accepted an award at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards to say that Beyonce deserved it.

During what sounds like informal banter before the interview begins, Obama is asked whether his daughters were annoyed by West's hijacking of Swift's acceptance statement, according to an audio copy that was posted on

"I thought that was really inappropriate," Obama says. "What are you butting in (for)? ... The young lady seems like a perfectly nice person. She's getting her award. What's he doing up there?"

A questioner chimes in, "Why would he do it?"

"He's a jackass," Obama replies, which is met with laughter from several people.

The president seems to quickly realize he may have gone too far, and jovially appeals to those assembled that the remark be kept private.

"Come on guys," he says. "Cut the president some slack. I've got a lot of other stuff on my plate."

E-mails shot around among ABC employees about Obama's comments, said Jeffrey Schneider, ABC News spokesman. Before anything was reported on ABC's air or Web site, at least three network employees took to Twitter to spread the news.

One was Terry Moran, a former White House correspondent. He logged on to Twitter and typed: "Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a 'jackass' for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT'S presidential."

When ABC News authorities found out about it, they had the tweets deleted after about an hour, Schneider said. Moran declined a request to comment.

But the news was out.

Harwood said there was no explicit agreement with the president that those comments were off the record. But he said it is broadcast tradition that such pre-interview chatter is considered off the record until the formal interview begins. Harwood is holding to that: He would not discuss what the president said before their interview and has no plans to do so on CNBC.

He said he was aware that it was likely someone outside of CNBC was listening to his conversation with the president.

"It's one of those things that's unfortunate," he said. "But I think it's an honest mistake."

There was no immediate response to requests for comment from White House spokesmen.

Twitter, a technology that's a natural tool for reporters who love to tell people what they know whenever they know it, has raced ahead in usage before many news organizations have developed policies to govern its use, said Richard Wald, a former ABC News executive and professor at Columbia University.

"You need to reinforce the sense that you have to verify before you publish," Wald said. "The policies may be very comprehensive, but they may not be adequate to the technology that news organizations have."

The incident is reminiscent of past "open-mic" incidents involving politicians. President Ronald Reagan, while waiting to make a speech in 1984, joked that he had outlawed the Soviet Union and that "the bombing begins in five minutes." During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush turned to running mate Dick Cheney to point out a reporter from The New York Times and used an obscenity to describe him.

"If you're sitting there with a microphone on, you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy," said Kelly McBride, an expert in journalism ethics for the Poynter Institute. "If you're a governor or president, you know that."

She also questioned whether news organizations should be agreeing to go off the record with the president.

Judging by the things written by other Twitter users since West's action, Obama wasn't in the minority, she said.

"The president calling Kanye West a 'jackass' is perfect information for a tweet," she said. "In fact, that's the ideal format. You can do it in 140 characters. There's not much else to say."

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  • by PUREBREAD on Sep 22, 2009 at 01:46 PM
    TO FED UP this is the only thing that I agree with Obonga on.The guy is a jackass among other things.By the way FED UP you say using abortion as a form of birth control is wrong then you throw the word BUT in thier.Sounds like you are contradicting yourself. Have you ever heard of partial birth abortion?They go in and crush the babies head.Do you agree with this or are you going to throw BUT in thier again.Where are peoples morals now of days.To much rap in this country corrupting peoples minds.
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Sep 22, 2009 at 06:54 AM
    Actually Fed Up, it is because we are fed up with these things being forced down our throats by politicians. We are fed up that some people don't understand morality and how it influences children through the generations. There are some that say they do not care, then the others that will tell you this "social experiment" you are forcing on us, will effect America in time. So you don't value the life of a fetus, some of us do, you want gay marriage, we are against attimately. If you do nothing, then the experiment begins and there is no turning back. If you want to see this experiment in action, go to Amsterdam. By now, you know their reputation.
  • by jr Location: bath on Sep 22, 2009 at 03:46 AM
    since when is 'jackass' a profane word? if it were me, i would have said something far more appropriate. we get our knickers in a twist over the dumbest things.
  • by Fed Up Location: Greenville on Sep 19, 2009 at 08:23 AM
    Everyone is fussing over the fact that Obama is Pro-choice and doesn't care about gay people getting married. Who cares! Why should you care what other people do? This does not affect you, your children or your marriage. If they want to have an abortion so what, they will have to face judgment not you. If this does not affect you why do feel the need to get involved. This is why many Americans have high blood pressure, heart disease, and other aliments because they feel the need to protest things that do not concern them. People need to get a life and worry about what is going on in their household, not everyone else. Using abortions as a form of birth control is wrong, but if a woman decides to have an abortion then that is her choice. We should not interfere because she will have to ask God for forgiveness, you need to worry about your sins. We can only pray that they will take a different approach, but it is not our decision to make.
  • by Millie Location: Windsor on Sep 17, 2009 at 02:07 PM
    We live in a confused world of double standards. Why is it wrong to call anyone a liar when they really are lying, yet that same individual can call someone they don't even know a "jackass" and then by political pull,demand an apology? God help us!!
  • by Not an Obama fan, but... on Sep 17, 2009 at 01:24 PM
    When I first heard this I thought, "Oh Lord, not again. Didn't O learn anything when he got in the middle of that cop thing and had to have a beer at the WH?". But then I saw it was "off the record" so I enjoyed it! It was true, human, and unscripted which is very rare for our President.
  • by MrT Location: LaNC on Sep 17, 2009 at 12:45 PM
    Joe Wilson apologized for what he did also, but are the liberal loon Dumbocrats letting it go? No!
  • by Anonymous on Sep 17, 2009 at 12:22 PM
    You people make me laugh. First you want to crucify the man and now you are singing his praises. Yes what Kanye did was wrong, but I am not on Obama side with this or Kanye, because I do not think Beyonce is any better than Taylor which means they both suck. Kanye made a mistake and he apologize now let it go.
  • by C on Sep 17, 2009 at 10:41 AM
    Beth: You nailed it. Well said! You know, I've been a fan of yours ever since KISS did that song about you....
  • by Kelly Location: LaGrange on Sep 17, 2009 at 10:32 AM
    LOL @ MrT @ Sept 16 @ 9:41 pm. Then Kanye would have put some tacky gold ones in put their place. I am proud of Obama, he said what Kanye was perfectly.

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