NBC retracts erroneous Paul Pelosi story that fueled conspiracy theories
But before NBC News’ hasty removal of the video from its website — accompanied by a vague note that the story “did not meet NBC News reporting standards” — it spawned a sinister new narrative.
Like a match on a tinder-dry wood pile, the NBC story fed the unfounded speculation and conspiracy theories that have been swirling around the incident ever since the Oct. 28 home-invasion assault.
Within minutes of Almaguer’s broadcast Friday morning, conservative commentators jumped on it as supposed proof of a politically motivated coverup. “This story keeps getting weirder,” radio host Clay Travis told his 1 million Twitter followers over a clip of Almaguer on “Today.”
And even after NBC withdrew its story, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson trumpeted it. “NBC reveals explosive new details in Pelosi attack,” read the banner on Carlson’s discussion of the story Friday night.
In fact, NBC News isn’t standing by those “explosive” details.
“The decision was made to remove the segment after it was determined, shortly after it aired, that the main source for the information was unreliable regarding the circumstances that the police encountered when they arrived at the house,” said a person with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be named to discuss details of the reporting.
Specifically, the network has questioned Almaguer’s claim — which he attributed to unnamed sources “familiar with what unfolded inside the Pelosi residence” — that Pelosi, after opening the door to police officers, walked “several feet” back toward his assailant and away from police.
“Why Pelosi didn’t try to flee or tell responding officers he was in distress is unclear,” Almaguer said in his original report, suggesting that Pelosi wasn’t in immediate danger when police arrived.
Almaguer concluded his report by saying, “We still don’t know exactly what unfolded between Mr. Pelosi and the suspect for the 30 minutes they were alone inside that house before police arrived.”
In many ways, Almaguer’s now-withdrawn story conflicted with the timeline presented by prosecutors days earlier.
According to the Nov. 1 charging documents, DePape awakened the 82-year-old Pelosi in his bedroom around 2 a.m. He entered the Pelosi’s house by smashing through a downstairs window with a hammer.
DePape, 42, then demanded to see Speaker Pelosi, indicating he intended to harm her. While attempting to mollify the intruder, Pelosi managed to call 911 on a phone that had been charging in the bathroom adjacent to his bedroom. A dispatcher alerted police.
DePape, still wielding the hammer, led Pelosi downstairs just before police arrived. Pelosi put his right hand on the handle of the hammer to protect himself, according to the charging documents, and opened the front door with his left hand and “nervously but calmly greeted” police. When officers ordered DePape to drop the hammer, he tore it from Pelosi’s grasp and struck him on the head, fracturing his skull, before police rushed into the house and subdued him.
DePape has been charged with attempted murder, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon and other felonies.
It’s not clear if Almaguer, a veteran network correspondent, will face disciplinary action for the flawed story. Almaguer didn’t return requests for comment on Friday.
Mainstream news organizations rarely remove published work from their websites, but NBC decided to pull Almaguer’s story around midday Friday, after it began to spark comment and speculation on social media. It offered no public explanation at the time, appending an editor’s note on “Today’s” website reading, “This piece has been removed from publication because it did not meet NBC News reporting standards.”
The removal sparked another round of speculation — this time about why NBC News had removed the story.
Among those who have stoked misinformation and unfounded theories about the Pelosi attack is Twitter owner Elon Musk. After taking over Twitter last week and promising advertisers that it would not become “a free-for-all hellscape,” Musk linked to an article on a fringe website that had asserted, again contrary to all evidence, that Paul Pelosi had been drunk and in a fight with a male prostitute. He later deleted the tweet.
NBC is not the only news outlet whose errors in reporting the story have fueled misinformation. Shortly after the attack, KTVU-TV in San Francisco reported incorrectly that Pelosi’s assailant had been wearing only underwear during the attack. The station corrected its report within a few hours, but the details nevertheless spread in right-wing circles, fueling baseless theories that Pelosi had invited DePape to his house.
Paul Pelosi was released from a hospital on Thursday and has returned to his home in San Francisco.