NBC News has retracted a major investigative story that accused a slaughterhouse cleaning company of illegally employing a 16-year-old Guatemalan immigrant, after evidence emerged showing the worker is actually 21 years old and lied about his age to get over the border.
NBC Nightly News on April 12 aired an emotional interview with "Pedro," an alleged underage worker at slaughterhouse cleaning company PSSI—noting in the segment that companies are legally barred from hiring minors for those positions because of the danger of the work.
Pedro said in an interview with NBC's Julia Ainsley that he worked the night shift in the Kansas factory to "clean all the blood of the cows," leaving him barely enough time to go home and shower before going to high school in the morning. He claimed the work was "very tiring" and made it difficult for him to pay attention in class.
But days later, PSSI sent NBC News a videotape of the same employee, in which he admitted that he was actually in his 20s. NBC said it later obtained records from Guatemala confirming that Pedro was 21 and had misrepresented his age.
The correction follows a series of high-profile missteps at the news network, which has had to retract stories about the Russian prison swap for WNBA player Brittney Griner, the attack on Paul Pelosi, and allegations that Rudy Giuliani was a target of Russian disinformation.
NBC News did not respond to a request for comment.
NBC Nightly News's Lester Holt mentioned the correction briefly on Wednesday, saying the network had learned Pedro "is actually 21 years old. The young man had initially told NBC News and the U.S. government he was 16."
The retraction was a contrast to how Holt, the network's star anchor, had introduced the original story a week prior. "The harrowing story of a migrant teen working over nights to clean a slaughterhouse," said Holt. "NBC News, first to report a department of Homeland Security probe into human trafficking. Here's Julia Ainsley, and we have to warn you some of the images are disturbing."
When confronted with the evidence that he lied about his age, Pedro reportedly told NBC News that he claimed to be underage at the border because of Biden administration policies that prohibit the deportation of minors. Pedro reportedly was issued government documentation reflecting this false age, received Health and Human Services benefits, and attended a high school in Kansas.
PSSI in a statement on Thursday slammed NBC News for acting "recklessly" by airing the story. The cleaning company said it asked to work with NBC News to corroborate the story before it aired, but the network refused to share the real name of the employee.
"PSSI repeatedly implored NBC News to identify the individual in question before airing this segment to help us investigate the matter and enforce our long-standing, zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under 18," said PSSI in a statement. "Unfortunately, NBC refused to do so, leading the network to recklessly broadcast a false story."
PSSI said it was able to identify Pedro from images in the NBC News segment. Although NBC News obscured his face and voice, Pedro was shown to be wearing a distinctive white Adidas jacket.
A PSSI spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on whether the company will pursue legal action against NBC.
Last year, PSSI was fined by the Department of Labor as part of a separate investigation into employing underage minors. The company said it uses the government program E-Verify to confirm the ages of all its hires, but claimed the program can be circumvented through "deliberate identity theft or fraud at the local level."