ABC News reporter Brian Ross committed what used to be a fatal mistake to a journalist’s career: He blurted out a wild, unsubstantiated, speculative observation that hadn’t been vetted by anyone and was explosively political at the same time.
Here is the exchange between ABC News chief investigator Brian Ross and host George Stephanopoulos about apparent suspect James Holmes:
Stephanolpoulos: I’m going to go to Brian Ross. You’ve been investigating the background of Jim Holmes here. You found something that might be significant.
Ross: There’s a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Colorado Tea party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Party last year. Now, we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes. But it’s Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.
Stephanolpoulos: Okay, we’ll keep looking at that. Brian Ross, thanks very much.
Thanks for what? Ross just tried to connect the Tea Party to the murder of 12 innocents based on the thinnest of speculation: that the name on the website almost matched the name of the suspect.
The political implications of the attempted smear were dynamite. And yet, the casual manner in which Ross reported this “fact” — even with a fig leaf caveat — was shocking. No attempt was made to confirm anything.
ABC News has now issued a correction and Ross has included an apology.