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.
ABC News and Brian Ross are apologizing for an “incorrect” report that James Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting, may have had connections to the Tea Party.
“An earlier ABC News broadcast report suggested that a Jim Holmes of a Colorado Tea Party organization might be the suspect, but that report was incorrect,” ABC News said in a statement. “ABC News and Brian Ross apologize for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted.”
In a similar statement released minutes earlier, ABC News said the report was “incorrect” but did not include the apology. “Several other local residents with similar names were also contacted via social media by members of the public who mistook them for the suspect,” the initial statement read.
Several other residents may have been contacted but how many of their employers, associations, or political affiliations were broadcast live on air?
And what made Ross make a beeline straight for the Tea Party website in the first place? Did he also check the Occupy Denver page? Somehow, I doubt whether it even crossed his mind.
There used to be a time when journalists had a rough integrity about what they said over the air and took pride in striving for accuracy. Who could ever forget ABC’s Frank Reynolds, ABC News anchorman, who, after receiving and announcing word that James Brady had been killed in the Reagan assassination attempt only to discover the press secretary was still alive, got visibly angry and to no one in particular barked on air, “Let’s get this right. Let’s nail this down.”
Today, Stephanopoulos thanked Brian Ross for smearing the Tea Party by reporting a lie. Ross should be suspended or lose his job for this attempt to inject politics into a national tragedy.
Also read: Colorado Shooter Was Dressed as ‘The Joker’