ABC News had to go on the defensive today during the network’s presentation at the Television Critics Association press tour, The Washington Post reports. Instead of seizing the opportunity to gloat about recent ratings gains by “Good Morning America” in its battle with NBC’s “Today,” the news division had to answer criticism of its coverage of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.
“ABC News chief Ben Sherwood got asked about Brian Ross’s early, inaccurate, speculation, Friday morning — just hours after the Aurora shooting during a midnight screening of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ — that the Colorado movie theater killing suspect might be a Tea Party member,” the story reports.
Sherwood told critics: “We put something on the air that we did not know to be true and the part that we needed to be true was not germane to the story we were covering.”
The report gives this account of the on-air incident: “Ross, talking to ‘Good Morning America’ anchor George Stephanopoulos, said, ‘There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado … 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 this is Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.’
“Ross corrected himself in an ABC News Special report that aired later that day, telling viewers it was, in fact, NOT the same Jim Holmes.”
Said Sherwood: “It was a mistake; we recognized it immediately and owned it immediately. … We corrected it immediately, and we apologized.”
Sherwood noted that Ross has since contacted the other Aurora man to “express his regret.”
Stephanopoulos, appearing at the TCA event by satellite, also addressed the situation, saying: “This was a breaking news situation and people are going to make mistakes. The test of a good journalist and good news organization is how you handle and how transparent you are with the viewers” when a mistake happens. “I don’t think there was any political movitation behind the mistake.”
The report adds: “The incident, Sherwood said, did not ‘live up to the standards and practices at ABC News. I take responsibility for it. … The buck stops with me.’"