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The major news media just keep on getting things wrong

Richard G. Carter | 10/25/2012, 12:44 p.m.
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"The news you feed to the average man must be as carefully chosen as his food."--Charles Dingle, "Somewhere I'll Find You" (1942)

Question: Which major television news operation was embarrassed big-time in the wake of the movie massacre in Colorado by foolishly injecting the Tea Party into its coverage? Answer: ABC News with Brian Ross and George Stephanopoulos.

To review, here's what went down on ABC's "Good Morning America" July 20 after the alleged shooter was identified in news reports as Jim Holmes:

Stephanopoulos: "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 the 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."

Stephanopoulos: "OK, we'll keep looking at that. Brian Ross, thanks very much."

Later, in a story on its website, ABC News said that it and Ross "apologize for the mistake and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted."

But in an obvious attempt to create an alibi and spread the blame around, the network also said, "Several other local residents with similar names were also contacted via social media by members of the public who mistook them for the suspect." Yeah, sure.

On July 26, at a meeting of the Television Critics Association, ABC News President Ben Sherwood explained thusly: "We put something on the air that we did not know to be true, and the part that needed to be true was not germane to the story we were covering."

Stephanopoulos, via satellite, told reporters, "This was a breaking news situation and people are going to make mistakes." Yeah, sure.

As an experienced TV, radio and print journalist, I say this: Before and after going to reporter Ross, anchor Stephanopoulos should have told viewers that there is no hard evidence that the alleged shooter is involved with the Tea Party. None. Period.

A syndicated editorial cartoon in newspapers nationwide July 24 put ABC in its proper place. It featured a caricature of Stephanopoulos saying, "Earlier, ABC News erroneously reported the Colorado suspect may have had connections to the Colorado Tea Party and we want to apologize. ABC is sorry there was no Tea Party connection." Touche!

ABC also made negative news recently when Barbara Walters blew off an interview on "The View" with George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin. Walters was peeved when Zimmerman made certain demands she couldn't meet and because he chose Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity for his first interview, denying her an exclusive.

Not to be outdone, NBC's Olympic Games coverage in London failed to recognize ex-heavyweight champ and noted Olympian Evander Holyfield while interviewing him on the street. How's that for knowledgeable reporting? Strictly slipshod.

Another example of irresponsible reporting is the recent Newsweek magazine cover photo of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney captioned "Romney: The Wimp Factor." On the other hand, left-leaning Newsweek has had a number of flattering cover photos of President Barack Hussein Obama along with flattering prose.