Will those steps include rooting out bias?
Don’t hold your breath.
It’s unpasteurized bias, after all, that led to the network’s cockamamie claim last Friday on Good Morning America that the Aurora theater shooter may be linked to the Tea Party.
Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show audience got a good laugh out of that, as did a clearly agitated Stewart – who called his segment on the incident “What Story Does a Guy Have to Blow to Get in Trouble at ABC?”
Noting that ABC’s “chief investigative reporter” Brian Ross had found a James Holmes on a Tea Party website, Stewart joked that Ross had “put the name James Holmes into (an Internet) search engine and hit the ‘I’m Feeling Lazy’ button.”
Ross ran with that info and put it on the air, having to retract it several hours later when it was learned the James Holmes affiliated with a Hispanic Tea Party group was not the same guy as the shooter.
Even in his initial report, Ross had to admit he didn’t know if it was the same guy. But he reported it anyway.
“I’m assuming,” Stewart said of ABC newsman George Stephanopoulos, “that he was under the impression that Brian Ross checks out the (expletive) he’s saying on air – before saying it – since Brian Ross is their chief investigative correspondent, and not, let’s say, the office gossip.”
Stewart, in a beautifully satirical way, also wondered why Ross failed to apologize for defaming the other James Holmes by casually (and negligently and recklessly) reporting that he might be a mass murderer. The innocent Mr. Holmes has said that he’s felt it necessary to disconnect his phone for safety since ABC’s erroneous report.
But an even larger defamation is Ross’ eagerness to believe, and to rush onto air, a link between the Aurora shooting and the Tea Party.
“‘When I was Googling his name,’” Stewart joked that Ross was thinking, “‘I saw the phrase The Tea Party, and I thought – that’s a pre-existing narrative! I should get that on the TV!’”
Slicing into Ross’ “logic,” Stewart summarized Ross’ thinking this way: “‘George! Tea Party? Low taxes? Madmen? You do the math!’”
“And this dude isn’t even grounded? Doesn’t get detention?” Stewart asked of Ross.
Welcome to the world of liberal bias, Mr. Stewart.
We’re not sure why Brian Ross would still be in television news at all, after all the questionable and erroneous reports he’s been behind, and the excuses ABC has made for him.
But this issue is bigger than him. It’s about a nagging, chronic anti-conservative culture in many media outlets that has convinced many “reporters,” viewers and readers that the Tea Party philosophy of efficient and reduced government is somehow dangerous or insidious.
And people such as Brian Ross are over-eager to prove it.
The president of ABC News, reports Politico.com, promised “the network was taking steps to ensure it did not happen again.”
Really? By reminding reporters not to be lazy or sloppy? That might help somewhat, but won’t tackle the real issue – which is, again, about deep-seated belief systems.
The broadcast or journalism experience of Good Morning America host and frequent news anchor George Stephanopoulous, it’s worthy of noting, is largely confined to sports broadcasting in college. Otherwise, his main qualification is that he was a longtime Democratic operative. That, not journalism expertise, is what counts at a place like ABC.
There are no easy “steps” than can be taken to ameliorate that kind of institutional decision-making.