Editorial: Lighting matches in the dark

ABC’s Brian Ross sent stocks tumbling with reckless report

ABC News reported for a time Friday that Donald Trump had asked future National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to contact Russian officials during the campaign.

 

Those last three words are exceedingly important. If that had been true, then it might’ve been evidence of direct contact, if not collusion, between the Trump campaign and Russia – at the highest level, the candidate himself – before the election. And that’s what this whole investigation is about, after all.

It wasn’t true, of course. ABC’s reckless reporter Brian Ross – who’s gotten things badly wrong before – later backtracked and said the directive allegedly came after the election, during the transition to the Trump administration. And that wouldn’t have been a big deal; other presidents have made transitional entreaties to foreign governments.

The errant report sent stocks plummeting – and likely cost a lot of people a lot of money. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell some 350 points on the report.

ABC Saturday took the highly unusual step of suspending Ross for four weeks without pay. But that doesn’t seem punishment enough. Ross is the same guy, remember, who also wrongly reported that the Aurora mass shooter was a Tea Party member. Oops. Same name, a different person.

People make mistakes. Reporters are people. We get that. But in both the above cases, you have to wonder if Ross’ negligence was partly due to an eagerness to believe what he was reporting – a desire for it to be true.

Moreover, the network initially tried to downplay the blunder, describing the embarrassing correction as a mere “clarification,” a PR gambit for which the network was rightly savaged by critics.

“It’s a major embarrassment,” one ABC News employee acknowledged to CNNMoney.

When you want something to be true, you’re less likely to be skeptical of it, and more likely to be wrong. And you’ve become more than a journalist. You’ve become an advocate.

The political climate in this country is combustible enough without journalists lighting matches in the dark.

 

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