TCA: critics indict mishandling of breaking news at ABC News panel

ABC News president Ben Sherwood

While there were a few gracious questions for Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts regarding her health and who might fill in when she undergoes a bone marrow transplant for myelodysplastic syndrome (Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Kelly Ripa, and the cast of The View have all reportedly volunteered), Thursday morning’s ABC News panel was largely an indictment of how news outlets handle breaking news.

At the forefront of the discussion — with ABC News President Ben Sherwood on hand in person and the GMA crew looking on via satellite  — was correspondent Brian Ross’ confusing a Tea Party supporter named James Holmes with the James Holmes apprehended for the Aurora theater shootings, and GMA host George Stephanopoulos chiming in to give it potential credibility.

Stephanopoulous calmly handled critics’ pointed questioning by owning up to the error and defending his and Ross’ credentials.  “I am sorry about it; I know that Brian is sorry about it,” he said.  “I think it was a mistake made in good faith, but Brian is an award‑winning journalist. … This was a breaking‑news situation, and people are going to make mistakes in breaking‑news situations.  I think the test of a good journalist and the test of a good news organization is how you handle those mistakes and how you correct them and how transparent you are when that happens with the viewers.”

“We recognized it immediately,” Sherwood added. “We owned it immediately.  We corrected it immediately.  We apologized for it.”

Stephanopoulous also shot down the notion that there were political motivations behind Ross’ gaffe.

Asked later if the network would be making ensuing changes to its sourcing standards, Sherwood reiterated, “We put something on the air that we did not know to be true and the part that we knew to be true was not germane to the story we were doing and the story that we were covering. That was a violation of our standards and so we’re not having to change anything . … We are completely committed to the truth and pursuing the truth, and when we make a mistake, we own it, and we acknowledge it.”

The exec also went to bat for reporter Matt Mosk, who was the first to reach James Holmes’ mother after the shooting. Arlene Holmes has since said that what appeared to be a startlingly candid remark about her son’s guilt was the result of being awakened by the reporter’s call, and that she was referring to herself when she told Mosk, “you have the right person.”

“We stand by Matt’s characterization of what ensued in that conversation,” Sherwood said. “He has detailed noted of what happened in that conversation.”

So while the rest of the GMA panel — Josh Elliott, Lara Spencer and Sam Champion — went largely and perhaps unfortunately question-free, they still had much about which to be happy. Sherwood announced that this week — and for the first time in 17 years — the show ranked No. 1 in both total viewers and the coveted 25-54 demo.

Photo credit: ABC/Rick Rowell

About Lori Acken

Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.
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