I understand making errors, but what Brian Ross did yesterday was worse than the simple mistake he apologized for. I agree with James Taranto 100 percent when he calls what Ross, George Stephanopoulos, and ABC did in labeling the Colorado shooter as a member of the Tea Party as not a simple error, but “sinister”:
The shooting suspect, ABC later reported, is a 24-year-old Ph.D. candidate. Other reports say he is white, and he does not appear to be Hispanic. Politico notes that the network has corrected and apologized for the error:
“An earlier ABC News broadcast report suggested that a Jim Holmes of a Colorado Tea Party organization might be the suspect, but that report was incorrect,” ABC News said in a statement. “ABC News and Brian Ross apologize for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted.”
This strikes us as insufficient. Simply as a matter of journalistic craft, the report was appallingly shoddy. Ross pointed the finger at an innocent man based on nothing but the coincidence of a common name and the man’s residence in the same city of 325,000 where the crime took place.
Let us amend that. There was one other factor, and this is what makes the ABC error not just amateurish but sinister: the innocent Jim Holmes’s involvement with the Tea Party. For more than three years liberal journalists have falsely portrayed the Tea Party as racist and potentially violent. After the January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., speculation immediately began that the suspect was a Tea Partier. Even after it was proved that he was not, the New York Times published a despicable editorial blaming conservatives anyway.
Ross and ABC were out on this limb alone. Either other journalists learned their lesson from Tucson, or it didn’t occur to them to look for a political motive this time (it was a more plausible hypothesis in a shooting that targeted a politician).
It is reasonable to interpret Ross’s hasty unsubstantiated report as an expression of hostility–bigotry–toward the Tea Party and those who share its values, which are traditional American ones. ABC’s carelessness here is in sharp contrast with the way the mainstream media treat criminal suspects who are black or Muslim. In those cases they take great pains not to perpetuate stereotypes, sometimes at the cost of withholding or obscuring relevant facts such as the physical description of a suspect who is still at large or the ideological motive for a crime.
Oikophobia is no less invidious than other forms of bigotry. ABC and Ross have apologized for their irresponsible reporting, but they have something more to answer for here. Their careless and inadvertent falsehood was in the service of a big lie.
Now, I have yet to read any report that ABC is investigating how this crap made it on the air. Here’s the exact exchange from yesterday:
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 Aurora, Colo., 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, Colo.
Stephanopoulos: OK, we’ll keep looking at that. Brian Ross, thanks very much.
One, Ross should be fired. And two, Stephanopoulos needs to answer why he even asked Ross to add this information to the broadcast if this was all there was.