Media Blog

ABC News Stands By Story

ABC News is standing by its story:

ABC News reporter Brian Ross said he stood by his story.
“The people we’re talking to feel very strongly about what they told us,” Ross said in a telephone interview.
ABC has not yet been served with legal papers from Hastert’s attorney, Ross and ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said.
In his letter to ABC, Evans said, “We will take any and all actions necessary to rectify the harm ABC has caused and to hold those at ABC responsible for their conduct.”

And according the AP:

Correspondent Brian Ross stood by his report, saying he has checked with his sources who say the story accurately represents the facts “as they know them.”
“There’s enough there for them (the FBI) to take a look at the speaker” and other members of Congress, Ross said in an interview.

Look at Ross’s statements. First, “The people we’re talking to feel strongly about what they told us.” But what did they tell ABC News, exactly? That Hastert is “in the mix”? That phrase, conveniently, can mean any number of things. Second, “There’s enough there for them (the FBI) to take a look at the speaker.” But that’s not what Ross reported. He reported that the FBI is taking a look at the speaker (if that’s not what “in the mix” means, then it means nothing at all).
The DOJ has stated in no uncertain terms that Hastert is not under investigation. They have even denied that he is “in the mix” – and given all the possible meanings of that phrase, that’s a pretty broad denial. Furthermore, CNN reports:

Usually, when queried by reporters, the Justice Department neither confirms nor denies the existence of an investigation.

As I see it, there are two ways Brian Ross comes out of this with his credibility intact:

  1. His sources turn out to be right. A few days from now, the DOJ clams up about this. Hastert’s lawyers tone down the threats. We learn through more leaks to more reporters that Hastert is indeed the “subject” or “target” of an investigation (Future reports that Hastert is ”still in the mix” or something of that nature won’t suffice – no more meaningless phrases).
  2. After more denials from DOJ, more threats from Hastert’s lawyers, and no independent confirmation that Hastert is under investigation, Ross outs his sources so that the public can hold them accountable for floating baseless rumors. ABC News retracts and, if they’re lucky, avoids litigation.

If the rumors turn out to be baseless, Hastert sues, and ABC News stonewalls, this could be worse for journalism than the CBS memo scandal or the Judith Miller fiasco. And for what? So that Ross can stand by this “in the mix” claim that means essentially nothing?