When you’re the source for “breaking news” but it turns out to be “faking news,” you’re in trouble.
ABC News “chief investigative correspondent” Brian Ross reported on retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn’s plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller by claiming that Flynn is “prepared to testify that President Trump, as a candidate, Donald Trump, ordered him, directed him to make contact with the Russians which contradicts all that Donald Trump has said to this point.”
It was a nuclear explosion. Within minutes, the stock market plunged 350 points.
It quickly became clear that was flat-out wrong. Later, ABC News added on the evening news what it disingenuously called a “clarification” — actually, it said, Trump directed Flynn to contact the Russians after the election. Not only is that not scandalous but it is also completely expected for a new president. After more uproar, ABC finally found the reporting to be a “serious error” and suspended Ross for four weeks without pay.
It’s a classic journalistic mistake to try and be first to report something before it’s verified. But in the Trump era, when liberals believe the president is a uniquely dangerous threat to America — and even the world — any news that could lead to speculation about Trump’s impeachment or resignation is like catnip. Journalists are prone to overhype anything that could spell “The End.”
This suspension might have been an adequate punishment … if Ross hadn’t already made a long line of whoppers. Conservatives remember the 2012 movie theater mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, by James Holmes and how Ross came on in breaking-news mode to announce that there was a “Jim Holmes” on a Colorado Tea Party Patriots website … as if that were a perfect starting point to identifying a mass shooter. It wasn’t.
But there are more.
In 2001, Ross claimed that the anthrax used in deadly attacks after 9/11 in Washington, D.C., and New York was coated with bentonite, a chemical compound found only in biological weapons made by then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s henchmen. Former President George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer remembers the event. He tweeted: “I explicitly told ABC News not to go with the anthrax story because it was wrong. Brian Ross went with it anyway — and one week later issued a murky, hard to understand correction.”
In the first month of the Iraq War in 2003, Ross reported that Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (or “Chemical Ali”), an Iraqi general, had been killed. Several media outlets forwarded that report. Six months later, U.S. officials announced that they had him in custody.
In 2006, Ross claimed that Pakistani officials had arrested al-Qaida explosives expert Matiur Rehman, who had an “official” list of terrorist recruits and could lead to then-al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. A Pakistani official denounced the report as “fictitious.” Then-ABC consultant Alexis Debat warned ABC that the report was not true a day after it was initially broadcast.
In that same year, Ross breathlessly relayed that the FBI was investigating then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert for bribery in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. “Justice Department officials describe the 64-year-old Illinois Republican as very much in the mix of the corruption investigation,” he said. This prompted the Justice Department to deny that there was any federal probe of Hastert, and Hastert demanded a retraction of the statement and threatened to sue ABC.
None of these whoppers ever led to any suspension of Ross, who’s been at ABC since 1994. His liberal colleagues have given him six Peabody awards and six George Polk awards, so his reputation inside the network was apparently unscathed by his large errors.
It’s a little bizarre that these days, alleged sexual harassers like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer are dumped abruptly, while Brian Williams has an hourlong nightly show on MSNBC, and Brian Ross gets a slap on the wrist. These supposed guardians against “fake news” make it look like fact mangling isn’t really a serious offense. Brian Ross should be fired.
L. Brent Bozell III is the president of the Media Research Center. Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org. To find out more about Brent Bozell III and Tim Graham, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.