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ABC News president absolutely excoriates news staff over Brian Ross's fake Flynn story
In regular Monday morning call he tells them: "I don't think ever in my career have I felt more rage and disappointment and frustration . . ."
If you've ever been part of a news organization, you're familiar with the weekly editorial meeting. Everyone on the team gathers and discusses upcoming stories, in addition to reviewing those recently published or aired and discussing anything that could have been done better.
Usually it's run by one of the editors. When one of the really big bosses gets involved, it's unusual. When the big boss calls in, it's a pretty big deal. Especially if it's because he's mad.
So when ABC News president James Goldston called in yesterday to his crew's Monday editorial meeting, he had a few things to say about Brian Ross's gigantic screwup on the Mike Flynn story last week. He was not pleased. And apparently Ross has some frenemies within ABC because someone went ahead and gave audio of the call to CNN, which to its credit didn't bury it out of concern it would help President Trump - as we might reasonably expect CNN to do given its own anti-Trump behavior.
In case you somehow missed it, Ross went on the air Friday morning claiming that Flynn would testify he'd been ordered by candidate Trump - before the election - to reach out to the Russians. That was completely wrong. Consistent with the reporting of the rest of the media on the issue, it was after the election and Flynn was told to reach out to the Russians by President-elect Trump over perfectly legitimate matters including an anti-Israel resolution at the UN and possible Russian retaliation to Obama-imposed sanctions.
Ross's apparent scoop seemed to signal for the first time that there really was something to the "collusion with the Russians" business. But there wasn't. The report was wrong. And ABC compounded its sin by waiting seven hours to correct and ultimately retract the report.
By the time Goldston had the chance to digest all this, he let his news team have it:
During ABC News' morning editorial call Monday, audio of which was obtained by CNN, Goldston excoriated his staff for the error.
"I don't think ever in my career have I felt more rage and disappointment and frustration that I felt through this weekend and through the last half of Friday," Goldston said.
"I don't even know how many times we've talked about this, how many times we have talked about the need to get it right," he added. "That how we have to be right and not first. About how in this particular moment, with the stakes as high as these stakes are right now, we cannot afford to get it wrong."
CNN provided the quotes from the recording included in this article to an ABC News spokesperson, who did not deny that they were authentic. The spokesperson declined to comment beyond Goldston's remarks.
Goldston noted that ABC News "spent this weekend getting absolutely pilloried as a news division for reporting fake news."
"250,000 tweets. One percent positive, 99 percent negative about this news division. Two tweets from the president," he told staff.
Goldston also said, "If it isn't obvious to everyone in this news division, we have taken a huge hit and we have made the job of every single person in this news division harder as a result. It's much, much harder. We have people in Washington who are going to bear the brunt of this today and in the days forward. Very, very, very, very unfortunate. Really, really angry about it."
The ABC News chief said that Ross reported information that was "just plain wrong," and did so without anyone "having ever made a decision that we were going to go to air with that information."
"We just went on air with that information," he said. "We hadn't approved doing that. And the thing that just kills me about this is all we had to do was wait. We had to wait a few minutes. A few minutes after that, the charging documents came out. We know that those charging documents had come out, and we had looked to those charging documents, and the charging documents didn't match what we thought the story was. We would have not gone with that story."
Goldston also decreed that Ross will no longer be allowed to cover any Trump-related news, which is a pretty broad restriction considering that Trump is the president of the United States and just about all governmental and political news is related to him in some way.
But why does Ross still have a job at all? Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer came out on Sunday with information that Ross had been equally irresponsible in a 2003 report about Iraq and chemical weapons. In fact, Fleischer castigated ABC News for claiming that he had told them after the fact that the story was inaccurate. In fact, Fleischer said in a tweet that he had told Ross before the airing of the story that it was wrong and that he shouldn't air it. Not only that, but in this tweet Fleischer tagged ABC's Terry Moran, who subsequently confirmed Fleischer's recollection of the events.
So you had the White House press secretary telling Brian Ross a piece of news was inaccurate, only to have Ross ignore the warning and report the wrong information anyway. This has been Ross's MO for a long time and he's been rewarded for it with a seven-figure salary and apparently enough job security that even after this debacle he only gets a four-week suspension and not the firing he deserves.
Now I don't think it's fair to hold every liberal journalist responsible for Brian Ross's sins, but there is one aspect of the Fleischer story that I think is all too common in journalism. Ross was told by an official source that a piece of information was untrue. Ross simply ignored what the official source told him and went with the story anyway. Sound outrageous? It's really not unusual in journalism today. Many journalists simply assume that the "official story" is spin or some sort of obfuscation, and routinely dismiss it as such.
I'm not saying official sources should simply be believed uncritically, and that's the case regardless of which party is in power. But when you're told by someone who's in the know that information you have is wrong, you have to at least take that into account and incorporate it into your reporting. Ross's habit seems to be that when he thinks he has an explosive piece of information, he wants to run with it as quickly as he can before a) someone else beats him; or b) someone comes forward with information that casts doubt on what he wants to report.
This is essentially what Goldston exploded over on Monday morning, and you can't blame him. But when he says it's more important to be right than to be first - which of course is true - one has to wonder why he feels the exasperating need to say it again and again, as it appears his news team knows it's true but still goes for the scoop over accuracy on a consistent basis.
You'll also notice the media are now wringing their hands because Ross has made it easier for Trump to call them all fake news. Well yeah. The reason that message has resonated is that the media have been irresponsible often enough that people don't just think it's Trump bloviating. They know he's right.
Look, I've done enough work in journalism to know that most journalists - even the liberal ones, which is most of them - don't just flat-out report falsehoods. But they are much more credulous toward sources who give them information they want to believe, and are less likely to scrutinize or doublecheck such information. I suppose that's human nature. Maybe if the media were dominated by conservatives it would do the same thing. But that's why it's not a good thing that the media are dominated by people of one political persuasion.
Even so, Brian Ross is clearly the worst of the bunch. The only thing I can't understand is why Goldston's tirade didn't end with Ross being fired, which sort of makes you wonder who has the real power at ABC News.
Dan's new novel, BACKSTOP, is a story of spiritual warfare and baseball. Download it from Amazon here!