ABC News keeps hitting the right notes in the aftermath of Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross’s heinous mistaken-identity error on the set of “Good Morning America” last Friday morning. He speculated that the alleged shooter could be a guy named Jim Holmes with ties to a tea party organization in Colorado. False!
The cleanup started with a quick correction of the record and an apology from ABC News. And the contrition continues today, this time from ABC News President Ben Sherwood, according to the Los Angeles Times:
“We put something on the air that we did not know to be true, and the part that we needed to be true was not germane to the story we were covering,” Sherwood told reporters at the semiannual Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills. “This was an unfortunate mistake,” he said, adding that the network was taking steps to make sure it does not happen again, although he declined to say specifically what those steps were.
Sherwood also indicated that Ross had “reached out” to the misidentified Jim Holmes in an effort to make the apology personal.
What remains to be seen:
1) Provenance: How, precisely, did the error come about? Did Ross himself poke around on the Internet in search of clues on Holmes? Did someone on his team? Who looked at the tip before it aired? Did George Stephanopoulos, who was speaking with Ross on-air when the mistake occurred, participate in any vetting? I’ve made inquiries to ABC News in this regard and haven’t been able to pull details from them.
2) Liability: Will ABC News get sued for this infraction? They certainly did report false and defamatory information about the tea party-connected Jim Holmes. But a winning libel case has to pack more than just that cocktail; it needs to show that the plaintiff suffered damages. On that front, according to an expert consulted on the matter, the mistakenly identified Jim Holmes may have a thin brief. The report, after all, was corrected quickly and repudiated far and wide. Accordingly, it’s hard to see how the prospective plaintiff will be able to prove that the report cost him standing in the community, money and/or other such valuable things.
Attempts to contact the mistakenly identified Jim Holmes have been unsuccessful.