Last Friday, amid a newsburst regarding the Aurora, Colo., shootings, ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross committed the unforgivable mistake of speculating on air about the identity of an alleged mass murderer. The speculation was doubly dangerous because it was laced with politics. Here’s what Ross said on “Good Morning America”:
There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, 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 this is Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.
The criticism of Ross split into two camps: 1) You idiot; 2) You biased idiot.
Examples of the latter include an e-mail promoting a post about Ross on the conservative media-criticism site NewsBusters.com: “MEDIA BIAS? WHAT MEDIA BIAS?”Rush Limbaugh said yesterday that Ross and “Good Morning America”’s George Stephanopolous were “political hacks disguised as journalists.” Jennifer Stefano, writing on FoxNews.com, wrote that “bias reared its left leaning head” with Ross’s speculation. The Daily Caller whipped up a presentation titled, “A 47-second primer on liberal bias, courtesy of Brian Ross and ABC News.”
“Bias” is defined as “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” Following that definition, we can be pretty sure that, if this bias rap against Ross is accurate, he has left behind a long trail of left-leaning journalism — stories that exonerate, for example, the Obama administration and place all kinds of blame on Republicans.
Checking is possible with an Internet. This is the Brian Ross topic page on ABC News’s Web site. That page links to more than 1,500 stories published by Ross and a team of investigative reporters that he commands. ABC News declined to make Ross available for an interview about what was behind his Aurora-Holmes mistake. But a look through the archives should help us discover whether there’s ideological tilt in his work.
Here’s what the archive contains, in part:
* Content on Solyndra, that ill-advised green investment by the Obama administration: “Did Obama Administration Play Favorites With Energy Loans?”
* An obsession with Bernie Madoff. An absolute, all-encompassing, sun-blotting obsession with Bernie Madoff. In one report, Ross showed video of Madoff in his home and narrated: “The man who has confessed to conning investors out of $50 billion seems to have also conned Justice Department prosecutors into letting him stay here under luxurious house arrest, busy fluffing his pillows.” (Pillow-fluffing comment comes at 1:31 in the video below.)
* Many, many, many stories on terrorism and rogue countries, whether it be a radical cleric taunting President Obama, the Times Square bomber wimping out on suicide, the destination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, the underwear bomber, al-Qaeda leadership, secret CIA overseas prison facilities, the liquid bomb plot and the anthrax case.
* A GOP donor scam.
* The fire that could well have ruined Ross’s Connecticut home, if not for the actions of the Sharon, Conn., fire department.
* Obama’s White House rewarding rich supporters with invites to state dinners.
* Troubles for an aide to Sen. David Vitter.
* Plenty on that Toyota sticky-accelerator problem.
* Obama administration blunders in assessing intelligence screwups.
* Accountability piece on Rahm Emanuel.
* ABC News reporters under Ross get busted by Denver cops for trying to get pictures of “Democratic Senators and wealthy donors arriving at a secret meeting at the city’s Brown Palace hotel.”
* Hard-hitting stuff on vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
That survey takes us back four years, at which point the Erik Wemple Blog is calling a halt to the archive dive. After this exercise in improving the time-on-site metrics for abcnews.go.com, we’ve reached the conclusion that Brian Ross is biased. From the roots of his mild brown hair through his reasonable-sounding voice to his deepest thoughts, this guy is a walking, talking, live-shot-producing bias virus.
Biased, that is, toward the hot story of the day, plus Bernie Madoff. And very, very often, those stories have little to do with the binary world of politics. The pieces on Toyota or on Osama bin Laden or on Naomi Campbell — they’re not even eligible for bias readings.
As to whether there’s tilt in Ross’s stories that do cover politicos, well, several days dedicated to weighing his coverage of both Republicans and Democrats over a given period — a la Pew Research Center---would yield a more scientific answer than this look at the ABC News database. (It could also look at what Ross’s team didn’t cover; there doesn’t appear to be a lot on the troubled gun-interdiction program Fast and Furious, for example.)
Yet the record appears to corroborate what Bill O’Reilly of Fox News said last night in an excellent segment with Bernard Goldberg about the whole episode. Ross, he said, has no “ax” against the tea party but “was looking to break the headline story.”