President Trump called out ABC News on Twitter last weekend for a “horrendously inaccurate and dishonest report on the Russia, Russia, Russia Witch Hunt” and even suggested that people who lost money in the stock market last Friday should sue the network.
As he accused ABC of bias against him, the president did not mention that one of the network's top producers — one briefly considered for the role of White House communications director — improperly shared proprietary exit polling data with the Trump campaign on Election Day.
Trump casts the media as a political foe that is constantly out to get him with “fake news,” but two mistakes at ABC News — one that hurt Trump and one that helped — show that the president's narrative is, at the very least, oversimplified.
In his weekend tweets, Trump was referring to Brian Ross's erroneous report that former national security adviser Michael Flynn would testify to federal prosecutors that he was directed by candidate Trump to contact Russian officials. Ross later corrected the report, saying Flynn would testify that the directive came from president-elect Trump.
The difference was crucial. Ross's initial, flawed report pointed to election-season collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and appeared to jolt the stock market; the corrected report about post-election contact was far less explosive.
On Wednesday, Politico reported that ABC also had reprimanded producer Chris Vlasto in some unspecified way after learning from a book written by former Trump campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie that Vlasto provided internal poll numbers to Trump's team. Bossie and Vlasto have known each other for decades, Politico's Michael Calderone reported.
Vlasto was an executive producer at “Good Morning America” when he told Politico in December 2016 that he “was approached about a job in the new administration” and “had preliminary conversations with the transition team” before withdrawing from consideration.
Vlasto is now ABC's senior executive producer for investigative reporting, in charge of the same unit that includes Ross.
Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the conservative Media Research Center, told The Washington Post's Paul Farhi this week that Ross's mistake “comes from the ardor to get Trump.”
Another explanation is that breaking-news errors such as Ross's come from the ardor to get scoops. And the notion of a “get Trump” obsession is hard to square with the reality that the ABC investigative team for which Ross reports is led by a producer who fed poll numbers to the Trump campaign and thought about working in the Trump White House.