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ABC News takes back Brian Ross' inaccurate speculation that Colorado shooting suspect was Tea Party member



brian-ross-colorado.jpgIn the hours just after a mass disaster, emotions are raw; even rawer when that disaster is a deliberate execution of innocent people undertaken with planning and specific intent.

Which is why its all the more perplexing that ABC News reporter Brian Ross' speculated on air this morning that Aurora, Colo., shooting suspect Jim Holmes may be a Tea Party member, based on a listing on a website.

ABC News quickly retracted Ross' statements, but not before they sparked a tsunami of outrage across the Internet, as conservatives complained about the horrific insinuation and others protested that such speculation was offered too soon, regardless of its validity.

Proving that there is no tragedy too horrific to politicize, the conservative website published a piece with the screaming headline: "Shooting Suspect James Holmes Could Be a Registered Democrat."

Even as political adversaries President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney expressed condolences, pulled campaign ads from Colorado TV stations and canceled or limited campaign activities today, partisans online traded jibes about Obama's audience cheering before his grim speech on the shootings from Florida or jeered about the political leanings of the shooter.

Which is why it's even more bizarre Ross walked into this tremendous on air mistake, confirming every paranoid notion of liberal media bias among the most extreme conservatives. The website Gawker has a snarky list of other mistakes Ross has made in his reporting.

Michael Grunwald, an editor at Time magazine, argued against the criticism of politicizing tragedy on the magazine's Swampland blog, noting ""If advocates or experts or even politicians think their policy ideas can prevent the next Aurora—by preventing potential killers from obtaining guns, by making sure potential victims can carry guns, or by some other method—then by all means, now is the time to spread the word."

But I think that's where Grunwald is wrong. Now -- when we know next to nothing about the shooter, his motives, his methods or his history -- is not the time to talk policy or politics.

Now is the time to comfort the wounded and grieving while journalists gather as much accurate information as possible. So that, in the days and weeks to come, when the political debates do begin, they will be grounded in accurate facts and well-thought out positions.

Here's the correction ABC News sent to journalists minutes ago:

Editor's Note: An earlier ABC News broadcast report suggested that a Jim Holmes of a Colorado Tea Party organization might be the suspect, but that report was incorrect. ABC News and Brian Ross apologize for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted.

Earlier this morning Brian Ross said the following on “Good Morning America.”

Brian Ross: 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.

He later clarified the reporting on-air for viewers during an ABC News Special Report saying:

Brian Ross:  We don’t know much about him.  An earlier report that I had was incorrect that he was connected with the Tea Party in fact that’s a different Jim Holmes. He was not connected to the Tea Party and what we do know about him is he is a 24 year old white male who went to Colorado for a PHD.

Ross's correction is at about 11 minutes in.
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[Last modified: Friday, July 20, 2012 3:02pm]


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