LOS ANGELES — They tried so hard to set the stage for a victory lap.
Facing journalists here at the TV Critics Association's summer press tour, ABC News president Ben Sherwood kicked off an early morning presentation touting the division's success competing against NBC's powerhouse Today show, essentially attracting the same amount of viewers aged 25 to 54 last week — a feat he compared to winning an Olympic gold medal after 15 years of competition.
But what most of the journalists gathered here wanted to talk about was the costly mistake in which reporter Brian Ross last week implied Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes may have been a member of the conservative tea party movement, because a man with the same name was on the membership list of a website. (It was quickly determined that the man on the website was a different person with the same, admittedly common, name.)
While the entire Good Morning America anchor team and top producers looked on during a satellite hookup from New York, journalists asked whether Ross' mistake made it tougher for the public to believe the news division in other controversies.
Clearly expecting the question, Sherwood noted that Ross called the Jim Holmes who was a tea party member and apologized to him, while promising ABC News would tighten its procedures to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
But during close questioning by reporters after the press conference, he eventually admitted the mistake was mostly made by Ross, a longtime investigative reporter whose big scoops have been marred by some high profile missteps. And although Sherwood gave Ross "a very serious and stern conversation" after the mistake, the reporter has not been suspended or officially reprimanded.
"We put something on the air that we did not know to be true," said Sherwood, who later noted he was on a plane when the mistake was made, but the news division kept the error from airing outside the East Coast broadcast and corrected it immediately. "And the part of it that we knew to be true was not germane to the story that we were doing."
Elsewhere, onetime NBC and CBS star Katie Couric faced the press, touting the debut of her new daytime talk show, Katie. The show, which features a theme song by Sheryl Crow, will be executive produced by her former producer at the Today show, Jeff Zucker.
"I think I'm a little scared, which is good," said Couric, noting test shows for the program, tagged as "smart with heart," start in August. "If I weren't, I would worry...I want to do the best job I can do and really be who I am and not be too affected by other hosts and other programs and how they're doing it."
Couric also expressed sympathy for two ousted morning show anchors she knows: Today's Ann Curry and CBS This Morning's Erica Hill, who the network announced Thursday would be replaced by former NBC correspondent Norah O'Donnell in the fall.
She also admitted inviting as show guests President Obama, GOP candidate Mitt Romney and tea party favorite Sarah Palin, whose infamous stumbles during an interview with Couric was credited with seriously damaging Palin's candidacy for vice president in 2008.
But has Palin responded?
"Not yet," Couric said with a laugh.