ABC News announced Saturday that Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross had been suspended for four weeks without pay over a botched “exclusive” about former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Ross’ suspension is effective immediately. ABC News spokeswoman Heather Riley would not comment on whether anyone else had been suspended in connection with the error.
During a live “special report” Friday morning, Ross reported that Flynn would testify that Donald Trump had ordered him to make contact with Russians about foreign policy while Trump was still a candidate. The report raised the specter of Trump’s impeachment and sent the stock market plummeting.
Later in the day, ABC News — part of the reliably liberal Disney ABC Television Network — issued a “clarification” to Ross’s report, saying that Trump’s alleged directive came after he’d been elected president. That’s a key distinction in any investigation of Russian actions during the campaign. Ross himself appeared on “World News Tonight” several hours after the initial report to clarify his error.
In a statement, ABC News said Ross’ report “had not been fully vetted through our editorial standards process.”
“It is vital we get the story right and retain the trust we have built with our audience,” ABC’s statement added. “These are our core principles. We fell far short of that yesterday.”
Ross tweeted about his suspension late Saturday, saying, “My job is to hold people accountable and that’s why I agree with being held accountable myself.”
Trump himself tweeted, “Congratulations to @ABC News” for punishing Ross for what the president called “his horrendously inaccurate and dishonest report on the Russia, Russia, Russia Witch Hunt.
“More Networks and “papers” should do the same with their Fake News!” Trump added.
Friday’s fumble was another in a series of black marks for Ross, who has been at ABC News since 1994 after spending nearly two decades at NBC.
In 2001, Ross incorrectly reported that Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi dictatorship may have been responsible for anthrax attacks that terrorized the United States in the months after 9/11. Then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted Saturday that he “explicitly told ABC News not to go with the anthrax story because it was wrong.
“Brian Ross went with it anyway – and one week later issued a murky, hard to understand correction,” Fleischer added.
In 2006, Ross reported that then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert was a target of a federal corruption probe involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Despite the Justice Department’s denial, Ross insisted that Hastert was “very much in the mix” of the investigation. Hastert was never approached by prosecutors.
In 2010, Ross fronted a report called “Taking on Toyota,” which claimed that some of the Japanese automaker’s cars contained a defect that caused “unintended acceleration.” The report included footage of a tachometer shooting from 1,000 to 6,200 RPM in seconds while Ross sat behind the wheel. However, the same footage showed that the car Ross was sitting in was parked with the doors open at the time.
In a letter to ABC News at the time, Toyota complained that the work by a key expert Ross cited in his report was funded by “a paid advocate for trial lawyers involved in litigation against Toyota.” The carmaker added that the expert’s demonstrations were carried out “under conditions that are virtually impossible to occur in real-world conditions.”
Perhaps most infamously, Ross reported in 2012 that Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes may have had ties to the Tea Party movement.
“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,” Ross reported on “Good Morning America.” “Now, we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes – but this is Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.”
Ross later apologized for the report, but received withering criticism — including being dubbed “America’s Wrongest Reporter” by the now-defunct Gawker website.
“When there’s breaking news, especially about terrorism and national security, ABC News’ Brian Ross is there,” John Cook wrote in a post on the gossip blog, before adding, “And under no circumstances should you listen to anything he says.“
Sources tell Fox News that ABC has cut the size of Ross’ team of producers and provided him with fewer on-air platforms for his reporting. An ABC insider said, however, that this had less to do with Ross’ errors than with ABC’s diminished interest in hard news and investigative reporting.
Reliably liberal ABC News has, however, continued its drumbeat of anti-Trump reporting, employing former Clinton operative George Stephanopoulos as its principal anchor. ABC’s Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz was called out by then-President elect Trump for crying on air on election night (she denies this), and former President Obama attended her second of three weddings.
ABC’s beleaguered entertainment programming is also notoriously liberal, with the network recently shelling out an eye-popping $25 million to employ Clinton activist Katy Perry as a judge for a rebooted season of “American Idol”.
Meanwhile, Disney CEO Bob Iger is widely reported to have ambitions to run for the White House himself and plans to step down prior to the 2020 and could challenge Trump as the Democratic nominee.
Fox News’ Brian Flood contributed to this report.
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