ABC News management has suspended chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross for four weeks without pay, effective immediately, for erroneously reporting on Friday morning that President Donald Trump—as a candidate during last year’s campaign—ordered retired general Mike Flynn to contact representatives of the Russian government.
The network announced Ross’s punishment in a public apology for his misreporting—which initially caused a firestorm, and a plunge in the stock market, because his scoop suggested that candidate Trump had been interfering in U.S. foreign policy weeks before President Barack Obama announced increased sanctions against the Russians, including the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats, for their government’s role in meddling in the American presidential election.
Ross, who broadcast the erroneous claim during an ABC News special report without subjecting his information to the network’s standard vetting procedures, is not expected to be covering Trump-related matters once he returns to work after his suspension runs its course.
He was not quoted in ABC News’ official apology, and was unavailable for comment, but Ross later tweeted: “My job is to hold people accountable and that’s why I agree with being held accountable myself.”
And, of course, the tweeter-in-chief couldn't resist posting a backhanded compliment for ABC News: "Congratulations to ABCNews for suspending Brian Ross for his horrendously inaccurate and dishonest report on the Russia, Russia, Russia Witch Hunt," the president tweeted. "More Networks and “papers” should do the same with their Fake News!"
Sources at ABC News said Ross’s colleagues were furious at him as Trump partisans such as White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, former press secretary Sean Spicer, and Donald Trump Jr. heaped criticism on the network.
Noting that ABC’s syndicated daytime show, The View, repeated Ross’s flawed report, Conway tweeted: “Why is this celebratory tweet (and clip) on @TheView still active when their network @ABC was forced to correct the grievously false reporting it is based upon?"
The younger Trump, for one, erroneously predicted in a tweet that Ross would face no disciplinary action “because the error was adverse to @realDonaldTrump... the same error about his predecessor would have been met with real consequences. @ abc #fakenews”.
Spicer tweeted: “Don’t forget this isn’t @ABC news @ BrianRoss first rodeo with false reporting to attacking the right: he had to apologize for falsely suggesting that the Aurora theater shooter was a member of The Tea Party”—a reference to an incident in 2012.
ABC News President James Goldston took Ross to the woodshed in an angry Friday night meeting for flouting standard procedures regarding the vetting of sensitive investigative reporting.
The 69-year-old Ross—a much-lauded and prize-winning journalist over his 23 years at the network and before that, at NBC News—made the claim, which potentially supported accusations of Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government, during a special report on Flynn’s plea of guilty to the felony of lying to the FBI.
Around five hours later, on ABC’s World News Tonight, the network issued what it called a “clarification,” with Ross going on the air to explain that Flynn had reached out to the Russians at the behest not of candidate Trump, but of senior Trump officials after he became president-elect, a far less incendiary situation.
Sources said the time-lag between mistake and clarification occurred because Ross couldn’t reach his original confidential source for several hours.
Shortly before 11 p.m.—after CNN media reporter Brian Stelter tweaked ABC for calling the fix a clarification rather than a more serious correction—the network finally acknowledged the gravity of Ross’s error, requiring a full-on correction instead of a clarification.
Sources attributed the initial euphemism to a “mistake” by an unidentified employee, who will apparently not be be facing any discipline.
“So, Brian Ross is getting December off for totally screwing pooch on the scoop of the century, tanking market, lying & calling it a clarification,” conservative pundit Mary Katharine Hamm noted on Twitter.
“We deeply regret and apologize for the serious error we made yesterday,” the network said in its unsigned statement, which was read on Saturday’s World News Tonight broadcast. “The reporting conveyed by Brian Ross during the special report had not been fully vetted through our editorial standards process. As a result of our continued reporting over the next several hours ultimately we determined the information was wrong and we corrected the mistake on air and online.”
The ABC News statement continued: “It is vital we get the story right and retain the trust we have built with our audience –- these are our core principles. We fell far short of that yesterday. Effective immediately, Brian Ross will be suspended for four weeks without pay.”