Opinion
Reading Los Angeles: Join The Times' new book club
Opinion Opinion L.A.

Goldberg: Brian Ross' brain cramp

If ABC News does fire Brian Ross, he could always find a job working for Aaron Sorkin.

Ross, a veteran investigative reporter for ABC News, blew it Friday morning when he suggested that the Aurora, Colo., shooting suspect, Jim Holmes, might be connected with the "tea party."

"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 the same Jim Holmes," Ross ominously informed "Good Morning America"host George Stephanopoulos, who thought the news "might be significant."

Or it might not.

Actually, it definitely isn't significant. The fiftysomething tea party Holmes, we soon learned, wasn't the same guy as the twentysomething mass-slaying suspect.

Brent Bozell of the conservative watchdog outfit the Media Research Center calls Ross' statement a "brazen attempt to smear the tea party."

And other conservatives, particularly tea party members, have every right to be angry. The list of calumnies and distortions about them is too lengthy to recount here. They've been cast as dangerous, racist, fascistic and murderous.

The most famous example is the seemingly instantaneous effort — ginned up by partisans but given ample credence by the mainstream media — to turn Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect in the 2011 Tucson shootings that killed six people and wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, into a right-wing golem conjured by Fox News, Sarah Palin and the tea parties.

That said, I still don't think Bozell & Co. are quite right when they see Ross' "reporting" as deliberate. For that, Ross would have needed to know what he was saying was untrue. I have to believe Ross didn't want to get the story wrong.

It would be nice to know if Ross checked to see if there were any Jim Holmes around Aurora who were connected to the Occupy Wall Street movement or any who were Muslims. Or was the tea party simply the first place he looked? And if so, why?

One possible answer is that even allegedly "objective" journalists follow certain narratives based on their own, unspoken ideological assumptions. When a Muslim shouting "Allahu akbar!" mows down colleagues at Ft. Hood or tries to blow up strangers in Times Square, the reflex is to seek proof that it was an "isolated incident" or a "lone wolf."

But when a white non-Muslim shoots up a political rally or a movie theater, the media reflex is to prove their suspicions of sinister right-wing plots. Going with your gut can be great advice for sleuthing out stories, but awful guidance for reporting them.

Which brings us to Sorkin, the creator of HBO's "The Newsroom,"perhaps the most execrable pop-culture agitprop since Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit9/11." In Sorkin's fantasy show about a news program that breaks with the media herd, smugly liberal reporters almost always have the right instincts.

Sorkin accomplishes this in part by giving himself the benefit of hindsight, by setting "Newsroom" in 2010. Hence, when the Times Square bomber is apprehended, the news team congratulates itself by choosing to do the "boring version of the story" in which the "system worked" and the terrorist "acted alone" — something they couldn't possibly have known yet.

Meanwhile, the real story for Sorkin's fantasy journalists is exposing the pernicious threat of the tea parties (and their James Bond-villain backers, the Koch brothers) as they peacefully unseat incumbent Republicans in primaries. Holding the actual government accountable isn't a big priority for Sorkin's Fifth Estate because, after all, the system works when liberals run it. The job of the media is to keep a weather eye on the existential threat from the American right.

That's a great way to do journalism when you're playing make-believe and cherry-picking 2-year-old facts to suit your ideological agenda. It's quite another thing when you're a real reporter working in real time. Ross learned that lesson the hard way in what amounted to an audition for "The Newsroom." We can only guess at Ross' motive for his mistake, but if the media followed Sorkin's advice, we can be sure we'd see a lot more like it.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Colorado movie theater shooting
    Colorado movie theater shooting

    A masked gunman opened fire minutes after the 12:05 a.m. showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" began on July 20 at a theater in Aurora, Colo.

  • Malibu can't pass off guesthouses as low-income housing
    Malibu can't pass off guesthouses as low-income housing

     A judge’s recent ruling that the city of Malibu couldn’t count guesthouses toward its state-mandated plan for low-income housing came as something of a shock. Who knew Malibu was even required to think about low-income housing? Not much, mind you — just 188 units of...

  • Indiana law shows LGBT people the closet door
    Indiana law shows LGBT people the closet door

    In a private ceremony Thursday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law Senate Enrolled Act 101, the innocuous sounding Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It prevents state and local governments from enacting laws that would "substantially burden" a person's exercise of his or her religion....

  • Could the anti-immigrant loudmouths pass a U.S. citizenship test?
    Could the anti-immigrant loudmouths pass a U.S. citizenship test?

    To listen to talk radio and cable television, which are dominated by conservatives, the national and state debates over immigration give the impression that most legal residents of the state of California oppose immigrant workers here illegally and might even be favorably disposed to Mitt...

  • Raise the minimum wage, but don't forget about the cost of housing
    Raise the minimum wage, but don't forget about the cost of housing

    One of the best reasons to raise L.A.’s minimum wage is the region’s incredibly high cost of housing. Metropolitan Los Angeles is ranked the least affordable rental market in the nation because the city has a dual problem -- low incomes and high costs.

  • California bill aims to curb police adoption of military surplus
    California bill aims to curb police adoption of military surplus

    One of the surprising details that came to light during the recent debate over local police agencies outfitting themselves with surplus military equipment was the remarkable level of freedom police departments enjoyed in requesting weapons, armored personnel carriers, aircraft and other...

  • DWP ratepayers may get soaked again
    DWP ratepayers may get soaked again

    Angelenos could be looking at higher water and energy bills again. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is expected to propose a $2.2-billion plan to modernize the city's pipes, pumping stations, reservoirs and aqueduct. Rather than burdening ratepayers with another rate increase,...

  • State laws on sex offenders should not be crafted by emotion
    State laws on sex offenders should not be crafted by emotion

    Jessica's Law — California's version of it, anyway — was a mess from the beginning. Voters here adopted it (as Proposition 83) in 2006 because they mistakenly believed they were cracking down on horrific crimes against children. They were urged on by nightly harangues from...

Comments
Loading