Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
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.

  • My aging brain makes me feel stupid

    My aging brain makes me feel stupid

    Meet my brain. It is the size of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's fist, the consistency of flan, weighs as much as a two-slice toaster and looks like ground round with a high fat content. If you saw it at the butcher's, you'd ask for something a little less beige.

  • New study says Hepatitis drugs could cost state taxpayers billions

    New study says Hepatitis drugs could cost state taxpayers billions

    Jaws dropped earlier this year when Gov. Jerry Brown told the Legislature that he wanted to set aside $300 million for two years' worth of specialty drugs for Medi-Cal users, state prisoners and others covered by state health programs. Even with a general fund of more than $110 billion, $300 million...

  • Once again, a U.S. Embassy in Havana

    Once again, a U.S. Embassy in Havana

    Later this month, the United States and Cuba will reopen embassies in each other's capitals for the first time since severing relations in 1961. This has been expected since President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December that they intended to restore diplomatic ties. As Obama...

  • In today's world, fear corporations or fear nations?

    In today's world, fear corporations or fear nations?

    I do not often side with Republicans against Democrats. Nor has President Obama been known for his working relationship with congressional Republicans. Yet on the Trans-Pacific Partnership — which died in the House three weeks ago, only to be resurrected by the Senate last Wednesday — I find myself...

  • How to handle Puerto Rico's debt crisis

    How to handle Puerto Rico's debt crisis

    This has not been the best week for risky government securities. First, the Greek government failed to make a $1.7-billion payment that was due Tuesday. Then the Puerto Rican government revealed that its debt had become unsustainable, although it managed to forestall a default by making more than...

  • Why another look at affirmative action?

    Why another look at affirmative action?

    Since 2003, when the Supreme Court last ruled that state universities may take race into account in their admissions policies without violating the Constitution, opponents of affirmative action have worked tirelessly to have the court revisit the issue. They were jubilant this week when the justices...

  • Crowdfunding Greece: What's your level of giving?

    Crowdfunding Greece: What's your level of giving?

    Hey there, world citizens! As you may have heard, Greece is in a bad way — tossed between Scylla and Charybdis, as the Greeks would say. But then, the Greeks had a word for everything.

Comments
Loading