Opinion
Grading City Hall: See our report card for L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson
Opinion L.A.
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
  • Why let ex-presidents cash in?

    Why let ex-presidents cash in?

    President Harry Truman once said that he would never lend himself "to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency." His successors have not held themselves to the same standard.

  • Defunding Planned Parenthood is not the same as repealing the right to abortion

    Defunding Planned Parenthood is not the same as repealing the right to abortion

    The GOP-controlled Congress is taking up the cause, once again, of defunding Planned Parenthood. This latest effort comes in response to macabre hidden-camera videos shot by the Center for Medical Progress of staff at Planned Parenthood talking about the grisly practice of chopping up fetuses for...

  • Treatment, not just jail, for the mentally ill

    Treatment, not just jail, for the mentally ill

    The U.S. Department of Justice and Los Angeles County officials are negotiating the details of a consent decree to govern the treatment of mentally ill inmates in the troubled county jails, following more than a decade of reported abuse and excessive force by sheriff's deputies. The final terms...

  • Obama's Clean Energy Plan doesn't go far enough

    Obama's Clean Energy Plan doesn't go far enough

    The coal industry already has its legal claws honed for a court battle over President Obama's Clean Energy Plan, which was unveiled Monday, claiming that it will cost too much and render people jobless. Certainly, in the short term at least, slowing climate change by reducing carbon emissions won't...

  • Political grandstanding on Planned Parenthood

    Political grandstanding on Planned Parenthood

    An effort by Senate Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood failed Monday evening when a procedural measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to proceed. Good. The bill, introduced in the wake of several undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing what the organization does...

  • Does a voting-rights case threaten experimentation?

    Does a voting-rights case threaten experimentation?

    Suppose a state adopts a traditional approach to voting – only one day on which voters can cast their ballots at polling places, with limited opportunities for absentee voting.

Comments
Loading
83°