When a 24-year-old shooter killed at least 12 people in a Colorado movie theater, ABC’s Brian Ross was quick to suggest that the murderer was a harmless, 52-year-old Hispanic Tea Party member who shared the same first and last name as the killer. Ross did so even though news reports had already made clear that the killer was young, not middle-aged; the killer’s last name was so common that many people shared it, not just the Tea Party member; and it was obvious that the Tea Party member did not physically resemble the killer. The innocent Tea Party member is now getting death threats.
Sadly, it’s easy to see why Brian Ross thought he could get away with this. As Ted Frank pointed out earlier, Ross was rewarded by his journalist peers and given a coveted journalism award for deliberate scaremongering and deceptive reporting that created needless fear and anxiety among Toyota owners: “Brian Ross of ABC News repeatedly used footage of Sean Kane criticizing Toyota over sudden acceleration without telling viewers that Kane was being paid by plaintiffs’ attorneys pushing bogus product liability claims; he also faked footage of a tachometer speeding out of control to push the “deadly Toyota” meme. All of these scare tactics and hysteria turned out to be utterly false, and refuted by a NASA/NHTSA report finding nothing wrong with the electronics in the automobile. Ross and ABC News haven’t retracted their scare-tactic stories or even apologized, much less slunk off in disgrace. Rather, ABC News submitted Ross’s quack reports for an Edward R. Murrow Award — and got the award, doubling the scandal.”
At Gawker, John Cook described Ross as “America’s Wrongest Reporter” for blatantly deceptive “coverage of the Toyota unintended acceleration story,” which needlessly fostered “global panic based on” falsehoods:
“Ross . . . was one of the driving forces behind the Runaway Toyota Panic of ’10, which was later determined by NASA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to have been largely the result of idiots stepping on the accelerator when they intended to step on the brake, and of other idiots talking about it on TV. Ross was one of those idiots. For some reason, ABC News submitted four of Ross’ Toyota reports to the Radio Television Digital News Association for award consideration. One report they didn’t submit was the one where Gawker caught Ross staging footage to make it seem like a Toyota was accelerating out of control when it was in fact parked with the emergency brake on, doors open, and someone stepping on the gas … In two of the winning reports, Ross quoted safety expert Sean Kane criticizing Toyota and insisting that there were cases of unintended acceleration that “couldn’t be explained by floormats,” which Toyota had recalled in 2009 after some mats became stuck under gas pedals. What he didn’t report was that Kane was being paid by plaintiff’s attorneys who were suing Toyota over unintended acceleration cases, and so had a financial incentive to argue that there was more to the Runaway Toyota scare than just floormats … [Kane's] position—that electronics were involved—was later eviscerated by the NASA/NHTSA report, which found “no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents.”
Even if Toyota’s vehicles were perfectly safe, by making them appear unsafe, Ross’s reporting conveyed a larger narrative to the public that progressive journalists believe is generally true: that businesses like Toyota are greedy and evil and need to be subjected to stricter regulation to keep them from menacing the safety of consumers.
Ross is not the only reporter who has pushed false memes, without suffering any professional consequences. Other journalists paid no price after they falsely attempted “to link Tucson shooter Jared Loughner to the tea party,” even though “Loughner wasn’t linked in any way to the tea party and was, in fact,” hostile to conservatives “in his political ideologies.” (To add insult to injury, the Washington Post and New York Times enlisted race-baiter Al Sharpton and ex-Congressman Paul Kanjorski, who had called for a Republican governor’s death, to lecture America about the need for “civility” in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, falsely implying that conservative rhetoric had somehow spawned the shootings.) Similarly, journalists like the New York Times’ Duff Wilson paid no price for their blatantly slanted and inaccurate coverage of the Duke Lacrosse case, in which student athletes were falsely accused of rape, and the media turned a blind eye to mounting evidence of their innocence until the prosecution finally collapsed.