Earlier today ABC News reported that Diana Nyad was pulled from the water during her attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. After a Poynter colleague tweeted the story, she received a DM from another journalist.
“Sure you want to quote ABC News?” the journalist asked.
This is a question newsrooms might be asking now that ABC News has committed two big errors on breaking news stories in the past month.
Yesterday, the network reported that film director Tony Scott, who recently committed suicide, was suffering from inoperable brain cancer. The ABC News report — an exclusive — was attributed “a source close to Scott.”
It was posted online, and many news outlets subsequently picked it up. The report, though, was wrong.
About a month ago, ABC made a major error when investigative reporter Brian Ross wrongly said live on GMA that Aurora theatre shooting suspect James Holmes may have been a member of a local Tea Party group. On top of that, there was confusion about an ABC News story that said Holmes was spitting at prison guards. That report was later contradicted by a story from a local ABC affiliate in Colorado.
As a result of these recent and high-profile missteps, ABC News shouldn’t be surprised if other news organizations take a pass the next time the network has a scoop — especially one attributed to a single anonymous source.
“ABC News appears to have stumbled on flawed reporting for the second time in a month,” is the first sentence of a New York Times blog post about the latest error.
My guess is this recent track record is enough to give at least some fellow journalists pause in the short term. The result could be that news organizations will be less willing to jump on ABC exclusives or scoops.
Whether that kind of unofficial probation bears out in the coming days and weeks (I’ll be looking for examples), ABC News President Ben Sherwood now has the job of once again explaining what happened. Last time, after the Brian Ross error, he apologized and accepted responsibility.
Sherwood also said “the network was taking steps to make sure it does not happen again, although he declined to say specifically what those steps were,” according to a report in The Los Angeles Times.
So did the new measures fall short? Were they not implemented? Are they still in development?
This time, Sherwood should offer specifics about ABC News’ plan to avoid future errors. A vague reference isn’t going to restore confidence among fellow journalists and the public.
Correction: This story originally said that the incorrect Scott report aired on “Good Morning America.” It was published online only in an article branded “Good Morning America.”