ABC affiliate contradicts ABC News reporting on James Holmes' behavior in jail

KMGH-TV | ABC News | Denver Post

KMGH-TV, the ABC affiliate in Denver, has taken the unusual step of publishing a story to contradict an ABC News report about accused theater shooter James Holmes.

ABC News' Russell Goldman and Dan Harris reported, "Accused movie theater gunman James Holmes is spitting at jail officers so frequently that at one point he was made to wear a face guard, sources told ABC News."

KMGH's John Ferrugia reported in response, "According to knowledgeable sources, reports that Holmes was spitting at guards in jail are 'simply false.' "

The New York Daily News appears to have been the first to report that Holmes had been spitting at guards, publishing a story on Saturday. KMGH reported on Monday, however, that Holmes was "eerily detached" in jail and his behavior hadn't changed since he had been arrested.

ABC News published its story on Tuesday, which spurred KMGH to come back to the issue again on Wednesday. That story cited a Monday evening broadcast:

The story claiming Holmes was in a protective headgear was reported Tuesday night, despite a report by Ferrugia on Monday that, “contrary to what some media organizations have reported, our sources say in the past 48-hours Holmes has been calm and docile in jail, just like he was in court. There have been no outbursts at all as he is in isolation.”

ABC News ended up apologizing on Friday after investigative reporter Brian Ross speculated on the air that the shooter may have connections to the tea party, based on the fact that someone with the same name had posted something to a tea party website. It was a different man.

This time, the local station's rebuttal prompted ABC News to add a note at the bottom of its story:

Editor's Note: On Tuesday night, ABC News local affiliate station KMGH reported that sources they contacted denied that James Holmes had spit at guards or was made to wear a facemask.

Meanwhile, the Denver Post's Joanne Ostrow reports that "in some cases" TV producers are paying sources for access to information, but she cites just one example: "Entertainment Tonight."

Shooting eyewitness Torrence Brown Jr.'s father told a Denver Post reporter he couldn't talk because the family had "an exclusive contract" with Entertainment Tonight.

That single case, writes The Washington Post's Erik Wemple, doesn't support the headline: "Media outlets covering Aurora paying for information."

Licensing fees came under the spotlight last year during the Casey Anthony trial. ABC News paid Anthony $200,000 for exclusive access to photos and video, and it paid $15,000 to a meter reader for the use of a single photo.

The network said it would discontinue the practice, which it also had exercised in stories related to Anthony Weiner and Jaycee Dugard.

Related: ABC needs to explain how, why Brian Ross so badly erred (Media Myth Alert) | Ross "has privately reached out" to the other Jim Holmes to apologize (Los Angeles Times) | A short history of bogus reporting (The Washington Post) | 5 reasons broadcasters pay licensing fees for stories and why it corrupts journalism (Poynter)

Earlier on Poynter: Jessica Ghawi scholarship raises more than $30,000 in a dayReuters editor names theater-shooting ‘person of interest’ on Twitter | Complete coverage of Colorado theater shooting

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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