July 20, 2012

Politico | Mediaite | Breitbart.com
During live coverage of the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting Friday morning, ABC News’ Brian Ross suggested the shooter, Jim Holmes, may be affiliated with the Colorado Tea Party. The only grounds for this seemed to be a mention on the group’s website of an Aurora man by the same name (not that uncommon a name) who joined last year. Ross reported:

There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colo., 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 is the same Jim Holmes, but it is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colo.

Conservative websites and tweeters are not happy about such loose speculation regarding a right-wing political connection. After the shooting of Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords last year led some to blame violent Tea Party rhetoric and push for gun control, the anti-government crowd seems to be on watch for any efforts to connect it to Friday morning’s shooting.

Meanwhile, some bloggers are guessing the shooter has ties to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Update: Now Breitbart.com blogger Joel Pollak retorts that Holmes “could be a registered Democrat,” justified by this gem of logic: “Breitbart News has not confirmed that this James Holmes is in fact the suspect, but … there are certainly more facts in our documents than in ABC News’ irresponsible speculations.”

Probably best for the media to wait until there’s some real evidence.

Update: ABC News now says it has spoken with the mother of the shooter and acknowledges the Tea Party connection was not true:

An earlier ABC News broadcast report suggested that a Jim Holmes of a Colorado Tea Party organization might be the suspect, but that report was incorrect. Several other local residents with similar names were also contacted via social media by members of the public who mistook them for the suspect.

ABC also issued an online apology: “ABC News and Brian Ross apologize for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted.” And Ross said on-air: “An earlier report that I had was incorrect that he was connected with the Tea Party in fact that’s a different Jim Holmes. He was not connected to the Tea Party and what we do know about him is he is a 24-year-old white male who went to Colorado for a Ph.D.”

Related: How news of the #theatershooting spread through Twitter | Reddit covers the Colorado movie theater shootingJessica Ghawi, ‘aspiring sportscaster,’ dies in Aurora shooting

How to: 7 tips for covering the Colorado theater shooting6 ways journalists can cope when covering traumatic stories like the Colorado theater shooting

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Jeff Sonderman (jsonderman@poynter.org) is the Digital Media Fellow at The Poynter Institute. He focuses on innovations and strategies for mobile platforms and social media in…
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