Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Or in this case, lies, damned lies, and “clarifications.”
Turns out, ABC’s Brian Ross fucked up a little bit. And you know, something told us when this first hit that we should download the video instead of just embedding the tweet because one way or another, this was going to be a handy one to have in the archive.
Here’s Ross “explaining” how, according to his one source, Michael Flynn is ready to testify against Trump “the candidate”:
Ok, so that would have been bad. Because you know, that’s Trump “the candidate.” And as we and everyone else on the planet noted when that hit, markets careened lower, the VIX spiked and gold surged:
Well later on Friday, CNN started asking some questions about that story – presumably because they tried to source it themselves and couldn’t.
Specifically, CNN called ABC News early in the afternoon asking why Ross’ initial reporting wasn’t in the network’s online story about Flynn.
A couple of hours later, CNN’s Oliver Darcy made it official: ABC had jumped the gun (or maybe “jumped the shark” is better):
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) December 1, 2017
Here’s the actual “clarification”:
And here’s the text:
CORRECTION of ABC News Special Report: Flynn prepared to testify that President-elect Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians *during the transition* — initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria, confidant now says. https://t.co/ewrkVZTu2K pic.twitter.com/URLiHf3uSm
— ABC News (@ABC) December 2, 2017
So that’s dumber than a bag of hammers for obvious reasons, but I guess you can’t blame them for getting excited. What you can blame them for though, it getting excited and then reporting it.
When you’re a major news network in the post-truth world where “fake news” is a trending topic nearly every single day, you don’t want to run with a story of this magnitude based on a single source. Something CNN’s Darcy reminded ABC:
A good reminder here on why it is best to get two sources when reporting — particularly when it is a bombshell report like this.
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) December 2, 2017
Needless to say, this set off a frenzy on social media, notably from other media outlets who are now basically blaming ABC for their own lost credibility. Here’s one example:
Astonishing. The story moved markets, set off a media frenzy, suggested worst possible outcome. This is called a massive correction, or retraction, not clarification. https://t.co/uVUamf4jYY
— Jim VandeHei (@JimVandeHei) December 2, 2017
The worst part about this was calling it a “clarification” rather than a “retraction.” I mean technically, that is correct. Flynn is willing to testify against Trump, but this is one of those cases where the second part of the sentence was more important than the first part and even if it wasn’t, ABC had to have know that calling it a “clarification” was going to create a veritable firestorm. Here are some of the notables:
.@ABC â€œnewsâ€ owes it viewers an apology. Calling false reporting a â€œclarificationâ€ is a cop out and just another reason for the decline in trust of the media
— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) December 2, 2017
I donâ€™t believe it was deliberate – I do think it was a terrible mistake and very sloppy journalism that impacted the market and ABC has some explaining to do and why did other news organizations repeat it??? https://t.co/V8kFXmuroj
— Greta Van Susteren (@greta) December 2, 2017
"Clarification" is the new "I suck at playing telephone but I wanted them sweet, sweet Blue Check Mark retweets" https://t.co/9dclWqLhbr
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) December 2, 2017
You’ve got to hand it to Steve Bannon, that last one is pretty goddamn funny.
To be sure, this was a completely ridiculous thing to do. This story was going to dominate the news cycle for at least the entire weekend, and “Flynn willing to testify” would have been big on its own without the “mistake.” So there was absolutely no reason to run with a story that relied on a single source.
As Politico reminds you, this isn’t the first time Ross as made a high profile error. Here are two more:
- In 2012 he faced a firestorm of criticism after mistakenly reporting that the shooter responsible for the massacre in Aurora, Colorado, may have had ties to the Tea Party.
- Over a decade prior, in 2001, Ross reported that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may have been behind anthrax attacks on the U.S. The White House later said there was no evidence to back up those claims.
So now, thanks to ABC, the narrative will temporarily shift to the media and away from Flynn, until the next indictment which we can only hope will not be accompanied by shoddy reporting.