Via Politico, I’m tempted to say “unbelievable” but the original ABC story came from The Blotter, which is Brian Ross’s team. (He’s one of five reporters with a byline on the article, in fact.) If a guy’s so jacked to get a Big Scoop that he’d smear the tea party to do it, why wouldn’t he “finesse” a quote from the suspect’s mother to make it sound like a sensational admission to foreknowledge of his violent tendencies?
Or is this less a case of a reporter behaving unethically than a mother trying to protect her son by walking back a hugely damning, yet accurate, quotation? Here’s how the Blotter story began:
A California woman who identified herself as the mother of James Holmes, the 24-year-old man federal authorities said is the suspect in a mass shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, told ABC News her son was likely the alleged culprit, saying, “You have the right person.”
The woman, contacted at her home in San Diego, spoke briefly with ABC News and immediately expressed concern her son may be involved in the shooting death of at least 12 people overnight.
“You have the right person,” she said, apparently speaking on gut instinct. “I need to call the police… I need to fly out to Colorado.”
Now here’s what the lawyer said this afternoon:
To clarify a statement made by ABC media, I was awakened by a call from a reporter on ABC on July 20, about 5:45 in the morning. I did not know anything about a shooting in Aurora at that time. He asked if I was Arlene Holmes, and if my son was James Holmes, who lives in Aurora, Colorado. I answered, ‘yes, you have the right person.’ I was referring to myself. I asked him to tell me why he was calling, and he told me about a shooting in Aurora. He asked for a comment. I told him I could not comment because I did not know if the person he was talking about was my son, and I would need to find out.
Hard to imagine an innocent explanation for ABC’s account of the conversation if Holmes is telling the truth. If she said “you have the right person” in response to nothing more than a question about her identity, without the shooting having been mentioned yet, then there’s no way they could honestly take that as some sort of admission on her part as to his guilt. Either she’s misremembering the exact exchange (or lying, I guess) or else they did something egregious here. The best-case scenario is that the reporter assumed that she’d already heard about the shooting and took her “right person” comment in that context — but even then, there’d be no reason to think she was talking about his guilt rather than simply identifying herself. And needless to say, the reporter would have had a duty to follow up and press her to clarify so that there was no ambiguity on a quote that explosive. Did he/she? Did ABC record the conversation? I’m eager to hear how it really went down.
Exit quotation via Politico: “Sources tell POLITICO that on an editorial conference call this morning, ABC News SVP James Goldston said the network is taking steps to ensure that incorrect reports such as Ross’s do not happen again.”
Update: ABC says it didn’t happen the way Holmes says it did — and no, there’s no recording of the conversation:
ABC News phoned Arlene Holmes at 5am PST, at her home in San Diego, Calif., according to notes and email records by ABC News producer Matthew Mosk, who placed the call…
Mosk said today that he awoke Arlene Holmes and informed her that a man, he believed was her son had been arrested in Aurora and asked to confirm their relationship.
“You have to tell me what happened… You have to tell me what happened,” the woman on the phone said, according to Mosk. Mosk said he told her that ABC News had learned the 24-year-old had been identified by police as the lone suspect in the mass killing in Aurora, Colo and that the details of the events were still taking shape.
“You have the right person,” was her response, he said. “I need to call the police. I need to fly to Colorado.”
That contradicts Holmes’s claim that she didn’t know anything about the shooting before her “right person” comment — but even here, according to ABC’s own account, the quote is totally ambiguous. Was she saying that James Holmes was the “right person,” i.e. the shooter, or merely that she was his mother? Why did ABC leap to assume the former instead of the latter?