Following an onslaught of criticism, ABC News has suspended chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross for four weeks without pay after his erroneous on-air report about former national security adviser Michael Flynn this past Friday.
The inaccurate report was widely picked up by other media outlets and triggered a brief 350-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average.
“We deeply regret and apologize for the serious error we made yesterday,” ABC News said in a statement Saturday. “The reporting conveyed by Brian Ross during the special report had not been fully vetted through our editorial standards process.”
“It is vital we get the story right and retain the trust we have built with our audience,” the network added.
ABC News president James Goldston laid into his staff in a Monday morning conference call, according to audio obtained by CNN. He berated staffers and announced there would be a “full review” in light of the error.
“I don’t think ever in my career have I felt more rage and disappointment and frustration than I felt through this weekend and through the last half of Friday,” Goldston said.
He emphasized that the error would have been avoided entirely had the reporting team waited “a few minutes” for the release of the charging documents related to Flynn’s guilty plea in the Russia investigation.
“I don’t even know how many times we’ve talked about this, how many times we have talked about the need to get it right,” Goldston said, adding, “How we have to be right and not first. About how in this particular moment, with the stakes as high as these stakes are right now, we cannot afford to get it wrong.”
Goldston drove home the fact that ABC News has been “pilloried” since the mistake, citing the number of tweets and negative feedback received over the weekend.
“If it isn’t obvious to everyone in this news division, we have taken a huge hit and we have made the job of every single person in this news division harder as a result. It’s much, much harder,” Goldston said.
Ross’ inaccurate “special report” appeared on air Friday shortly after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacting a Russian official and discussing U.S. sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election. Ross, citing an anonymous source, reported that Flynn was prepared to testify that President Donald Trump told him to reach out to Russian officials during the presidential campaign.
ABC News later clarified — and then corrected — the story to say that Trump had instructed Flynn to contact Russian officials during the transition after the presidential election, not during the campaign. Flynn was reportedly told to discuss the U.S. possibly working with Russia in Syria. Trump instructed Flynn and other associates during the campaign only to explore ways to “repair relations” with Russia and other regions, according to ABC.
The distinction was critical since special counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating possible collusion between the Trump team and Russia during the presidential campaign.
After the report, ABC was slammed by conservatives charging “fake news” and by a number of journalists for its tepid clarification rather than an immediate outright correction.
Ross tweeted following the announcement that his “job is to hold people accountable” and that he should be held accountable as well.
This story has been updated with comments from ABC News president James Goldston.