SAN DIEGO, July 23, 2012 – News media have apparently jumped to conclusions regarding the initial reaction by the mother of James E. Holmes when ABC News first asked her to identify her son, according to a statement issued this afternoon by the family attorney of the parents in San Diego.
According to the statement attributed to Arlene Holmes and read by attorney Lisa Damiani, “I was awakened by a call from a reporter by 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,” she continues. “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.”
As Damiani began the news conference in front of her San Diego office, she told reporters present “The reason we’re here is that the media has been attributing certain statements to Mrs. Holmes and taking statements out of context.”
While Damiani did not engage in any finger-pointing or specific accusations, it is well established that ABC News reported early Friday morning that it had identified the correct James Holmes because his mother “told ABC News her son was likely the alleged culprit, saying, ‘You have the right person.’”
Based on this now apparently inaccurate depiction of Arlene Holmes’ reaction, news media across the U.S. and no doubt around the world have jumped all over the idea that she didn’t seem surprised to find out her son was behind the alleged murders of a dozen people in a horrific incident. It appears she didn’t tell ABC News anything at all in the end, other than to verify she had a son named James who lives in Aurora, Colorado.
ABC News is likely to take another big hit to its reputation, and well it should. The network’s credibility is shot, pardon the pun. This comes after ABC’s Brian Ross suggested the suspect Holmes was a member of the Colorado Tea Party movement, when he was not. This mistake was based on Ross finding a Facebook profile of another man, a 52-year-old Jim Holmes, and confusing him with the shooting suspect Holmes. ABC News quickly issued a retraction and an apology, but the damage was done.
I have little concern for what happens to ABC News. But I am concerned this hurts the practice of journalism. The damage is done not only to ABC News, but to an industry full (yes, really) of professionals trying to act responsibly. The best possible outcome is for news organizations to stop practicing “process journalism,” in which information is immediately revealed as it is gathered, and sorted out later during the “process” of verification. This is a dangerous, harmful practice based on the “need for speed.” What it needs is to stop.
I am concerned about a weary, increasingly cynical public wondering whether it can believe anything it reads, hears or sees reported by any news organization anywhere. Who can blame them? This hurts the many (yes, many) journalists striving to get their facts straight and report the news accurately.
Politico.com reports through unnamed sources that ABC News will react to the statement by Arlene Holmes on its website later today. The organization’s leadership must do more than just react. It needs to explain how its mistakes occurred and what it is doing to prevent them in the future. It needs to apologize directly to those whose reputations have been hurt, including Arlene Holmes, the Colorado Tea Party, the “other” Jim Holmes, and we can go from there.
Damiani also said, “What people are saying to the media is ultimately being heard by the attorneys, the public. Individuals could be called into court to make statements… It is important that a case of this significance is tried in the courthouse, and not in the media.”
After the brief statement, Damiani took questions but could not answer most of them other than to decline comment. She said the family “wants to reiterate that their hearts go out to the victims and their families.” Damiani said the family is doing as well as they can under the circumstances. “I think everyone can imagine how they’re feeling, anyone who has ever been a parent.”
Damiani would not discuss the nature of the relationship between James Holmes and his parents, but said the family does support him. “Yes, they do. He’s their son,” she said.
Damiani said she had not known the family prior to the shooting. She was referred to them through their church. She commented, “It’s amazing how much support they are getting through their church, I think it’s a very good thing.” The Holmes family attends the Rancho Penasquitos (California) Lutheran Church. Members wrote messages of support over the weekend.
Holmes’ family is not staying at their home. Attorney Damiani refused to disclose where they were. Nevertheless, news media continue to stake out their suburban street, talking to anyone there who may have had even the briefest encourter with James Holmes. San Diego’s taxpayers are coughing up for the necessary police presence while the media remains in place.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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