ABC News Takes Victory Lap With Bumps

ABC News chief Brian Sherwood likes to address the press away from the podium, with a wireless microphone that allows him to roam the stage and gesture with both hands.

So at the TV Critics Association press tour Thursday in Beverly Hills, he was ready to take a literal victory lap, if necessary, while crowing about the recent first place success of “Good Morning America” in taking down the longtime dominance of NBC’s “Today.”

He rubbed it in by adding metaphors borrowed from the Olympics, which is also NBC’s big thing starting this week.

After an 852 week dominance dating back to 1995, Sherwood said, “Today” fell to “GMA” 15 weeks ago and “stood there alone for the first time in 16 years to get its own gold medal.”

Further, he added, “after 879 weeks of running behind in younger viewers that’s 25 54-year olds after 879 consecutive silver medal finishes,” he said, “GMA” “stands right there at the gold medal podium in an actual tie, unbelievably — an actual statistical tie with the previous champs.”

It did all this by what he called “broadening the lens” of what ABC News does – broad enough to include prime time circus stunts among its achievements, noting that “a few Fridays ago a man walked on a tightrope across Niagara Falls, and we saw the biggest performance on a non sports summer series in many, many years.”

It may have sounded a little crass, too, to do the victory dance on the back of a movie theatre massacre. Nevertheless, Sherwood crowed that without mentioning the shooting that caused it boosted their online news service, crowing that “this past Friday, we had the biggest day in the history of ABCNews.com.’

The reporting that day also included something that might have tarnished the gold, though, Brian Ross’ early report, quickly pulled, that the shooter may have had tea party affiliation.

“It was a mistake,” Sherwood said when asked about it. “We recognized it immediately. We owned it immediately. We corrected it immediately. We apologized for it. Brian has reached out personally to the individual in Aurora to express his regret. We’ve learned from it as an organization. We have very high standards and practices. We know, at that particular moment, we did not live up to the standards and practices at ABC News. We are making sure, with our procedures and protocols, that, in breaking news situations, we uphold the very, very highest standards. And I take responsibility for it.

“The news division knows how displeased I am about it, and they know that we will do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again,” he said.

Somebody asked whether such a gaffe may have been caused by the rush of competition in reporting something first – a race illustrated in Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series “The Newsroom.”

“I haven’t watched the show enough to offer an intelligent opinion,” he said. But, he added, “there’s some big issues that face journalism, and I think it’s terrific that Aaron and all of those folks at HBO are putting those front and center for us to wrestle with.”

He did not mention which circus act would succeed the tightrope walk over Niagara.

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