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ABC News Chief Ben Sherwood Defends Aurora Shooting Coverage After Brian Ross Report

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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES, July 26 (Reuters) - The head of ABC News on Thursday defended the network's response to an incorrect report last week suggesting the accused gunman in the Colorado movie theater shootings was linked to the U.S. Tea Party, saying the network acted quickly to correct itself and was taking steps to prevent similar errors in the future.

The report by ABC News correspondent Brian Ross was "an obvious clear error we corrected immediately," ABC News President Ben Sherwood said in response to reporters' questions at a Television Critics Association meeting in Beverly Hills.

"We put something on the air that we did not know to be true," Sherwood said. "That was a violation of our standards."

James Eagan Holmes, 24, has been accused of bursting into a movie theater at a midnight screening of Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" last Friday and opening fire on the audience, killing 12 people and injuring 58.

In the hours after news of the shootings began making headlines worldwide, Ross went on live TV to report that a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, was a member of the conservative Tea Party.

Ross later corrected himself on air to say the Jim Holmes he named was not the accused shooter, James Eagan Holmes. Nevertheless, his initial report drew criticism that he was too fast to link the massacre to the wrong person and the conservative political movement.

ABC News and Ross apologized "for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted."

Sherwood said he had a "very serious and stern conversation" with Ross, but the correspondent has not been formally reprimanded or suspended. Sherwood praised Ross as "an outstanding investigative journalist."

"Good Morning America" host George Stephanopoulos, who was speaking via satellite, also defended Ross. "This was a breaking news situation. People are going to make mistakes in breaking news situations," he added.

The network is taking steps to make sure information shared among reporters is clearly identified as unconfirmed or ready to be aired, Sherwood said.

"We do that every day. We do that on hundreds of stories in breaking news situations," Sherwood said.

Sherwood also said ABC was standing behind its report of a comment from the mother of Holmes when she was reached by phone early Friday by ABC News producer Matt Mosk. ABC reported that Arlene Holmes said, "You have the right person," when asked if she was Arlene Holmes and James Holmes was her son.

An attorney for Arlene Holmes said she was referring to herself and not her son. The attorney said the comment had been misconstrued to suggest the mother was not surprised by her son's alleged involvement in the shooting.

"We stand by Matt's characterization of what ensued in that conversation," Sherwood said. "He has detailed notes."

ABC News is a unit of Walt Disney Co.

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