ABC News has been very fast in its reporting of the Aurora massacre, with the Denver affiliate among the first to tweet suspect James Holmes' booking photo on Monday, but it's also opened itself up to charges of carelessness as his mother contradicted a report. An ABC News report from Friday stated that she had identified her son as the likely culprit in the shooting in an early morning phone call. "But now, Arlene Holmes is backtracking, saying her statements were taken out of context," according to Business Insider's Abby Rocher. The original ABC News story already carries a correction after Brian Ross's incorrect assertion that Holmes was a member of Colorado's Tea Party Patriots.
Lisa J. Damiani, an attorney representing Holmes' family, read a statement from Arlene Holmes that said she wasn't identifying her son when an ABC News reporter called her in the hours after the shooting first happened, she was identifying herself. The orignal report said that she "told ABC News her son was likely the alleged culprit, saying, 'you have the right person.'" But on Monday, Arlene Holmes said via Damiani that the reporter "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." Later, her statement says, "I asked him to tell me why he was calling and he told me about a shooting in Aurora." And then, "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."
That the follow-up conversation didn't make it into ABC News' report is crucial. If it happened the way Arlene Holmes says, then that means one of the five ABC News reporters whose bylines appear on its original story took a quote out of context. But if she really was implicating her son, or appeared to be, as ABC News' story states, then her statement would certainly be considered backtracking on a quote she'd already given. This is one of those times when a tape recorder would be an essential tool.
Update (7:07 p.m. EDT): ABC News is standing by its report of Arlene Holmes's early morning telephone comments to its producer, Matthew Mosk, whose byline appears on the Friday story. In a story covering the Monday press conference with Holmes' family's attorney, ABC's Russell Goldman reports that there is no audio recording of the first conversation, and that Damiani had contacted ABC News to find out if there was. "One hour after learning there was no audio recording, Damiani held the conference and read Arlene Holmes' statement."
Goldman reports that Mosk's notes and emails show he called at 5 a.m. Pacific time, waking Arlene Holmes up, and "informed her that a man he believed was her son had been arrested in Aurora and asked to confirm their relationship." The report documents their conversation:
"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."
The broadcaster clarified in an email Monday that it "stands by its previous reporting," and won't issue a correction.