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Senior figures in Donald Trump’s White House have not been shy about weighing in on how media companies should handle employees that get into hot water.
On Sept. 13, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “certainly” a “fireable offense” for ESPN anchor Jemele Hill to call Trump a white supremacist on Twitter. Hill was not fired, but was suspended by ESPN for two weeks in early October for a second violation of the company’s social media guidelines.
On Monday morning, White House counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway went on Fox Business Network and discussed how ABC News responded to a “serious error” (the network’s words) made by investigative reporter Brian Ross. Ross incorrectly reported on Friday that Michael Flynn was prepared to testify that he was told by Trump to contact Russian emissaries during his campaign.
ABC News corrected the mistake and suspended Ross for four weeks, but that wasn’t enough for Conway. “Well, if Brian Ross worked for me, and I was a private employer for many years, it would not be four weeks unpaid suspension for a guy making seven figures to lie on the air,” she said. “It would be a complete termination …”
In an email to The Hollywood Reporter, Conway clarified that she was speaking “hypothetically,” and said: “ABC News makes [its] own personnel decisions.”
On the show, Conway connected Ross’ report to a drop on the stock market and criticized the network. “You know, it’s a major network, and I’m sure they’re not feeling so great today but a lot of people in the mainstream media are upset with them for not pushing back and for not double-verifying that” report, she said.
Conway’s boss, President Trump, also made his feelings known about Ross’ coverage. On Saturday, he congratulated ABC News for suspending Ross, and on Sunday, he said: “People who lost money when the Stock Market went down 350 points based on the False and Dishonest reporting of Brian Ross of @ABC News (he has been suspended), should consider hiring a lawyer and suing ABC for the damages this bad reporting has caused.”
ABC News would not comment on Conway’s remarks on Monday.
Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, said on the Breitbart News radio show on Monday that “ABC’s got a lot to answer for.” He said that people would be calling for Breitbart News to be shut down if the conservative publication committed a similar error.
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