By Brian Steinberg
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Brian Ross, the veteran ABC News investigative correspondent who embarrassed the network late last year with an on-air report suggesting former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had been told by President Donald Trump to make contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign for the Oval Office, is leaving the network, along with Rhonda Schwartz, who served as the chief investigative producer for Ross' team.
"After more than two decades at ABC News, Brian Ross and Rhonda Schwartz have decided to leave the company," ABC News President James Goldston said in a memo to staffers Monday. "Over the years they have built a team of the best investigative journalists in our industry, and they leave behind an outstanding group that will continue to break stories for many years to come."
But Ross' reputation was sorely tested in December after he took to ABC in a special report and told viewers erroneously that Trump had directed Flynn when he was a candidate to make Russian contacts. The report prompted the Dow Jones Industrial Average to fall more than 300 points and a tweet about it was reposted on Twitter tens of thousands of times before ABC clarified on "World News Tonight" that Trump's instruction came after he was elected.
Ross was suspended for four weeks, and ABC News said at the time that the information had not been properly vetted and fact-checked before it was aired. When he returned, he and Schwartz were given positions at Lincoln Square Productions, ABC News in-house production unit.
"After a great run of 24 years, we have decided to pack up and move on from ABC News, an organization that has meant so much to us," Ross and Schwartz said in a statement. "While we are signing off from ABC News, we are hardly leaving investigative journalism. There is much more to do."
Their departure spotlights the intense pressure on many news outlets seeking to report on the Trump administration. A cadre of mainstream news outlets ranging from print outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post to TV-news standbys like CNN and NBC News, have utilized digital media to break stories faster and more immediately than a newspaper or TV program would normally allow.
But with speed comes risk. Many of the news outlets have been forced at times to correct erroneous information that might have been avoided in a less speedy news cycle.
Ross and Schwartz have won many awards over the years for their work. ABC News' Goldston listed "four George Polk awards, four Peabody awards, four duPonts, five Murrows, 17 News and Documentary Emmys and the Harvard Goldsmith Prize, in 2014, for the single best investigative report in print or broadcast."
Ross had been with ABC News since 1994, examining everything from the dangers of nuclear smuggling to investigations of various U.S. politicians.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien)