PASADENA, CALIF. - As the new president of ABC News talks about the need for his organization "to speak with one editorial voice," he already knows what can happen when it doesn't.
On the job just a few weeks, Ben Sherwood yesterday told reporters at the Television Critics Association's winter meetings that "it really hit me in the heart" when he heard what the family of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords experienced this weekend after hearing erroneous reports that she had been killed.
According to the Associated Press, the report of Giffords' death originated with NPR - which has apologized for the error - and was subsequently picked up by all three cable news networks and by CBS and NBC.
ABC News never broadcast such a report, Sherwood said, but "for a brief moment that went up on our website" in the form of a banner that attributed the news to outside reports. It was then taken down, apparently when someone recognized that it conflicted with ABC News' own reporting, he said, and at a time when Giffords' fate "was unclear."
So how does he feel about having the news division's website citing another organization's reporting in a breaking-news situation like the shootings?
"I think in this kind of situation, we need to stick with ABC News reporting," he said after the press conference. "And if we had stuck with ABC News reporting, and only ABC News reporting, we would have been the only news organization out there that would have been from start to finish" free of the false report.
"For 10 minutes, citing other reporting, we put up something that was wrong. And it was a mistake," he said. "And it is my philosophy, and the organization knows it, that accuracy matters most, and that we need to speak with one voice in these situations."
That voice also won't be a partisan one, Sherwood said. "My editorial view with ABC News is, let's stick closely to the facts here. We're not an opinion network . . . We are a straight down-the-middle news information" one. In the case of the Arizona shootings, "There's smart people trying to make sense of what happened. There are theories, and we can report on some of those theories, but I don't believe it's our place to say this is what happened and why."
That said, he thinks the news division can "exercise our editorial discretion about what theories make sense and what theories don't."
The mother thing
When you're an actress and Meryl Streep's your mother, you probably get used to people asking what that's like.
Mamie Gummer, who's playing a doctor in a fictional South American jungle on ABC's "Off the Map" starting tomorrow (10 p.m., Channel 6), seems to have her answer down.
"We don't really talk shop at home," she said, and Streep's advice, when it's offered, is "generally what other mothers would convey, like [sunscreen] SPF."
In other words, "It's not like we own a chain of pizza joints and there's this secret sauce."
One mark of great drama is that it makes us care about people and settings in which we might previously have had little interest, whether it's the drug trade in West Baltimore (HBO's "The Wire"), outlaw motorcycle gangs (FX's "Sons of Anarchy") or the trials and tribulations of a methamphetamine manufacturer (AMC's "Breaking Bad").
Personally, I have even less interest in boxing than I do in those other worlds, so when I say I swallowed most of the 13-episode first season of FX's new boxing drama, "Lights Out" (10 tonight) in a couple of marathon gulps, it's saying something.
Holt McAllany stars as Patrick "Lights" Leary, a former heavyweight champion who lost his title in a way that still haunts him but who's been living the good life with his family ever since.
If, that is, you don't count a health issue he's managed to keep secret from his medical student wife, Theresa (Catherine McCormack) or some financial setbacks his brother and business manager, Johnny (Pablo Schreiber) may have experienced.
Anyone who thinks there's the smallest chance the answer to "Lights" Leary's problems won't lead back to the ring has a "Rocky" road ahead of him.
As showrunner Warren Leight told reporters last summer, "The great challenge was to avoid the clichés . . . and, of course, there's usually some truth to the cliché." And indeed, "Lights Out," created by Justin Zackham ("The Bucket List") and developed for FX by Leight, doesn't avoid the boxing-movie clichés: It simply beats the truth out of them.
And like so many of TV's best dramas, it asks us to consider how far we'll go to keep what we have and to protect those we care about.
McAllany's Leary may seem like a lovable lout, but we won't really see what he's made of until he's backed into a corner.
Ellen Gray (email@example.com) is attending the Television Critics Association's winter meetings in Pasadena, Calif. For updates, see go.philly.com/ellengray or follow @elgray on Twitter.