On June 28, Undersheriff Paula Presley of El Paso County, Colorado was interviewed by ABC News’ Alex Perez. After that interview aired, government officials say ABC News took comments out of context and falsely made it seem as if the Undersheriff was saying the massive Colorado forest fires were a result of terrorist arsonists.
The segment that appeared on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, misled viewers into imagining that the fires were started by arsonists when no determination has yet been made about how the fires started.
As Anchor Sawyer opened the segment, she said, “Tonight ABC News has learned that arson could be to blame.”
Reporter Perez then went on to say, “The FBI and local authorities have yet to pinpoint what started the wild fire, but in an exclusive interview the county undersheriff tells us investigators believe this was arson.”
The report then showed Undersheriff Presley walking with reporter Perez and saying, “this in many ways is a type of terrorism where somebody is trying to destroy you know, an entire city, essentially.”
El Paso officials immediately charged that part of what Undersheriff Presley actually said was not aired. ABC left out everything that Presley said before she got to that “this is terrorism” quote, words that warned that no determination of the cause of the fire has actually been determined.
The full transcript of the interview provides the full context, but this context was not included in the on-air report.
Here is what was really said:
Alex Perez, ABC News: As the undersheriff, and as somebody that calls this place home, how important is it to you that we find out what happened here?
Paula Presley, Undersheriff: It’s critical. If this was an arson, this was intentionally set, we absolutely need to um to determine that as quickly as possible and find the person and hold them accountable for that. You know, when we talk about, you know, terrorist activity you know this in many ways is a type of terrorism where somebody is trying to destroy you know, an entire city, essentially.
On the June 28, El Paso County posted a correction to what they call “inaccurate information released by ABC News.”
On June 28, 2012, Undersheriff Paula Presley participated in an interview with ABC News (National) which aired this evening. The comments that ABC chose to air during the broadcast were taken out of context and misrepresented the facts. The cause of this fire is not yet known. Speaking hypothetically, Undersheriff Presley stated IF this were an act of arson and the suspect’s intent were to burn the forest and set fire to Colorado Springs, then it could be considered an act of domestic terrorism. She reiterated that we do not yet know the cause and whether or not it was accidental or intentional.
Again, the cause of this fire has not been determined. Our Office, along with other local, State, and Federal agencies have dedicated resources to sift through the information that has come in as well as follow up on investigative leads. To state whether this event began as a result of an intentional act, accidental act, or through natural causes cannot be identified until a determination is made by investigators.
El Paso County officials also sent this correction out via their Twitter feed.
There has been no reply from ABC over the charge.