ABC Confuses Ex-DC Mayor Barry with Man Suing Cleaner for $54 Million Over Lost Pants

updates below

Do all balding black guys look the same to ABC News? As anchor Charles Gibson teased a Tuesday World News story, about DC administrative law judge Roy Pearson's $54 million lawsuit against a Korean family's Washington, DC dry cleaning establishment over losing a pair of his pants, viewers saw video of what clearly appeared to be ex-DC Mayor Marion Barry. Gibson announced, over video of Barry in front of the DC courthouse, “Pant Suit: Ever lost anything at the dry cleaners? This man did, and claims he deserves $54 million dollars and he's not pulling your leg.”

Barry is now a member of the District's City Council, but he has been in some legal trouble of late over charges of driving under the influence, and thus has recently visited the local courthouse.

Video clip, from the 6:30pm EDT feed of World News, of Gibson teasing the story about the suit against the dry cleaner, with video of Barry (12 secs): Real (600 KB) or Windows Media (800 KB). [See after the jump for a screen shot of the real Pearson and do your own comparison.]

The story from Jim Avila, which aired as the last report on the June 12 World News, included video of another man identified as Pearson and was, presumably, of the real Pearson. That subsequent video matches the man identified by Pearson in a story on ABC's Washington, DC affiliate WJLA-TV. This page displays a screen shot of Pearson along with video of WJLA's story.

The civil trial opened Tuesday and Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher has written a summary of the antics in the first day. For a picture of the husband and wife being sued, check this page on Emil Steiner's Washington Post “OFF/beat” blog.

The ABCNews.com version of Avila's story.

UPDATE: ABC corrected the video for later editions. The tease at the top of World News as aired at 9pm EDT on NewsChannel 8, a DC-area cable news channel owned by the local ABC affiliate, replaced the video of Barry with video of Pearson. Gibson's audio was not changed.

UPDATE, 3:30pm EDT Wednesday: TVNewser noticed how the ABCNews.com "The World Newser" blog posted this note:

Last Night's Broadcast

June 13, 2007 11:00 AM

Tuesday's 6:30 pm, ET feed of "World News" mistakenly used video in the program's open of DC council member Marion Barry instead of Roy Pearson. We immediately recognized the error and corrected all subsequent feeds of the broadcast. We are deeply sorry for this mistake and apologize to Mr. Barry, Mr. Pearson, and to our viewers for the error.

UPDATE, 16:45 EDT, June 19 (Ken Shepherd): Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane picked up on this item last Thursday and wrote about it at his "Raising Kane" blog. Kane sees a systematic carelessness in newsrooms when picking through file photos of famous black people:

I am in the news business, so I know people can always make mistakes. But the way some national networks continually mis-identify pictures of black people needs to be addressed by the journalism industry. Maybe they need more diversity in their newsrooms so they can ask a black person to identify each picture?

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center