Ross was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Iowa journalism school, after which he worked for KWWL-TV in Waterloo, Iowa. He went on to work for WCKT-TV in Miami and WKYC-TV in Cleveland, before becoming a national correspondent for NBC News from 1975 to 1994. Since 1994, he has been a reporter for ABC News, working on programs such as World News with Diane Sawyer, 20/20, Good Morning America, Nightline, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, and ABC News Radio.
In the mid-1970s, while reporting for WKYC-TV in Cleveland, Ross reported on Jackie Presser and corruption in the Teamsters union and interviewed mobster Danny Greene. He continued to report on the Teamsters after being hired by NBC Nightly News. His reporting on the Teamsters won him a Sigma Delta Chi Award in 1976 and a National Headliner award in 1977.
In 1980, Ross broke the Abscam story, for which he was honored with a National Headliner Award. In March 1990 he reported on Iraq trying to buy trigger mechanisms for nuclear weapons just months before the Iraqi invasion.
In an award-winning two-part report for “Dateline NBC” in 1992, Ross exposed Wal-Mart’s use of child labor in overseas sweatshops to provide clothing for their “Buy American” campaign. He also reported on French intelligence spying on American businessmen and was the first reporter to track down the fugitive Marc Rich at his Swiss hideaway.
After September 11, 2001, Ross and the investigative unit reported on Mohamed Atta and describe him as the ringleader of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. He also reported on Zacarias Moussaoui’s alleged role in the attacks and his questioning by the FBI prior to September 11. His “Primetime Thursday” story about the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93 included an airing of transmissions between the plane’s cockpit and air traffic controllers.
In October 2001, Ross twice linked Iraq to the anthrax attacks in the United States. These reports, based on anonymous "high level" sources, were denied by the administration. In November 2001, Ross updated the story, acknowledging that original reports of bentonite in the anthrax samples were incorrect. Glenn Greenwald criticized Ross for the story, stating that Ross unwittingly helped build support for the invasion of Iraq as a result of this high profile report. Dan Froomkin asked on August 5, 2008 in the Washington Post "So who told ABC the powder looked Iraqi?"
The New York Sun reported that Ross was ordered by a federal judge to reveal his sources. In response, an ABC News spokesperson said that the organization was protecting its sources.
On January 14, 2004, a report by Ross on the eve of the Iowa caucus linked presidential candidate Howard Dean to a trooper who worked for him when he was Vermont’s governor and who had “‘engaged in acts of domestic violence’”. Ross was criticized in the Columbia Journalism Review for this report, because the report presented no evidence to show that Dean was aware of the abuse when he wrote a character reference for the employee in a custody dispute, and because there was evidence to suggest that Dean was unaware of the abuse at that time.
His undercover investigation of nuclear smuggling, which questioned whether American authorities could stop a shipment of radioactive material from entering the country, received the duPont Award in 2004.
A long-time national security reporter, Ross revealed details on the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, where top al Qaeda figures were being held. The three-part investigation garnered a 2005 George Polk Award, the fifth time he had won the award in his career.
On May 24, 2006, Ross reported that the Justice Department was investigating Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, for possible connections to the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal. Both the Justice Department and Dennis Hastert issued denials, but Ross insisted the story was correct. He did say that the investigation might eventually "wash out and be nothing". Hastert was never approached by the Justice Department.
On September 6, 2006, Ross reported that Pakistan had decided not to seek the capture of Osama bin Laden, so long as bin Laden acted "like a peaceful citizen". Pakistan denied the report. The report was based on a telephone interview in which ABC quoted the Pakistani General as saying, "Q. ABC News: If bin Laden or Zawahiri were there, they could stay? A. Gen. Sultan: No one of that kind can stay. If someone is there he will have to surrender, he will have to live like a good citizen, his whereabouts, exit travel would be known to the authorities."
On September 29, 2006, Ross reported that Rep. Mark Foley sent underage male congressional aides sexually explicit internet messages; the ensuing scandal led to Foley's resignation. His 2006 investigation into the Congressional page scandal involving Foley resulted in his fifth Peabody Award for his series of reports: “Conduct Unbecoming”. That series also garnered Ross an Emmy Award, a Peabody Award, a USC Annenberg Walter Cronkite Award, an Investigative Reporters and Editors Award, the 2007 National Headliner Award for Television Affiliated Online Journalism, and the Online News Association Journalism Award.
Ross received the 2007 Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting for a two-part “20/20” undercover investigation into retail pharmacy errors, focusing on large drugstore chains, including CVS and Walgreens. He also received a 2007 Business Emmy for his work in exposing conflicts of interest of some West Virginia State Supreme Court justices.
When the Madoff investment scandal broke in December 2008, Ross covered Madoff, his family and associates, and reported on how the scam had been perpetrated over the years. His reporting on the subject led to his first book, The Madoff Chronicles: Inside the Secret World of Bernie and Ruth, published in 2009.
In November 2009, Ross co-wrote an article titled "Officials: Army Told of Hasan's Contacts with al Qaeda", which claimed that Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan had made attempts to "make contact with people associated with al Qaeda". He made the same claims on Good Morning America. Other reporters said that Nidal's contact was limited to emails to his former imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, who had also been the imam of two of the September 11 terrorists.
In 2010 Ross received his seventh duPont-Columbia Award for the “20/20” investigation “The Coach’s Secret”, which exposed a scandal in youth swimming. This report also earned him a 2011 CINE Golden Eagle Award. Ross’s investigation, “Taking on Toyota”, which prompted one of the largest automobile recalls in history, was awarded the Edward R Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association in 2011. This report was publicly disputed by Toyota, which demonstrated that the "Toyota Death Ride" was largely fabricated by experts that were working for several trial lawyers with litigation pending against Toyota.
On July 19, 2011, according to the presidential campaign of Michele Bachmann, when attempting to question Bachmann about her migraines, Ross "rushed toward" Bachmann and her staff and "disregarded repeated requests to stay back". According to Michael Crowley, a reporter for Time who witnessed the resulting intervention by Bachmann staffers, the staffers "pounced on [Ross], grabbing and pushing him multiple times with what looked [...] like unusual force. In fact, [Crowley had] never seen a reporter treated so roughly at a campaign event, especially not a presidential one." Ross said he'd only been treated like that before "mostly by Mafia people." Ross appeared on The View and various media outlets to discuss the incident., it also underscored concerns being raised in the media regarding Bachmann's health.
Over a 10-month period in 2011, Ross and Anna Schecter reported on the murder of a 24-year-old Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. Ross and Schecter received the 2011 George Polk Award for Television Reporting for this series of reports.
In 2012 Ross earned his sixth George Polk Award, sixth Peabody Award and two Emmy Awards, including best investigation in a news magazine story for his “20/20” investigation “Peace Corps: A Trust Betrayed”, which exposed the cover-up of sexual abuse of Peace Corps volunteers and led to Congressional hearings and calls for new legislation. He was also awarded with a 2012 Gracie Award for the report.
During coverage of the 2012 Aurora Shooting, Ross suggested on the air a connection between a member of a Colorado Tea Party group and the shooting, based on the gunman's name, without any confirmed evidence. Several media outlets called Ross out on his statement, with RealClearPolitics demanded his firing. ABC News President Ben Sherwood later apologized for the incident both publicly in remarks before the Television Critics Association and privately in a conversation with the victim, saying that the Ross report, "did not live up to the standards and practices of ABC News".
In 2013, Ross's investigation “Tragedy in Bangladesh,” which examined the dangerous safety conditions and controls at factories in Bangladesh where workers sewed clothes for iconic America brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Walmart, was honored with the 2013 Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism and 2013 CINE Golden Eagle Award. Ross’s Nightline investigation “Undercover Granny: Medicare Fraud”, which unveiled an alleged Medicare fraud operation in Texas was honored with an award for “Outstanding Investigative Program or Feature” at the 2013 Gracie Awards.1974 - Peabody Award: WCKTV “A Superb Series of Investigative Reports Which Brought Considerable Response & Change”
1974/75 - duPont-Columbia Award: “Teamster Power” (WKYC)
1983 - duPont- Columbia Award: “Outstanding Investigative Reporting”
1985 - duPont Columbia Award: “Outstanding Investigative Reporting"
1988 - George Polk Award: “War on Drugs/Money Laundering” (NBC)
1990 - Overseas Press Club Award: “Nuclear Power"•1991 Overseas Press Club Award - “French Spies”
1991 - Peabody Award: NBC News “B.C.C.I.”
1992 - George Polk Award: “Made in the USA” (NBC)
1994 - Overseas Press Club Award: “Made in China”
1997 - George Polk Award: “Blood Money”
1997 - Overseas Press Club Award: “Blood Money”
1998 - George Polk Award: “Shame of Saipan”
1998 - IRE Tom Renner Award: “Blood Money”
1998 - Overseas Press Club Award: “Nazi Stolen Art”
1999 - Peabody Award: “These Were Our Children”
2001 - Emmy Award: “ABC News Post 9/11 Investigation”
2001 - Peabody Award: “Coverage of September 11th"
2001 - Sigma Delta Chi: “ABC News 9-11 Investigation”
2001 - Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award and Bronze Medallion: “Investigative Reports Post 9/11”
2001/02 - duPont-Columbia Award: “Coverage of 9/11”
2002 National Headliner Award: “From the Tower”
2003 - Gerald Loeb Award: Enron Document Shredding
2003/04 - duPont-Columbia Award: “The Nuclear Smuggling Project”
2004 - National Headliner Award: “Charities Investigation”
2005 - Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium of Journalists: “UN Misconduct in the Congo”
2005 - George Polk Award: “CIA Secret Prisons”
2005 - Emmy Award: “The Money Trail”
2006 - Emmy Award: “Conduct Unbecoming”
2006 - Peabody Award:"Conduct Unbecoming"
2007 - National Headliner Award: “The Mark Foley Investigation”
2007 - Peabody Award: “Conduct Unbecoming-The Mark Foley Scandal"
2007 - RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award: “The Mark Foley Investigation”
2007 - USC Annenberg Walter Cronkite Award: “The Mark Foley Investigation”
2007/08 - duPont-Columbia Award– “Afghanistan: The Forgotten War”
2007/08 - Emmy Award: “The Multi-Million Dollar Appeal”
2008 - RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award: “Pharmacy Errors”
2009 - Emmy Award: “Presidential Inauguration – Barack Obama”
2009/10 - duPont-Columbia Award: “The Coach’s Secret”
2011 - CINE Golden Eagle Award: “The Coach’s Secret”
2011 - George Polk Award- “Peace Corps: A Trust Betrayed”
2011 - RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award: “Taking on Toyota”
2012 - Emmy Award: Best News Magazine- “Peace Corps: A Trust Betrayed”
2012 - Gracie Award: “Peace Corps: A Trust Betrayed”
2013 - CINE Golden Eagle Award: “Tragedy in Bangladesh”
2013 - Gracie Award: “Undercover Granny: Medicare Fraud”