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Is the Associated Press blurring the lines between news and opinion?

July 14th, 2008 | by Dusty |

AP has been around, according to Politico, for 162 years. Recently, many in the blogosphere have turned sour on AP due to some legal grumblings by a blogger that was lifting entire articles from AP and posting them on his blog. But that isn’t what this post is about.

AP has, by and large, given us the news and nothing but the news. They very seldom waxed poetic about an issue or an individual. It was a ‘just the facts’ type of operation and their writeups might of been dry but they did provide us with basic facts. Recently AP underwent a change from the top down, removing Sandy Johnson as head of the Washington Bureau and replacing her with Ron Fournier.

Mr. Fournier believes its ok for journalists to insert their personal opinions into hard news stories. He thinks this means they are ‘cutting through the clutter’. As Steve Benen notes today over at The Carpetbagger Report, this blurs the line between a news story and an opinion piece:

If the AP wants to change the game, I’d be thrilled. But I’ve seen the results of Fournier’s work lately, and while the idea may have merit, there’s a problem in the execution.

I suppose the first time I noticed this “new” AP came in March, when Fournier wrote an item - whether it was a news article or an opinion piece was unclear - that said Barack Obama is “bordering on arrogance,” “a bit too cocky,” and that the senator and his wife “ooze a sense of entitlement.” To substantiate the criticism, Fournier pointed to … not a whole lot. It was basically the Republicans’ “uppity” talking point in the form of an AP article.

But the AP’s coverage has deteriorated since - and it goes beyond just the AP giving John McCain donuts and McCain giving the AP barbecue. There was the slam-job on Obama that read like an RNC oppo dump, followed by a scathing, 900-word reprimand of Obama’s decision to bypass the public financing system in the general election, filled with errors of fact and judgment.

If I want someones opinion, I read the OpEd pages or a specific writers column which is not trying to pass as a hard news story. I want my news to be free of a pundits pov. I just want the facts. AP, prior to Fournier’s hiring, was such an organization. As Michael Calderone notes in the Politico link:

Others warn that what Fournier and other proponents see as truth-telling can easily bleed into opinionizing — exactly the opposite of the AP’s mission of “delivering fast, unbiased news.”

“The problem,” says James Taranto, the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web columnist and a frequent critic of what he sees as the AP’s liberal bias, “is that while you can do opinion journalism and incorporate reporting into it, you can’t say you’re doing straight reporting, and then add opinion to that.”

I know that I am a leftwing nutjob, I freely admit it. But, I really do not want anyone’s personal pov when I read a hard news story, or what passes as a hard news story. Asking the hard questions of a candidate is the journalists job, and that is what I want from a journalist, but giving me his opinion of the candidate or a particular issue isn’t.

I see AP becoming more like Fox News wherein they sprinkle their personal propaganda/agenda throughout the writeup and then have the audacity to call it a hard news story. A good example below, again from the Politico article:

In April, Fouhy wrote a 225-word dispatch from South Bend, Ind. that called out the Clinton campaign for an event in which the candidate, with the press in tow, rode with a commuter to a gas station to fill up. The lead: “Hillary Rodham Clinton, a former first lady who hasn’t driven a car or pumped gas in many years because of Secret Service restrictions, joined a blue-collar worker at a filling station Wednesday to illustrate how the high price of gasoline is squeezing consumers.”

It was a totally camera-driven political stunt that was one for the record books,” Fouhy said, adding that she was “taking Ron’s philosophy” in calling it as she sees it.(emphasis mine)

I feel I am intelligent enough that I realized what Hillary did was a political stunt..I didn’t need to be told that by Fouhy, just like when McCain did his little ‘walk though’ the Baghdad market last year, accompanied by helicopters and the full armament protection of the military. My problem with this type of journalism is this: Will they be honest enough to tell me when McCain does the same damn thing? I doubt it based on this writeup and this writeup. One person’s fact is another person’s opinion, in my humble point of view. Journalists give us the facts, pundits give us their opinion. With many media outlets cutting back on reporters, AP articles will be given more and more acreage on the front page of major newspapers. With these examples of what AP has gotten wrong lately..it doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy.

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  1. 18 Responses to “Is the Associated Press blurring the lines between news and opinion?”

  2. By steve on Jul 14, 2008 | Reply

    You know Dusty… I fly Frontier Airlines a lot when I travel. They have Direct TV for like 6 bucks which is kind of cool. I will be pounding on my computer with headphones on watching and listening to the news. This morning, I noticed something interesting as far as opinion based news. I noticed it at more so the end, and it had to do with this kid that was spanked in public. Fox reported it as an okay thing to do and CNN reported how wrong it was. It’s funny how opinion based news really can go both ways on the same story. But I think the advent of Fox News and people O’Reilly and Rush has caused the other side’s personality to jump in and influence the old standards like the AP. The scary thing, you can hear same story told many times during the day differently. Fox did report this morning that the whole New Yorker thing with Obama was wrong (and I am shocked I don’t see a story on it from you guys today)but Fox reported it as wrong because McCain’s camps said it was wrong.

    We subscribe to the New Yorker… That shit was wrong… I wonder what the Economist will say next week.

  3. By Dusty on Jul 14, 2008 | Reply

    If the New Yorker does one on McCain..then all is fair in love and politics steve. The actual writeup about Obama was pretty even-handed and slightly pro-obama in my view.

    I admit that all three big 24 hr news networks have bias, although many times CNN is more in the middle than either Fox Noise or MSNBC.

    AP is a wire service, which means one of their pieces can be published in hundreds of newspapers, giving them incredible clout in that regard, which is why their move to offering opinion within a hard news story is so important and in “my opinion” wrong.

    Drudge loves Fournier..which signals to me that the guy is a rightie and he will give McCain a pass on something that he wouldn’t give Obama.

  4. By RainBro on Jul 14, 2008 | Reply

    Thanks Dusty. I have to agree with your assessment. We need an objective news source so we can form our own opinions about the issues.

    …and I think Steve’s right on too - except that I thought the cover of the New Yorker was funny. Of course, I passed out petitions to “Free Angel Davis” back in ‘72… so I might be ‘prejudiced’.

    Bet they make a good buck off this issue. That was probably their biggest motivation for using it. ;)

    Peace,
    =RD=

  5. By Craig R. Harmon on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    I agree. News story, tell us what happened: who did what, where, when, why, who said what, etc. Give me as much detail as possible. Give me quotes from people on more than one side of whatever issue may be involved. Give a balanced account. I’ll decide what to think about it. I don’t want the reporter to think for me; I want him to give me sufficient information to think for myself.

    However, as Fox News Channel, and as other channels following their lead are proving, people don’t want well balanced, objective reporting; they want a point of view. They don’t want to think; they want to be told what to think by people who generally think as they do.

    Furthermore, I don’t believe for a second that objective reporting is even possible. Reporters inherently must decide, out of everything that happens in the world, what is worthy of reporting. They must decide, within the context of that story, what is essential and what is extraneous. They must decide who to talk to about the story, which witnesses, which experts, etc. They must decide who to quote and what, out of all the things that might be quoted, should be quoted, what should be characterized and what to ignore and a whole lot more.

    Here’s my point: with every decision made, bias enters in, even when that bias is unconscious. The result is not the first draft of history; it is the reporters’ and editor’s first draft of the story that THEY wish to tell told the way THEY think it should be told.

    Objectivity in news reporting is a myth.

  6. By Dusty on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    I disagree Craig.

  7. By Craig R. Harmon on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    Dusty,

    That’s your prerogative. There’s a whole lot of people that disagree with me. ;-)

  8. By manapp99 on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    I do not believe a reporter can overcome his/ bias either. I remember an interview with Dan Rather on KOA in Denver. The host brought the subject of bias in the news up and Dan responded that he defied any to be able to tell his party affiliation by his reporting. He did not see his reporting as reflecting his bias. If he cannot see it than he cannot prevent it.

  9. By Dusty on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    The difference between Rather and AP is that AP is a wire service. They have always, up until recently, provided basic information to the media outlets on which to build a story. They were always a ‘just the facts’ based reporting service.

  10. By Jet Netwal on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    Personally, I found the New Yorker cover unappetising, but that’s my personal opinion. When they do one of McCain, I’m sure other people will like or dislike it too. It’s kind of the point.

    I do think the the burden of bias prevention lies far more on a wire service than a daily paper. Anything put out by a wire service is vetted by editors, people whose job it is to point out non factual reporting. I lay more blame on AP’s editorial staff. If there is a shift in bias by AP, the blood is on far more layers than the reporters.

  11. By Craig R. Harmon on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    Dusty,

    Just because they have avoided editorializing does not mean they’ve been bias-free or objective. They have always selected, from among the information that might have been presented in their reports those things they choose to present in their reports. The very act of selection is the operation of subjective bias.

    Editors, further, exercise another layer of selection and, therefore, of subjective bias. Human beings are incapable of unbiased objectivity, in my opinion.

    This is the reason, in my opinion, witnesses to the same event rarely agree in their reports of every aspect of what happened. Often, reports by witnesses to the same event often conflict in important details.

    So then, while I think that news reporters can and should avoid consciously editorializing (injecting opinion into reports), they cannot avoid selection bias and, therefore, any report one reads is a subjective report, told by a subject with biases and told in the way that those subjects choose to tell it. Hence reports on the same event by different reporters may be quite different.

    Even a camera recording events is no help. A camera must, of necessity, be pointed in some direction. Since no camera can see in all directions, the direction in which it is pointing will determine which details are recorded and which are not. Those non-recorded details were selected out of the recording by the subjective human being who directed the camera where it was directed.

  12. By Dusty on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    Well Craig, your going to have to joust at that bias-free windmill all by your lonesome.

    I want a hard news story to keep out the editorial bullshit. That is all I ask. I am intelligent enough to realize which way the article is leaning I think.

  13. By Dusty on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    Jet, my point exactly! Their work goes out to hundreds of newspapers daily. Its imperative they keep to the facts.

  14. By Craig R. Harmon on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    Dusty,

    Please understand, with THAT I agree wholeheartedly. If that’s all objectivity means, namely, the absence of consciously injected opinion, then that is possible and desirable.

    All I’m saying is, the bias I’m talking about is a form of editorializing in itself. It says, “These facts are relevant; those not reported are irrelevant.” It says, “These people I’ve quoted here are the experts you need to be listening to; those I’ve neglected to interview, whose opinion may be quite different, are irrelevant.” These are editorial decisions which can inject editorial bullshit into even reports that have no expressed opinion.

    You consider yourself intelligent enough to realize which way the article is leaning and I don’t doubt that but if things go unreported, you have no way of knowing them and, therefore, the sort of subjective bias that I’m talking about is much more insidious than injecting opinion, readily recognizable as such, into reports. You can always filter out reporters’ opinions. You can’t filter in what’s been left out.

    Anyway, to sum up before I drop it altogether, I agree with you, Dusty, that reporters should keep their opinions out of their reports. I’m just pointing out that there’s more to be concerned about than that. Reporters’ opinions are the least of the problems with news reporting.

  15. By Dusty on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    I disagree that bias is editorializing Craig. From Google:

    Definitions of Editorial on the Web:

    * of or relating to an article stating opinions or giving perspectives; “editorial column”

    Definitions of bias on the Web:

    * a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation

  16. By Dusty on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    An opinion is not always fact Craig. People will read an article and assume that the reporters opinion is a fact.

    To me that is far more dangerous.

    When I research for a post, I read multiple articles on an issue. I get different perspectives from each.

  17. By Craig R. Harmon on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    As for your definitions, I would say that when bias prevents a reporter from objectively reporting of issue or situation before him, and, for example, he knows there are other points of view out there but fails to report on them, that decision has become editorial comment by deliberate omission. He’s told you what to think by failing to tell you there are other possibilities to think about.

    Anyway, I do what you do: read multiple articles. I’m just saying that that’s necessary because of the very bias I’m talking about.

    Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that. You’ve a good post there and we’ve had a good discussion.

    Thank you!

  18. By Dusty on Jul 15, 2008 | Reply

    A bias yes, editorial no. ;)

    I am busy watching Cspan. Have a good day Craig.

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