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AP’s New ‘Accountability Journalism’ Is a Sham

Amidst charges of bias, the AP decides to put even more opinion in its articles.

by
Steve Boriss

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July 25, 2008 - 12:00 am
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As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for — you just might get it. For all those who have been concerned that the AP has not been fulfilling its mission to provide “unbiased news,” be assured they have heard you.

Now we may be getting something much worse.

The AP has decided it will now practice something it calls “accountability journalism.” But it has nothing to do with being “accountable” to readers seeking unbiased news. Instead, it seems to be more about holding politicians accountable to the personal conclusions of reporters.

If that seems like a stretch, here are some real-life examples of sentences found in articles practicing accountability journalism as collected by Politico:

  1. “John McCain calls himself an underdog. That may be an understatement.”
  2. “I miss Hillary.”
  3. “Obama is bordering on arrogance.”
  4. “The Democratic nomination is now Barack Obama’s to lose.”

As you can see, reporters are being asked to write in the first person, giving them permission to call it as they see it. They are also being encouraged to use language filled with emotion. This is such a vast difference from previous practices that it is even controversial within the ranks of the AP. It is the brainchild of the AP’s new Washington bureau chief, Ron Fournier, but anathema to his predecessor, Sandy Johnson, who has expressed concern it might destroy the bureau.

How can this style of writing and reporting be justified? Not easily. It requires a lot of words that take your mind in one direction, but fall apart with a small amount of analysis.

In an essay about accountability journalism that Fournier wrote last year, he outlined its four cornerstones. But each of the four begs the question “what’s accountability got to do with it?”

First, Fournier writes that accountability journalism means thorough follow-up. For example, he wants reporters to determine after the fact whether bills actually worked and to make sure promises were kept. This sounds good, but is this really a formula for accountability? For just about any program, those in favor will be able to produce arguments and statistics showing it worked, and those against will do the opposite. To which will politicians be held accountable?

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