The Associated Press describes itself as “the essential global news network.”
It is indeed essential — to Barack Obama, and for the next seven months, his reelection campaign. Recent management actions and “news” coverage at the AP confirm that it is no longer pejorative to call the wire service the Administration’s Press, or even the Administration’s Propagandists.
How the AP conducts itself and reports the news is no arcane matter.
Many if not most Americans have no idea how often they meet up with AP content every day. Those top-of-hour two-minute syndicated radio broadcasts you hear on the way to and from work? There’s a good chance that at least half of its content was adapted from AP copy. The national and international stories in your newspaper’s print edition and at its web site? Most of it probably came from AP. The national TV networks? In terms of beat reporting, they’re mere shadows of their former selves, and liberally use content from AP — and, to a lesser extent, the New York Times, which is no longer even trying to be the “newspaper of record” it was in previous decades — as their starting point, and often their ending point. This in turn filters down to local TV newsrooms, which don’t have the resources to pay much direct attention to goings-on outside their city or state.
Organizationally, the AP is the oddest of entities, a “not-for-profit cooperative of news organizations … solely focused on finding, reporting and distributing news.” Its tax status gives it an obvious advantage over anyone who would dare try to launch a competitive enterprise of similar scope (gosh, is AP even exempt from sales tax on purchases of materials?). Although some dues-paying news outlets have become restless in the past few years, it is relatively insulated from the normal financial pressures businesses face.
The wire service’s journalists are represented by the News Media Guild, a militant subset of the Communications Workers of America. The AP became unionized in the wake of a 1937 Supreme Court decision. Dissenting justices in the 5-4 case contended that the First Amendment’s freedom of the press should keep news organizations free from all government interference in their operations — in this case, at the hands of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ruthlessly aggressive National Labor Relations Board. They prophetically warned that allowing journalists to form unions would forever compromise the ability of a media outlet to “preserve its news service free from color, bias, or distortion.” Did it ever. The AP should be all about, and only about, who, what, where, when, why, and how — just the facts. Instead, the current trendy phrase at AP is “Journalism With Voice,” which at bottom means “more interpretation,” i.e., even more spin and bias.
Last year, in the midst of the mayhem in Wisconsin over Governor Scott Walker’s budget-repair legislation, supposedly objective AP reporters constantly insisted that Walker was “eliminating” and “stripping” public-sector collective-bargaining rights and that he was committing an “assault on the public employee unions.” A year ago, after GOP Congressman Paul Ryan introduced his budget plan, the Guild’s web site ran an appalling cartoon making the “humorous” claim that Ryan’s real goal was “to euthanize the elderly, and then process them into tasty snack crackers.”