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.”
The Guild thinks so little of even the perception of objectivity that it was “fully behind the radical message of Occupy Wall Street,” and hasn’t given any indication of modifying that support, despite the movement’s crimes, violence, sexual assaults, filth, and unreimbursed costs to taxpayers. Demonstrating that it has also been completely coopted in the 75 years since the Supreme Court decision just noted, management assigned seven reporters to cover the largely disbanded movement’s six-month anniversary; the resulting report still managed to avoid any reference to Occupy’s myriad documented offenses.
Just four of the many AP outrages against journalism in the past two weeks include the following:
- An AP reporter wrote that supporters of the Keystone pipeline “say it will create over 1,000 jobs.” Well, I guess “over a dozen” would also have been technically true. Supporters’ estimates actually range from 2,500 to 500,000, depending on whether they are referring to direct jobs or are also including gains from spin-off employment.
- When Congress unanimously rejected Obama’s farcical budget proposal, AP waited until the fifth paragraph of its report to tell readers that the vote was 414-0 (specifics almost guaranteed not to get mentioned over the airwaves), and would only describe it as “overwhelmingly rejected” by a “GOP-run Congress” in order “to embarrass Democrats.”
- In the first four days after the New Black Panthers issued a bounty for the capture of George Zimmerman in the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, AP reports cryptically noted the existence of a bounty just once, with no mention of its source.
- A truly bizarre and Orwellian sequence of AP dispatches over the course of one business day on the consumer confidence report from the Conference Board went from “falls” to “dips slightly” to “roughly flat” to (brace yourself) a “rosy outlook.” The index fell from 71.6 in February to 70.2 in March.
The AP cranks out a constant barrage of risible reportage to relatively disengaged voters. Thanks to news feeds on smart phones, tablets, and computers, the servings of half-truths and falsehoods are on average probably more frequent, and thus over time more damaging. Meanwhile, New Media’s center-right presence on consumer devices is lagging.
AP management also seems to no longer care about appearances. Outgoing CEO Dean Singleton’s introduction of President Obama at the wire service’s annual luncheon on April 3 was so disgracefully obsequious that, according to Charles Hurt at the Washington Times, “[I]t was more like he proposed to him.”
Team Obama’s reelection campaign could hardly be happier about all of this.