Before I joined the ranks of dirty foulmouthed hippie bloggers, I was your basic mainstream journalist. I started in newspapers in 1978 at small towns in the Northwest, where the rule of thumb is that most everyone in the newsroom is a jack of all trades. I was a news reporter, a photographer, a music and movie critic — but more than any other job, I was a news editor.
I started out ripping newswires back when it was fed to us by ticker tape, and by the early ’80s was pulling news from the wires by computers. In those days, there were two competing news services — United Press International and the Associated Press. But about the same time UPI was in serious decline, and most of the newsrooms where I worked did not carry their services. By the 1990s UPI for all intents and purposes was nearly dead (and when Rev. Sun Myung Moon bought them up in 2000, it was a fait accompli) leaving the field to the AP.
In all those years ripping wires, I and the editors I worked with operated with at least a modicum of confidence that the AP was providing them with balanced, evenhanded and reasonably accurate news. Sure, it was bland work, and far too often relied on simplistic "he said/she said" journalism as a means of achieving a facsimile of balance. There wasn’t a lot of great investigative work, but there was some. Mostly, we counted on AP to provide us with the news like a basic meat-and-potatoes diet.
Which is why Ron Fournier’s unimstakable bias in his reportage on the 2008 presidential campaign is such a profound betrayal of the AP’s mission. As a monopoly — every single daily newspaper in the country now relies on the AP for its basic news services — the AP has a profound and unmistakable duty to avoid even the appearance of bias. Fournier’s reportage some time ago began reeking of bias, made worse by his dalliance with the McCain campaign last year and his footsie-playing with Karl Rove. And his recent work attacking Barack Obama makes the stink worse than meth lab’s.
Our protest of Fournier’s work, and our demand that he be removed from the presidential campaign, isn’t simply a matter of crying because our ox has been gored. Rather, it’s about recognizing the profound impact that biased reporting like Fournier’s has on the nation’s political discourse — and how seriously it damages the AP’s reputation as a reliable source of solid reportage.
Every one of those little papers I used to work at runs Fournier’s work. Indeed, every paper in the country, from the New York Times to the Sandpoint Daily Bee, runs it. The editors, the reporters, the publishers, and especially the readers of those papers can no longer rely on AP to be fair in its handling of the news — and because AP is a virtual monopoly, that is a serious problem.
It’s not, as some have suggested, that we want Fournier fired. But the conflict of interest his reporting represents is unacceptable. Every other news operation in the country, faced with such a conflict, typically will keep reporters with such conflicts from reporting on stories related to it. And that is what AP clearly must do in this case.
Perhaps AP doesn’t care enough about those editors who use their product each day with almost blind reliance on their journalistic standards. But it ought to care about its own reputation and standing in the news business to act now, and act decisively.