December 10, 2007

AP'S Conflict of Interest

There is one current story in Iraq that has attracted the full attention of the Associated Press, and that is the case of Bilal Hussein, an AP photographer and terrorism suspect. The AP report on Hussein's hearing yesterday leaves out the fact that Hussein was arrested with a known al Qaeda terrorist... one of but many troubling aspects of the news organization's decision to forego objective news reporting in favor of self-serving advocacy in a clear and pervasive conflict of interest.

The Associated Press, as an involved party in this case, should recuse themselves from reporting on Hussein's trial.

According to The Associated Press Statement of News Values and Principles:

In the 21st century, that news is transmitted in more ways than ever before – in print, on the air and on the Web, with words, images, graphics, sounds and video. But always and in all media, we insist on the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior when we gather and deliver the news.

That means we abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions. It means we will not knowingly introduce false information into material intended for publication or broadcast; nor will we alter photo or image content. Quotations must be accurate, and precise.

It means we always strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information – not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable.

It means we don't plagiarize.

It means we avoid behavior or activities that create a conflict of interest and compromise our ability to report the news fairly and accurately, uninfluenced by any person or action.

It means we don't misidentify or misrepresent ourselves to get a story. When we seek an interview, we identify ourselves as AP journalists.

It means we don’t pay newsmakers for interviews, to take their photographs or to film or record them.

It means we must be fair. Whenever we portray someone in a negative light, we must make a real effort to obtain a response from that person. When mistakes are made, they must be corrected – fully, quickly and ungrudgingly.

And ultimately, it means it is the responsibility of every one of us to ensure that these standards are upheld. Any time a question is raised about any aspect of our work, it should be taken seriously.

AP editor Kim Gamel cannot claim to be avoiding bias and a conflict of interest when interviewing AP spokesman Paul Colford about the trial of AP employee Bilal Hussein.

In what alternate universe is it acceptable for a journalist to interview a senior staffer in the same news organization about a fellow employee?

Gamel cannot claim to be objective and retain the ability to "report the news fairly and accurately, uninfluenced by any person or action" when Gamel is reporting upon the Associated Press.

Whether or not Bilal Hussein is guilty of terrorism-related charges is a matter for the Iraqi criminal justice system to decide.

That the Associated Press is in violation of their own stated values and principles is readily apparent.

Just don't expect them to admit it.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 10, 2007 01:02 PM

Yeah, the solution (in this case) would be for the AP to buy reports from another news service and forward that under their by line (with no editing).... Your right, doing their own is an obvious conflict of interest (to anyone but the idiots at the AP)....

Posted by: Thomass at December 10, 2007 04:23 PM

Exactly Thomass- and bringing over stories from Al-Reuters certainly isnt going to risk any less of a slant, idealogically speaking. Might even do them a favor.

Posted by: Mark Buehner at December 10, 2007 04:55 PM

The AP can't claim to adhere to any of the bullets listed in their rules...

Posted by: Lord Nazh at December 10, 2007 05:13 PM

Hey, AP makes those rules for the other guys, not themselves. The 'we' in their Statement of News Values and Principles is wholly imperial.

Basically, they consider themselves to reside at the peak of the pinnacle - down the sides of which they roll balls of blame intended to bash the lesser beings who reside below.

Posted by: Hank at December 10, 2007 05:27 PM

It was interesting that when Bilal Hussein was arrested, that he didn't identify himself as a journalist. One would think that an innocent objective journalist would immediately announce himself as a journalist, in order to avoid detention.

Posted by: Gringo at December 10, 2007 06:01 PM

A few years ago (after 2003), there was a killing of Iraqi election workers on Haifa Street. Belmont Club did an analysis of where the photographer was, etc., and showed that it was extremely likely that the photographer was there at that spot on Haifa Street, because he KNEW there was going to be a killing. The victims were dragged out of their car, and positioned on the road so that the photographer had a clear view of the murders.

He was a stringer for the AP. And I understand that he got a pulitzer for that wonderful up to the minute photo.

Anyway. I seem to remember that the name of the photographer was Bilal Hussein. Am I correct?

Posted by: heather at December 10, 2007 08:27 PM

identifying the board of directors of the AP is very educational.

These people are mostly owners of strings of newspapers in the Middle West and the South states of the USA.

Interesting, eh??

Posted by: heather at December 10, 2007 08:29 PM
These people are mostly owners of strings of newspapers in the Middle West and the South states of the USA.

Interesting indeed! Midwest, South and corporate conglomerates: the moonbatty Lefty trifecta!

Oh, wait...

Posted by: NovAnoM at December 10, 2007 10:17 PM

Why are we surprised that a "journalist" is working for the other side? They wanted the North to win in Vietnam and made it happen. Now that UPI has folded, AP has a virtual monopoly on wire service in this country. It's too easy for lazy journalists to simply print the wire news verbatim.

Early in this war, the press was embedded with our units, a practice the left criticized as being overly pro-military. The real danger was the truth - coalition troops were (and still are) doing a wonderful job under awful conditions. The left could not allow that narrative to prevail.

Al Qaeda intimidated the press when they killed the 4 reporters in Afghanistan driving them to rely on stringers that the terrorists willingly provide. Reporters can stay drunk in the Green Zone and publish second hand accounts or just make things up or hire idiots like Beauchamp. The real issue here is not Bilal Hussein, it's ground truth vs AP and MSM propaganda.

Posted by: arch at December 11, 2007 02:56 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 12/11/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

Posted by: David M at December 11, 2007 11:47 AM

NovAnoM, I think you missed the key part of the quote,

"strings of newspapers"

Now, given that most journalists are left leaning and democratic the obvious conclusion is indeed, the bosses of the AP are likly "moonbatty" and "lefty".

Nice try though!

Posted by: Grrrrrrrrrrrrr at December 11, 2007 03:36 PM
Now, given that most journalists are left leaning and democratic

How many journalists do you reckon own "strings of newspapers?" How many journalists own even one newspaper? Not many at all, I'm guessing.

Right back atcha with the "nice try."

Posted by: NovAnoM at December 11, 2007 05:45 PM

The AP only holds to standards when there is a "controlling legal authority" (as a former vice president might say).

No "controlling legal authority," and their standards are worth less than the paper they're allegedly printed on.

Posted by: C-C-G at December 11, 2007 08:02 PM

...How many journalists do you reckon own "strings of newspapers?"...

How many owners of newspapers sit around in the green zone hiring insurgent stringers and soothing their BDS and schilling for their political party with fabricated anti war, "its a quagmire", "its civil war" reports.

Nice try, keep trying if you must

Posted by: Grrrr at December 11, 2007 09:26 PM

Grrr, I think you just bit a liberal. Go get your rabies and distemper shots quick, maybe something to prevent STD while you're at it. They aren't that crazy by choice so it must be some disease destroying their brain.

Posted by: Scrapiron at December 12, 2007 12:13 AM


Now you're changing the topic. Heather's point--though rather elliptically stated--seems to be that the AP's board is obviously liberal because they are business owners in the Midwest and South. All three of those factors would tend, on the surface, to argue against a default liberal leaning.

They may be liberal, but not for those reasons.

Also: if that's not the point Heather is trying to make, then she should be a little more straightforward.

Posted by: NovAnoM at December 12, 2007 09:33 AM
They may be liberal, but not for those reasons.

Those seem to be your biases, NovAnoM. Chicago is the Midwest. Atlanta is the South. New Orleans is the South. John Edwards is from South Carolina. Bill Clinton is from Arkansas. Jimmy Carter is from Georgia. What's your point? That newspaper publishers generally aren't liberal? That Southerners can't be liberal?

Posted by: Pablo at December 12, 2007 11:05 AM

Now, I wonder how that holds up to the AP Managing Editors Code of Ethics, revised 2004 from 1999?

Well, we can say that the first issue, beyond trying to hold themselves to the highest standards, etc., is this:

The public's right to know about matters of importance is paramount. The newspaper has a special responsibility as surrogate of its readers to be a vigilant watchdog of their legitimate public interests.

Apparently we now need a watchdog over AP... coming up the Responsibility section we get:

The good newspaper is fair, accurate, honest, responsible, independent and decent. Truth is its guiding principle.

It avoids practices that would conflict with the ability to report and present news in a fair, accurate and unbiased manner.
It would appear that AP has a vested interest in seeing a particular outcome in the Bilal Hussein affair and should really report on THAT, so that we, the public, can get a fair assessment of their attitudes so we can see if their reporting is unbiased or not.

Then, a bit futher down, in the Accuracy section...

The newspaper should guard against inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortion through emphasis, omission or technological manipulation.

It should acknowledge substantive errors and correct them promptly and prominently.
Could we get some of that from AP? Please?

How about the Integrity section?

The newspaper should strive for impartial treatment of issues and dispassionate handling of controversial subjects. It should provide a forum for the exchange of comment and criticism, especially when such comment is opposed to its editorial positions. Editorials and expressions of personal opinion by reporters and editors should be clearly labeled. Advertising should be differentiated from news.

The newspaper should report the news without regard for its own interests, mindful of the need to disclose potential conflicts. It should not give favored news treatment to advertisers or special-interest groups.

It should report matters regarding itself or its personnel with the same vigor and candor as it would other institutions or individuals. Concern for community, business or personal interests should not cause the newspaper to distort or misrepresent the facts.
Is AP doing that for us? Giving us the canodor about themselves so that we can see how accurate and fair their reporting is on this? I'm starting to get the idea that they don't even read their own guidelines...

Then their Independence section, which covers more in the line of taking gifts, etc., but does yield this as its first part:

The newspaper and its staff should be free of obligations to news sources and newsmakers. Even the appearance of obligation or conflict of interest should be avoided.

And finally:
Stories should not be written or edited primarily for the purpose of winning awards and prizes. Self-serving journalism contests and awards that reflect unfavorably on the newspaper or the profession should be avoided.

Those sorts of things don't need to be 'updated' too often and don't change much via a change in media type. Good, solid reporting is up front when there can be bias present, explains itself when reporting may be tainted by institutional or personal views, and is up-front about such things, not burying them where they can't be found. Their 1999/2004 version does carry standard 'public advocate' phrases, also, but that pertains to openness in government and reporting on same and the editorial side when it takes issues of public concern... those do not de-obligate AP from being up front in its biases, viewpoints and how they ensure that the public gets reliable reporting.

Those are what ethics are about, and when an organization publishes them, they are expected to adhere to them or explain why they have deviated from them. The public, as they point out, has the right to know this so that we can judge AP on its reporting fairly, and ensure that they hold themselves to their standards of eliminating bias and being up front about it. They state as much, the AP Managing Editors do... unless they have changed their view to remove their ethics.

Posted by: ajackskonian at December 12, 2007 11:49 AM
What's your point? That newspaper publishers generally aren't liberal? That Southerners can't be liberal?

My point is that someone is not liberal because they own a newspaper. That's what Heather's suggesting.

What's your point? That the midwest and the south are suddenly Blue zones? Interesting.

Posted by: novanom at December 12, 2007 04:02 PM
My point is that someone is not liberal because they own a newspaper.

It's probably a better generalization than locality.

That the midwest and the south are suddenly Blue zones?

No, they're mostly purple as is most of America. Many of the margins that make places blue or red are not terribly large.

Posted by: Pablo at December 13, 2007 09:20 AM