Monday, August 16, 2004

Putting Words in Their Mouths

It is the repeated contention of John Hinderaker of Powerline that the Associated Press is the biggest source of liberal media bias in the country, Because its stories are picked up and disseminated through thousand of media outlets, they have the potential to affect more news consumers than any individual newspaper.

I think John is exactly right, and the influence of the AP appears to be even more widespread than even he has speculated. Because, not only do newspapers reprint properly attributed Associated Press stories. Newspaper reporters also use verbatim excerpts from AP stories in their own reporting. And sometimes not even bothering to mention their wholesale "borrowing" of someone else's text. (Which makes me wonder how much actual reporting is even done by these guys.)

That seems to be the cause of the identical twin paragraphs on the Swift Boat Vets I noticed from the Dallas Morning News and Star Tribune over the weekend. Each of the writers of those articles did email me back. The Star Tribune's Bob Von Sternberg cites AP as the direct source of this paragraph. And the online edition of the article does include the qualification: The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The reprint of the Dallas Morning News article (in Sunday's Pioneer Press), contains no such qualification. In his email, the reporter (David Tarrant) explained the paragraph as: "standard background information, based on widely reported facts. But such information is necessary to provide context so readers can make their own judgments."

Maybe so, but lifting the identical text of someone else's reporting and publishing it under your own name (even if you include a vague qualification at the end) seems a little bit more than reviewing "standard background information" to inform one's own reporting. If the background information itself is assumed to be so dead on accurate (do any of these guys even bother to verify it?), and phrased so perfectly, I wonder why the local papers even bother to rebrand it with a local reporter's name. Just print the AP story and forget the pretense that a local guy is on the case, providing his unique judgment to the story.

The fact that reporters being published in ostensibly competing newspapers are surreptitiously cribbing from the identical source, and not even bothering to change the prose, just seems kind of sleazy (in addition to lazy). Talk about media consolidation and the silencing of dissenting viewpoints. At least when Clear Channel buys up multiple radio station in a market, they don't make a secret out of it.

I think it's time to take back the media. End the tyranny! Break up the AP!

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