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Why I Don’t Trust Anything That Comes Over The AP Newswire

Three reasons for starters:

Exhibit A: Some guy shot a bunch of people in the halls of Congress a few years ago, around when I was working at Sunset Magazine and started browsing headlines every hour or so. The bulletins from the Associated Press went something like this: first they reported that a small gang of gunmen stormed the capital, and some sixteen people were injured. When I reloaded a half-hour later, they’d amended that to two gunmen and one person dead. By the time Reuters had published an accurate report — there had been one gunman, and two people were killed — the AP was still struggling to get their story straight.

Exhibit B: In the fall of 1998, Kofi Annan, the head of the United Nations, spoke at Hampshire College about education and the state of the world. Really an interesting and uplifting speech, which attracted all sorts of people and a lot of media. I was the editor of the student newspaper at the time, so I got to squeeze into the press conference afterwards. It took a while for Kofi to get to the room. Most of the press sat around quietly. Then a woman piped up.

Did anyone catch how many standing ovations he got? she asked. The question baffled the room into silence. Did you count five? she asked. No response. Well, the Associated Press says there were five ovations, she said, and wrote it down. I was alarmed. Was she really going to waste precious column-inches on that trifling detail when Annan has served up so many important statistics on the lack of meaningful education worldwide?

Exhibit C: Yesterday I got mail from someone who was ostensibly an AP reporter, who wanted me to contribute to a story. “Would you (as a demonstrator planning on coming to the GOP convention) be willing to talk by phone on the record to The Associated Press about yesterday’s violent arrest of a suspect and whether the issue will be brought up by demonstrators during the convention?” she asked. I’m not going to the demonstrations, and if I was, I wouldn’t be there as a protester; I’d be reporting for the Independent Media Center. What really baffles me is that her net was cast wide enough that she’d bother to ask me. I’m not an organizer, and it’s pretty clear who on the listserv she got my name from IS an organizer. I got the impression that she’d be perfectly content to base her story on information from a low-level source with no clear picture of what was going on.

So I’m less than impressed with the AP’s investigative methods and content. They’re syndicated all over the world and people actually accept what they say as news. Moments like these remind me that though news organs try to have the clearest view of a story, they are still made up of many many tiny flawed human beings. Which just makes me all the angrier when they get carte blanche to cross police lines or speak to politicians at protests, and IndyMedia reporters and people without “valid press credentials” get turned away by policemen who say they’re not professional journalists. As if there was some magical mantle which falls on the shoulders of journalists in the hire of Big News. I don’t think the policemen even know what it takes to become a journalist. This arbitrary dividing of media sheep and goats happens over and over to all kinds of small and lefty media outlets. I saw a Harper’s reporter get turned away from a police line in DC, while Barbie Doll from the local ABC affiliate made it through sans hassle.

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