A Free Press: Who Needs It?

The Associated Press fired a long-time Vermont correspondent. Why?
Emerson Lynn, editor and publisher of The St. Albans Messenger, said one clue to Mr. Graff's departure might have been The A.P.'s having told him this month that it was inappropriate for him to have posted a column by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, on the wire.

Mr. Lynn said that for the last two years, The A.P. had prepared a package of articles about Sunshine Week, in which media organizations advocate openness in government. Senator Leahy had written a column highly critical of the Bush administration on the matter for the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

The column said, for example, that "the foundations of our open government are under direct assault from the first White House in modern times that is openly hostile to the public's right to know."

On March 8, Mr. Graff posted Mr. Leahy's column on an advance wire that carries material that can be used at a later date. He had attached an editor's note saying Mr. Leahy "was asked by the American Society of Newspaper Editors for his thoughts on the status of the right to know for use in Sunshine Week, organized by media organizations and other groups to combat government secrecy and bring attention to the public's right to know."

The A.P. removed the column from the advance wire within an hour and advised newspapers not to run it.

Mr. Lynn said Mr. Graff called him and told him he had been criticized for posting a column that The A.P. said had compromised the integrity of the wire service.

Mr. Lynn said Mr. Graff was surprised because he had posted a similar column from Senator Leahy last year during Sunshine Week and had not heard any criticism and because Senator Leahy had held a hearing last year on the matter and Walter Mears, a former A.P. executive editor and vice president, had testified.
The article doesn't mention (and I'm not saying it should, though it would've been nice) that this unforgivable act followed a curiously skewed AP story last month that twisted itself in knots trying to tie Abramoff to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV).

So what's going on with the AP? Scared shitless, apparently, like the Washington Post.

Let's just get this clear: While the United States has a legally free press, overall the press is far from free. We live in a mediasphere that's a new, improved version of China's. The big difference is that the people who run the country discovered long ago that you don't have to deny freedom of speech and freedom of the press to influence the public's perception of reality. That's why most Americans are severely uninformed and a full one third of voters live in an outright fantasy land.

BONUS: Lest I be accused (not that anyone would bother) of being unfair, it's worth noting that the AP also let the famous "straw man" article, which analyzed Bush's addiction to straw man arguments, go on the wire.

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