Remove Fournier: Draft a Letter to an APME Member

By Al Giordano

 

Field Hands are almost finished with the impressive job of compiling the email addresses, other contact info, and profiles of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association governing board members.

You can see your spreadsheet, which so many of you participated in building, here.

Shortly, we will begin contacting these APME board members - first, by email and snail mail only (later, to any that do not respond, we will reach out in more direct ways) - to inform them of the reasons why they should very much want to take immediate action to remove Ron Fournier as AP Washington bureau chief.

After exhaustive review of all that has been reported and written by and about Mr. Fournier, I recommend that we focus on three clear and basic points - any one of which, by itself, requires his dismissal -and exclusively so (at least until he perpetrates his next predictable violation of journalistic ethics in his coverage of the US presidential campaign).

The three points are, summarized:

1. Fournier's email to Karl Rove revealing his partisan bias ("Keep up the fight") requires his removal as AP Washington bureau chief.

2. Fournier's negotiations to become a "senior advisor" to the McCain campaign require his removal.

3. Fournier's September 20 report on an AP-commissioned public opinion poll that, distorting the results of that poll, inflamed race relations in the United States, absolutely requires his removal.

Today we will use the comments section  to create draft letters (or at least some good lines and phrasing for one), each to a single APME board member (pick one, any one, because our contact with them will be as individuals, person to person, for that necessary human touch).

Please don't send them email or letters yet. What we're going to do is coach each other to help find the best ways to communicate and convince each of them of the necessity of taking action to remove Mr. Fournier.

We are not trying to create a single "form letter" here, but, rather a set of arguments that each of us can put in our own words to begin this conversation with the APME governing board members.

Our tone will not be adversarial - if you look at the biographies of many of these people, there's no reason to presume they (some of them of quite impressive accomplishment) won't see the wisdom and self-interest of their organization in changing course - rather, we will be friendly and respectfully persuasive.

Here, I will offer a dry summary of the facts at hand on the three points that, together, make the most effective argument to remove Mr. Fournier.

 

Statement of Facts:

Ron Fournier is the Washington bureau chief of the Associated Press.

As such, he writes much of the wire agency's coverage of the US presidential campaign, but also assigns stories and "analysis" essays to others, and administers a budget of undisclosed size to do so.

The necessity that the APME board immediately relieve Fournier of his post was underscored on Saturday, September 20, when Fournier distorted the results of a survey commissioned by AP: Poll: Racial views steer some white Dems away from Obama.

Brandishing racially charged epithets to describe African-Americans ("lazy," "violent," "responsible for their own troubles," in Fournier's lede), the AP-commissioned polling agency utilized "push polling" techniques on white respondents (it did not, correspondingly, ask similar questions of African-Americans or other minorities to inquire about their views on whites: It is not known if it was also Fournier that, on behalf of AP, commissioned and negotiated the inflammatory methodology of this poll).

Furthermore, Fournier withheld from his report (coauthored with Associated Press writer Trever Thompson) the important fact that the same poll he cited showed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama at least four percentage points ahead of Republican nominee John McCain. Fournier never disclosed that Obama was winning in that same poll.

As statistician Nate Silver wrote of the AP poll on "race based voting":

"It is irresponsible to cite this study without fully disclosing its methods or making it subject to peer review, particularly as it appears to use a rather convoluted soup of statistical and inferential techniques."

Such lack of disclosure was especially irresponsible due to the potential and real incendiary effects the AP report has on race relations in the United States, particularly as the November presidential election campaign heats up.

This is the third major revelation about Fournier in the summer of 2008 that reveals his gross lack of ethical practice as a journalist.

On July 14, 2008, the US House Oversight Committee unearthed an April 23, 2004 email from Fournier, while he was an AP staff writer, to Republican political consultant Karl Rove. Fournier titled the email, "H-E-R-O." That document can be read, here, on the Congressional committee's website.

Fournier wrote:

"The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight." 

The media watchdog group Media Matters interprets that statement as having said, essentially: Karl, you might think the media are liberal, but you can trust me. And give me access and return my emails. Because I'm on your side.

Fournier's clear declaration of partisan favor is in direct violation of the Associated Press Statement of Ethical Principles.

Among its provisions are:

The good newspaper... avoids practices that would conflict with the ability to report and present news in a fair, accurate and unbiased manner.

 

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

The newspaper should strive for impartial treatment of issues and dispassionate handling of controversial subjects...

It should not give favored news treatment to advertisers or special-interest groups...

The newspaper should deal honestly with readers and newsmakers...

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...

Involvement in politics, demonstrations and social causes that would cause a conflict of interest, or the appearance of such conflict, should be avoided.

The statement, "I'm on your side," to the person who is arguably the nation's top Republican political operative violated multiple planks of those stated principles.

On July 22, 2008, the media watchdog organization Media Matters in a story titled The AP Has a Ron Fournier Problem, found a clear relationship between the political partisanship that Fournier had expressed to Rove and his reporting and analysis published under the banner of AP:

The Fournier revelation came as no surprise to anyone who has read his recent campaign work, which has routinely been caustic and dismissive of Democratic contenders. In two "Analysis" pieces and a column, Fournier questioned whether John Edwards was a "phony," announced the Clintons suffered from "utter self-absorption," and claimed that Barack Obama was "bordering on arrogance." That's the right of a pundit. But at the same time, Fournier avoided raising any doubts about Sen. John McCain, and in fact rushed to his aid in print during the senator's time of campaign need.

 

That ethos seems to have been adopted by the larger AP political team, which, honestly, writes as if it's completely in the tank for McCain.

It should be noted that the clear bias of AP's presidential reporting in favor of McCain and in opposition to his electoral rivals comes, in a large part, from reporters that serve under Fournier, who presumably has a bureau chief's authority to hire and fire them.

Fournier has brought his own team of virtually unknown underlings into AP's slanted and "in the tank" campaign coverage and analysis. And even veteran AP staffers are now exercising a disturbing level of self-censorship and partisanship apparently to curry favor with Fournier, their direct superior.

The Associated Press has become both laughingstock and a source of legitimate outrage by millions of Americans - and no small number of professional journalists - that see through its claims to fairness and objectivity.

Fournier's partisan statement of support to Rove was not an isolated case.

Two weeks after the Fournier-to-Rove email revelation, journalist Michael Calderone, media critic for Politico, reported that, in 2006, Fournier's partisanship led him to negotiate a possible "senior advisor" role in the campaign of presidential candidate McCain:

Fournier spoke about the job possibility with members of McCain's inner circle, including political aides Mark Salter, John Weaver and Rick Davis.

 

Salter, who remains a top McCain adviser, said in an e-mail to Politico that Fournier was considered for "a senior advisory role" in communications.

In response to these revelations, MoveOn.org asked its members to email Fournier and his immediate superior, AP managing editor Mike Oreskes, to complain about the biased coverage. Clearly it has had no impact whatsoever on Fournier's reporting. And if Oreskes was ever going to place some responsible supervision or oversight upon Fournier's partisan "reporting," he would have done so long ago.

That's why we're going to appeal to a higher power: The AP Managing Editors association governing board. That's the group that has the ultimate power - and responsibility - to correct the unethical practices of AP's staff and editors.

The response from Associated Press senior staff to the complaints about Fournier was to stonewall, combat and distort the facts. It was positively Nixonian in tone and scope.

An "internal" set of "talking points" sent by AP staff to APME board members, regional vice presidents and bureau chiefs was obtained by Editor and Publisher and placed on the Internet on September 1:

Here are some key paragraphs from that document, which begins with ad hominem descriptions of Fournier's critics. It also launches into an unconvincing defense of behaviors by Fournier that are, sadly, in violation of the organization's own Statement of Ethical Principles:

As many of you know, some political groups and left-leaning blogs have aligned to organize a newspaper letter-writing campaign against AP Washington Bureau Chief Ron Fournier. The campaign started this weekend with an email writing push aimed at Kathleen Carroll and Mike Oreskes, but has now moved on to urge newspaper readers to write their local editors. 



 

Below you will find some talking points to help guide you as this issue plays out. Please feel free to use them in talking with editors and readers and forward to other AP staff you think might find them useful. In addition, later this week, Corporate Communications will go live with a robust new Elections page on ap.org that will provide some real estate to deal with these issues. It will highlight our Elections Team, include an archive of Ron's political analyses as well as those of other AP journalists and also have a FAQ that expands on the talking points below. This will be in addition to the elections and vote count background we normally post on the site.



Ellen Hale


Corporate Communications.

On Fourniers conflicts-of-interest, the AP statement said this:

--The blogs and political organizations have made much of an email from Ron to Karl Rove that surfaced soon after Ron was named acting bureau chief, and which involved the death of Pat Tillman. The email exchange between Ron and Rove occurred in 2004, while Ron was a correspondent for AP -- long before he was named bureau chief. Ron has widely publicly said that the tone of the email was unfortunate, but that the contact with Rove was in the pursuit of a story. Ron has written both columns and articles that are critical of Rove. Here's what Ron said publicly about the email: "I was an AP political reporter at the time of the 2004 e-mail exchange, and was interacting with a source, a top aide to the president, in the course of following an important and compelling story. I regret the breezy nature of the correspondence."



 

--Blogs also have made much of Ron's discussions with the McCain campaign regarding a position in it. These discussions occurred before Ron returned to AP. he also was considered for employment by Politico.com, the blog. Here's what AP said about it, and what we continue to say in response to queries: "It is not uncommon for journalists to be approached by political campaigns, elected officials and government agencies about possible job opportunities. Ron Fournier was approached by the McCain campaign and turned them down, months before he rejoined AP in March of 2007." (Paul Colford, Corporate Communications) The McCain campaign has made it clear that Ron was not interested in the position and that they never had any idea of his political leanings.

These are completely inadequate explanations that reveal behavior by AP much like that of governmental and corporate officials when confronted by reporters with their own wrongdoing.

If this weren't such a serious matter, it would be laughable: Using what "the McCain campaign" said, that it "never had any idea of his political leanings" as justification makes AP Corporate Communications spokesperson Ellen Hale both dupe and accomplice.

AP Corporate Communications spokesperson Paul Colford's suggestion that because Fournier was hired as bureau chief after his negotiations with the McCain campaign (and, by extension, after his "Keep up the fight" email to Rove) is not credible: AP did not know about either of these revelations before hiring Fournier for such an important job. Those facts came to light this summer, and merit Fournier's immediate removal.

Unfortunately for democracy in the United States, the controversy over Fournier's email to Rove and negotiations with the McCain campaign came before and during the two week marathon of Democratic and Republican National Conventions, with the choices of vice presidential nominees and other major stories eclipsing the clear story about the unethical practice of the nation's most important news wire agency.

However, the latest distortions and attempts to inflame race relations in America by Fournier last Saturday compel us to place "the Fournier story" back in the public sunlight.

The election, earlier this month, of fifteen new officers and board members of the APME also provides an opportunity for the new governing board members to step in and remove Fournier from his powerful position and instruct the senior staff at AP to fix its coverage of what is arguably the most important story in years - the election of a new president - so that it will adhere to AP's own Statement of Ethical Principles.

There are three points we will raise to the APME board members:

1. Fournier's email to Rove that stated "Keep up the fight" should disqualify him from reporting on electoral politics in the United States. It created a conflict of interest that is ongoing. It also created the widespread appearance of conflict of interest - also a violation of a basic journalistic ethic - which will only grow larger as the presidential campaign heats up. The defensive and false statements by AP Corporate Communications spokespersons only compound the violation and make AP and its governing board complicit in the conflict of interest.

2. Fournier's negotiations to join the McCain campaign as "senior advisor" create legitimate suspicion that he determined that he could aid its partisan agenda better through journalism and, this year, through Associated Press. The partisan and unfair nature of his reporting and analysis - and that which he has contracted out to others - confirm this violation of the AP Statement of Ethical Principles.

3. The AP's commission of an inflammatory survey that used derogatory racial buzzwords exclusively toward African-Americans, and Fournier's further distortion of it, reopens the issue of AP's clear bias in the presidential campaign (as well as running directly counter to AP's stated commitments to diversity and fairness).

Our first steps have been to inform and educate our selves on the true facts.

We are not raising small or tangential issues here, but, rather, the three very big ones, that will resonate far and wide as we bring them to greater public and journalistic attention.

In the coming days, we will begin to contact each of the 27 members of the APME governing board, via email and letters. Every letter-writer has a right to expect honest and prompt responses from each and every one of the APME board members.

If individual letter writers do not receive the response that such serious matters deserve, we will escalate to a campaign of telephone calls and visits to the workplaces of the APME members.

If that doesn't bring a change in AP policy, we may yet further escalate, targeting the media markets in which APME members work - Internet, talk radio, television, as well as grassroots political organizing and distribution of this information to all staff members of their newspapers, from bottom to top (many of whom are regular readers of this online newspaper already) - and we will involve civil rights, religious and other organizations in those communities to step up the volume on what, by then, would be their complicit protection of unethical and race-baiting activity by AP's Washington bureau chief and other AP staff.

We sincerely hope that APME members will see the wisdom in correcting this problem before it becomes a full-blown public grassroots organizing campaign and controversy.

Either Ron Fournier will be removed from his post, now, or the Associated Press, Mr. Fournier, and the members of the APME governing board will find themselves the subject of a national teach-in, through the media and grassroots organizing, that will become part of the narrative of this presidential campaign.

The APME has never received the scrutiny that a governing board of such an important media source ought to receive from informed citizens of a democracy.

This is not a light and transient matter. It cannot be "resolved" in the way that a smaller lapse by a journalist at a local newspaper might be handled "internally."

Fournier is at the pinnacle of media power: near total control - via AP's reach into the daily newspapers, local radio and TV stations of America - of the national media discourse regarding a very important presidential campaign.

If the aforementioned steps do not succeed, we will then escalate to an all out national campaign - carried out at the local level - aimed at newspapers and other media that subscribe to and purchase news from AP.

But we will begin by writing emails and letters - human to human - in the hopes that common sense wins the day at the Associated Press Managing Editors Association.

Obviously, this statement of facts is much too long for a persuasive email.

So, write your concise draft emails, letters - or shorter talking points - here.

Brevity, at this moment, is next to godliness. Craft a short email or letter that awakens APME board members to the necessity of following their own stated ethics code.

Make all three points, or just one of them: the arguments that you think are persuasive are the ones that will make your letter most effective.

Think the removal of an unethical and partisan AP bureau chief can't be done?

Think again.

Meanwhile, use this comments section to post your own draft emails, letters, talking points and arguments to the APME members: so that by the time we click "send" - just a day or two from now - we will be making the best arguments: the ones that win the battle.

 

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About Al Giordano

Biography

Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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