Sunday, October 7, 2007

`The A.P. News Trust's Special Influence: A 1990s Look At The Associated Press'--Part 7

(The following article originally appeared in the July 7, 1993 issue of the now-defunct Lower East Side alternative weekly, Downtown).

A September 1979 Progressive magazine article by former A.P. reporter Samuel Day Jr., entitled “A `Clarification’,” revealed “how Westinghouse helped the A.P. rewrite a nuclear article.” As Progressive magazine noted:

“…A story about a little-known and controversial new atomic reactor began moving on the wires of the Associated Press to newspaper offices across the country on Tuesday, July 3. The story, filed in advance for publication on Sunday, July 15, dealt with an experimental device called the `fast flux test facility [FFTF]’ in the desert of central Washington…The story went on to tell about the big facility that Westinghouse Corporation is building in the sagebrush of the Columbia River Basin to pave the way for the nuclear power plants of the future…There was one thing that neither wire editors nor newspaper readers knew: A.P.’s report on the problems of Westinghouse’s FFTF had been reviewed, rewritten, and re-edited with the help of the Westinghouse Corporation…The story was revised in New York in consultation with the Seattle bureau, which forwarded a detailed critique by Westinghouse…”

In a 1986 Nation (12/6/86) column, Alexander Cockburn also revealed that A.P. apparently attempted to suppress news about the emerging Contragate scandal at the request of Oliver North and/or the Reagan White House. According to Cockburn:

“On March 16, 1985, the A.P.’s Middle East bureau chief Terry Anderson, was kidnapped in Lebanon…Later that year, two A.P. reporters based in Washington, Robert Parry and Brian Barger, began investigating shady dealings by the contras and the activities of Oliver North. They amassed damning detail from a multiplicity of sources, including Federal officials indignant at what they perceived to be the Reagan Administration’s complicity in drug trafficking by the contras…

“…Among those aware of Parry and Barger’s research, it was no secret that the two were frustrated by what they considered to be unwarranted and extraordinary caution exercised by their superiors at A.P. notably by the Washington bureau chief, Charles Lewis…In fact, the story finally put on the wires on January 19 was a shrunken version of earlier drafts, having fallen victim to an editorial prudence that seemed inexplicable. Details were cut, names excised and the story finally put on the wires at the bottom of the news cycle…Oliver North—was in contact with their superiors at A.P….As one person working in the Washington bureau at the time remarks: `Lewis insisted on editing the [Parry and Barger] stories while talking to North. That was a clear conflict of interest and he should have been smart enough to step aside.’”

The A.P. has also apparently not been too interested in transmitting much news over its wires which challenges the accuracy of the U.S. Establishment’s “Report of the President’s Commission On The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” The Warren Report, which A.P. published in the 1960s, contained “an introductory note” by A.P. Special Correspondent Saul Prett which stated the following:

“Did one unbalanced mind rob us of a President and another, of his murderer? And if we say that and if we see that, are we then close to sensing that the sick of the world, though unknown to each other, may form as dangerous a conspiracy as any political plot from the left or from the right?

“…The Commission was appointed by President Johnson. It was headed by the Chief Justice of the United States, composed of distinguished citizens, and had at its disposal all the investigative resources of a proud government. Here, then, are its answers…”

In the 1990s, A.P. still seemed to reflect a neoconservative, pro-U.S. Establishment political bias in its editorial policies. Among the A.P.-provided news stories New York Newsday printed in its May 18, 1993 issue, for instance, was one headlined “Lawmakers: Clinton’s AIDS, Cancer Research Plan Hurts Other Programs,” which began with the paragraph “President Bill Clinton’s plan to raise spending on AIDS and breast cancer research shortchanges other federally funded research into diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes or strokes, some lawmakers complained last week”—but failed to include any quotations from either AIDS or women’s health activists in the news story.

Downtown telephoned in the early 1990s the office of an A.P. corporate spokesperson named Mike Bass at 50 Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown Manhattan, and attempted to ask him for A.P.’s official response to the criticism that its news service is editorially-biased. Bass was unavailable for comment, but the A.P. employee who was screening his calls replied: “Before I can find someone to answer that question, they’ll want to know the name of the person who made this criticism.”

After Downtown replied that U.S. academics involved in media studies like Michael Parenti have made this criticism, the A.P. employee informed Downtown that A.P. spokespeople would need to know some specific ways in which their news service was being criticized for being editorially-biased, before they would respond to Downtown’s inquiry.

When Downtown noted that A.P. has been criticized for slanting its news reports by not interviewing enough of a variety of sources, slanting its coverage of nuclear power issues to please Westinghouse, and slanting its coverage of the Contragate scandal to please the Reagan Administration, the A.P. employee said she’d try to obtain an official A.P. response by the end of the day.

But when Downtown telephoned A.P. at the end of the day, it was again told by another A.P. employee that no one at A.P. was available for comment.

So if you’re still waiting for the A.P. News Trust to use its special influence to provide U.S. newspaper readers, radio listeners and TV viewers with much variety in news items, much investigative reporting about Big Media conglomerates, the super-rich, the CIA and the JFK Assassination Conspiracy [or news about what actually happened on September 11, 2001], or much daily news about U.S. anti-war radical activists, you may end up waiting a long, long time for the news—despite A.P.’s extensive network of leased satellite circuits, submarine cables and radio transmissions. (end of article)

(Downtown 7/7/93)

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