AP Gives Thompson the '04 Treatment

The Associated Press — once the gold standard of fast and accurate reporting — changed during the Bush presidency.  What was liberal bias has reshaped the wire service into one of the most politically activist media outlets.  This is a cautionary tale for every Republican candidate. What AP tried to do to Fred Thompson is going to be repeated against any conservative candidate who exudes a whiff of conservatism in the primaries and whichever Republican gains the presidential nomination. 

Those of us who cast a leery eye on the media, watching for bias and worse, became used to the AP’s antics by the time the 2004 presidential race was under way.  Typical was AP’s coverage of President Bush’s criticism of one of John Kerry’s more outlandish statements.  Kerry said the Iraq Coalition was, “…the alliance of the coerced and the bribed.” In a piece titled, “Bush Twists Kerry’s Words on Iraq,” AP’s Jennifer Loven wrote:

Kerry did use the phrase to describe the U.S.-led coalition of nations in Iraq, in a March 2003 speech in California. He was referring to the administration’s willingness to offer aid to other nations to gain support for its Iraq policies.

But Bush mischaracterized Kerry’s criticism, which has not been aimed at the countries that have contributed a relatively small number of troops and resources, but at the administration for not gaining more participation from other nations.

AP’s defense of Kerry — his words could be nothing other than a direct insult to our allies — was an unpaid campaign contribution to the liberal Dem. And AP has only gotten worse since Bush defeated Kerry.   Its coverage of Iraq got so bad that editors from newspapers all over the nation were critical of what AP was writing.  Even the New York Times — the Frankenstein laboratory for Bush Derangement Syndrome — was forced to cover the AP’s coverage.

In an August 15, 2005 story
, the Times quoted the editorial page editor of the Tampa Tribune, Rosemary Goudreau:

“The bottom-line question was, people wanted to know if we’re making progress in Iraq,’ Ms. Goudreau said, “and the A.P. articles were not helping to answer that question. It was uncomfortable questioning The A.P., knowing that Iraq is such a dangerous place," she said. "But there’s a perception that we’re not telling the whole story.” 

A year later, AP wasn’t only failing to report the whole story, it was making stories up.  Two of its Washington reporters — Lolita Baldor and Devlin Barrett — contrived a series of stories about then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld “refusing” to testify at a Senate hearing on Iraq. The fascinating part of this series was that they appeared to have been written as campaign commercials for Hillary Clinton.  Rumsfeld testified at the hearing, the second one he spoke at on the same day and on the same subject.  

At that second hearing, Hillary’s strident verbal assault on Rumsfeld was a big yawn. But not to AP. “Reporting” on the hearing, AP’s Clintonistas wrote, "The showdown between Clinton, a potential candidate in 2008, and Rumsfeld, the public face of the Bush administration’s war effort, included the strongest criticism of the Iraq war she has made to date…The defense secretary seemed briefly stunned by the intensity of her attack…"

As I wrote at the time, AP’s characterization of Hillary’s histrionics and Rumsfeld’s calm rebuttal was fable, not fact. I called AP Washington Bureau chief Sandra Johnson and night editor Robert Glass for interviews for both print and radio.  Johnson never returned my calls and Glass shuffled me off on another editor, Alan Fram, who also didn’t return my calls.  Caught Hillary-handed, AP hid in the tall grass.

Now, the same AP crew is contriving stories about Republican presidential candidates.  Case in point, this AP story about Fred Thompson.  

AP’s Libby Quaid wrote on December 21, “Thompson suffered a stinging setback Thursday, when conservative Rep. Tom Tancredo dropped out of the presidential running and endorsed another rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Tancredo, a Colorado congressman, is a hero to many voters who are furious at illegal immigration in this country, and a lot of them are Iowa caucus goers. The endorsement was a disappointment to Thompson, especially since his week had begun on a high note with the unexpected backing of another anti-immigration hero, Rep. Steve King.”  

There is a small problem with the AP story:  the facts.  Tancredo did endorse Romney, but Thompson actually benefited from Tancredo’s withdrawal, possibly more than Romney did.  Thompson’s campaign staff was stunned: not by Tancredo’s speech, but AP’s coverage.  And here’s why.

As reported by The Politico, Bill Salier — Tancredo’s Iowa state chairman — is joining Thompson’s team:  “He’s a true-believing social conservative who ran an uphill race in the ’02 GOP Senate primary that raised some eyebrows. In short: He’s the sort of worker bee a campaign likes to have on its side.  If Salier puts his shoulder to the wheel for Fred, he could be a major asset.”

The basic story was not contrived: Tancredo did withdraw and endorse Romney. But the misreporting of it was the functional equivalent of an attack ad directed at Thompson.  And it cannot have been accidental.  No young reporter would be able to do that without an editor’s approval.  Or, more likely, an editor’s orders.  

If Tancredo’s withdrawal caused his chief Iowa asset to shift allegiance to Thompson, how is Tancredo’s endorsement of Romney a “stinging setback” for Thompson? It isn’t.  Which raises the same issue about AP that I raised in August 2006:  which of its editors is responsible for the contrived stories?  Is it Johnson herself?

And who is Hillary’s Kim Philby inside AP? Or is that person working with Rahm Emanuel or some other clever Dem?  Who can say which AP editor is spending the most time with Hillary’s (or Rahm’s) operatives?  Someone can.  And if they do, we’ll be listening.

Meanwhile, Republican candidates ignore this event at their peril.  The lesson is that the speed and accuracy for which AP was once known now must be employed in response to the political activism of most of the media.  Get used to it, gents.  You’ll have a steady diet of it all next year.