BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett
I have always had a good relationship with Mississippi’s Associated Press reporters as a Political and Communications Strategist. But, not all AP writers are as ethical in the practice of their craft.
The media picture has become more muddied. The internet, community reporting from bloggers close to story makers, and the quickly growing trend to have an on-staff or contracted content producer for virtually every organization big and small means information is everywhere. It’s a good thing in my mind that no one entity controls the flow of information, as has been the case in the past. It’s how technology and the insatiable appetite of the public for information gave birth to the likes of . . . well, me.
Unlike some online producers, I don’t hide my name or my face when I write an article. That is a trend that will increase as online news becomes more a norm of everyday consumption. I stand behind what I write and we welcome the engaging conversation. I believe it leads to real dialogue, because it rejects the notion that you can say anything and get away with it.
In the drive to compete with smaller and more nimble content producers, large organizations like the AP have loosened standards. For 165 years those standards of neutrality have allowed local beat reporters to take a news article and fill in the local angle with follow up stories. But as we are beginning to see, that is coming to an end. It all started with the changing of the guard in 2008 at the AP, and has ramped up in 2012. A 2011 leaked AP memo called “The New Distinctiveness” laid bare the new rules.
Writer Michael Calderone published a piece in Politico in 2008 about the shift in thinking at AP when he wrote that the organization was
“scrapping the stonefaced approach to journalism that accepts politicians’ statements at face value and offers equal treatment to all sides of an argument. Instead, reporters are encouraged to throw away the weasel words and call it like they see it when they think public officials have revealed themselves as phonies or flip-floppers.”
In other words, the AP is looking to compete with more opinion and analysis. But, not so much define it as such. Instead the analysis and the emotionally charged become part of the overall reporting. Some groups are beginning to take note of the leftward lean, and have even begun referring to the AP as the “Administration’s Propagandist’s”, referring to the number of pro-Obama articles that are appearing.
What is most troubling about this is the number of smaller news markets that are affected by it.
I am consistently surprised by the number of people who still don’t realize how much of the news coming from traditional local outlets is not the product of staff reporters. There are many people that pick up a paper or see a report online that just assume it’s from a local source, even if it is attributed to the Associated Press.
Case in point: a recently published article on the rejection of Medicaid changes by state governors in the Sun Herald, the lead dog of print media on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. While featuring Mississippi as one of the states, none of the named contributing writers were from Mississippi.
I’m not arguing they necessarily should be. But one can’t help but notice the “New Distinctiveness” from the AP in the article. The timing of it suggests a political lean to the left in order to affect upcoming elections, and they use emotionally charged stories to get to the reader.
Here’s an excerpt:
Sandra Pico is poor, but not poor enough.
She makes about $15,000 a year, on which she supports her daughter and unemployed husband. She thought she’d be able to get health insurance after the Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Then she heard her own governor won’t agree to the federal plan to extend Medicaid coverage to people like her in two years. So she expects to remain uninsured, struggling to pay for her blood pressure medicine.
“You fall through the cracks and there’s nothing you can do about it,” said the 52-year-old home health aide. “It makes me feel like garbage, like the American dream, my dream in my homeland is not being accomplished.”
Many working parents like Pico are below the federal poverty line but don’t qualify for Medicaid, a decades-old state-federal insurance program. That’s especially true in states in which conservative governors say they’ll reject the Medicaid expansion under Obama’s health law.
In South Carolina, a yearly income of $16,900 is too much for Medicaid for a family of three. In Florida, $11,000 a year is too much. In Mississippi, $8,200 a year is too much. In Louisiana and Texas, earning more than just $5,000 a year makes you ineligible for Medicaid.
Governors in those five states have said they’ll reject the Medicaid expansion underpinning Obama’s health law after the Supreme Court’s decision gave states that option. They favor small government and say they can’t afford the added cost to their states even if it’s delayed by several years. Some states estimate the expansion could ultimately cost them a billion dollars a year or more.
The article goes on to praise the Obama administrations efforts while demonizing the Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan’s plans as damaging.
If there was ever an example of why online producers of content like Mississippi PEP should exist, then this is it.
Are these sad, heart-wrenching stories? Yes. But, I could find you a hundred stories that shows how government health care like Medicaid has ravaged peoples lives by restricting their choices. How many stories of abuse of the system could be dug up? Just as many.
My thanks goes out to the local AP reporters I have had the privilege of dealing with. Please don’t fall prey to this type of reporting. Let the pundits and politicos among us do what we do. We need you to keep the story steady.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett