Friday, March 24, 2006

Thin-Skinned Associated Press Scalped By Members For Dumping Vermont Bureau Chief

Green Mountain State Media Seeing Red From Ouster of Christopher Graff

Wire-service reporters are often an anonymous breed. You're taken for granted by your member newspapers and broadcasters, who expect you to dutifully churn out anything and everything they can't or won't cover.

At least that was my experience working for UPI in Albany back in the 1980s. But that experience is apparently different in a smaller state like Vermont, dominated by small, local papers that rely extensively on the Associated Press, especially on beats like the Statehouse.

Which is why Vermont editors are nearly unanimously up in arms after the AP dumped Vermont bureau chief Christopher Graff, a 27-year veteran widely respected and better known than the typical wire scribe, as he also hosts a show on Vermont Public Television.

Why the AP gave Graff the heave-ho is unclear. He's not talking, as he signed a non-disclosure agreement, apparently as a condition to getting severance. The AP is clamming up, saying it doesn't talk publicly about personnel matters.

But what may have been the last straw was a column by Sen. Patrick Leahy that Graff put on the wire in conjunction with the AP's observance of Sunshine Week. Leahy pilloried the Bush administration for its jihad against the federal Freedom of Information Act. The AP pulled the column less than an hour after it ran and advised editors not to run it. This, despite the fact that the AP ran a similar Leahy piece without any brouhaha.

It's always comical and a bit sad when news organizations doggedly pursue comment from their subjects, yet are just as reticent when the spotlight's turned on them. But this bunker mentality isn't sitting well with those who feed the AP's coffers and viewed Graff as an invaluable resource.

As the Brattleboro Reformer noted in an editorial today:

The AP should be embarrassed by their decision to fire Graff and the perception that it gives to Vermonters that the AP has given in to the claque that constantly screams about "liberal bias" in the news media.
But it's not only that. The AP casually discarded one of Vermont's best journalists and weakened its reporting on statewide issues as a result.

Many other Vermont journalists, according to the Valley News, including Marselis Parsons, news director at WCAX-TV
"I was flabbergasted when I was told this was going on. I thought it was a joke," Parsons said. "I think if there is more to it (than the Leahy column), they owe their members -- not just clients, we are members, damn it, of a cooperative, a more rational explanation."

Still, the AP may be able to successfully avoid one by citing employment law and privacy considerations. Or, it could release Graff from his non-disclosure agreement so he could tell his side of the story. Unlikely, since somebody at AP HQ in New York would then have to be held accountable for a bone-headed move.
Maybe the AP could take the even-easier way out and reinstate Graff. But that would be too easy. And for an institution like the AP, which can afford to be arrogant because its members have nowhere else to turn for statewide coverage, that is likely too much to ask.

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