AP smeared NY Democratic Committee; falsely accused committee of doctoring news stories

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Using an unfair and misleading comparison, the Associated Press accused the New York State Democratic Committee of editing AP articles the committee reprinted on its website.

A February 15 Associated Press article by Michael Gormley claimed that it caught the New York State Democratic Committee in the act of editing AP news articles the committee reprinted on its website -- but used an unfair and misleading comparison between the final version of a January 30 Associated Press article and an excerpt of an earlier version of the article posted by the committee on its website. The February 15 AP article used the misleading comparison to suggest hypocrisy on the part of the committee, which had previously criticized former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who is seeking the 2006 Republican nomination for governor of New York, for posting altered articles on his gubernatorial campaign website.

On February 4, The New York Times reported:

[Weld] Campaign aides have significantly altered two newspaper articles on his Web site about his bid for governor, removing all negative phrases about him, like ''mini-slump'' and ''dogged by an investigation,'' and passages about his political problems.

Also removed were references to a federal investigation of Decker College, a Kentucky trade school that Mr. Weld led until he left to run for governor last fall; the college collapsed into bankruptcy weeks later amid allegations of financial aid fraud. And criticism of Mr. Weld by a former New York Republican senator, Alfonse D'Amato, was removed.

The Weld campaign placed the sanitized articles, still under the reporters' bylines, on its Web site, weldfornewyork.org under the heading ''news.'' Nothing told readers about the changes.

[...]

Reached on his cellphone yesterday, Mr. Weld said that he was going into a meeting, and that he was unaware of the editing of articles on his Web site and would seek information from his staff. One Weld aide reacted with surprise when notified about the changes. Soon after, the words ''excerpted version'' appeared on the Web site above the two articles.

After the New York State Democratic Committee criticized Weld for the selective editing, the AP ran the February 15 article that noted the criticism and suggested that the committee was hypocritical. Under the headline "Democrats caught in own Web spinning after chiding GOP," the article began: "The state Democratic Committee that smacked a Republican candidate for using excerpted news stories on his Web site and passing it off as journalism has done its own editing of news stories on the Web."

But the examples the AP provided of the committee's "own editing of news stories" fall flat. The AP led with an example of the committee posting an excerpt of an earlier AP article about Weld:

On Tuesday the state Democratic Committee posted an Associated Press story about GOP candidate Bill Weld on its Web site headlined: "AP: Scandal at trade school casts a shadow over N.Y. governor's race." The story was four paragraphs long followed by the phrase: "(excerpted per AP policy)."

But there is no such AP policy nor did the committee have permission to use AP articles.

The Democrats' version ended just above where the news article reported: "Weld has said he knew of no illegal activity at the college and has offered to help with the investigation."

The Democratic Committee's posting of roughly 20 percent of the article comes a week after the state party began criticizing Weld for posting only positive excerpts of a New York Times article.

In its effort to equate the New York State Democratic Committee's excerpt of the AP article with the Weld campaign's edited articles, the AP overlooked a key difference: The Weld campaign edited the articles without making clear that it was posting excerpts. The committee -- according to the AP's own report -- noted that the posting was "excerpted" from an AP article. The committee, in other words, made perfectly clear to readers that what they were reading was an excerpt, not the full article -- something the Weld campaign did not do.

Further, the AP's assertion that it had "no such" policy on excerpting may be true, but it is wildly misleading, as a subsequent February 16 AP article made clear. In that follow-up article by Rik Stevens, the AP reported:

"Earlier this year, the AP called the state party and said they were unhappy with the fact that the state party was placing their stories on their site in full," Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson said [on behalf of the Committee].

"As a result the state party was told -- my understanding, I didn't have the conversation -- that they could excerpt the stories instead," he said on WROW-AM. "So, the stories were excerpted, primarily from the bottom."

Articles it posted from newspapers were not edited.

David Tomlin, assistant general counsel for The Associated Press, said AP objects to any republication of its stories to support candidates or causes. Quotation of brief excerpts may sometimes qualify as fair use under copyright law, but the state committee's postings went way beyond that, he said.

So, the flat assertion in the Gormley article that "there is no such AP policy" falsely implied that the New York State Democratic Committee simply fabricated its assertion that it had posted excerpts pursuant to AP policy. In fact, as Stevens's article made clear, the AP does have a relevant policy -- a policy that, according to Wolfson, the AP had articulated to the committee.

The next example Gormley provided of the committee supposedly altering articles was even more flawed:

The Democratic committee altered other AP articles.

On Jan. 31, for example, the Democrats posted: "AP: Poll: Clinton remains strong for re-election," a bylined story about a Siena College poll on the U.S. Senate race.

Here's how the final AP article began:

"Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is in strong shape for re-election in New York this year, but most voters in her adopted state think it is unlikely the former first lady could win a 2008 presidential race, a statewide poll reported Monday."

Here's how the Democrats re-edited the piece and posted it as an AP piece:

"Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton remains in a strong position in her bid for re-election this year with almost six in 10 New York voters saying they will vote for the former first lady, a statewide poll reported Monday."

The AP's claim that "the Democrats re-edited the piece and posted it as an AP piece" is flatly false. Several versions of the January 30 AP article in question appeared on news wires and are available on the Nexis database. The February 15 AP article refers to the "final" version of the January 30 article to suggest that the New York State Democratic Committee inserted the word "remains" and deleted the reference to New Yorkers' skepticism of Clinton's presidential prospects. But a look at other versions of the article shows that the committee did not "re-edit" a thing; it directly quoted an AP article that was distributed to the world and is available on Nexis.

  • "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton remains in a strong position in her bid for re-election this year with almost six in 10 New York voters saying they will vote for the former first lady, a statewide poll reported Monday." [AP, 1/30/06, 3:14 pm]
  • "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton remains in a strong position in her bid for re-election this year with almost six in 10 New York voters saying they will vote for the former first lady, a statewide poll reported Monday." [AP, 1/30/06, 3:32 pm]
  • "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is in strong shape for re-election in New York this year, but most voters in her adopted state think it is unlikely the former first lady could win the 2008 presidential race, a statewide poll reported Monday." [AP, 1/30/06, 11:00 pm]
  • "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton remains in a strong position in her bid for re-election this year with almost six in 10 New York voters saying they will vote for the former first lady, a statewide poll reported Monday." [NYDC post, as quoted by AP, 2/15/06]

The New York State Democratic Committee quoted the beginning of the AP article as it originally appeared. The committee reprinted it word-for-word, with not a single deletion or insertion. It was not until nearly eight hours after the article first appeared that it was changed. Yet, the AP, on February 15, omitted that fact in order to falsely assert that the committee "re-edited" a story and misleadingly "posted it as an AP piece." The subsequent Stevens article did not contain this "example" of the committee editing articles, though it did continue to refer to "re-edited AP articles."

The excerpt posted by the Democratic Committee did omit two sentences that were favorable to Clinton -- an omission not noted in the February 15 AP article. The sentences read: "Thirty-seven percent of voters polled said they would prefer someone other than Clinton, a potential 2008 Democratic presidential contender, in the Senate seat. Joseph Caruso, Siena's Research Institute director, noted Clinton was sporting a 60 percent favorability rating statewide."

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