The AP's Ron Fournier asserted in a 2007 essay that reporters must "[w]rite with authority" and that "[t]he AP's hard-earned reputation for fairness and nonpartisanship must not be used as an excuse for fuzzy language when a clear voice is demanded." But Fournier apparently did not follow his own prescription for clarity and candor in responding to a report that he told Karl Rove to "[k]eep up the fight" following the death of Pat Tillman in 2004.
A July 14 proposed House Oversight and Government Reform committee report stated that, in the wake of the death of former pro football player and Army Cpl. Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in April 2004, then-White House senior adviser Karl Rove asked Ron Fournier, then a reporter for the AP, and now its acting Washington bureau chief: "How does our country continue to produce men and women like [Tillman]?" As noted by the TPM Muckraker blog, according to the report, Fournier replied, "The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight." In an article about the congressional report, the AP reported that Fournier said the following:
I was an AP political reporter at the time of the 2004 e-mail exchange, and was interacting with a source, a top aide to the president, in the course of following an important and compelling story. I regret the breezy nature of the correspondence.
Fournier apparently offered no explanation for his statement to Rove to"[k]eep up the fight."
In a June 2007 essay in the AP's internal newsletter on how to fulfill reporters' "obligation" to "hold public officials accountable," Fournier wrote that "[w]e can and we must not only tell people what happened in politics today, but why it happened; what it might mean for our readers and their families and what it might reveal about the people who presume to be our leaders." In the essay, titled "Accountability Journalism: Liberating reporters and the truth," he stated that AP journalists should "[w]rite with authority," explaining that "[t]he AP's hard-earned reputation for fairness and nonpartisanship must not be used as an excuse for fuzzy language when a clear voice is demanded nor should it force us to give both sides of a story equal play when one side is plainly wrong." He continued:
Shortly after Katrina struck, I dutifully reported that President Bush had said nobody anticipated the breach of the levees. In fact, many experts had predicted a major storm would bust New Orleans' flood-control barriers. In the past, that's all I would have written; readers would get both sides of the story and then be expected to draw their own conclusion. This time, I went a step further and simply wrote: He was wrong." Why not? Why force the readers to read between carefully parsed lines when the facts are clear? Why not just get to the point? The president of the United States was wrong. The governor lied. The congressman broke his promise. The preacher, the CEO, the banker, the coach, or whomever, failed. Don't mince words. John Dowling put it this way in a note to me: "We can write with authority when we've got the facts that let us say unequivocally what happened. Too often we depend on the government and its critics to tell us what happened, and we end up with he said/she said stories that never get to the bottom line. [no closing quote in original]
From the proposed House Oversight and Government Reform committee report, which has not been voted on by the committee (footnotes omitted):
Several high-level staff members of President Bush's reelection campaign contacted White House officials to suggest public responses to Corporal Tillman's death. Matthew Dowd, the campaign's chief strategist, sent an e-mail to Mr. Bartlett, writing, "You hear about pat tilman? Potus should call his family or go to Arizona or his hometown."
Mark McKinnon, the campaign's media advisor, also e-mailed Mr. Bartlett, saying: "Realize President really shouldn't do anything that he hasn't done for any other soldier killed in the military, but certainly think he could say something about he exemplifies the ultimate in humility, heroism and sacrifice."
Commentators and reporters contacted the White House to offer advice. For example, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan e-mailed the White House's Director of Strategic Initiatives, Peter Wehner, recommending that he "find out what faith Tillman practiced and have the president go by that church and light a candle or say a prayer." Karl Rove exchanged e-mails about Pat Tillman with Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier, under the subject line "H-E-R-O." In response to Mr. Fournier's e-mail, Mr. Rove asked, "How does our country continue to produce men and women like this," to which Mr. Fournier replied, "The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight."
In total, the White House staff sent or received nearly 200 e-mails relating to Corporal Tillman's death on April 23, 2004.