We’ve taken a battering in recent days for an Associated Press article about Trump’s speech and fireworks show at Mount Rushmore Saturday that ran in our latest weekend edition.
We deserve it.
As a news organization, we pay a considerable amount to be members of the AP so that we can provide coverage of world, national and regional events that may have some import here locally. While that relationship isn’t going away anytime soon, we plan to do a better job of making sure we edit their content to ensure opinion is never presented as fact.
The truth is, we rely heavily on AP for coverage of events we simply don’t have the ways and means to cover otherwise. When you see that dateline, that means a reporter was there. One reader asked on Facebook why we didn’t just watch the speech on television and cover it ourselves. In this instance, we’d have done a better job than AP if we had, but the fact remains that you simply can’t get the same color and detail if you aren’t actually on the scene.
The AP was founded in 1846 and has long been entrusted as an unbiased source for award-winning news from around the globe. Its 53 Pulitzer Prizes, including 31 for photography, are a testimony to that legacy.
The story we ran in our weekend edition, however, could not by any stretch of the imagination be considered unbiased. The reporters used incendiary language to set a tone that painted the speech in a negative light. There’s no excuse for that kind of editorializing in a news piece, and a journalistic tone should convey what happened without providing an opinion.
Did the AP just have an off night? Were they, as our publisher pondered in an email to the editorial staff member responsible for running it, “in some alternate universe or something?” Or, as some of our Facebook followers have suggested, is the Associated Press actually biased? The fact remains that the AP writers, and the editors who released this story, didn’t play it straight up, and that in turn hurts the credibility of every news organization that picked it up.
The website AllSides (allsides.com) offers media bias ratings for nearly 600 media outlets by “using a patented media bias detection and display technology that drives what is arguably the world’s most effective and up-to-date media bias detection engine … powered by the best statistical research and methodologies,” according to its site.
AllSides uses multiple methods for calculating media bias ratings, including a blind bias survey, but it’s not the only method they use.
“A source might openly share its bias, or it may be determined by third-party research, an independent review or an editorial review,” the site states.
Their media bias ratings are “left,” “lean left,” “center,” “lean right” and “right.”
“Note that ‘center’ does not always mean unbiased, neutral or reasonable, just as ‘far left’ and ‘far right’ do not always mean ‘extreme’ or ‘unreasonable,”’ AllSides states. “Think of our bias ratings as points of view, each providing pieces of the puzzle, to help you gain a more holistic view.”
AllSides gives the AP a media bias rating of “center” with a confidence level of “medium.” However, a February 2020 AllSides blind bias survey found that the AP has a “lean left” bias, which led the site to conduct an editorial review.
The AllSides team — which includes an equal number of people from the left, center and right of the political spectrum — generally agreed that AP is somewhat on the border of “lean left” and “center,” but determined they did not have enough evidence to shift its rating to “lean left.”
“AP News’ fact check section, however, has a ‘lean left’ bias,” the site states.
The full AP rating and review findings can be read at tinyurl.com/ybkchkrl. While you’re there, you might find it useful to click on the “media bias” tab at the top of the page to see how some of your favorite news sources are ranked.
The AllSides team findings were that while AP’s articles largely do not display bias, “sometimes AP uses emotive language in its headlines, and the outlet may sometimes provide interpretation in its news articles rather than straight factual reporting.”
That seemed to be our readers findings when it came to AP’s coverage of the Mount Rushmore event. And we agree.
We’ll be keeping a more critical eye on their articles moving forward. As always, this is intended to be the only page where opinion has a place in our newspaper.