The leftist activist that the Associated Press hired as a freelancer to sneak into a private event with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway in New Hampshire, it turns out, violated the AP’s editorial standards.
But the Associated Press is refusing to publicly and transparently clarify that its freelance journalist Melanie Plenda did in fact engage in leftwing activism in violation of the newswire’s editorial standards, issuing instead a vague statement that implies she violated the outlet’s standards.
“AP standards require employees to refrain from sharing political views in any public forum,” AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton told New Hampshire Public Radio about the incident involving Plenda, the leftist activist the AP hired to sneak into the NHGOP’s Conway event.
When asked a series of detailed questions about the matter, Easton sent the exact same statement to Breitbart News–and noted that the AP has, as of Wednesday afternoon, issued a correction to the incorrect reporting that Plenda’s activism fed into the AP newswires.
Plenda has not responded to a request for comment on this matter, specifically about the inaccuracies she reported to the AP or about her violation of AP standards.
On her Facebook page on Nov. 10, 2016, Plenda made a direct call to action against incoming President Donald Trump, overtly stating her efforts to become part of the resistance against the new administration.
The decision to make a public political call to action is a clear violation of what Easton says are the AP’s “standards,” but she has thus far refused to publicly and clearly acknowledge that the freelancing Plenda is in violation of AP ethical guidelines–or to answer detailed questions about Plenda or others involved in this inaccurate and unethical activity at the AP.
Easton has also refused to answer whether Plenda will continue filing freelance copy for the AP newswires, or whether the outlet is done with her.
“We refrain from commenting on personnel matters,” Easton told Breitbart News.
Perhaps what is most troubling is that for several days, the AP refused to issue the correction to the inaccurate reporting–not doing so until Wednesday afternoon after immense public pressure and multiple detailed inquiries from Breitbart News and public complaints from the New Hampshire GOP.
The AP still refuses to transparently answer questions about the serious breach in ethics and accuracy, something that could have wider ranging implications for the newswire and embattled media industry as a whole.
Plenda has since deleted the Facebook posting in question, but Breitbart News published a screenshot of it this week:
No more crying from me,” Plenda wrote in the now-deleted Facebook post. “Now is the time for action. We need to remember this feeling, the pain in our hearts, the fire in our bellies, because we need it to fight. Not with guns and fists but with protests, with our thoughtful words and reasoned arguments, with factchecking and canvassing for midterm candidates and our votes for the same, for defending and supporting those targeted by our president elect. We need to support the ACLU, we need to run for office, we need to oppose legislation that seeks to hurt and further marginalize, we need to join advocacy groups, we need to not be silent. There are a lot of us–roughly more than half the country to be exact–who said Trump’s vision of the future is not what we want our country to be. We are not powerless. We do not need to roll over or go back to sleep. We don’t need to be obstructionist just for the sake, but we do need to peacefully fight for what is right. In that way we will preserve our system of checks and balances and take the teeth out of whatever Trump has planned for the country. Alright. Off I go.
Off she went indeed, into the AP’s ranks as a freelancer in New Hampshire. That activism culminated last week in an effort to sneak into the private Conway event that the New Hampshire Republican Party was holding and inaccurately report on the details of the event.
Conway was holding a fundraiser for the New Hampshire GOP in Nashua, New Hampshire, last week. The event was closed to the press, and was a private, ticketed event.
Plenda showed up and snuck inside, then wrote a piece that mischaracterized Conway’s remarks and the crowd size of the private event—a piece that the Associated Press published on its newswire. The piece claimed that only 150 people showed up—there were actually more than 400, the NHGOP says, providing a photograph of the crowd as proof—and that Conway’s comments were not well-received by the audience.
The NHGOP has gone on the attack afterwards, highlighting Plenda’s activist past and her call to action against President Trump on Facebook—the statement she made that violates AP standards—to note that she is an “activist,” not a reporter, and that anything she writes cannot be trusted.
“The Associated Press in New Hampshire appears to be engaged in leftwing activism rather than journalism,” Pat Hynes of the NHGOP told Breitbart News for a piece published this week. “And Melanie Plenda is a leftwing activist not a journalist.”
In response to the NHGOP calling out her activism masquerading as journalism, and Breitbart News’s exposé on it, Plenda has gone around New Hampshire claiming she is a victim of unfair criticism.
She says, according to New Hampshire Public Radio, that her email has been flooded with messages “just calling me vile names and calling me fat and calling me ugly and questioning my integrity and saying I’m a leftist.”
Plenda also claimed on her Facebook page that she has been the “target of harassment” by New Hampshire GOP officials.
“Since covering the Spring Victory Dinner where Kellyanne Conway was a speaker for the Associated Press I have been the target of harassment by Patrick Hynes and Jeannie Forrester with the #NHGOP,” she wrote on her Facebook page late Tuesday. “They believe that I sneaked into the event and then lied about the crowd count.”
In her Facebook post, Plenda continues by claiming she did not in fact sneak into the event—and that she did not lie about the crowd size.
“I did not [sneak into the event],” she said. “I stood outside an open door at a public event until an attendee invited me in. I did my job. I covered a public event featuring Kellyanne Conway and told people about it. And in exchange, these people and their followers are determined to ruin me, to crush me completely. Seems disproportionate.”
The facts lay out a different story. Not only was the outlet she freelanced for—the Associated Press—well aware of the fact media was not allowed inside the event well beforehand, but Plenda has changed her story in multiple accounts throughout the course of the past several days.
First and foremost, the AP—Breitbart News can confirm independently for the first time—was well aware that the event was closed press and not open to the media. A voicemail that New Hampshire-based AP staff correspondent Michael Casey left for the state GOP confirms that he and the Associated Press were indeed aware that the event was not a public event beforehand and reporters would not be allowed inside.
Casey says in the voicemail, obtained by Breitbart News:
Hi, this is Mike Casey with the Associated Press. I’m just trying to reach Jeanie Forrester [the NHGOP chairwoman] regarding the event tonight. I understand it’s closed to the media but I just wanted to see if anyone who’s involved in the event will be able to talk about whether KellyAnne will be coming out and talking to the press or giving any availability.
Then he left his phone number, which Breitbart News is not printing here.
Casey has declined to comment for this piece, instead referring Breitbart News back to Easton—the AP’s spokeswoman—for comment. She has not responded to multiple questions on this voicemail obtained by Breitbart News, nor other questions on this matter.
Easton and Casey both have also not answered when asked specifically whether Plenda attended the event of her own accord, or whether someone from the Associated Press asked her to attend the event—even though they knew reporters were not allowed inside.
Plenda has not responded to multiple questions Breitbart News sent her, including whether she was paid for the story. In her Facebook posting after the fact, however, she says that this episode “has already cost me work and I am assuming it will into the future.”
It’s worth noting that Casey’s comments in his voicemail directly contradict public statements that Plenda has written about the incident after the fact on her Facebook page. In the aforementioned Tuesday evening Facebook comment, Plenda claimed at least twice that the event was a “public event.”
The event was not a “public event.” It was a private, ticketed event which was closed to the media. The Associated Press, as evidenced by Casey’s voicemail in which he said he and the AP “understand it’s closed to the media,” was aware of this fact before Plenda appeared at it.
Secondly, and perhaps equally as importantly, Plenda’s report for the AP mischaracterized the crowd size of the event. She has since admitted that the original report she wrote—and that the Associated Press published—was wrong in claiming there were only 150 people present. In multiple media outlets, Plenda has acknowledged she got this basic and critical detail incorrect.
“She said it is possible her crowd estimate, which she approximated after the event, was off,” the New Hampshire Union Leader, a newspaper in Manchester for which Plenda has also freelanced, wrote after interviewing her.
“Plenda also concedes that she might have been wrong about the crowd size…” New Hampshire Public Radio, for which Plenda also freelances, wrote after interviewing her.
On her Facebook in an addendum to her lengthy Tuesday evening post, Plenda wrote that: “I am the first to admit I stink at estimating crowd size.”
She also admitted that she did not properly report on the crowd size—and blamed an Associated Press editor for the mistake.
Plenda wrote on Facebook:
In my original notes to the AP, from which an editor wrote the actual story, I said it was a packed house and estimated the crowd at 150. He wrote the 150. Furthermore, I was doing the estimate after the actual event and not during, so I was doing it from memory, because I didn’t think my editor would be interested in a crowd count since what he originally wanted was for me to just talk to Ms. Conway and get an interview. It is entirely possible I was off and I would have gladly corrected the number.
It is unclear who that editor was, and since Associated Press personnel are not answering questions about this matter transparently, it is unclear if Plenda is telling the truth on this point after incorrectly noting the crowd size and after making other lapses in accuracy during the process.
Either way, the excuse that she gives here still does not adequately answer how inaccurate information made it onto the Associated Press wires from an activist posing as a journalist in violation of AP standards—who snuck inside a private event.
The final and perhaps also equally important point here is that Plenda has changed her story at least once about how she got into the private event without a ticket in the first place.
The Associated Press, when first faced with criticism, told New Hampshire outlet WMUR—presumably at Plenda’s direction—that she “was invited in by a woman who appeared to be part of the event.” But that story has since changed, under more scrutiny, to Plenda saying per New Hampshire Public Radio that she was invited in by “someone who seemed like a guest.”
Plenda, Easton, and the AP have not answered questions as to how Associated Press readers can trust the wires now, when a reporter can’t get basic details correct—like who supposedly invited her into an event or the crowd size—the first time around. The only other public statement that Easton, speaking on behalf of the AP, has made other than her comments to Breitbart News is a declaration that the AP stands by the story.
“A freelancer covering the NHGOP fundraiser for AP was outside the event when she was invited in by a woman who appeared to be a part of the event,” Easton told New Hampshire Public Radio for a piece published early Wednesday. “AP stands by its reporting.”
But the AP has since issued a correction that undercuts the core of the piece. With the word “correction” in the headline, and a full new opening paragraph, the AP threw the freelancer under the bus when it realized she filed an inaccurate report.
“In a story May 18 about presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway speaking to supporters in New Hampshire, The Associated Press erroneously estimated the number in attendance as about 150 people,” the correction reads. “Further reporting has indicated the hotel ballroom, which seats 500, was near capacity. A corrected version of the story is below.”
This also has bigger implications for the Associated Press, and media as a whole. The AP’s White House correspondent, Julie Pace, sits on the board of the White House Correspondents Association. Easton has not answered why other media outlets should trust having the AP there on the WHCA board when the outlet employs, even as a freelancer, someone who engages in the above-detailed behavior and is in clear violation of the AP’s own editorial standards.
The WHCA has come under intense criticism in the Trump era, with President Trump breaking tradition by refusing to appear at the organization’s annual dinner. He was the first sitting president in decades—since Ronald Reagan was recovering from a botched assassination attempt in the early days of his administration—to not appear at the annual dinner. As the media comes under more scrutiny in the coming days, weeks, and months, it is likely the AP’s decision to employ someone who violates its standards—and its subsequent handling of this episode—will be part of that discussion.
Multiple other outlets’ White House correspondents, who wish to remain anonymous for the time being, have privately told Breitbart News they are shocked at the Associated Press’s conduct on this matter. They say they wish the newswire would do something to rectify the situation soon, because they are concerned such a blatant violation of journalistic standards further hurts the media’s already waning credibility with the public.
It is unclear if the correction the AP finally issued, after several days of resisting and publicly issuing statements standing by the inaccuracies in Plenda’s piece, will do enough to assuage these concerns, or if the AP will need to be more transparent about this issue.
Pace, who otherwise has been a uniquely fair White House reporter in the Trump administration, has also not responded to a Breitbart News inquiry on this matter. That is understandable, however, as she is traveling overseas with the president on his first overseas trip.