The Associated Press (AP) faces a seeming contradiction in its reporting standards. The AP fired a veteran reporter who wrote an inaccurate article about then-Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, however, they have continually backed a reporter who wrote inaccurate articles regarding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its administrator, Scott Pruitt.
In 2013, the AP fired veteran Virginia politics reporter Bob Lews and Richmond editor Dena Potter after Lewis wrote an erroneous article about gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. Lewis contended in the article that McAuliffe lied to federal investigators regarding a death benefits scam. The AP retracted the story two hours after the article was published and subsequently Lewis and Potter were terminated.
Politicians and other media figures were aghast at Lewis’ termination, believing that the AP overreacted.
The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) contended that the Associated Press was right to fire Bob Lewis regarding his reporting standards, even to the chagrin of fellow journalists. The CJR wrote:
Many journalists are outraged the AP would fire its longtime Virginia capitol reporter over one serious mistake that was retracted in 98 minutes. There’s even a petition demanding that the AP reinstate him and two other editors who were also fired. As much as I truly hate to write this, and as much as I empathize as a fellow journalist, the AP was right to fire Virginia capitol statehouse reporter Bob Lewis and the supervisor who edited the story. In his 112-word story, Lewis accused Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe of lying to a federal investigator about a death benefits scam in Rhode Island, then didn’t give the candidate enough time to respond. Lewis wrongly believed the initials TM in court documents referred to McAuliffe. They did not.
Politico, at the time, argued that firing Lewis was meant to send a strong message regarding the AP’s reporting standards. Politico wrote, “The move, according to sources familiar with the AP’s thinking, was meant to send a clear signal that such mistakes could not be tolerated by an international news organization that prides itself on accuracy.”
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe remains a close personal friend of the Clinton family. Bill Clinton once said of McAuliffe, “I love Terry McAuliffe — and his wife and his five kids.” Clinton said a rally for McAullife in 2013, “I’d be here if he were 50 points behind instead of about to be your next governor.”
Now, the AP remains seemingly embroiled in a contradiction of its reporting standards in its recent battles with the EPA.
The Associated Press and its environmental reporter Michael Biesecker invented an imaginary meeting between EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Dow Chemical Company chief executive Andrew Liveris and then argued some impropriety occurred between the two public figures. A Breitbart News investigation led to a correction by the AP, which originally resisted the charge that they had reported erroneously on the relationship between Pruitt and Liveris.
“Administrator Scott Pruitt did not meet privately with Andrew Liveris, the CEO of Dow,” Liz Bowman, the EPA’s spokeswoman, told Breitbart News. “The AP article is inaccurate and misleading. Despite multiple attempts to provide the Associated Press with the facts, this article has not been corrected.”
Biesecker’s error-prone reporting did not end with that article. The EPA wrote a scathing press release, contending that the AP wrote a misleading article regarding the EPA’s cleanup efforts during Hurricane Harvey.
The Associated Press wrote an article suggesting that the EPA did not take adequate steps to safeguard Superfund sites — areas that have become polluted by hazardous materials and have been listed by the EPA to be cleaned up.
The agency countered the AP’s report. The EPA said, “Despite reporting from the comfort of Washington, Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. Not only is this inaccurate, but it creates panic and politicizes the hard work of first responders who are actually in the affected area.”
The EPA contends that, of the 41 Superfund sites in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, 28 show no damage and only 13 experienced flooding. Further, Biesecker ignored that the EPA and state officials worked with responsible parties to secure contaminated areas before the hurricane hit. The EPA suggested, “Leaving out this critical information is misleading.”
EPA Associate Administrator Liz Bowman said in a statement regarding Biesecker’s most recent article, “Once again, in an attempt to mislead Americans, the Associated Press is cherry-picking facts, as EPA is monitoring Superfund sites around Houston and we have a team of experts on the ground working with our state and local counterparts responding to Hurricane Harvey. Anything to the contrary is yellow journalism.”
An EPA staffer told The Washington Post that Biesecker primarily looks for negative information in EPA press releases.
“We are able to see who opens our emails,” says the EPA official, referring to press-release blasts sent out by the agency. “Michael very rarely opens a positive story about [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt. He only opens stories where he tries to create problems.”
Another EPA staffer told the Erik Wemple Blog that Biesecker and the Associated Press went too far to report on the Hurricane Harvey-affected Superfund sites. Biesecker visited EPA Superfund sites and determined that the agency did not take adequate steps to safeguard the contaminated areas.
“I’ve never experienced in my career at EPA this kind of thing happening, where the reporter shows up at a devastated site and makes his own determination,” notes the EPA staffer. The official contends that trained officials could make better determinations of the status of an EPA Superfund site.
Journalists from ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, and Bloomberg, in fact, joined agency officials throughout affected areas.
“Crews were able to take videos, photographs and talk directly with technical staff and subject matter experts on the ground,” read an EPA press release. “Boats were on the water determining impacts at the temporary armored cap in the San Jacinto River, to provide access to the crews.”
AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee stood by Biesecker’s reporting.
The discrepancy between the reaction to the McAullife and EPA stories raises the question: does the AP have different inaccurate reporting standards towards Republicans compared to Democrats?
Buzbee said in a statement, “We stand by our original reporting and provided the EPA with ample time to respond to our questions. We included the EPA’s responses when they were provided.”