By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

More on Fournier and the AP

Some years ago I remember reading a profile of Ron Fournier, who was then fairly new as a political reporter for the Associated Press.

It’s not likely I’m going to find a link at this late date, so I’ll have to rely on my memory. What I recall was his saying he’d never been all that interested in politics, an attitude he thought had helped him break some stories. He was a hard-news reporter, not a partisan.

Well, now. I want to follow up my post of earlier today, because I think Fournier’s “analysis” of the Joe Biden pick is remarkable enough that we shouldn’t let go of it too quickly. It’s not that Fournier’s anti-Obama bias is so obvious, though it is. It’s that his take is embarrassingly dumb and shallow. A news analysis is an odd duck; neither a news story nor an opinion piece, it is supposed to make sense of the news. Fournier’s attempt fails dismally.

Steve Stein has posted some terrific links, and I recommend the Washington Monthly item he flags. What I like about that item, written by Steve Benen, is that it gets to the heart of how lazy Fournier is to suggest that Barack Obama’s choice shows a “lack of confidence” in his reformist, outsider message. As Benen notes, you could say that about any vice-presidential pick: if Obama had chosen Hillary Clinton, it would show a “lack of confidence” that he could win the women’s vote without her. You get the idea. Benen also notes that Fournier nearly took a job with the McCain campaign in 2007.

Drilling down a little further, Eric Boehlert’s excellent overview — which gathers everything from Fournier’s inappropriately supportive e-mail to Karl Rove to his supplying McCain with his favorite donuts (ooh, sprinkles!) — links out to a Politico piece that explains Fournier’s rationale for the AP’s increasingly edgy, opinionated journalism. Michael Calderone writes:

Fournier is a main engine in a high-stakes experiment at the 162-year old wire to move from its signature neutral and detached tone to an aggressive, plain-spoken style of writing that Fournier often describes as “cutting through the clutter.”

In the stories the new boss is encouraging, first-person writing and emotive language are okay.

So is scrapping the stonefaced approach to journalism that accepts politicians’ statements at face value and offers equal treatment to all sides of an argument. Instead, reporters are encouraged to throw away the weasel words and call it like they see it when they think public officials have revealed themselves as phonies or flip-floppers.

I’m not buying it. I’m no fan of traditional objectivity and its passive reliance on official statements. But we need tough, fair, neutral reporting more than ever, and it seems to me that the AP ought to be at the forefront of providing it. With regional newspapers cutting back on their national and international coverage, this should be a chance for the AP to shine.

In an e-mail to Media Nation, Stephen Burgard, director of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University (i.e., my chairman), writes:

I read Fournier’s “analysis” before checking your blog today and was independently appalled. Since when is choosing somebody knowledgeable in foreign affairs and the Senate Judiciary Committee, who balances a ticket as well, a sign of lack of confidence or weakness?

The suggestion that the confident move would be to bring in somebody inexperienced who represents the “politics of change” and “hope” is ludicrous; it’s something you might expect to see in a student lefty publication, not from the AP, which is supposed to understand how presidential politics works.

I can’t help remembering that the AP’s Walter Mears wrote the book on the journalistic form “news analysis.” In addition to writing good ones, he was able to explain what they were when done right. Not straight news stories. Not opinion pieces. But somehow interpretive in a way that shed an informed reporter’s light beyond just being a stenographer of events.

Perhaps Fournier thinks he was being “intrepretive.” He wasn’t. Fournier may well be in the tank for McCain, but I would feel only slightly better if he were dishing it out equally to both sides. The fact is that Fournier’s “analysis” is a piece of pure opinion, unsophisticated and uninformed.

It’s not just that it should have been better. It’s that we depend on the AP to provide us with something fundamentally different.

Photo of Fournier by Josh Hallett and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Prospecticus

    He is what he is. If AP doesn’t care, why should we? It’s their rep. If they want to pay a price for employing a ringer, so be it. It’s even better than the gay prostitute in the White House press corps who asked the solicitous questions.

  2. Bill Baar

    Check this from Foreign Policy in Focus: Biden, Iraq, and Obama’s Betrayal.The old Biden who talked tough on Saddam long before Bush. Back when I voted for Gore Lieberman because I couldn’t stand Bush’s trashing of Nation Building.

  3. Mark

    I hate news analysis pieces. I think it is an awkward position to have to put a reporter in.But I don’t hear as much outrage over these pieces when the pieces are (as they usually are) written from a liberal perspective.

  4. Rick

    “But I don’t hear as much outrage over these pieces when the pieces are (as they usually are) written from a liberal perspective.” Tha AP ? Liberal perspective?Say it ain’t so

  5. Steve

    Mark – examples please? From AP?

  6. Aaron Read

    He is what he is. If AP doesn’t care, why should we? Because a FRIGHTENING number of news outlets in TV, radio and print all get their own news from the AP Wire (or modern equivalent).The sad truth is that for most news outlets, they’re not doing their own reporting…they’re just reprinting the AP word-for-word. Or they’ll have a local reporter do a re-write of an AP story to give it some local flavor, but at its core it’s still an AP story.If AP has institutional bias, then an awful lot of the entire news industry does. That’s why it’s been so critical that for years the AP has been remarkably neutral. Note that I don’t say “central”, which implies “balance”, itself a bias of sorts.

  7. hocky201

    I’ll reserve judgement until we see his “analysis” of McCain’s pick.

  8. Peter Porcupine

    Steve – For liberal AP reporting, I would refer you to the outrageous and rude behaviour of Glenn Johnson, AP reporter covering Romney, who did his level best to sink that candidacy from his comfortable perch sprawled on the floor.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    PP: Can we get past the sitting-on-the-floor trope? Anyone who has spent more than a couple of hours on the campaign trail knows that reports grab a spot anywhere they can. Johnson had his laptop open and was working. I saw him doing exactly the same thing when I was following Bush around South Carolina in 2000, only on that occasion he was in a hotel corridor by himself.But hold on, now … the criticism of Fournier isn’t that he’s conservative, but that he’s a partisan for McCain. Glen Johnson is his own person, and I don’t mean to suggest that he was doing Fournier’s bidding. But by going after Romney that day, Johnson was not showing that the AP is even-handed. Instead, he was providing further evidence that the AP is in the tank for McCain.Although, personally, I think Johnson was just being an aggressive reporter — perhaps too aggressive, as he prevented Romney from speaking. (And perhaps from digging himself in even deeper.)

  10. Steve

    PP: Aren’t reporters allowed to challenge candidates without being accused of partisanship? I’ve Googled Johnson’s reporting on Romney, and aside from the Kaufman kerfuffle, I didn’t see any really anti-Romney advocacy in his reporting. I didn’t pick up any strain of advocacy from him for any particular candidate. Examples?

  11. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: I may not have expressed myself clearly. I don’t think Johnson was being partisan. I do think he got too aggressive. A reporter shouldn’t inject himself into it so much that he prevents the candidate from speaking. As I argued at the time, Johnson’s interruption may have stopped Romney from telling an even bigger lie.On the other hand, the reason for Romney’s lie, and for his utter frustration, may be clearer now than it was then. Apparently Romney had been trying to get the media to report more on McCain’s extravagant ties to lobbyists, which was certainly not an area that Ron Fournier’s AP wanted to explore. What Romney should have said was, “My ties to lobbyists are practically non-existent compared to John McCain’s.” But Romney always needs to go one step farther than that.

  12. tan florence

    I was not interested to disscus the analysis, because i hate the analysis news.i cannot understand what his opinion was.In medias frightening news was there. To discuss this type of topics are really good.———————-Arizona Alcohol Addiction Treatment

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