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Associated Press releases statement about Raw Story accusations which contradicts their own source

RAW STORY
Published: Tuesday April 4, 2006

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In an email statement issued late last week, the Associated Press accused RAW STORY of false allegations regarding their Mar. 13 article on national security clearances. Their retort, which said our claims were “absolutely false,” is in direct contradiction to the account of the individual who provided the agency with the story.

Following is the statement from AP, and then our response.

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To: RawStory.com

From: Linda Wagner, AP's Director of Media Relations and Public Affairs:

The Raw Story assertion that AP plagiarized and then admitted it is absolutely false. The AP story in question, on new U.S. policies that could increase security clearance hurdles for gay employees, came to AP as a tip from an advocacy group. AP then did independent reporting and found the policy document on the National Archives web site, www.archives.gov/isoo/, which was included in the original AP story. We were not aware of the Raw Story work until the following afternoon when someone from Raw Story called.

An AP spokesman did tell Raw Story that AP does not credit blogs, but he was mistaken. AP does credit blogs when we are aware that they have broken a story first. The spokesman then called Raw Story back to correct his misstatement. Raw Story seems to have taken that correction as an admission of plagiarism, which it emphatically is not.

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To: The Associated Press

From: John Byrne, Executive Editor of Raw Story

First, let me be clear. I was ready to let this go. But AP's latest statement is factually inaccurate, and frankly, outrageous.

I am sincerely disappointed that the Associated Press continues to take credit for our work. Throughout the process of seeking a correction, Raw Story has been maligned by agents of the Associated Press and the agency has repeatedly used half-truths and distortions to misrepresent the events in question. I enjoyed my conversations with Jack Stokes, AP's Director of Media Relations, who I thought did a responsible and careful job of hearing us out. But AP's account of the events are simply inaccurate; they are contradicted by their own conversations with RAW STORY and their own sources.

Raw Story received an anonymous tip Feb. 28, 2006 which alerted us to changes in the National Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information. While comparing the revised 2005 document with a document produced under the Clinton Administration, we found that the Administration had made small but significant changes to policy, which might prevent gays and lesbians from being granted government clearances.

We reported this Mar. 13. On Mar. 14, the Associated Press filed an article covering the same topic.

I was outraged – but not surprised – to discover the agency had not credited us for our work. Instead, the article attributed the discovery to gay advocacy groups. This was false. The group in the article, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, confirmed late last week that they had sent a link to an AP reporter which tracked back to our article, and had not claimed credit for discovering the story.

The following day, I left a message for AP’s Katy Shraeder, who had written the article. In a second call, she said she wasn’t certain where she had discovered it. This call was incredibly frustrating; I now believe Ms. Shraeder to have been fudging the facts during our conversation.

We repeated to Ms. Shraeder what we had been told – that both of the gay rights groups who tipped her to the story had presented her with our article. We asked when the AP would make a correction, as both of her sources told us she had erred.

“Issuing a correction?” she replied. “Uh, I don't know that we correct anything.”

Asked why she didn’t credit Raw Story, she said, “Last night I did a Google search to see what the bloggers had to say about it. It was really difficult to pin down who wrote what.”

Startled, we repeated what we’d said already, that both of the main sources in the story reassured us on the record that they had told her of the source of the story.

“I don't know if that's true.”

“Have you ever heard of Raw Story?”

“I found the story last night,” she replied, “but there's a lot of chatter out there about this very issue and it's very difficult to pin down who breaks what first.”

The following day, Ms. Shraeder filed a second version of her article. This piece didn't credit Raw Story either. You might imagine, then, why the AP's most recent statement left us fuming.

I understand that it's often difficult to find out who breaks a story first. But I was shocked when I learned that the individual quoted in Shraeder's article had sent her an email that provided a link to a summary of our story with a link back to our original article.

RAW STORY spoke with Steve Ralls, the communications director for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, who says he first tipped Shraeder to the story. He is quoted in Ms. Shraeder’s article. Mr. Ralls explained that he had sent a link to his group’s blog, with a link to a summary of our article that in turn linked to our article directly.

“I emailed a contact at the Associated Press who SLDN regularly works with. My email included a very brief synopsis of what was happening, and a link to this SLDN blog entry,” Mr. Ralls said.

“As you can see,” he said, “the SLDN blog entry includes a link to Page One Q, which in turns links to Raw Story.”

PageOneQ, a gay news service formerly part of Raw Story, wrote a summary of the article and mailed it to gay advocacy groups and the gay press.

Applying high standards for credit

What’s shocking to me is that the AP returned with a statement of such intensity. I was sorely disappointed to discover that AP’s high standards and integrity apparently don’t apply when covering the work of the online media. For a news agency with such an outstanding legacy of trust and perseverance, this attempt to attack other reporters who found a story the AP would never have discovered – and to profit from our work – is appalling.

The AP takes issue with our characterization of their story as plagiarism. I stand behind that assessment. To quote the Oxford English Dictionary, plagiarism is “the action or practice of plagiarizing; the wrongful appropriation or purloining, and publication as one's own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas (literary, artistic, musical, mechanical, etc.) of another.”

Whether the AP used the exact language for their story that we did is irrelevant. They knowingly took credit for our work and appear to have lied about how they were informed. That is journalistic theft.

Not everyone agrees. Steve Ralls, who tipped Shraeder to the story, says he thinks Shraeder did a thorough job.

“There have been some web reports accusing the AP of plagarism. I do not believe that to be true,” Mr. Ralls said. “A valid debate can be had about recognizing the original source of the information, but Katy at the Associated Press did not, in my opinion, plagarize anyone's story. My experience was that she did a thorough job of researching the matter and a thorough job of making sure her report was accurate and insightful.”

Still, it’s high time the mainstream media evaluated their prejudices surrounding the online press – particularly those which have grown from a circulation of zero to 400,000 in two years. I was delighted to see that they corrected a story in order to credit original reporting done by Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker. It’s time the AP corrected this story as well, and apologized for their attacks.