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Associated Press says they based article on Raw Story report but refuses to credit or correct

John Byrne
Published: Tuesday March 28, 2006

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The Associated Press has confirmed using a Raw Story report as the basis for a Mar. 14 article detailing a change to national security clearance policies but has refused to issue credit for the piece.

Their article, "Security Clearance Rules May Impede Gays," signaled an apparent Bush Administration attempt to tighten security clearances with regard to gay Americans. It attributed the discovery of the clearance changes to gay rights groups – a factually inaccurate statement which the agency has refused to correct. The discovery was made by Larisa Alexandrovna, Raw Story's Managing News Editor, and John Byrne, Raw Story's Executive Editor.

Raw Story picked the wording out of an extended document released in December. AP ran a story the following day, highlighting the same item and using similar language.

Two gay rights groups, Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers' Legal Defense Network, confirmed they had used Raw Story's article and notes distributed by Raw Story as the basis of their conversations with the AP reporter. The AP later admitted they had learned of the change from the Raw Story article. Raw Story’s article, along with notes intended to help groups speak to its contents, was sent to gay groups by Michael Rogers, a gay activist who runs PageOneQ.com.

In response to inquiries about the errant wording – “lesbian and gay advocacy groups recently found the change” – AP’s Director of Media Relations Jack Stokes has said the language had been carefully worded. The AP disputes Raw Story’s claim that their report was inaccurate.

Raw Story had requested a correction from the AP late last week. Katherine Shrader, the AP national security correspondent who authored the article, told us she had spoken with her editor and that no correction would be made.

"I've talked it over with our bureau chief and we're not going to be doing that," Shrader said.

In a return call, Shrader refused to talk further and referred calls to AP’s corporate communications office.

Raw Story then spoke with Jack Stokes, AP’s Director of Media Relations. Stokes took careful notes regarding our concerns and said he would investigate our claims. He found that the AP had, indeed, gotten our article from "human rights groups" but that it was AP policy not to credit blogs.

"It does turn out that we don't give mentions to blogs when we're researching our stories and when we've been given material by others such as in this case human rights groups that brought this stuff to us that we independently check," Stokes said in a voicemail message.

Stokes elaborated Tuesday, saying the AP does give credit to blogs. He said the reason Raw Story wasn’t credited in the Mar. 14 article was because the bureau “hadn’t heard of” Raw Story, and because they had received the article from third-party groups. He said the agency would be issuing a statement, most likely later today.

“We do credit blogs that we know,” Stokes said. “We had no idea who you were.”

In the past, AP has given credit to such blogs as Instapundit and Pajamas Media. Raw Story has previously received credit from The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, Roll Call, The Hill, The Salt Lake Tribune, MSNBC and Rolling Stone, though major media publications have repeatedly lifted the site’s work without attribution.

Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network confirmed they had given Raw Story’s original article to the AP reporter. Human Rights Campaign said they had briefed their director on the story from the original Raw Story report. Neither group mentioned Raw Story in their press releases – which Stokes said may have affected how AP handled the story.

Raw Story did receive credit for the story in the Washington Blade, D.C.’s leading gay newspaper.

The story

The piece printed by Raw Story, “U.S. quietly tightens access to classified information,” outlined changes made by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to policies for granting security clearances to classified government information. We found that Hadley made semantic but substantial changes which seemed to mirror a broader shift in Bush Administration policy towards secrecy.

In our article, we also identified that the Administration had changed language with regard to issuing clearances to gays.

Whereas the 1997 revision [of the clearance policy] declared that sexual orientation “may not be used” as a basis for disqualifying applicants, Hadley’s revisions declare that clearances cannot be denied “solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual.”

Wrote AP: "The Bush administration said security clearances cannot be denied 'solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual.' But it removed language saying sexual orientation 'may not be used as a basis for or a disqualifying factor in determining a person's eligibility for a security clearance.'"

The Hadley revision also added discharge from the military under “dishonorable conditions” to a list of conditions that could warrant denial of clearances. We noted that homosexual conduct is grounds for a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. military.

Steve Ralls, Communications director for the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network, a group that represents gays who are discharged from the military, said they passed the article to AP because they were concerned about what the change might mean for their clients.

“We were initially concerned that there may be a change in the process for clearances approvals, which had implications for our clients,” Ralls said. “[White House Press Secretary] Scott McClellan has said that the White House continues to abide by [an] executive order that bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We don’t have any information at this point that suggests they’re not following the executive order but we’re going to be following that very closely.”

Brad Luna, Director of Media Relations for the gay rights lobby Human Rights Campaign, said they had concerns about how and why the clearance revisions were made.

“Our main concern was that this was one of those maneuvers that was done behind closed doors that has major implications and consequences for gay individuals,” Luna said. “We thought it was vital for attention to be called to the issue, to have the National Security Adviser come out and address why the changes were made.”

To contact AP, you can email them at info@ap.org.

John Byrne is the Executive Editor of Raw Story.