Accuracy in Media

A newspaper editor in upstate New York said he was forced to rewrite the Associated Press story on the President Trump’s State of the Union speech because the AP version was loaded with bias.

Stephen Waters, publisher of the Rome Sentinel, emailed the Associated Press at 11:08 p.m. the night of the speech.

“When will the Associated Press learn that judgmental reporting ABOUT an event is not reporting the event?” Waters wrote in an email shared with “Clearly, Julie Pace and Catherine Lucey must have misunderstood what they were called upon to report. On short notice we were obliged to write our own news summary.”

He also pointed out the AP labeled the text of the speech itself as “text,” rather than “transcript,” which made it difficult to find and forced the newspaper to use White House links for the video and text of the speech.

Waters, whose paper does not endorse political candidates, said in the email he had rewritten the lead to try to provide a more accurate look at what the president said.

The lead from Pace, Washington’s AP bureau chief, and Lucey read: “Facing a divided Congress for the first time, President Donald Trump warned emboldened Democrats in his State of the Union speech Tuesday that ‘ridiculous partisan investigations’ could derail economic progress.

“Trump peppered his speech with calls for bipartisanship, urging Washington to govern ‘not as two parties, but as one nation.’ But his message clashed with the rancorous atmosphere he has helped cultivate in the nation’s capital, as well as the desire of most Democrats to block his path during his next two years in office.”

Waters’ paper rewrote the lead thusly:

“Speaking directly to Americans and rank-and-file senators and representatives, President Donald Trump worked to bypass the media narratives to push for unified action to meet explicit needs for the country.

“Reporting after the speech, many in the mainstream media, including the Associated Press, reported on previous acrimony between the Democrat leadership and Trump rather than focus on the numerous times during the speech that Trump earned applause, some standing, from both sides of the aisle, including from Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“One incident of bipartisan camaraderie even had Trump leading a spontaneous rendition of Happy Birthday to the survivor of the Holocaust and a recent synagogue terror attack.”

Waters, who has written two books on media bias, told he contacts AP on a weekly basis to complain about bias. He said papers such as his – smaller publications without the resources to cover Washington or even their statehouses in many cases – have no choice but to rely on AP. So, he seeks to make AP honor its commitment to balanced journalism.

The Pace-Lucey story was remarkable for its focus on Democrats rather than Trump’s speech. “The president’s remarks previewed how he planned to defend himself as Democrats launch a flurry of investigations into his administration and personal finances,” it read at one point.

It came “at a critical point in his presidency,” AP wrote. “He pushed his party into a lengthy government shutdown over border security only to cave to Democrats.”

Later, it read, “As he stood before lawmakers, the president was surrounded by symbols of his emboldened political opposition. … Democratic women wore white, the color favored by early 20th-century suffragettes. And several senators running for president were also in the audience, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.”

Waters’ paper replaced that with content about the actual speech. Trump “considered the State of the Union strong.” He “cited as measures of success, with applause from Pelosi and Democrats, passage of the First Step Act, to give prisoners a second chance.”

Waters said AP is robbing its readers of the information they need to make informed decisions with its liberal bias.

“It’s fascinating to see a cataclysmic understanding emerging that we can do better,” Waters said.

He was talking about the country under Trump, but he could’ve been addressing the journalism crisis as well.

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