The Associated Press’s Stylebook (as of 2008, per this Houston Chronicle blog entry) has the following to say about political party identification in stories:
Party Affiliation – Let relevance be the guide in determining whether to include a political figure’s party affiliation in a story. Party affiliation is pointless in some stories, such as an account of a governor accepting a button from a poster child.
It will occur naturally in many political stories. For stories between these extremes, include party affiliation if readers need it for understanding or are likely to be curious about what it is.
The AP, as readers here know, frequently flouts its own standards when Democrats are involved in legal or personal difficulties in its reporters’ original write-ups. That’s bad enough. But what’s doubly offensive, and sadly no longer surprising, is how its writers seem to actively work to purge party references from other publications’ original local or single-state stories about Democratic politicians or officials involved in scandal or other troubles.
In the latest example, it isn’t just that the subject’s party isn’t directly identified. Based on AP’s “clever” composition, many readers are likely to conclude that the person in trouble is a Republican.
The original Tucson Citizen story, published on Friday, April 24 at 8:16 p.m., identified John Kromko’s Democratic Party affiliation in its second paragraph (the photo above is from the Citizen’s web site):
Political activist John Kromko charged with identity theft, forgery
Longtime activist accused of forgery on nominating form
Political activist John Kromko confirmed Friday evening that he has been charged with identity theft and forgery connected to nominating petitions he filed in an unsuccessful bid for a state House seat last year.
Kromko, 68, ran unsuccessfully against Phil Lopes and Olivia Cajero Bedford in the Democratic primary for the two state House of Representative seats in District 27.
Kromko said he has been charged with nine counts each of forgery and identity theft and one count of fraudulent schemes.
According to a copy of the complaint filed by the Pima County Attorney’s Office and provided by Kromko, he is accused of stealing the identities of 29 different people.
The charges stem from an investigation of his nominating petitions, he said.
Now, let’s look at how an unbylined AP reporter massaged the story on Saturday morning:
Ex-Arizona lawmaker indicted over nominating petitions
TUCSON – A former Arizona lawmaker has been charged with identity theft, forgery and fraud in connection with signatures on his nominating petitions when he ran unsuccessfully for the state House last year.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office indicted John Kromko earlier this month on nine counts of identity theft, nine counts of forgery and one count of fraudulent scheme.
Prosecutors say Kromko forged the signatures and used the addresses and other identifying information of more than 20 people in his nominating petitions.
They say he also forged the signatures of the people who supposedly passed the petitions.
Kromko, 68, organized the unsuccessful initiative drive in 2007 to limit new water connections and use of effluent and ran unsuccessfully for state House District 27 against incumbent Democrats Phil Lopes and Olivia Cajero Bedford last year.
Kromko has been active in local politics for 40 years and served in the state Legislature from 1976-1990.
Once again, a local publication has concluded that the story subject’s party ID is important to its audience, even though it’s likely that many of its readers already know it. But “somehow,” despite clear Stylebook guidance, AP’s reporter(s) and their editors avoided directly referring to Kromko as a Democrat. AP clearly and proactively decided that his party affiliation is unimportant, even though the wire service’s more regional and national audiences are much less likely to know it.
Because the AP story does not refer to the election involved as a primary, the oblique Democratic Party reference in its fifth paragraph will gave many readers the impression that John Kromko did not run as a Democrat (I’m not close enough to the situation to understand how the assertion that Lopes and Bedford were both incumbents can be correct). Instead, many of them will likely conclude, in the absence of other information, that Kromko ran as a Republican.
This is pathetic, risible — and all too typical.
The least the AP could do is dispense with pretense, purge its current Stylebook guidance, and replace it with something resembling the following:
Party Affiliation – To foster the impression that Republicans are the most corrupt, venal, and hypocritical politicians in the country, and to maximize their long-term search engine visibility, the party affiliation of any Republican politician or official facing legal or personal problems will be disclosed in the story headline, its first paragraph, or both.
To foster the impression that corruption, venality, and hypocrisy are at worst minor annoyances in the Democratic Party, and to minimize their long-term search engine visibility, the party affiliation of any Democratic politician or official facing legal or personal problems either should not be disclosed, or should be deferred until later paragraphs. In those cases where disclosure of the affected Democrat’s party affiliation is unavoidable, the party reference should be made in a manner that is as vague, confusing, and/or misleading as possible.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.