May 25, 2017

WashPost’s Wemple Defends Sneaky Tactics of AP, Freelancer at NH GOP Event

On Tuesday, Randy Hall at NewsBusters covered how “the Associated Press hired a ‘freelancer’ — who turned out to be ‘a hardcore left-wing activist’ — to attend a ‘closed press’ fund-raiser for the GOP in New Hampshire.” In other words, the wire service sent Melanie Plenda to the event for the express purpose of crashing it, despite the NHGOP’s clear instructions. It turns out that the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, in covering the fallout from Plenda’s sneaky, sloppy work, is perfectly fine with that.

Plenda crashed the NHGOP’s dinner a week ago, and submitted the following original report preserved at my home blog (presented in full because of its brevity and for fair use and discussion purposes; bolds are mine):

Kellyanne Conway Tells Trump’s Supporters to Ignore Critics

President Donald Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway has told supporters in New Hampshire they should “just ignore” his critics and the incessant chatter about the scandals dogging him.

Conway was guest speaker Thursday at the fundraising Spring to Victory dinner, hosted by the New Hampshire Republican State Committee in Nashua. About 150 people attended.

The crowd was largely friendly to Conway, applauding when she mentioned Trump’s proposed tax plan and efforts to overhaul the health care law. Some people in attendance withheld applause when Conway let loose with snarky comments about Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Conway encouraged the room full of Republicans to pivot from being the party of the job creators to become the party of the job holders. She says people who have “one, two and three jobs” make up more of the voting population and “turned this election.”

Tracking the bolded items above in this supposedly “objective” dispatch, AP reporter Plenda:

  • Claimed that the four month-old Trump administration already has “scandals.” How interesting, given that the AP barely and only fleetingly recognized the existence of any scandals among so very many which occurred during Barack Obama’s two-term presidency (several of which have carried into the early months of the Trump administration).
  • Cited a crowd size which, as will be seen shortly, understated attendance by roughly two-thirds.
  • Apparently admitted to breaking into an event at which legitimate participants had to pay.
  • Used the slang term “snarky” to describe Conway’s remarks directed at Hillary Clinton, even though the AP Stylebook says it should be avoided, as it is “outside of conventional or standard usage.”
  • Alleged what would be seen as an important political “pivot” without providing full statements in quotes which would prove Conway that said what the reporter claims she said.

On Friday, after Plenda’s late Thursday May 18 report, NHGOP adviser Patrick Hynes told Granite State TV station WMUR that her work, besides being based on crashing the event without authorization, was “grossly inaccurate and objectively wrong.” He specifically refuted her crowd size claim by providing a photo uploaded to Facebook showing more than 150 people in only a portion of the event venue, and insisted that “The crowd was wildly enthusiastic in support of Kellyanne Conway’s justified criticism of the atrocious Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.”

Responding to Hynes’s complaints and challenge, an AP spokesperson on Friday insisted that the wire services “stands by its story.”

That stance may never have changed without Monday’s post by Penny Starr at Breitbart.com.

Hynes told Starr that “The Associated Press in New Hampshire appears to be engaged in leftwing activism rather than journalism,” and that “Melanie Plenda is a leftwing activist not a journalist.” Starr located a since-deleted Facebook entry Plenda wrote two days after Donald Trump’s Election Day victory last year (red underlines are mine):

MelaniePlendaFacebook111016

Caught red-handed, the AP finally corrected its story on Wednesday, claiming that “Further reporting has indicated the hotel ballroom, which seats 500, was near capacity.” It did not revise its claim about the enthusiasm for Conway’s criticisms of Clinton. The unprofessional slang description of them as “snarky” also remains.

At the Washington Post on Wednesday, Erik Wemple stridently sprang to Plenda’s defense.

He started with an incorrect headline: “New Hampshire freelancer trashed as ‘ideologically rotten’ for report on Kellyanne Conway event.” It should be obvious by now that Plenda was objectively “ideologically rotten,” and should never have been given the AP assignment.

The January 22 file photo of Conway accompanying the piece predictably shows her in an unflattering pose.

In his writeup, Wemple revealed a remarkably presumptive “we have to right to be anywhere we want to be unless you physically stop us” mindset:

On assignment from the Associated Press (AP), Plenda received instructions from editor Michael Casey. “Go in and if anybody asks [if you’re a reporter], tell them. Don’t lie. If they ask you to leave, then leave. That was my intention,” says Plenda in reference to the instructions. That’s standard-issue guidance, too: Organizations may declare events closed to the press, but it’s up to them to keep us journalists out.

In other words, Plenda was told by her bosses to sneak in and hopefully not get caught. Wemple is not only okay with that, but he declares that it’s perfectly ethical for “journalists” to sneak into any event they wish — any time, anywhere.

Wemple eventually covered Plenda’s Facebook post, and had this reaction:

Lauren Easton, a spokeswoman for the AP, sent along this comment: “AP standards require employees to refrain from sharing political views in any public forum.” Fine, but Plenda’s not an employee; she was working as a freelance reporter.

For heaven’s sake, Erik. If you’re a professional journalist, you should know that getting assignments, especially those relating to politics, often depends on at least appearing to be neutral. If you’re clearly not, whether you’re an employee or freelancer doesn’t matter.

Wemple really went over the edge in reacting to NHGOP’s outrage that Plenda “knowingly violated the (no press) rules”:

Herewith a strong dissent. We journalists are not party to the rules of the NH GOP, or the national GOP or the national Democratic Party or whatever group doesn’t want us reporting on its proceedings. Our role — our rules — mandate that we cover public events. And with the NH GOP’s insistence that this was a widely attended event — with upwards of 400 people in attendance — this was a whopper of a public event. It is the burden of the organizers to post sufficient gendarmes if they want to block us from securing the access necessary to inform our audience.

In his talks with the AP about just this matter, Hynes said, “They belligerently blamed it on us for having it closed in the first place.” That is the proper journalistic position.

The last time I checked, the First Amendment doesn’t grant journalists the presumptive right thanks to special “rules” to sneak into any event at will, regardless of the wishes of those holding the meetings. Other than truly public meetings of governmental and regulatory bodies, there is no presumptive right of access. The press is of course free to complain about lack of access; it is not free to gain unauthorized access by stealth or other means.

In Wemple’s world, journalists’ “rules” grant them special privileges to trump (pun intended) everyone else’s — unless you physically stop them with “sufficient gendarmes.”

Wemple’s use of that term, as defined in the dictionary, tells me that he believes it’s okay for journalists to sneak into or even break into events unless armed guards or police officers physically stop them.

From there, it’s not that much of a stretch to contend that if journalists bring more muscle to bear to an event than organizers provided to defend its privacy, Wemple’s “logic” would dictate that they get to override organizers’ wishes and sit in.

The fact that an event at a privately owned hotel or meeting place has more than 400 people doesn’t make it a “public event.” The fact that such facilities are considered “public accommodations” in laws relating to discrimination and disabled access doesn’t change that.

Clearly, the AP, which per Wemple essentially blamed Plenda’s awful reporting on the meeting’s closed nature, shares the Washington Post writer’s “we have a right to be anywhere” posture.

As to Plenda, Wemple reports that the freelancer has told him that “The AP … has barred her from future political assignments because of the (Facebook) posting.” Given that her beat in the past has included some nonpolitical topics, that doesn’t necessarily even mean that she’s been terminated. It also shows that AP has no remorse over its strategy to sneak her into the event.

Cross-posted, with significant revisions, at NewsBusters.org.

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1 Comment

  1. This just goes to show you the arrogance and self-important sense of entitlement the media has today. They even think they should be allowed to break the law.

    Comment by zf — May 25, 2017 @ 5:57 pm

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