Friday, August 9, 2013

Justice Department to Take Over Editorial Duties for Associated Press


SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos made headlines this week with his $250 million purchase of The Washington Post, one of the nation's most revered newspapers. Before that, Rupert Murdoch expanded his own global news empire when he took over The Wall Street Journal. Such purchases by corporate magnates are neither new nor particularly rare, but the Justice Department's revelation that it will soon assume the editorial duties for the Associated Press is unprecedented. Lorraine Kiesch, a senior linguistic analyst with Justice, made the announcement Thursday. She will be heading the AP after the acquisition and has assured the public that the DOJ's actions were undertaken solely in the interest of saving the not-for-profit news cooperative from ruin.

"Everyone at Justice is aware of how this looks, but it's really nothing extraordinary," Kiesch said. "What do you think PBS is? Many of our allies use state-run media. Many foreign democracies have state-run media. Look at Russia. Communism officially ended there in 1991, but this paragon of 'nouveau la démocratie' kept its government-sponsored press without compromising its new freedoms. Or take the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Says 'democratic' right in the name."

On May 13, the U.S. Department of Justice, acting on orders from Attorney General Eric Holder, came under fire for appropriating the telephone records of AP reporters over a two-month period in 2012.

The data seizure was related to a criminal investigation involving an AP story about the CIA thwarting a Yemeni terrorist plot to detonate explosives aboard a commercial airliner in 2012. But the DOJ failed to subpoena the Associate Press, instead issuing their requests for records directly to telephone providers such as Verizon.

CEO Emeritus Gary Pruitt, AP's then chief executive, stated: "These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know."

Kiesch admits the AP records provide a thorough road map to the organization's newsgathering operations, but disagrees with Pruitt about the government's right to know.

The U.S. government, she astutely points out, is essentially run by the people and funded by the people.

"If the press' responsibility, as Mr. Pruitt purports, is to inform the public, working on behalf of the reading public, then of course the government has a right to know -- because the government is the people," Kiesch explained. "And Justice is only trying to make sure the people always have recourse to the AP, along with its invaluable contributions."

The Department of Justice's legally dubious investigation revealed years of financial dire straits for the AP, beginning in 2010 when earnings fell 65 percent to just under $9 million. The AP had to liquidate its German language news service to prevent additional losses of $4.4 million.

In 2011, revenue plummeted for the second consecutive year. The AP posted a loss of $14.7 million.

By 2012, after a steady downward spiral, the news outfit reported $193.3 million in total losses.

"We were watching the decline of an American institution," Kiesch said, her voice hoarse with emotion. "We had to act. And the government knows something about rescuing struggling enterprises that are vital to the well being of the country."

Because the DOJ has more available resources, more direct access to government contacts and a comprehensive blueprint of the AP's entire operation, taking over the news collective seemed the only way to salvage it.

"How is this any different than the bailouts a few years ago?" Kiesch asked. "By 2009, the federal government owned substantial, and in some cases controlling, interests in two car companies and several major banks. These companies were too big to fail. So is the AP, in our esteem."

The AP once battled to generate money through subscriptions, a difficult and enormously competitive numbers game. Now, as a government controlled organization funded by taxes, it boasts 316 million subscribers who are paying for the service whether they realize it or not.

"And with our vast networks and connections, we can make the AP more successful than it ever has been," Kiesch added. "To promote and sell their services, a lot of news outfits rely on complicated and often inaccurate data from demographics research, analytics, web traffic studies, polls, surveys and what seems to me a lot of mathematical voodoo. But we have the NSA. Companies like Reuters can study trends and subscription rates and polling data all they want. What they'll get are broad results and generic indicators. Topics, really, without substance. But with our access to NSA data, we'll actually know the complete details of what people are thinking, discussing and emailing about those specific topics. Our marketing initiatives will be unmatched by any competitor."

2013. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. See disclaimers.
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