AP decries FBI fabrication of news story

Responding to the news this week that the FBI had fabricated an Associated Press story during a 2007 investigation, the AP expressed serious concern to Attorney General Eric Holder.

“In carrying out this scheme, the FBI both misappropriated the trusted name of The Associated Press and created a situation where our credibility could have been undermined on a large scale,” AP General Counsel Karen Kaiser said in a letter [PDF] delivered to Holder on Thursday.

“Any attempt by the government, whatever its motives, to falsely label its own messages as coming from the news media serves to undermine the vital distinction between the government and the press in society,” Kaiser added. “Such actions also compromise our ability to gather the news safely and effectively in parts of the world where our credibility rests on the basis of AP operating freely and independently.”

Read the AP news story.

Advisory on Ebola coverage

In an advisory to editors at member and customer news organizations, The Associated Press outlined the careful steps it is taking in covering the Ebola story.

EDITORS:

We’re increasingly hearing reports of “suspected” cases of Ebola in the United States and Europe. The AP has exercised caution in reporting these cases and will continue to do so.

Most of these suspected cases turn out to be negative. Our bureaus monitor them, but we have not been moving stories or imagery simply because a doctor suspects Ebola and routine precautions are taken while the patient is tested. To report such a case, we look for a solid source saying Ebola is suspected and some sense the case has caused serious disruption or reaction. Are buildings being closed and substantial numbers of people being evacuated or isolated? Is a plane being diverted? Is the suspected case closely related to another, confirmed Ebola case?

When we do report a suspected case, we will seek to keep our stories brief and in perspective.

The AP

Some guidance on Ebola and enterovirus coverage

Yesterday we distributed some guidance to our staff on coverage of Ebola and enterovirus, two diseases much in the news.

On Ebola, we said that since the United States now has its first diagnosis of the virus, we’re likely to hear increasingly of “suspected cases” in the U.S. and elsewhere. We should exercise caution over these reports.

Often the fact of an unconfirmed case isn’t worth a story at all. On several occasions already, in the U.S. and abroad, we have decided not to report suspected cases. We’ve just stayed in touch with authorities to monitor the situation.

Considerations in writing about a suspected case might be whether the report has caused serious disruption or public reaction. And, of course, we’d have to have information on the case from a solid source. We should also know how many suspected cases in the country or region involved have turned out, in fact, not to be Ebola.

In the United States, the CDC has — as of now — received about 100 inquiries from states about illnesses that initially were suspected to be Ebola, but after taking travel histories and doing some other work, were determined not to be. Of 15 people who actually underwent testing, only one _ the Dallas patient _ has tested positive.

On enterovirus, currently being reported in parts of the United States, the extent of the outbreak of enterovirus 68 is not clear. As our medical writers have pointed out, it’s not a disease that must be reported, and only very sick patients may be tested for it. Almost all victims are children. Four people infected with the virus have died, but it’s not clear what role the illness played in their deaths.

The germ is not new. It was first identified in 1962 and has caused clusters of illness before, including in Georgia and Pennsylvania in 2009 and Arizona in 2010. It’s possible the bug spread in previous years as much as it has this year, but was never distinguished from illness caused by other germs.

Here is a Q&A we ran Friday on enterovirus. It’s by Mike Stobbe, one of our experts on communicable diseases.

A style note: AP normally does not capitalize the names of diseases, like enterovirus. But when a disease is known by the name of a person or geographical area, we capitalize the proper noun: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Ebola virus (from the Ebola River in Congo).

Q&A: The changing market for video news

The Associated Press today released a report looking at the news market in the Middle East and North Africa and suggesting ways it needs to evolve, particularly when it comes to video. The report is the latest in a series of Deloitte studies for AP into video news consumption globally. (The first covered Europe and the second covered Asia.)

Here, Sue Brooks, director of international products and platforms for AP, explains why the market for video news has never been stronger.

What have been the most striking findings of the reports?

The big “ah-ha” moment for me was the realization that news junkies see video as an essential part of their daily news fix. Although there are a lot of variations in the data across markets, consumers were consistent in their demand for more high-quality online video content – and this is especially true of consumers who are interested in the news, generally.

Sue Brooks

Sue Brooks

The research shows that this group is more likely to access a story if it has an accompanying video, and that video consumers have a higher dwell time on news content each day. When we asked why, people told us it was because video helps bring a story to life and improve their understanding of it. For example, in the Middle East, a massive 83 percent of consumers find this to be the case.

This overwhelming demand for video presents a number of opportunities for us and our customers. It also highlights how critical it is for the industry to adapt. In Europe, more than a quarter of respondents said they’d go elsewhere if video wasn’t available at their preferred news source.

How and why has demand for video news changed?

Video news stopped being the sole preserve of terrestrial and satellite broadcasters quite some time ago and online and mobile video news are now the norm; in fact many of our video customers are now newspapers.

It’s clear that the need for video has continued to grow and has achieved ever-greater importance. We expect this will continue with the spread of smartphones and strong growth in tablets, as well as steadily increasing broadband speeds via fixed and mobile connections.

How is AP helping its customers evolve to satisfy this demand?

The primary goal of the research is to help our customers understand the changes in consumer demand, but it has also given us insight into what we need to do to help our customers meet the challenges facing them.

We are at the forefront of change and, of course, our customers need us to keep our products and services relevant. That’s why in 2012 we launched AP Video Hub. We needed to address the increase in demand from online publishers for video news with a service that was compelling and easy to use. These customers saw video as another critical element of their storytelling tool box, but before 2012 it was difficult for non-broadcasters to access and use AP video easily.

Since the launch of AP Video Hub, the platform has gone from strength to strength and we recently announced our Content Partner Offer, which allows third-party content to be sold via the platform. The first partner to go live was Newsflare, an online video news community for user-generated video, which adds a new dimension to the site and meets an increasing demand for this type of content.

We also launched a new video service in the Middle East earlier this year to meet the insatiable demand for news in the region, offering customers more unique video content centered on the news that matters most to consumers there. Our Deloitte research showed that, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, Middle East consumers value trusted news sources – particularly when it comes to video. We want to ensure that our customers are in a position to provide their own customers exactly what they need.

AP announces new political reporting lineup

U.S. Political Editor David Scott announced the AP’s new political reporting lineup in a memo to staff today:

All,

Please join me in welcoming Steve Peoples as he joins the Washington bureau this month as a political reporter focused on the Republican Party and its candidates for president in 2016.

Steve Peoples (AP Photo).

Steve Peoples (AP Photo).

“Joining” might seem like the wrong verb, since Steve has been a part of the AP’s political team — covering this crucial beat — for some time. From his base in Boston, and his second home at the many Marriotts of New Hampshire, Peoples turned his role as our northeast political reporter into a job whose scope reached far beyond New England.

For months during the last presidential campaign, Peoples was a fixture in the living rooms and coffee shops where the New Hampshire primary is won and lost. He sat in diners with Jon Huntsman’s family and rode mountain bikes with Ron Paul. He turned those intimate moments into a depth of sourcing that allowed him to excel as our reporter on the Mitt Romney campaign.

In recent months, even as he continued covering GOP contenders, Steve took it upon himself to keep the AP’s political reporting team organized and on point, leading story discussion meetings and organizing coverage of key moments of the off-campaign year. His assistance has been invaluable to me as I get up to speed in Washington.

With this move, AP will now field quite the political reporting lineup — a team that’s ready for the upcoming presidential election, which as we all know is well underway.

Ken Thomas and Julie Pace (AP Photo).

Ken Thomas and Julie Pace (AP Photo).

Leading off are Steve and Ken Thomas, our reporter on the national Democratic Party and, therefore, Hillary Rodham Clinton. As the campaign gains momentum, they’ll increasingly be joined by Julie Pace and members of the White House team. There is no better place for AP’s White House Correspondent to prepare to lead AP’s coverage of the next president than out in the country as voters make the choice of who will next sit in the Oval Office.

Who might they be writing about this time next year? Still to be determined, although we have some clues. We know for certain the campaign will start in Iowa, where Tom Beaumont will tell the story, joined as the campaign moves along by political reporters Nick Riccardi in Denver, Bill Barrow in Atlanta, Mike Mishak in Miami and Jill Colvin in New Jersey. And they’re backed with Washington’s Phil Elliott on money and media, Jesse Holland on race, ethnicity and voters, and Chuck Babington on the intersection of politics, the campaign and Congress. All guided by the intel provided by polling chief Jenn Agiesta, and assisted by Donna Cassata, Dave Espo and all the member of our team on the Hill.

And then there are all the beat reporters in Washington whose expertise on policy so often makes the AP’s political report something truly distinct. And all the political reporters AP has in every statehouse, which gives AP — and therefore its members and customers — a reach that no one can match.

And that’s just the text team. We’re already working on exciting ideas on how we’ll carry out our political story telling in video for 2016. For now, I’m thrilled to welcome Steve to Washington and so excited to be working with him, this team and our staff in U.S. news to tell the story of another chapter in the grand American experiment.

From Washington,

David

Learn more about AP’s national politics team and follow @AP_Politics on Twitter.

Now we say ‘the Islamic State group’ instead of ISIL

Back in June we talked in this blog about AP’s preferred abbreviation for the fast-growing Islamic militant group in Iraq and Syria, known variously at the time as ISIL and ISIS. We explained why our preference was ISIL.

Things then changed with ISIL’s decision in July to rebrand itself as the “Islamic State.” In a recent story, we explained that AP now refers to the organization as “the Islamic State group” (not simply “the Islamic State”) and the reason for this approach.

The story is below:

By VIVIAN SALAMA
Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) — Propaganda has been one of the core strategies of the Sunni militant group in Syria and Iraq that today calls itself the Islamic State — and its name is very much a part of that.

In July, the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced its rebranding. He declared that the territory under his control would be part of a caliphate, or an Islamic state, shortening its name from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL — the acronym used by the Obama administration and the British Foreign Office to this day. The Levant can refer to all countries bordering on the eastern Mediterranean, from Greece to Egypt.

Different translations for the name of the al-Qaida splinter group have emerged since the early days of its existence.

Some have chosen to call it the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The final word in Arabic — al-Sham — can be translated as Levant, Syria, or as Damascus.

Arab governments have long refrained from using Islamic State, instead referring to it by the Arabic acronym for its full original name, Daesh — short for Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq w Belaad al-Sham.

Kurdish citizens who live in Lebanon hold Arabic placards that read, "To be Yazidi means love, accord and peace" and "No to killing the Yazidi sect by Daesh" during a demonstration against the Islamic State group, in front of the UN building, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Monday Sept. 15, 2014. An activist group and a Kurdish official say heavy clashes are taking place in northeastern Syria, with Kurdish fighters capturing about a dozen villages from Islamic militants. Kurdish fighters and members of the Islamic State group have been fighting each other for more than a year in northern Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Kurdish citizens who live in Lebanon hold Arabic placards that read, “To be Yazidi means love, accord and peace” and “No to killing the Yazidi sect by Daesh” during a demonstration against the Islamic State group, in front of the UN building, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Monday Sept. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Several residents in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which fell to the extremist group in June, told The Associated Press that the militants threatened to cut the tongue of anyone who publicly used the acronym Daesh, instead of referring to the group by its full name, saying it shows defiance and disrespect. The residents spoke anonymously out of fear for their safety.

The inconsistency, while confusing for some, has not deterred the group’s growing exposure on social media, with so many hashtags, posts and tweets ultimately directing readers and viewers to their news. Despite being associated to about a half-dozen names and acronyms, the group’s brutal objectives are becoming increasingly clear.

Prior to the group’s self-declared rebranding in July, The Associated Press opted to refer to it as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, believing it was the most accurate translation.

The AP now uses phrases like “the Islamic State group,” or “fighters from the Islamic State group,” to avoid phrasing that sounds like they could be fighting for an internationally recognized state.

“The word ‘state’ implies a system of administration and governance,” said David L. Phillips, the director of Peace-Building and Rights Program at Columbia University. “It’s not a term that would be used to characterize a terrorist group or militia that is merely rolling up territory.”

“Part of their strategy is to establish administration over lands that they control so that they demonstrate that they are more than just a fighting force,” Phillips added. Equally problematic is the use of the word “Islamic” in its name, with some calling it blasphemous.

On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius referred to the group as Daesh, calling them “butchers” who do not represent Islam or a state. He urged others to do the same.

Egypt’s top Islamic authority, Grand Mufti Ibrahim Negm, last month called on the international community to refer to the group as “al-Qaida separatists” and not the Islamic State.

“Their savage acts don’t coincide with the name of Islam,” said Sunni cleric Hameed Marouf Hameed, an official with Iraq’s Sunni religious endowment. “They incite hatred, violence and killing and these acts have no place in any real Islamic state.”

___

Associated Press reporters Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad, Angela Charlton in Paris and Greg Katz in London contributed to this report.

Some great saves

Every few weeks, I share with the AP staff some “great saves” by staffers who protected AP and its subscribers from hoaxes and inaccuracies. Here are some recent ones:

● Hours after an Air Algerie plane disappeared over Africa, Twitter blew up with claims that Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel Castro, was on the plane. The information came from a Facebook post by the airport in Burkina Faso where the flight began, and said Castro was on the manifest. Major newspapers in Argentina, Spain and the UK went with the story online, as did some U.S. outlets. AP Havana quickly reached a source close to Mariela Castro, who said she was not on the plane. Another source told AP she was at a conference at a Havana hotel. Newswoman Andrea Rodriguez drove to the hotel and persuaded a press official to crack open a door to the closed event: there was Mariela Castro speaking from a lectern.

● A tweet went out from “Glee” star Chris Colfer’s verified account to his 2.5 million followers that said he was leaving the Fox show because of “personal issues.” Retweets went out to millions more, and a series of news outlets soon reported the news. Not the AP, however. Even though the account was verified as being legitimate by Twitter, TV writer Frazier Moore followed AP policy that even tweets from verified and familiar accounts need to be confirmed before we report them. So Moore fired off immediate emails to representatives of “Glee,” Fox and Colfer. Within a couple of minutes, Moore got his responses: Colfer wasn’t going anywhere. The actor’s account had been hacked and the tweet was bogus. Others sent corrections.

● On July 14, several news outlets carried stories with headlines like “It’s a miracle! Dead child wakes up at funeral.” The stories said a 2-year-old girl in the Philippines died but moved a finger and had a weak pulse at her funeral. The tale seemed too good to be true, and was just that. Manila correspondent Oliver Teves learned that others published the story without thoroughly investigating the claim. The girl was dead and had been buried. A health official had gone to her village and used a cardiac monitor to confirm there was no heartbeat, no breath and no pulse. She attributed the girl’s lack of rigor mortis _ one of the conditions that people cited to claim she was alive _ to her small muscle mass. We stayed away from the story.

● It would have been big news. On July 17, several news organizations quoted an Israeli official as saying Israel and Hamas had agreed to a cease-fire deal that was to take effect at 6 a.m. the next day. We received several requests for the story. But AP staffers Karin Laub and Mohammad Daraghmeh decided to check further. Daraghmeh quickly got in touch with a top aide of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who told him the report was baseless. Other news organizations soon had to backtrack.

On the killing of James Foley, journalist

The Associated Press is outraged by the killing of James Foley and condemns the taking of any journalist’s life. We believe those who kill journalists or hold them hostage should be brought to justice.

Further, we believe the assassination of a journalist in wartime should be considered an international crime of war.

The murder of a journalist with impunity  is a threat to a free press and democracy around the world.

– Gary Pruitt, AP president and CEO

Update: Pruitt elaborated on his view during an Aug. 24 interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

‘Our work becomes more important but also more dangerous’

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt addressed the company’s global staff following a tragic event Wednesday in Gaza:

It is with great sadness that I inform you that an AP videographer and a translator working for us have been killed in Gaza.  An AP photographer was badly injured in the same incident.

Simone Camilli, an Italian journalist and a veteran video journalist who has worked with AP for eight years, was killed when a bomb went off while he and his team were working with a bomb disposal unit.  Ali Shehda Abu Afash, a Palestinian translator who was working with the AP team, was also killed. Photographer Hatem Moussa was injured and is being treated at a Gaza hospital. A fourth member of the AP team, the driver, was uninjured.

Simone was well known throughout Europe, and especially to our video team in London, where his death has hit AP deeply. He had recently moved to Beirut with his wife. We have sent staff to be with her and with his family in Italy.

As all of you know, this has been a very difficult year for AP. Simone is the second staffer to die in the line of duty this year and the 33rd person since our founding in 1846. As conflict and violence grows around the world, our work becomes more important but also more dangerous. We take every precaution we can to protect the brave journalists who staff our frontlines. I never cease to be amazed at their courage.

All of us in the AP family grieve the loss of Simone and Ali Shehda, and we send our deepest sympathies to their families.

Gary

This July 1, 2014 photo shows Associated Press video journalist Simone Camilli at work filming Kurdish Peshmerga fighters under a bridge near the front line with militants from the Islamic state group, in Mariam Bek village, between the northern cities of Tikrit and Kirkuk, Iraq. Camilli, 35, was killed in an ordnance explosion in the Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 together with Palestinian translator Ali Shehda Abu Afash and three members of the Gaza police. Police said four other people were seriously injured, including AP photographer Hatem Moussa.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

This July 1, 2014 photo shows Associated Press video journalist Simone Camilli at work filming Kurdish Peshmerga fighters under a bridge near the front line with militants from the Islamic state group, in Mariam Bek village, between the northern cities of Tikrit and Kirkuk, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

In this Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 photo, Associated Press photographer Hatem Moussa works, in Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Moussa was seriously injured Wednesday when Gaza police engineers were neutralizing unexploded ordnance in the Gaza town of Beit Lahiya left over from fighting between Israel and Islamic militants. (AP Photo)

In this Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 photo, Associated Press photographer Hatem Moussa works, in Gaza City, Gaza Strip. (AP Photo)

Poorly worded alert prompts clarification

This morning a poorly worded news alert moved on the AP wire and was also tweeted via @AP.

For the record, here’s the original alert:

EINDHOVEN, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash lands in Eindhoven.

Many readers understandably took it to mean the plane “crash-landed.”

We sought to clarify this as quickly as possible.

Here’s the clarified version:

EINDHOVEN, Netherlands (AP) — CLARIFIES: Dutch military plane carrying Malaysia Airlines bodies lands in Eindhoven.

@AP tweeted the clarification as follows:

CLARIFIES: Dutch military plane carrying Malaysia Airlines bodies lands in Eindhoven.

This was an especially regrettable lapse that drew wide attention as Dutch families awaited the return of their loved ones’ remains.