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Vermont AP Reporter Who Opposed O'Reilly Has Been Fired

Reported by Marie Therese - March 27, 2006

Yesterday I read an interesting little tidbit orginally published in the New York Times on March 22nd. It seems that Christopher Graff, age 52, long time chief correspondent for the Associated Press in Vermont, has been fired. No reason was given and the annoucement stunned a lot of folks both in- and out-side Vermont.

The Times stated:

"Emerson Lynn, editor and publisher of The St. Albans Messenger, said one clue to Mr. Graff's departure might have been The A.P.'s having told him this month that it was inappropriate for him to have posted a column by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, on the wire.

"Mr. Lynn said that for the last two years, The A.P. had prepared a package of articles about Sunshine Week, in which media organizations advocate openness in government. Senator Leahy had written a column highly critical of the Bush administration on the matter for the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

"The column said, for example, that 'the foundations of our open government are under direct assault from the first White House in modern times that is openly hostile to the public's right to know.'

"On March 8, Mr. Graff posted Mr. Leahy's column on an advance wire that carries material that can be used at a later date. He had attached an editor's note saying Mr. Leahy 'was asked by the American Society of Newspaper Editors for his thoughts on the status of the right to know for use in Sunshine Week, organized by media organizations and other groups to combat government secrecy and bring attention to the public's right to know.'

"The A.P. removed the column from the advance wire within an hour and advised newspapers not to run it."

Seven Days, Vermont's alternative newspaper, further elaborated on the story, as follows:

"Sources say the Leahy column moved on the Vermont AP wire on Wednesday, March 8, as part of a 'Sunshine Sunday' preview package. Also in the Sunday package was a feature on Gov. Douglas' attempt to bar access to public records by invoking the 'deliberative process privilege.' Sunday kicked off 'Sunshine Week.' Open government was a national theme raised by many news outlets coast to coast.

"But shortly after the AP Sunshine package moved on the Vermont wire, an unidentified AP editor up the food chain abruptly yanked it. Vermont AP clients were notified it was being withdrawn. Here's what went out on the wire:

BULLETIN ELIMINATION Advisory

The Associated Press

Editors:

The Sunshine Week column by Sen. Patrick Leahy, sent without a dateline in advance March 8 for use in Sunday newspapers of March 12, has been eliminated. The material should not have moved on the wire. No sub will be filed.

The AP.

"Sources say the objection was over moving an item written by a 'partisan politician' without including a rebuttal from a partisan politician of a different stripe.

"Can you believe it?

"The gods at AP fired Chris Graff because of something [Sen. Patrick Leahy] wrote about open government! Leahy isn't even a candidate for office this year. Why is open government suddenly such a touchy topic at AP?

"The remarkable thing is that one year ago, Mr. Graff moved a different Leahy column on the FOIA as part of ASNE's [American Society of Newspaper Editors'] first annual Sunshine Week. Surely, if the higher-ups at the 'new' AP had a problem, they would have mentioned it back then?" (3-22-06)

On May 7, 2004 Tom Curley, who took over as CEO of the AP in 2003, painted himself and his organization as ardent believers in the the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a speech given as part of the Hays Press-Enterprisse Lecture series. His lecture was an ardent defense of the Act and a lament that the increasing secretiveness of the government made the job of reporting much more difficult.

Four of Vermont's most powerful elected officials - Governor Jim Douglas, Senators Leahy and Jim Jeffords and Rep. Bernie Sanders - were extremely uhappy when they heard the news about Christopher Graff and penned a letter to Mr. Curley demanding an explanation. Curley rebuffed their request claiming, ironically, that personnel decisions are "confidential." Mr. Graff has consulted an attorney, ostensibly to help negotiate his severance package.

As many of our readers will remember, Vermont's newspapers and TV media, with the exception of the Burlington Free Press, opposed Bill O'Reilly's attempt to have Judge Edward Cashman removed from office. O'Reilly mentioned Christopher Graff by name in two different Talking Points Memos, as follows:

O'REILLY: "Now most Americans understand that sentence and the attitude behind it is insane, but not the print media in Vermont. Oh, no. Associated Press reporter Christopher Graff actually wrote a flattering piece this week on Cashman. The Bennington Banner said people like me who criticize Cashman are "opportunistic." ... Tomorrow, Judge Cashman gets another chance to sentence Hulett to what he deserves. We will, of course, keep you posted, but I'm not very optimistic. Very few Vermont officials will now talk about Cashman. The press is hiding up there. No surprise. But even child advocates in Vermont are afraid to speak publicly. Why? I don't know. But believe me, I'm going to find out." (TPM, 1-12-06)

O'REILLY: "The Vermont media also continues to prop up Cashman. Associated Press reporter Christopher Graff has written another sympathetic story on the judge. And a program on Vermont Public Television criticized me over the weekend." (TPM, 1-17-06)

Additionally, as News Hounds has reported, O'Reilly made disparaging and/or threatening remarks about the economy of the state of Vermont as well as any politician or media person who opposed him. Here are a few examples:

Example 1: During a January 14th appearance on FOX's Heartland O'Reilly told host John Kasich that Vermont would experience "the biggest trouble in their history" unless Judge Edward Cashman was removed from the bench. (O'Reilly Threatens Vermont)

Example 2: Bill O'Reilly, speaking to Michael Kainen (R), Vermont State Represntative: "I tell you what. I hope you pass the Jessica's Law and I hope you rethink this. I think you're a good man, Mr. Kainen, but there are two things I'm gonna say to you. The state of Vermont's never gonna recover from this- ever! - unless Cashman is removed. People will not go there. They will not buy your products. They will turn their back (sic) and your state will be - have a stigma for-ever. People will remember. This isn't goin' away." (1-16-06)

Example 3: O'Reilly, to Vermont attorney, James Levy: "All of America is watching Vermont and seeing a system that doesn't work. And they're getting angry at the state. If Cashman doesn't change the sentence all hell is going to break loose." (The O'Reilly Factor, 1-25-06)

Example 4: O'Reilly, speaking to Wendy Wilton (R) State Senator and Michael Mello, professor at the Vermont Law School): "All I know is the leader of the State of Vermont wouldn't appear on any television broadcasts. He wouldn't take the lead in the national story. This was not a Vermont story, it's a national story. And I'm sorry, but I don't think it's any more complicated than what I reported. I reported every single fact of this, sir. And there was no repudiation, other than personal attacks on me and this network and it was a disgrace. Vermont media absolutely a disgrace, sir, what say you to that?" O'Reilly went on to claim that there was some kind of political quid pro quo at work in Vermont involving Judge Cashman's brother-in-law, prominent Democrat Harlan Sylvester, and Governor Douglas' office. (The O'Reilly Factor, 1-26-06 )

COMMENTS

In a press release dated August 4, 2005 News Corporation, parent company of FOX News Channel, announced a joint venture with Associated Press.

News Corporation and The Associated Press announced today that they have formed a joint venture named STATS, LLC to produce sports data and content.

The joint venture will combine STATS Inc., the country’s leading sports information and statistical analysis company, owned by News Corporation, and MegaSports, AP’s multimedia sports service. Under the new agreement, News Corporation and AP will each own half of the joint venture.

“This partnership joins the two organizations with the biggest stake and deepest content in sports news and information,” said Tom Curley, president and CEO of The Associated Press. “This venture is designed to assure AP and its customers and members of an independent, accurate and complete source of sports data across media platforms.”

Tony Vinciquerra, President and CEO of Fox Networks Group, said, “The combination of AP MegaSports and STATS will create a one-stop shopping destination for organizations interested in providing the best and most comprehensive sports information and context to their consumers. We are thrilled to be in partnership with the AP.”

*****
STATS, LLC will be the most prolific sports information source for several key business segments: professional teams; sports agents; sports broadcast production, cable and satellite networks; interactive television; broadband, wireless and internet; game developers and fantasy sports providers; print media and wire services. Packaging and sales of sports information for AP members will continue to be done at AP.

Here are some of my questions:

Why won't Tom Curley release the reason he's decided to dismiss Christopher Graff?

Did the prior existing relationship between News Corporation and the AP influence his decision in any way?

Who is waiting in the wings to take Graff's place?

If you'd like to express your opinion to Mr. Curley and the AP, click the link below:

info@ap.org

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