AP controversy

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(HOST) Last week a well-known newsman was fired by the Associated Press. And it’s left commentator Tom Slayton with unresolved – and uncomfortable – questions.

(SLAYTON) Much of Vermont was shocked last week when it
was learned that Christopher Graff, longtime chief of the Associ-
ated Press bureau in Vermont, had been summarily fired. The firing was badly handled by AP management and left many in Vermont angry and confused.

Most of all, people were outraged by the way Chris Graff, one of Vermont’s best newsmen, had been treated. Chris is an outstand-
ing journalist – fair-handed in his coverage, scrupulously accurate, and firmly objective. He’s one of the few people I know who diligently searches for the truth and tries to report it without
fear or favor towards anyone.

He’s also one of the best-known newsmen in Montpelier – he’d been the bureau chief of the Vermont AP for more than twenty-
five years. So when news of his sacking broke last week there was immediate public outcry.

It didn’t help matters that there was the smell of politics surround-
ing Graff’s firing – or that the AP quickly stonewalled when people began asking questions.

Reports quickly linked Graff’s firing to the fact that he had sent out over the AP wire a column on open government written by Vermont Senator Patrick J. Leahy. The column, which was part of a “Sun-
shine week” preview package, was sharply critical of President Bush for what Leahy said were the Bush administration’s secretive policies. Not exactly incendiary stuff – just about everyone is in favor of open government, after all.

The AP’s bosses apparently didn’t see it that way. The column was yanked from the wire, and two weeks later Chris Graff was canned. It seemed especially odd, in view of the fact that a similar column, posted on the wire last year for “Sunshine Week,” elicited nothing from Graff’s AP higher-ups.

Were the veteran newsman’s enemies at AP finally successful
in a campaign to get him dumped? Had the AP’s increasingly conservative upper echelon finally found an excuse to get rid
of a troublesome bureau chief in Vermont – the most liberal
state in the nation? What could be the reason for the sudden
and secretive firing of a man widely admired for his integrity and moderate approach?

No answers were forthcoming from AP, which said only that they never discussed personnel matters. That non-answer clearly didn’t pass muster with anyone in Vermont. Late in the week, a group of Vermont editors and publishers spoke out in support of Graff and demanded that AP give them a public explanation of his firing. Also, Vermont’s congressional delegation and Governor James Douglas sent a joint letter to AP declaring that they were “stunned, outraged, and saddened” by Graff’s firing.

It was a pretty poor showing for an news organization that bills itself as “the bastion of the people’s right to know.”

However this comes out, the AP has lost a lot of credibility in Vermont. They’ll have to do some work to regain our trust.

Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine.

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