The Associated Press (AP) pulled a reporter off the presidential campaign because of a “dangerous situation,” said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll at an event of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics earlier this week.
In a panel discussion moderated by Bloomberg Politics’ Sasha Issenberg, Carroll was asked whether Donald Trump was “good for the Associated Press.” The wire service’s top editor responded that it was “clear that something was happening” and referred to spikes that accompanied news breaks on the Trump campaign. “Everybody who covered this campaign was challenged in ways they never had been before. Like many people who’ve had people on a campaign trail, we had — if you were at a pen at a Trump rally and confronted with language that most of us didn’t learn at home. We had to pull a couple of people, rotate a couple of people out when racist, sexist — the most vile language I’ve ever heard.”
Were reporters requesting to be relieved? asked Issenberg.
No, replied Carroll: “The one that we did pull out we pulled out because it was becoming a dangerous situation for that person, but we were with every candidate all the way, every minute.”
The Erik Wemple Blog has asked AP for more information about the move. AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton replied, “It’s our policy to refrain from commenting on security matters.” Well, then Kathleen Carroll could be in some trouble.
Yet there’s another dimension to this story that extends way beyond the particulars: Why didn’t AP reveal this information before the election? Why wait until a post-election conference to reveal that a reporter’s safety was in danger in covering a presidential election?
We didn’t get an answer from the AP, and searches didn’t reveal any coverage of the situation.
There’s a tradition among mainstream media outlets to keep their interactions with political candidates to themselves. Aside from noting that so-and-so didn’t return calls for comment — or something like that — treatment of reporters behind the scenes tends to stay behind the scenes. It’s a fine standard so long as those backroom machinations remain boring.
Clearly a “dangerous situation” that prompts the AP to pull a reporter off the beat veers from pro forma. This is a newsworthy event — far more so than a good chunk of the day-to-day campaign-trail coverage that the wire service produced on an ongoing basis. What’s more important: “Sanders worries Trump is benefiting politically from Brexit” or “AP pulls reporter from campaign over safety concerns”? What’s more important: “Trump breaks with party on trade as he threatens tariffs” or “AP reporter pulled off beat over concerns about threats”?
“We don’t report on every assignment change,” Easton replied when asked if the AP had publicized the situation.
Though Carroll didn’t make the connection explicitly, she connected the “dangerous situation” to coverage of the Trump campaign, and in a question about the AP and Trump. Now that Trump is president-elect, media organizations need to think about this question. Their reporters will likely continue to suffer harassment online and elsewhere, whether it is cheerled by Trump himself or not. When it reaches a certain level, reporters and editors must let their audience know about it. And it’s best to do so when the news is relevant, not when it’s out of date, a lesson we’ve learned the wrong way from Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s new book.