AP Stylebook: 'Let Relevance Be Guide' on a Pol's Party Affiliation
NewsBusters reader Paul Farmer (NoMoreClintons) sent along the following this morning a guest blog submission. Farmer touched on the decidedly vague guidance that the Associated Press gives reporters on when to include a politician's party affiliation.
Farmer has an older AP Stylebook than I have (I have the 2006 edition), but the portion on "party affiliation" he excerpts from his is nearly a word-for-word match with mine.
So in light of AP's pattern of obscuring the party affiliation of the recently indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) (as reported by NB's Lynn Davidson) and an initial lack of interest by some media in Jefferson's scandal (see this oldie but a goodie from 2005, the early days of NB), I'd thought I'd share Mr. Farmer's thoughts with you:
Does the Associated Press consider William Jefferson's political party relevant in its reporting of his indictment? Apparently not. Consider for a moment the AP's own Stylebook, it's "Bible", if you will.
It acts as its name implies: a guide to a certain style that the AP wants from its editors and reporters. And this goes way beyond punctuation and where to put quotation marks. Pertinent to this discussion, it mandates ways that persons should be identified, especially politicians and their political party.
In the foreword (and I have the 1996 edition) it states that the purpose of the
Stylebook is to "make clear and simple rules (and) permit few exceptions to the rules..."
However, the Stylebook conveniently (at least since 1996) leaves wiggle room in the question of whether a politician's political party should be identified within the body of a story. A cynical person may wonder if this loophole is designed to fit with their own ideology where convenient.
Under "party affiliatiion" the AP Stylebook states: "Let relevance be the guide in determining whether to include a political figure's party affiliation in
a story. Party affiliation is pointless in some stories, such as a governor accepting a button from a poster child. It will occur naturally in many
political stories." (emphasis mine).
So the question goes begging: Why doesn't William Jefferson's party affiliation hav "relevance" in the AP's reporting of his indictment? Given the ballyhoo over the Democrats charging Republicans with a "culture of corruption" in the 2006 campaign, shouldn't the AP find Jefferson's party affiliation extremely relevant? And let's ask ourselves if they would find a Republican's party affiliation relevant under similar circumstances? Or does the AP consider Jefferson's indictment to be in the same category as a governor accepting a button from a poster child? Accepting a button or accepting $90,000 under the table - it's all the same to the AP as long as a "D" exists after the name. Or in this case, doesn't exist.