AP Writer Spins on Troopergate; Ignores Obvious Bias in Legislative Probe

September 23rd, 2008 2:51 AM

Associated Press writer Matt Volz has been a busy bee covering the Troopergate anti-scandal over the last two weeks. Not surprisingly, he continues to write story after story without citing to the obvious bias underlying the entire investigation.

I am guessing most of you know the basic facts, but here they are in a nutshell. Sarah Palin has an ex-brother-in-law named Mike Wooten. Prior to Palin becoming governor, she and her family filed a formal complaint against Wooten regarding a number of misdeeds including the tasering of a young boy, threatening to kill Palin's father-in-law, and shooting a moose (apparently a heinous crime in Alaska). After Palin became governor, she and her staff had several conversations about Wooten with Walt Monegan, the Public Safety Commissioner. Palin later had a separate dispute with Monegan and offered him a reassignment. Monegan refused - and would later claim he felt pressure to fire Wooten. Palin has repeatedly stated that Monegan was offered reassignment (i.e. fired) for independent reasons and Wooten had nothing to do with it.

From this modest difference of opinion, the Alaska legislature saw fit to order an independent investigation. Although Palin initially welcomed the investigation, once she became John McCain's running mate the probe took a decidedly partisan tone.

The democrat legislator in charge of the probe, Hollis French, made a series of biased statements to the press. In a September 2 article, ABC News quotes French as saying the investigation is "likely to be damaging to the Governor's administration," a conclusion offered just as the investigation was getting underway. Among many other statements, French also stated that Palin has "a credibility problem," and suggested that the McCain camapign would have to deal with an "October surprise." French further proclaimed "if [the McCain team] had done their job they never would have picked her." Subsequent to these statements, a picture was discovered of Hollis French at an Obama headquarters somewhere in Alaska.

With these obvious indications of bias present, the Palin team changed course and decided not to cooperate with the investigation. Instead, Palin has since insisted that the matter should properly be investigated by the state Personnel Board (and in fact filed her own complaint before that Board).

With that as your backdrop, it is quite interesting to examine the series of AP stories (all written or co-written by Matt Volz) on this topic, none of which include the damning quotes from Hollis French.

In a story out today ("Palin lawyer meets with investigator in probe"), Volz ignores the French bias while ridiculously suggesting that Sarah Palin has an undue influence over the state Personnel Board. Here's the lede (emphasis mine):

Less than a week after balking at the Alaska Legislature's investigation into her alleged abuse of power, Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday indicated she will cooperate with a separate probe run by people she can fire.

Oh - so she can fire the Personnel Board, but not the legislature, and therefore the legislature must be more trustworthy, right? That's the impression the author tries to leave. It's not until the seventh paragraph that you learn that the governor can only fire Personnel Board members for cause.

Volz further undercuts Palin by pointing out that one member of the Personnel Board donated $400 to Palin's 2006 campaign. Volz does point out (in a roundabout way) that the three members of the board were inherited from the prior administration, but Volz neglects to say that the prior governor Murkowski is Palin's political foe and the incumbent Republican she threw out of office.

In a September 20 story ("Stalled Troopergate probe leaves many questions"), Volz focuses on the "stonewalling" of McCain campaign operatives.

Over the next several weeks, Palin and her team withheld the investigation's most important witnesses - herself, her husband Todd, and a host of key administration aides. Palin also continued to withhold potentially key evidence - the contents of a plethora of e-mails among the governor, her husband and key state government officials.

The remainder of the story involves Volz posing a number of ominous accusatory questions (accompanied with his analysis), such as ... What is in the emails? ... Why was he fired? ... Was there a real death threat? ... Did she abuse her power? ... How did they kill the investigation?

A much shorter article appeared September 19 ("Investigator: Palin probe to end before election"), and focuses on Hollis French's commitment to conclude the probe by October 10 notwithstanding the lack of cooperation of all the main witnesses. In this article Volz at least vaguely refers to Palin's claims of partisanship, but doesn't avail his readers of the key French quotes underlying that claim.

None of the people ordered to testify Friday showed up. The McCain campaign, Palin and her allies have been working to delay the investigation until after the election. They say it's become a political fight.

Volz's September 18 article ("Palin's husband refuses to testify in probe") features the "stonewalling" of Todd Palin. Again the lede tags the Palins as uncooperative - and sidetracking the probe.

Sarah Palin's husband has refused to testify in the investigation of his wife's alleged abuse of power, and a key lawmaker said Thursday that uncooperative witnesses are effectively sidetracking the probe until after Election Day.

Volz then quotes a democrat legislator on the politicization by McCain and Palin.

Wielechowski said he did not know whether Branchflower has enough material for a complete and fair report with so few witnesses. But he said delaying the probe, which began as a bipartisan effort, would only politicize the matter more. "It would be to appease the McCain camp," Wielechowski said. "They're doing everything they can to delay."

After noting that Todd Palin ignored the legislature's subpoena, Volz happily reports that "ignoring a legislative subpoena is punishable by a fine up to $500 and up to six months in jail under Alaska law."

Volz's September 17 entry ("Troopergate probe appears to be unraveling") follows pretty much the same pattern as all the others. The lede includes the Palin's initial quote "hold me accountable," which is contrasted by later efforts at "legal maneuvering."

The abuse-of-power investigation of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was unraveling Wednesday, with most key witnesses refusing to testify, new legal maneuvering and heightened Republican pressure to delay the probe until after Election Day. Palin initially welcomed the investigation, saying "hold me accountable," but she has increasingly opposed it since Republican presidential candidate John McCain tapped her as his vice presidential running mate.

Volz highlights more "stonewalling" with colorful quotes from democrat lawmakers.

Elton also sent a letter to Attorney General Talis Colberg, a Republican appointed by Palin, who on Tuesday said he would refuse to allow 10 subpoenaed state employees to testify, despite assurances from Colberg's staff last week that they would testify if certain interpretations of state law were agreed upon.

Contending the deal had been broken, Elton said, "Bluntly, I feel like Charlie Brown after Lucie moved the football."

Finally, a September 10 article ("Palin family was ordered not to disparage trooper") speaks of the legislative investigation as an ancillary matter. This article, interestingly, does refer to French's alleged bias.

Van Flein said he was trying to learn whether state Sen. Hollis French, who is overseeing that investigation, had launched a "result-oriented process" and to see whether there was any evidence of bias.

But again - Volz does not let his readers know why there is a suspicion of a "result-oriented process," even though French's inflammatory statements were reported by ABC News a week earlier. 

This particular story's main focus was the divorce proceedings of Palin's sister and the renegade Trooper Wooten. In a thinly-veiled attempt to smear Sarah Palin, Volz refers to divorce transcripts in which: "Sarah Palin's family was ordered by a judge three years ago not to disparage her sister's ex-husband, the Alaska state trooper at the center of an investigation into whether the governor abused her power trying to get him fired." In a separate passage, Volz wrote, "The judge warned her and her relatives not to disparage Wooten in front of the kids." These statements were written to give readers the idea that Sarah Palin herself had been reprimanded by a judge, which is very likely not the case. It is highly doubtful that Palin would have been present for a ruling in her sister's divorce case, and in any event would not be subject to a court order unless she was a party to the case (extremely unlikely).

Altogether, the series of Volz articles would leave the average reader with the impression that McCain and Palin had something to hide - and were "stonewallling" to delay the probe findings beyond election day. There is very little criticism of the legislative probe itself. And with today's article, Volz is perfectly willing to conjure bias out of thin air regarding state Personnel Board, while conveniently ignoring objectively biased and partisan statements from the head of the legislative probe. That's six stories without a single mention of the bias which is at the heart of Palin's objections.

Altogether, the Volz articles present a decidely one-sided view of the so-called Troopergate story.