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Monday, 24 July 2006 09:49

Peter Phillips: News Bias in the Associated Press

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A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION

by Peter Phillips

A new study conducted at Sonoma State University shows widespread bias in Associate Press (AP) news reports favoring US government positions.

On October 25, 2005 the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) posted to their website 44 autopsy reports, acquired from American military sources, covering the deaths of civilians who died while in US military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002-2004. The autopsy reports provided proof of widespread torture by US forces. A press release by ACLU announcing the deaths was immediately picked up by AP wire service making the story available to US corporate media nationwide. A thorough check of Nexus-Lexus and Proquest library data bases showed that at least 98 percent of the daily papers in the US did not to pick up the story, nor did AP ever conduct follow up coverage on the issue.

The Associated Press is a non-profit cooperative news wire service. The AP with 3,700 employees has 242 bureaus worldwide that deliver news reports 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to 121 countries in 5 languages including English, German, Dutch, French, and Spanish. In the US alone, AP reaches 1,700 daily, weekly, non-English, college newspapers, and 5,000 radio and television stations. AP reaches over a billion people every day via print, radio, or television.

Alison Weir, Joy Ellison, and Peter Weir of the organization If Americans Knew recently conducted research on the AP's reporting of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The study was a statistical analysis of the AP newswire in the year 2004, looking comparatively at the numbers of Israeli and Palestinian deaths reported. In 2004 there were 141 reports of Israeli deaths in AP headlines and lead paragraphs, while in reality there were only 108 Israeli deaths. During this same period, 543 Palestinian deaths were reported by AP, while 821 Palestinians had actually been killed. The ratio of actual number of Israeli conflict deaths to Palestinian deaths in 2004 was 1:7, yet AP reported deaths of Israelis to Palestinians at a 2:1 ratio.

The same could be said of AP's reporting of children's deaths. Nine reports of Israeli children's deaths were reported by the AP in headlines and leading paragraphs in 2004, while eight actually occurred. Only 27 Palestinian children deaths were reported by AP when actually 179 children died. While there were 22 times more Palestinian children's deaths than Israeli children's deaths, the AP reported 113 percent of Israeli children's deaths and 15 percent of Palestinian children's deaths.

On February 29, 2004 AP widely reported that President Aristide was ousted by Haitian rebels and that the United States provided an escort to take him out of the country to a safe asylum. Within 24 hours an entirely different story emerged through independent radio. Instead of the US being the supportive facilitator of Aristide's safety, Pacifica Radio News reported that Aristide was actually kidnapped by US forces. AP quickly changed their story. On March 1, 2004 an AP report by Deb Riechman said, "White House officials said Aristide left willingly and that the United States aided his safe departure. But in a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Aristide said: "No. I was forced to leave."


The last AP report of Aristide's claiming that he had been kidnapped by the US in a State Department coup was on June 27, 2004. Since then there have been 60 news articles by AP including Aristide's name. Of these stories none mentioned Aristide's claim that he was kidnapped by the United States military. None mention the US backing of the coup. AP's bias in favor of the State Department's version of the Aristide's removal seems to be a deliberate case of AP-sanctioned forgetting.

AP is a massive institutionalized bureaucracy that feeds news stories to nearly every newspaper and radio/TV station in the United States. They are so large that top-down control of single news stories is practically impossible. However, research clearly indicates a built-in bias favoring official US government positions. The American people absorb these biases and make political decisions on skewed understandings. Without media systems that provide fair, critical and accurate reporting, democracy faces a dismal future.

A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION

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Peter Phillips is a sociology professor at Sonoma State University and director of Project Censored. University research interns Sarah Randle, Brian Fuchs, Zoe Huffman, and Fabrice Romero assisted with this report. The full AP bias study is available on-line at www.projectcensored.org/...