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January 17, 2008

No Bias At The AP, Of Course Not

To see an example of bias in the media, look no farther than Glen Johnson of the AP. Mitt Romney had a presser this morning in Columbia, South Carolina, when Johnson decided to hold his own debate over lobbysists in the campaign. CBS News caught the argument Johnson started on video, and its aftermath:

There was an ice storm in South Carolina this morning, but it was even colder inside a Staples store where a Mitt Romney press conference suddenly went sour.

Romney was in the middle of answering a routine question when he said something that caused Associated Press reporter Glen Johnson to lose his temper.

“I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign,” Romney said. “I don’t have lobbyists that are tied to my … ”

“That’s not true, governor!” Johnson suddenly interjected. “That is not true. Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist.”

The point Romney wanted to make was that he would not be beholden to Washington special interests when he entered the White House. Candidates make these statements on a regular basis, and Romney could probably make that argument better than most. He doesn't need money, obviously, at least not personally.

However, Ron Kaufman does act as an informal adviser to the Romney campaign. That was enough to set Glen Johnson off in a very angry exchange with Romney, who tried to make clear that Kaufman neither ran his campaign nor had any authority in it. Johnson responded by demanding to know who attended Romney's senior strategy sessions, and after the press conference ended, continued haranguing Romney on the point until Romney finally began ignoring him.

A single question about Kaufman certainly seems in order, and perhaps a follow-up. The open display of hostility and scorn by the AP reporter reveals something more than journalistic skepticism in play. It's not the first time Johnson has revealed some strange animus towards Romney, either. Eleven months ago, Johnson felt it necessary to report that Romney's great-grandfather practiced polygamy. Johnson also penned the breathless report about how Hillary heroically took charge during a hostage crisis in her campaign office in New Hampshire in December.

Johnson hasn't exactly been a model of objectivity during this campaign. Now he's made himself part of the story on the trail. Does the AP have any standards for reporter assignments, or are they comfortable with the hostility and bias Johnson shows in his work?

UPDATE: Jim Geraghty concurs, noting that Johnson was factually correct about Kaufman being a lobbyist and associated with the campaign, but "I generally think it's a bad idea for campaign correspondents to yell out objections during a candidate's remarks." Well, yes, and especially bad to continue to do so as Johnson did.


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