Associated Press Versus Rand Paul: New Controversies Sharpen The Debate Over Framing and Fact Finding

I recently gave a speech organized by the office of Sen. Rand Paul on Capitol Hill that addressed the rise of advocacy journalism and other issues impacting our democratic and constitutional values. It was attended by hundreds of staffers from both parties. Afterward Sen. Paul mentioned an example of why he has objected to the role of media framing news stories.  I thought that the conflict with the Associated Press offered an interesting follow up to the speech as a useful context to explore the line between accuracy and advocacy. This dispute captures the issues that arise in our heated politics and why interpretative roles in the media can be fraught with difficulties even when done in good faith.  Indeed, I believe both Paul and the AP have valid points to raise on these disputes that could be illustrative and instructive for all of us.

The dispute arose recently when the AP properly sought a response from Sen. Paul to the expected opposition in Democrat Charles Booker. The article quotes Paul as saying “Paul criticized Booker’s stance on policing issues and predicted Kentuckians will reject it.”  But that is not what Paul said.  However, his actual quote was  “I just don’t think defunding the police and forcing taxpayers to pay for reparations will be very popular in Kentucky.”

The AP explained that it could not confirm that Booker has supported defunding police or reparations.

Paul’s office pointed the AP to past comments where Booker does appear to support those causes.  On defunding police, Booker was interviewed by MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt and it had this exchange:

HUNT: Would you echo calls from Black Lives Matter activists to defund the police?

BOOKER: Well, I think now is the time that we actually need to do that work. This is about fully funding public safety. Now, what we’ve seen is continuing budgets increased in law enforcement year after year where — in the city of Louisville, for instance, the budget for law enforcement is more than all the other city agencies combined. And then we see that at the state level and we certainly that at the federal level with our military industrial complex.

Our law enforcement are dressed up as militarized organizations that treat us as enemy combatants. What we’re saying is instead of continuing to put tax dollars into creating this organization or this effort that doesn’t keep us safe that we actually put money spot community, that we do the work of community policing, we do the work of mental health, we do the work of dismantling and disrupting poverty.

And we need men and women in law enforcement to join us in doing that work. And so, you know, I’ve led for that for years. I’ve from poorest zip code in Kentucky. We criminalized poverty in Kentucky.

And the only way we will change that is if we put people at the front of our agenda and not at the bottom of our knee or our foots. And I’m proud to stand with Kentuckians to demand real change.

That would seem express support for defunding police since he is responding directly with an affirmative statement that it is work that needs to be done and that police budgets are too large.

One can certainly quibble with such interpretations with some insisting that shifting funds is not defunding. However, such shifts do result in the reduction or defunding of police operations.  The question is whether the media should interject itself the way that social media companies do in reframing news. This strikes me as an example where it is better for the politicians to have it out on their own characterizations of such statements. Again, it is not about whether AP or others agree with Paul’s interpretation but whether it is fair game for candidates to have this debate. Paul’s characterization was well within legitimate political debate in characterizing Booker as supporting the reduction of police budgets. The rest is left to Booker to refute or rebut, not AP.

On reparations, Booker has also supportive in declaring that “reparations are infrastructure.” He also included reparations on his priority list as things needed to be come to combat poverty.

Again, the question is not whether AP rewrote the Paul comment in bad faith but whether the natural default has changed. I think that the default should be for politicians to debate such interpretations, not for the media to actively reframe their comments. Booker has clearly supported reparations as a factual matter.

There is obviously building bad blood between Paul and AP.  Paul has objected to how AP tends to paraphrase him while quoting such opposing voices like Dr. Fauci. His supporters also object to how stories are framed.

For example, Paul’s supporters objected to how the AP covers a chilling mob that harassed Paul and his wife in Washington. The article was titled “Sen. Paul complains about ‘angry mob’ encounter after RNC” does appear to me to unfairly headlined since the mobbing of the couple was obvious and outrageous. However, I disagree with the Paul supporters on the content of the article which has been denounced as taking the view of the mob. I do not see that. It seems to be a fair reporting. As a columnist for three decades, I have had some poor headlines which were ordinarily written by editors, not writers. Moreover, the headline could be an innocent mis-emphasis rather than a biased construction.

Rather than pick sides, the Paul/AP controversies could serve as a context for useful reflection. Many of us have objected to the bias in the media, which I believe is becoming increasingly and dangerously evident. I believe that media bias is posing a serious threat to our democratic process and increasing the levels of rage and alienation in our political system. However, that can also lead to a quick trigger on the bias call. I have had to check my own tendency in that regard on some stories. However, Paul has a valid point on the editing of his statements about his expected political opponent. The media needs to be careful not to go down the road of social media in reframing what are legitimate political disagreements.

AP is one of our premier news organizations and, while other organizations have adopted self-destructive rules or practices allowing advocacy, AP remains committed to traditional principles of neutrality and objectivity. That is going to be hugely important as we head into an election that could be the most divisive and heated in history. We need a neutral media in our political system and that means that media will need to report rather than reframe political exchanges.

41 thoughts on “Associated Press Versus Rand Paul: New Controversies Sharpen The Debate Over Framing and Fact Finding”

  1. Jonathan: By taking sides in the Kentucky race for the Senate next year between Sen. Rand Paul, the white candidate, and Charles Booker, the black candidate, it seems you have violated your call for “neutrality and objectivity” in commentary and reporting. But I suppose in this “age of rage”, as you call it, even you have been drawn into the vortex of partisan politics. In accepting Paul’s invitation to speak at his gathering we now know where you stand. You stand with Rand Paul. The Senator has made his position clear on the important issues. He backs Trump’s false claim of massive election fraud in last year’s election. He opposed Trump’s impeachment ( as you did) and has fought with Dr. Fauci on vaccinations, mask wearing, etc. Paul calls Dr. Fauci’s urging everyone to wear a face mask, even if vaccinated, as “theater”. He calls Fauci a “petty tyrant” and now wants the DOJ to prosecute the doctor for allegedly “lying” to Congress. Talk about political “theater”! Paul is using it in spades to appeal to the anti-vaxxer crowd back home where under 50% of the population is vaccinated. Regarding the AP article you say it “quotes” Paul. Not true. It simply paraphrases Paul fairly accurately. It did not “re-write” Paul’s comment as you allege. You claim the “media bias is posing a serious threat to our democratic process”. I don’t see any of your hyperbole in the AP article.

    Now in next year’s election Kentucky voters face a stark contrast. Charles Booker is supported by a broad coalition of white and black civic groups who want to reform racist police practices ( see the Breonna Taylor case in Louisville). Paul is backed by Donald Trump and the white power structure in Kentucky and by the police. The battle for Kentucky’s Senate seat couldn’t be much clearer. By taking Paul’s side you have crossed the line from being simply a constitutional scholar and professor who professes a commitment to “neutrality and objectivity” to being just another political hack! Welcome to the age of rage.

    1. You’re a moron, not a thoughtful inquiring person like you’re trying to come across. You are a… moron.

    1. ThinkitThrough,

      What? you were expecting Turley to call the AP “fake news”? Haven’t you gotten it through your thick head yet that he is not like you.

      Turley is a hypocrite to be sure, but one thing he is not- a Trumpist!

  2. I agree with a couple of the posters: the Professor is now finally only *slightly* naive, having defended absolute insanity in the name of clearer heads prevailing for years. The time to nip this in the bud has passed. It IS happening here, right now, and if we do not reverse course as soon as possible, we may never do so. Not ever. This wouldn’t matter so much to me if Prof. Turley weren’t one of the very last sane folks we have left addressing the general public in any meaningful capacity. Is it going to take his first Twitter banning to convince him? An actual arrest for dissenting views?

    1. James,

      Twitter will NEVER ban Turley. It bans blatant liars, not hypocrites. If you think he will ever be convinced to share your Trumpist views, you will be sadly mistaken. Wait until Turley does not reinforce your view that the prosecution of the Trump organization, employees and Trump lawyers is a “witch hunt.” He will not delegitimate a lawful prosecution because he rejects the “Deep State” Trumpist narrative despite the fact that he works for Fox.

  3. Has anyone noticed a trend. The Democrats first come out with unequivocal support for defunding the police. Next they say that police funding should be redirected to a social worker at the scene of a guy trying to stab his girlfriend. Now they are saying we need to add more police. They saw the polls of black people who want more police in their community and they quickly changed their tune. From their tony white suburbs they assumed that all black people hate the police. They never assumed that not all black people think alike. Of course they have their belief that all of them there darkies are the same and will vote for them no mater what they do. Now they’re running in support of the police. They’re actually just running scared.

    1. Thjnkit – Why is it that many/most of today’s right-wingers prefer opinions, rather than objective facts?

      1. bill McWilliams, are you telling us that Democrats have not been for defunding the police? As examples I give you Seattle, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Defunding police in those cities is not a matter of my opinion. Are there any other objective facts necessary. The problem is that today left-wingers just don’t want to acknowledge the facts.

      2. What are the objective facts here? That blacks have destroyed cities nationwide? That they themselves are responsible for the very police budgets they find so objectionable? For the ever increasing tax upon the working citizen?

  4. So AP makes up a statement supposedly said by Rand Paul. They attribute this statement as a direct quote. They knew exactly what they were doing when they did it. Sorry to say my dear Professor Turley but me thinks you too naive. Five years ago you were very naive. Two years ago you were less naive. Today you are moderately naive. I understand. It is difficult to admit that what can’t happen here is indeed happening here. You are always want to believe the best in others but you are slowly coming to the conclusion that if we don’t counteract the madness now it may be to late.

  5. We need more unbiased journalism and less “advocacy journalism” which, frankly, is propaganda, for good or ill.

    So many institutions treat the American public as incompetents who need their betters, the elites, to moderate what information they can access.

    Whatever their opinion of the average American’s cognitive skills, treat people like adults. True journalists, as opposed to opinion or editorial content creators. should strive to provide accurate information, regardless of how it affects their favorite party.

    A true op/ed piece is framed as an opinion, with supporting information. Advocacy journalism pretends to be unbiased when the journalist really has his thumb, left foot, and the kitchen sink on the scale, carefully curating information or even making up details in order to craft propaganda disguised as straight news.

  6. Wait.

    You mean we don’t all know?

    You mean some of us don’t know?

    You mean some of us are trying to hide the fact that the AP and the communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs) are taking absolute control of America and will soon fully abrogate the last remnants of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    The AP is a fundamental anti-American propaganda mouthpiece of communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs) in America.

    You mean we don’t all know that?

  7. “AP is one of our premier news organizations . . .”

    If that’s true, we’re in a world of hurt.

    The “AP Stylebook” is the industry standard. For years, it has butchered the English language with PC nonsense. Here’s just once such, recent absurdity:

    “Don’t use the term mistress for a woman who is in a long-term sexual relationship with, and is financially supported by, a man who is married to someone else. Instead, use an alternative like companion, friend or lover on first reference and provide additional details later.” (AP, 4/13/21)

    1. For Trumpists, you are either “with them or against them.” There is no in-between. I predicted that the Trumpists on this blog would eventually turn on Turley. It was just a matter of time.

  8. The real issue is defunding “unconstitutional” practices that violate every police officer’s constitutional Oath of Office. No serious group wants to totally defund any police agency. Part of the problem is portraying complex issues as black & white issues and anyone that disagrees as the enemy.

  9. “AP remains committed to traditional principles of neutrality and objectivity.”

    au contraire.

    One only needs to look at the ongoing changes in the AP Style book to chart its ongoing march off the left of the journalism stage

  10. AP WAS one of our premier news organizations

    Journalism and the “mainstream” media is dead.

    They have been purchased by the Democrats and their allegiance is to Democrats alone.
    Not their readers; not Americans.

    This all happened under Obama……..a lot of things happened under Obama; and it continues today and it all under “Obama”.

    We need to wake up to the fact; that Obama is running this nation.

    Obama is back; and with a very dangerous vengeance.

  11. My experience with the Associated Press here in Wisconsin is they have been biased Left for the last 30 years. I am a former acting press secretary for Gov. Tommy Thompson and local (Madison WI) government elected official.

  12. The AP is a leftist media organization, plain and simple. I you read their stories with any kind of discernment you would have to be dull to not see their liberal bias. As the Overton Window opens wider and wider intelligent, sane and moral observers such as Professor Turley miss the forest for the trees. To even look at the most recent Style Book changes will tell you all you need to know about the AP.

    1. Hullbobby,

      Turley disappointed you? You better get used to that feeling. As the law closes in on Trump and his organization, Turley will continue to let you down.

  13. I have noticed that the AP has become increasingly biased in their reporting. I no longer view them as authoritative. It’s a shame because they were the one of the best.

  14. The malign influence of the media in shaping public opinion is obvious; just look at the unhinged posts by Lefty bloggers on this site.

    People like Anonymous eb, MollyG, and Natacha constantly attack Turley’s posts (and Turley himself) based on false news reports (some of those attacks are probably disingenuous rather than mistaken).

    The strange thing is, these Lefty bloggers like being lied to by the press and probably pay for subscriptions to media that lie to them.

    1. Monument, the people you mention n your comment come to this site because they hate the fact that there is a place where intelligent middle-right thought is being espoused. People like you and I would never think to go to a site like CNN and attack their writers constantly.

      Folks like Monument et al will change the channel away from CNN, MSNBC, NBC etc because they disagree with the message but people like EB, Natacha and others will try to get the Fox shows banned. This is the difference between the thoughtful right and the fascist left. I challenge people like EB to name one, EVEN ONE, conservative site or platform (if there is such a thing) that has censored leftist drivel. Meanwhile Twitter, FB, Youtube and other left wing companies constantly censor conservatives. Twitter will ban Trump but allow the Ayatollah to join in the conversation. They will ban the NY Post for a month prior to an election and then say oops. It is sickening and I don’t understand why some conservative billionaire hasn’t come up with a platform for freedom.

  15. Music to tune of Sam Stone…

    Rand Paul! Came home!
    To his crooks and country schemes.
    After serving in the conflict in DC.

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