It’s basic journalism to seek the perspective of those you’re scrutinizing–and to check your facts.
But the Associated Press did neither of those things for a story last Friday titled, “Vulnerable Democrats are tiptoeing on health care.”
As a result at least one Democrat, Rep. Betsy Markey of Colorado, was presented in the article as tiptoeing when in reality, she may not have been tiptoeing at all, depending on your interpretation of the facts.
You’ll see what I mean when I provide information (below) that was omitted from the article.
The AP piece reported that Markey, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), and Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) had not “made an in-person appearance before a large crowd on the topic [health care] since it was passed into law.”
The AP wrote of Markey, “During Congress’ two-week Easter break, she reserved any discussion of health care reform for conference calls, an op-ed piece, and an appearance at a small-town Rotary Club–all small bore outreach.”
“After the raucus, angry town halls of last summer, Markey steered clear of massive gatherings,” the AP reported.
But the AP never called Markey’s office to discuss the matter, according to Markey spokesman Ben Marter. If the AP had done so, here’s what it would have found out:
After the health care bill passed the House (March 21) and prior to the publication of AP’s article (April 8), Markey held two “tele-town hall meetings,” with 8,500 participants each, Marter told me, adding that these conference calls were publicized in “newspapers and announced on radio stations all across the district.”
So a total of 17,000 people participated in Markey’s conference calls, many more than the average of 200-300 participants at Markey’s live town hall meetings over summer, according to Marter. In addition, he says, Markey met during her office hours with groups (up to 50 people each) in a setting that “allowed more people to see Betsey and ask a question.”
These figures make AP’s characterization that Markey engaged in “small-bore” outreach look way off the mark.
Let’s just call it what it is, editorializing.
It’s up to us to decide whether to believe Markey’s office and size up her outreach and the reasons for using the conference calls and other outreach measures in the wake of last summer’s, as the AP put it, “raucus, angry” town hall meetings. (Some might have called them “unmanageable,” “disruptive,” or possibly “unproductive.”)
But the AP never put the facts on the table for us to evaluate.
I was hoping the AP would talk to me about this, because I’m a huge fan of the news service, and it seemed really strange that it wouldn’t have bothered to call Markey’s office to get her side of the story, especially because other Democrats in the article were apparently interviewed.
But Kristen Wyatt, the AP reporter who wrote the piece, could only apologize for not being allowed to talk to me.