News bias in The Associated Press

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

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

The Associated Press is a nonprofit 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 five languages including English, German, Dutch, French and Spanish. In the U.S. alone, AP reaches 1,700 daily, weekly, non-English and 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’s 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 U.S. being the supportive facilitator of Aristide’s safety, Pacifica Radio News reported that Aristide was actually kidnapped by U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. backing of the coup. AP’s bias in favor of the State Department’s version of 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 U.S. 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.

Peter Phillips is a professor of sociology 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 at www.projectcensored.org/newsflash/ap_bias.html.