Monday, October 1, 2007

The A.P. News Trust's Special Influence: A 1990s Look At The Associated Press--Part 1

(The following article originally appeared in the July 7, 1993 issue of the now-defunct Lower East Side alternative weekly, Downtown)

“The dominant and largest institution in the world news system is A.P., a cooperative owned mainly by American newspapers…A.P.’s central role is undisputed. By the agency’s count, more than a billion people have daily access to A.P. news…”

The World News Prism by William Hachten in 1987

“While having an abundance of numbers and giving an appearance of diversity, the mass media actually are highly centralized outlets that proffer a remarkably homogenized fare.”

Inventing Reality by Michael Parenti in 1986

“If there is in this country a strictly capitalist class institution it is the Associated Press.”

Eugene Debs in 1912

Although the Big Media newspapers, radio news departments and television stations are supposed to be competing with each other, the same news headlines and major news items usually appear in every U.S. Establishment newspaper, radio newscast or TV news show each day. One reason it often appears that one organization, alone, decides which items are most newsworthy is that one organization—the Associated Press [A.P.] sends over its wire service much of the copy which Big Media newspapers re-print and U.S. radio and TV announcers read over the airwaves. Since every Big Media member of the A.P. News Trust receives the same copy of news headlines and news items from the A.P.’s wire service, news junkies who wish to receive some variety in their daily news coverage are not likely to find too much variety (unless they surf around alternative media blogs and web sites on the internet)—no matter which A.P.-affiliated daily newspaper they pick up or which A.P.-affiliated radio or TV station they switch on.

The special influence of A.P. has long been recognized by alternative U.S. journalists. As the early 20th-century muckraking writer Upton Sinclair wrote in his 1991 book, The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism:

“There is the problem of the Associated Press, the most powerful and most sinister monopoly in America. Certainly there will be no freedom in America, neither journalistic freedom nor political freedom until the monopoly of the Associated Press is broken; until the distribution of the news to American newspapers is declared a public utility under public control…"

Sinclair also observed that when the bohemian radical Downtown Manhattan magazine Masses “published a cartoon representing the president of the Associated Press as pouring a bottle labeled `Poison’ into a reservoir entitled `Public Opinion’ in the early 20th Century, “The Associated Press caused the arrest of Max Eastman and Art Young on a charge of criminal libel” and A.P. then “issued an elaborate statement attacking the Masses and defending their own attitude toward the news, which statement was published in practically every paper in New York.”

Victor Rosewater also noted in his 1930 book, History of Cooperative News-Gathering In The United States, that “the accusation most obstinately pursuing the Associated Press has been that it was a gigantic news monopoly, immunizing members against competition even while ruling them with a high hand…”

In a 1937 article, Fortune magazine characterized A.P. as “a cooperative for the transfer of news, some which it gathers itself, a little of which comes from the outside by exchanging arrangements, but the great bulk of which it draws directly from the 1,300 dailies…that make up its membership." Fortune also noted that “after sorting, rewriting and editing, the A.P. parcels this news supply back among the 1,300 members (of whom fully 1,000 are wholly dependent on it for outside news) which then display it to some 35,000,000 people…of the 38,000,000 in the U.S. who buy daily newspapers” and “thus the A.P. might be called a clearinghouse.” The sorted, rewritten and edited news supply which A.P. wires back to its affiliated newspapers is then usually re-printed “under familiar (A.P.) logotype in the date lines,” according to Fortune.
(end of part 1)

(Downtown 7/7/93)

Next: The A.P. News Trust’s Special Influence: A 1990s Look At The Associated Press—Part 2