Dart to AP, laurel to DISCUS

The Columbia Journalism Review, a respected magazine devoted to all aspects of journalism, has a longstanding column called "Darts & Laurels" in which it calls special attention to missteps or special achievements. In the current issue, CJR gives a stinging dart to the Associated Press, the world's largest news organization.

In the words of Gloria Cooper, CJR's deputy executive editor:

(A dart) to The Associated Press, for a delayed reaction due to impaired judgment.

When the American Medical Association released the heady findings of a survey that showed an appalling degree of excessive drinking and promiscuous sexual behavior on the part of an astonishing number of college women during their spring break, the AP could not resist, characterizing the survey as "all but confirming what goes on in those 'Girls Gone Wild' videos."' Nor could countless outlets the AP serves, from the morning news shows and the daily newspapers to the cable newscasts and those on the Web, most of which flashed and splashed the damned — and damning — statistics with an unmistakable leer.

The morning after, however, soon arrived. First came a devastating analysis of the survey’s grossly unscientific methods and deceptive claims — an analysis published on the Mystery Pollster blog and emphatically reinforced by the president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research; then came the AMA’s admission that the study had in fact been a “media advocacy tool.”

For its part, though, the AP seemed reluctant to lose the buzz. Indeed, in an e-mail to the AP pressing for a correction, Frank Coleman, senior vice president for the Distilled Spirits Council [of the U.S., or DISCUS], took strong exception to what he said had been the AP’s first response — namely, that “a correction would only spread the story further.” As it turned out, however, the AP did eventually take the needed step toward the recovery of accuracy — right after Coleman sent the AP a copy of a Howard Kurtz column in The Washington Post that poured light on the media’s sordid binge. Cheers!

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