the kicker

Petition protests firing of AP staffers

Three employees were fired after a story was retracted, and the union that represented two of them is organizing opposition to the terminations
October 23, 2013

A petition surfaced online Tuesday calling for the reinstatement of three journalists fired after the Associated Press retracted a story detailing alleged misconduct by Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

Members of the News Media Guild, which represents AP journalists, technicians, and support personnel, circulated the petition. Jim Romenesko posted it in its entirety on his blog Tuesday afternoon.

“It was only a matter of time before the severe under-staffing of AP bureaus across the country and the unrealistic demands put upon them combined to create a high-profile error,” the petition says. “And when it did, AP management grossly overreacted.”

Reached by phone, Guild President Martha Waggoner said the petition that appeared on Romenesko was an unfinished draft, although she hesitated to call it a “leak,” chalking the premature release up to the result of a large email list full of journalists.

“The firings have alarmed AP employees nationwide, and the News Media Guild will vigorously enforce the contractual rights of the employees it represents,” Waggoner wrote in a statement Tuesday.

The Huffington Post reported Monday that veteran political reporter Bob Lewis and Dena Potter, a Richmond-based editor, had been fired for their involvement in the report. Politico announced Tuesday morning that Norman Gomlak, an editor in the Atlanta AP bureau who had helped edit the October 9 piece, had also been fired.

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The article in question, retracted an hour and a half after it went online, connected McAuliffe to a Rhode Island real estate planner facing federal fraud charges. According to a Washington Post story that ran the following day, court documents do not accuse McAuliffe of any wrongdoing in the case.

But the petition still decried the firings as an unfair and disproportionate reaction to an honest mistake.

“These firings appear to be aimed at driving fear into the hearts of reporters who are under tremendous pressure to compete vigorously with much more robustly staffed competitors.

Our standards have not changed in all these years: Honest errors are just that, and the people who make them own up, move on and never repeat them.”

Waggoner confirmed the News Media Guild has filed grievances for two of the fired journalists. The Guild does not represent Potter, because she was a manager.

AP Director of Media Relations Paul Colford said the organization took action after “very serious deliberation,” but would not discuss the specifics of of the firings, citing personnel matters. Colford would not comment on whether AP had received or responded to grievance complaints.

Noah Hurowitz is a CJR intern