Change is in the air at the Associated Press, the 162-year old wire service known for its painfully even-handed—and, yes, often dull—approach to presenting the news of the day. Ron Fournier, its new Washington Bureau chief, is responsible for much of it. The former staff reporter, who took over the top job last May, is profiled in today’s Politico, as is his enthusiasm for what he calls “accountability journalism”—a more aggressive style of writing and reporting intended to hold the rich and powerful closer to the fire. “The AP’s hard-earned reputation for fairness and nonpartisanship must not be used as an excuse for fuzzy language when a clear voice is demanded,” Fournier wrote last summer, in an internal newsletter to AP employees. “Nor should it force us to give both sides of a story equal play when one side is plainly wrong.” Statements like these signify a clear break from wire service’s longstanding editorial practices and, not without controversy, prompted Fournier’s immediate predecessor, Sandy Johnson, to tell the Politico, “I loved the Washington bureau. I just hope he doesn’t destroy it.”
But if Fournier’s reign as bureau chief is raising eyebrows, so, too, will his April 2004 email exchange with Karl Rove about the death of Pat Tillman, the former NFL player-turned-Army Ranger who was accidentally killed by members of his own unit in Afghanistan. According to a report (.pdf), coincidentally released today by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Fournier was one of a number of reporters (including Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan) who contacted the White House after news of Tillman’s death broke “to offer advice.” For example, Noonan advised Peter Wehner, the White House director of strategic initiatives, that he “find out what faith Tillman practiced and have the president go by that church and light a candle and say a prayer.” Fournier’s exchange with Rove is also described:
Karl Rove exhanged e-mails about Pat Tillman with Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier, under the subject line “H-E-R-O.” In response to Mr. Fournier’s e-mail, Mr. Rove asked, “How does our country continue to produce men and women like this,” to which Mr. Fournier replied, “The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight.”
Fournier did not immediately respond to my call for comment. This post will be updated if/when he does.
UPDATE: While Fournier never responded to my phone call, he did issue this statement to his own organization last night:
I was an AP political reporter at the time of the 2004 e-mail exchange, and was interacting with a source, a top aide to the president, in the course of following an important and compelling story. I regret the breezy nature of the correspondence.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from hyku.
Home page photo of a statue of Pat Tillman outside of the Arizona Cardinals’ football stadium in Glendale, Arizona by flickr user tonythemisfit used under a Creative Commons license.