By: Joe Strupp
Responding to today’s disclosure that former Vermont Associated Press bureau chief Chris Graff was fired recently for distributing an opinion column by Sen. Patrick Leahy, the senator released a statement sharply criticizing the news organization and calling the move “amazing.”
Graff, fired March 20 after 27 years in the bureau, released today a letter he received from AP’s regional bureau chief on that date informing him of the termination. He had previously withheld the explanation for his dismissal, but revealed the reason after striking a severance agreement with AP last week.
The letter indicates that Graff was fired for distributing Leahy’s column on March 8, which advocated the annual Sunshine Week and mirrored a column he had distributed a year earlier as well.
Leahy had criticized the AP’s move shortly after it was announced and his statement today adds new fuel to the fire. It follows:
?If anything, this letter makes AP?s decision all the more difficult to accept and understand.
?Those of us in public life never agree with all the news coverage we receive. But within the two rough-and-tumble professions of public service and journalism, I have never heard anything but praise about Chris Graff for his professionalism and his evenhandedness, and he has earned that praise.
?The ironies of censoring discussion of the public?s right to know — during Sunshine Week, to boot — have already been noted by others.
?But it must also be noted that AP itself takes an advocacy position each year during Sunshine Week. AP bureaus across the country distribute and also produce materials in which these issues are examined. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that we recently held, a prominent AP witness testified ? and forcefully — in support of the public?s right to know and of the bipartisan FOIA reform bills that I have authored and introduced in the Senate with one of the Senate?s most conservative Republican members.
?Earlier this year the American Society of Newspaper Editors once again asked for my observations for Sunshine Week, which they distributed to every newspaper in the country. Making the incidental effort to ensure that Vermont?s editors were aware of this was, apparently, Chris Graff?s ?mistake,? in the view of his supervisor.
?The letter?s explanation is all the more amazing because the piece that I wrote and that Mr. Graff simply called to Vermont?s editors? attention is all about the public?s right to know, calling on the government to be more open with the press and the public. Since Sunshine Week, and to this day, I still have not seen anyone venture forth with any column arguing otherwise, that the government these days is sharing too much information with the press and the public.?