Attribution Problem: AP Swipes Story From The Hill

It takes a certain amount of clumsiness to break something that’s already broken.

The Hill‘s Alexandra Jaffe broke the news yesterday that Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) was distancing himself from remarks made by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in,” Brown told The Hill. He was referring to Romney’s recently surfaced comments that labeled “47 percent” of Americans as people who feel “entitled” to government benefits.

Jaffe’s story was picked up by HuffPost, Political Wire and Politico, all of which attributed The Hill for breaking it.

The AP also picked it up.

Shortly after Jaffe’s story broke, AP reporter Steve LeBlanc wrote the same story, correctly paraphrasing Brown’s quotes. What was missing, however, was any attribution to The Hill.

LeBlanc’s story was updated later with actual quotes from Brown, the same quotes from Jaffe’s story. But LeBlanc’s article attributed them to a statement from Brown’s office. The first version of his story did not attribute to any statement.

Pictured is a screen capture of LeBlanc’s original story.

The Boston Herald‘s Hillary Chabot wrote the same story, attributing the same quotes to a statement. NYT did the same.

We requested comment from the AP media relations, LeBlanc and Chabot. A publicist is looking into it.

We’ve also sought comment from Brown’s campaign office to clarify if they sent out a statement with the same quotes after The Hill‘s story was published. But even if that is the case, the paraphrased version of LeBlanc’s story still did not cite The Hill for breaking the news.

UPDATE: AP’s Paul Colford explains…

Colford: “Several hours before the 3:33 p.m. time stamp on the The Hill story
that you sent, AP’s Steve LeBlanc called both campaigns and asked for
comments on the ’47 percent’ remark. Elizabeth Warren called him directly and Sen. Brown’s campaign — at 12:55 p.m. — emailed him the same statement they gave to The Hill. Hope this clarifies.”

In response: Perhaps it clarifies, but then again, why did many other publications feel the need to cite The Hill? Just because a campaign phones AP several hours before the time stamp on The Hill doesn’t mean the AP can just claim breaking something. Absurdity level: high. Charge: A solid misdemeanor.

UPDATE #2: Further, Colford adds, “First, AP moved what’s known as a NewsNow, typically a brief breaking-news item that’s followed by a longer, more detailed account of the same story. AP’s NewsNow on this one moved at 3:39 p.m. The fuller story (2nd Ld-Writethru) with more extensive quotes didn’t move till 4:36 p.m. Taking nothing away from The Hill, I don’t believe LeBlanc, based in Boston and one of our finest reporters, was at all aware of their story.”

UPDATE #3: Colford now says the AP NewsNow story moved at 3:28. He says he was wrong in the previous update.

UPDATE #4: The AP does not provide time stamps on its stories. As Colford explains it, there are various versions of the story that go out and they simply don’t provide them. Furthermore, Colford said he believes that if a story is reported independently, it doesn’t matter who published it first.