Fournier is at it again

FOURNIER IS AT IT AGAIN…. The latest piece from Ron Fournier, the AP’s Washington bureau chief and the man responsible for directing the wire service’s coverage of the presidential campaign, on Joe Biden joining the Democratic ticket, is drawing a fair amount of attention this morning. More importantly, McCain campaign staffers are pushing it fairly aggressively to other reporters, in large part because it mirrors the Republican line with minimal variation.

By choosing Biden, Fournier argues, Barack Obama is showing a “lack of confidence,” and is siding with “the status quo.”

There are two ways to consider Fournier’s piece: substantively and in the broader context.

First, on the substance, Fournier’s analysis seems a little lazy. By his logic, any potential running mate shows a “lack of confidence” — picking Hillary would mean Obama lacked confidence in his ability to win over women voters; picking Bayh would mean Obama lacked confidence in his ability to win over independents and conservative Dems; picking Webb would mean Obama lacked confidence in his ability to win over voters concerned about national security; picking Kaine would mean Obama lacked confidence in his ability to win over voters in the South; etc. For that matter, “the status quo” in Washington has been conservative Republican rule. Biden may be an old pro and a DC insider, but he’s anything but “the status quo.”

Second, in context, Fournier’s objectivity covering the presidential race continues to look shaky. We are, after all, talking about a journalist who, as recently as last year, considered working for the McCain campaign.

Before Ron Fournier returned to The Associated Press in March 2007, the veteran political reporter had another professional suitor: John McCain’s presidential campaign.

In October 2006, the McCain team approached Fournier about joining the fledgling operation, according to a source with knowledge of the talks. In the months that followed, said a source, Fournier spoke about the job possibility with members of McCain’s inner circle, including political aides Mark Salter, John Weaver and Rick Davis.

We learned not too long ago that Fournier exchanged emails with Karl Rove about Pat Tillman, in which Fournier wrote, “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 was also one of the journalists who, at a gathering of the nation’s newspaper editors, extended McCain a box of his favorite donuts (“Oh, yes, with sprinkles!” McCain said).

It’s led to a series of AP reports that can, at best, be described as “questionable.”

In March, for example, Fournier wrote an item — whether it was a news article or an opinion piece was unclear — that said Barack Obama is “bordering on arrogance,” “a bit too cocky,” and that the senator and his wife “ooze a sense of entitlement.” To substantiate the criticism, Fournier pointed to … not a whole lot. It was basically the Republicans’ “uppity” talking point in the form of an AP article.

But much of the AP’s coverage has deteriorated since. There was a slam-job on Obama that read like an RNC oppo dump, followed by a scathing, 900-word reprimand of Obama’s decision to bypass the public financing system in the general election, filled with errors of fact and judgment.

When Obama unveiled his faith-based plan, the AP got the story backwards. When Obama talked about his Iraq policy on July 3, the AP said he’d “opened the door” to reversing course, even though he hadn’t.

The AP’s David Espo wrote a hagiographic, 1,200-word piece, praising McCain’s “singular brand of combative bipartisanship,” which was utterly ridiculous.

The AP pushed the objectivity envelope a little further with a mind-numbing, 1,100-word piece on Obama “being shadowed by giant flip-flops.”

The AP flubbed the story on McCain joking about killing Iranians, and then flubbed the story about McCain’s promise to eliminate the deficit. It’s part of a very discouraging trend for the AP that’s been ongoing throughout the campaign.

And then, within hours of Obama announcing his running mate, there’s Fournier again, writing up another piece — whether it’s a news article or an opinion piece is, again, unclear — that the McCain campaign just loves.

Sandy Johnson, the former DC bureau chief of the AP, was asked about Fournier and the bureau when she was forced out as part of a staff shake-up. “I just hope he doesn’t destroy it,” she said.

The more I see the AP’s coverage, the more I think about that quote.