Last week, we wrote about how to cover the “chaplains fear ending DADT” stories. The Associate Press  has offered a story which is, sadly, an example of how not to do it.

The AP starts with a six-week old letter from retired chaplains (and the Alliance Defense Fund) offering the letter as a hook to the larger story.  The problem is that they don’t explain how old the letter is until the 9th paragraph of the story, suggesting until than that the letter is actually new.  The operative part of the word “news” is “new” and this letter isn’t.

After setting up a parade of horribles, they quote from the letter and one of the signers, offer a single quote from a critic of the letter and a refusal by offiicials.  After quoting numerous people who have concerns, quoting more of the six-week old letter and Pentagon officials saying there is no real problem, we don’t get another critic of the argument until the 28th paragraph.   Balanced, this story isn’t.

A more serious concern is that the story mirrors a column by conservative columnist Terry Mattingly, using many of the same sources, organizational structure, and hypotheticals.  Mattingly’s co-blogger at conservative media watchdog site GetReligion said “[c]onsider yourself flattered, tmatt.  Source by source, it’s almost the same story.”

He’s right.  And that’s a problem.  The AP shouldn’t be modeling stories off of columns written by columnists, conservative or liberal.  Mattingly wasn’t interested in balance and can get away with scary hypotheticals because he’s a columnist, but the AP should know better. Mattingly has a specific agenda, but the AP isn’t supposed to have one.

Again, this is a story that can be told in a balanced, forthright manner.  Featuring skeptics of the six-week old letter higher up in the story would be a start.  Quoting a church/state or military law expert sooner than the 30th paragraph would be another.