The Associated Press, a standard-bearer for the news industry, published at least three press releases on its APNews.com website and AP News app that contained misinformation and partisan propaganda from conservative political groups, Right Wing Watch has learned. One press release advocated for prosecuting doctors who perform abortions, another claimed that measles vaccines cause autism, and one was used to advertise a shady right-wing fundraising campaign. All appeared on the AP’s site, surrounded by the company’s branding.
On January 25, a press release from WeBuildTheWall Inc., circulated by Business Wire, was published to APNews.com in its entirety. It advertised a questionable GoFundMe campaign seeking to privately fund President Trump’s promised U.S.-Mexico border wall by advancing Kris Kobach’s claim to The New York Times that the president had given the project his blessing during a phone call. “President Trump ‘Blesses’ Private Solution to Build the Wall As Government Reopens,” the headline reads on APNews.com.
The only apparent written indication that the press release was not an actual AP article was a dateline with the name of the wire service as evidenced by a screenshot captured on January 28. An uninformed reader would have been forgiven for mistaking the press releases for a news article.
AP appears to be trying to address the problem. On February 27, the news service incorporated more visual indications to alert readers to the fact that what they are viewing is not the newsroom’s reporting. As of this writing, press release content on site displays a bolded disclosure above the headline and a note stating: “This content is a press release from our partner [wire company name]. The AP newsroom and editorial departments were not involved in its creation.” However, as recently as last month, the pages displaying such releases did not include those elements, as shown in screenshots and archives of press releases on AP’s site.
Brian Kolfage, who started the GoFundMe campaign, shared a screenshot of the press release’s headline posted to social media alongside AP branding and thanked President Trump for his ostensible support. He did not note that his own organization had authored the content appearing on AP’s website.
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 28, 2019
On December 7, an anti-vaccine press release from the conservative political advocacy group Association of American Physicians and Surgeons was aggregated from Globe Newswire and published on the AP website. That release warned of a supposed connection between measles vaccines and autism in children, a thoroughly debunked and dangerous myth. The press release has since been removed from the Associated Press website.
Right Wing Watch was able to find copies of the article on the Wayback Machine internet archive and Google’s cache, which both flashed the AP story briefly before displaying a message stating that the page no longer existed.
On February 26, another since-deleted press release was published on AP News and was captured by Wayback Machine and Google’s cache. It was an announcement from Texas Right to Life aggregated from Globe Newswire. The release contained criticisms of abortion laws passed in New York and Virginia and promoted legislation that would seek to prosecute doctors who provide abortion services.
AP has maintained years-long business relationships with several other wire companies that distribute press releases, including Globe Newswire and Business Wire. When one of those wire services distributes a press release, automated software duplicates it on the Associated Press site.
A spokesperson for AP told Right Wing Watch that APNews.com has “for years also served as a distribution channel for clearly-labeled third-party content from several press release companies” as part of a business arrangement independent from its news-gathering.