Obama’s FBI to hire firm to rate ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ stories about the agency

Obama’s FBI to hire firm to rate ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ stories about the agency
Officials mum on need for and use of such info

By Jim McElhatton - The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2014

The FBI is hiring a contractor to grade news stories about the agency as “positive” “neutral” or “negative,” but the agency won’t say why officials need the information or what they plan to do with it.

FBI officials wouldn’t even reveal how they will go about assigning the grades, which were laid out in a recent contract solicitation. The contract tells potential bidders to “use their judgment” in scoring news coverage as part of a new “daily news briefing” service the agency is seeking as part of a contract that could last up to five years.

The move is reminiscent of a similar effort the Obama administration made to grade media coverage of its response to the BP oil spill. A separate defense contract rating reporters’ work was scrapped in 2009.

In a statement of work, the agency says its public affairs office needs a contractor to help monitor “breaking news, editorials, long-form journalism projects and the larger public conversation about law enforcement.”

But the lack of clear public methods and goals raises “troubling questions,” said Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northwestern University.

“You would certainly worry this could affect access,” he said. “It might affect the way they’re going to approach your questions, whether they’re going to be extra careful not to make news if you’re on the ‘bad list.’”

Mr. Kennedy also pointed out that journalism can be nuanced and complicated, raising questions about what sort of guidance the agency provides to contractors to fit stories into positive, neutral or negative boxes.

“If you’re rigorously fair about it and you’re getting the FBI’s point of view out there, they would probably write that as a negative story, but it strikes me as neutral,” he said.


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