Thursday, May 04, 2006

Letter Reveals Reason for Firing of Vermont AP Chief

Letter Reveals Reason for Firing of Vermont AP Chief

By Joe Strupp
Editor & Publisher Online

Published: May 03, 2006 12:10 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Former Associated Press Vermont bureau chief Chris Graff,
whose firing for unannounced reasons in March sparked statewide protests
from journalists and public officials, was terminated for distributing a
column by Sen. Patrick Leahy that promoted open public records, according
to his termination letter obtained by E&P today.

The letter, written by AP Northern New England Regional Bureau Chief Larry
Laughlin, revealed that Graff, a 27-year veteran of the Vermont bureau,
lost his job because he distributed the column, which was eventually
pulled from the AP wire.

"This is to inform you that your employment at the Associated Press is
terminated," the March 20 letter begins. "The AP has a proud tradition of
speed, accuracy and impartiality that has made it the most trusted news
gathering organization in the world. Your decision to allow an elected
official's editorial comments to run unfettered on the wire March 8
compromised the integrity and impartiality of the AP's news report."

When Graff was fired, widespread speculation surfaced in Vermont that the
Leahy column had been the reason. Neither Graff nor AP officials had
previously commented on the cause. But Graff, who released the letter
today, said the "elected official" cited in it refers to Leahy and his
column. Many in Vermont news circles had been puzzled that the Leahy
column would prompt a firing since a similar Leahy column on the same
topic had been distributed by Graff's bureau a year earlier with no

The termination letter, which was released by Graff as part of a severance
agreement struck between AP and Graff last week, also notes an alleged
misstep in 2003. That year, Graff allowed a staffer, David Gram, to write
a chapter for a book on Howard Dean. The book, published by the nearby
Times-Argus and Rutland Herald, included submissions from nine different
reporters who had covered Dean in the past.

Laughlin's letter referred to that decision as "a failure in judgment,"
noting that he was "admonished" for allowing it at the time. "Both
incidents could have been avoided by consulting with your supervisors,
specifically me," Laughlin added. "When viewed either independently or in
totality, these grave violations of the AP's policies, procedures and
specific directives supply just and sufficient cause for the termination
of your employment."

Graff said he could not comment on the letter, the reason for his
termination or any other aspect of his severance as part of the agreement.
But he said he had asked that he be allowed to release the letter to
"answer some of those lingering questions" about his departure.

Laughlin and AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll could not immediately be
reached for comment Wednesday. Jack Stokes, an AP spokesman at its New
York headquarters, declined comment.

Since his firing, Graff, who is married and the father of two grown
children, has taken part-time positions with Vermont Public Radio and
Vermont Public Television. "I am still talking to folks to sort out what I
want to do next," Graff, 52, told E&P. "I have to see if we will stay in
Vermont, if that is an option. It is going to be a several-months


In response, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) released the following statement
this afternoon:

.If anything, this letter makes AP.s decision all the more difficult to
accept and understand.

.Those of us in public life never agree with all the news coverage we
receive. But within the two rough-and-tumble professions of public service
and journalism, I have never heard anything but praise about Chris Graff
for his professionalism and his evenhandedness, and he has earned that

.The ironies of censoring discussion of the public.s right to know --
during Sunshine Week, to boot -- have already been noted by others.

.But it must also be noted that AP itself takes an advocacy position each
year during Sunshine Week. AP bureaus across the country distribute and
also produce materials in which these issues are examined. At a Senate
Judiciary Committee hearing that we recently held, a prominent AP witness
testified . and forcefully -- in support of the public.s right to know and
of the bipartisan FOIA reform bills that I have authored and introduced in
the Senate with one of the Senate.s most conservative Republican members.

.Earlier this year the American Society of Newspaper Editors once again
asked for my observations for Sunshine Week, which they distributed to
every newspaper in the country. Making the incidental effort to ensure
that Vermont.s editors were aware of this was, apparently, Chris Graff.s
.mistake,. in the view of his supervisor.

.The letter.s explanation is all the more amazing because the piece that I
wrote and that Mr. Graff simply called to Vermont.s editors. attention is
all about the public.s right to know, calling on the government to be more
open with the press and the public. Since Sunshine Week, and to this day,
I still have not seen anyone venture forth with any column arguing
otherwise, that the government these days is sharing too much information
with the press and the public..
Joe Strupp ( is a senior editor at E&P.

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