Joan Little and The Associated Press


The 'Report on Accuracy and The Associated Press' contained this Dec. 28, 1977, story in the Raleigh News and Observer:


Joan Little and The Associated Press

Attention, Associated Press: A journalist is supposed to give both sides of an issue the chance to be heard. But an AP interview with Joan Little last week broke that primary canon into a million pieces. The nation got a one-sided emotional view of the Joan Little case told completely in the scarcely unbiased words of Ms. Little herself. Every allegation she made was later denied by N.C. prison officials. Fairness, AP, would have meant letting those denials accompany the accusations.

Written after a talk with Ms. Little in her New York jail cells as she fights extradition to North Carolina, the AP story was sensational. Ms. Little announced she would rather die than return to North Carolina and charged there's "no telling what will happen to me."

Fine. Let the state's most celebrated escapee have her say. But balance the cries of injustice with facts where they can be obtained. If facts are not ascertainable, at least ask the accused for a guilty or innocent plea. In its original story, the AP did neither. Joan Little got the floor all alone.

Nobody except Joan Little and individual prison personnel know if indeed, she has been "harassed." But where they can be checked, her damning charges collapse. Her complaint of possible TB was taken to a doctor; she was not suspended from work release on the word of another inmate'; her "ardous" prison job consisted of sewing and dining hall duties; she was denied parole once, not twice. And if she is returned to the Correction Center for Women where she was serving time for breaking and entering, there is some "telling what will happen." The "dead" isolation she envisions hasn't been used at the prison for years.

Questioned about the matter, the AP executive editor admitted that the idea of including both sides is "valid" and that no deadline pressure had prevented AP reporters from doing so. The AP, in other words, blew it. In a belated effort to make amends, the AP transmitted a story Friday night finally adding prison officials' comments to a piece first sent across the nation Wednesday afternoon.

Letting a colorful figure sound off unhampered by restraints of accuracy is an easy way to get a "good" story. The respected accomplishments and reputation of The Associated Press, however, carry with them a responsibility to seek the truth even when it gets in the way of drama.