FBI Hires Firm to Rate Media Stories About the Agency

Monday, 04 Aug 2014 03:06 PM

By John Blosser

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For the next five years, the image-conscious FBI wants to know what the media, and individual newsmen, think and write about it.

According to the Washington Times, the Bureau is looking to hire a firm to sweep up all news articles about the FBI, rate them as "positive," "neutral" or "negative," and present them every day in a 7 a.m. electronic briefing.

However, the Bureau isn't telling exactly why they want these ratings done, or whether too many "negative" ratings would hamper journalists known for criticizing the Bureau from obtaining access to FBI information.

The FBI's Office of Public Affairs, terming the position "Daily News Briefing," notes that the contractor will "characterize the coverage such that FBI officials can quickly get a sense of how widely various story elements were run and also for the general tonality of the coverage."

The proposal also states, "For any item referenced in the daily briefing, the Contractor's analysts will record the following: date of coverage, tonality (positive, neutral, negative), story focus (primary, secondary, etc.), type of media outlet, and overall impact of news coverage by day and date range."

"You would certainly worry this could affect access," Dan Kennedy, Northwestern University professor of journalism, told the Washington Times. "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."

The contract is initially for one year, to be renewed annually for up to five years, and the information to be gathered is vast. The FBI wants all news coverage on items including everything from counterintelligence, counterterrorism, criminal investigations, Cyber investigation, international relations and FBI Criminal Justice Information Services, all the way down to FBI personnel and human resources/employment, as well as "other law enforcement and critical partnerships," the Statement of Work states.

It adds, "The briefings shall be current, drawn from that morning's news sources. Coverage from weekly magazines shall be included in the Monday briefing."

The FBI has not specified what will determine the ratings category in which articles will be placed, but Kennedy told the Washington Times, "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."

The action is reminiscent of other news ratings programs launched by the government, the Times notes, such as a 2011 contract for a company to rate the Obama administration's response to the BP oil spill and a 2009 Department of Defense contract to rate the previous work of journalists who were to be embedded with troops in Iraq.

According to the Times, when military commanders began using the ratings to determine which journalists would, and would not, be embedded with troops, the project was cancelled.

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