Putting a Face to a Name

Yesterday, we wrote about an Associated Press article on Fred Thompson’s career as a lobbyist. The article was factually accurate, as far as I know, but it took a decidedly anti-Thompson bent, as is evident from the opening paragraphs:

Republican Fred Thompson, who likes to cast himself in the role of Washington outsider, has a long history as a political insider who earned more than $1 million lobbying the federal government.
As a lobbyist for more than 20 years, billion-dollar corporations paid Thompson for his access to members of Congress and White House staff.

The AP article was picked up by countless news outlets, world-wide and has had, I think it’s a fair to say, a significant impact. It was authored by Travis Loller, a name with which I was not familiar. The author of SnarkingDawg wrote us to point out that Ms. Loller has a rather colorful past as a left-wing activist. Mother Jones described her as a “radical”:

Three American citizens, along with nine other foreigners, were deported from Mexico on April 12, 1998 for alleged collusion with the Zapatista rebels (EZLN). The woman, Travis Loller, 26, and two men, Michael Sabato, 30, and Jeffrey Conant, 30, are part of an American relief group called Intercambio de Tecnologia Apropiada (ITA) or, in English, Appropriate Technology Exchange. The Mexican government accused the three of agitating for the rebel army that’s been struggling in the southeastern state of Chiapas for over four years in an effort to win basic civil rights and gain land reform for the indigenous Indians in the region.
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The three Americans have extensive activist histories, having worked for reproductive rights, the homeless and protests against the Gulf War, the Rodney King verdict and Propositions 187 and 209. Ironically, their time in Mexico was spent not on direct politic organizing but on community improvement projects in the poverty stricken villages of Chiapas, including building potable water systems, latrines, composting, and soil improvement. They even had plans to help construct micro-hydroelectric plants. Sabato and Conant have been working on and off in Chiapas since August of ’95, Loller since January of ’98. They are among the thousands of non-Mexicans to visit Chiapas who’ve found the Zapatistas’ non-hierarchical, consensus-based, experience-driven revolution to be a refreshing, inspiring change from the traditional Marxist-Leninist rebel movements.

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I did a bit more checking on Ms. Loller. The Associated Press says that she “Joined AP in 2003 in Nashville. Covers Hispanic issues and general assignments.” The Thompson story was a departure for her; as best I can tell, she has seldom if ever written articles about political figures in the past. Other than the fact that the is in Tennessee, it is not clear why she was selected for this particular story.
As a former radical, I’m not unsympathetic to Ms. Loller’s history. For all we know, her politics may be very different today from what they were in 1998. At a minimum, though, it’s an interesting background for a reporter for the Associated Press, an organization which is still regarded by many as a neutral and objective wire service. And it’s a good reminder that for every news story, there is a face behind the name.
UPDATE: Thompson defended his record as a lobbyist earlier today, saying that lobbying is necessary because “government’s got their hands in everything,” and that “Nobody yet has pointed out any of my clients that didn’t deserve representation.”
What is striking about this AP article by Erik Schelzig, who, like Travis Loller, is on the AP’s Tennessee staff, is the adversarial tone it takes toward Thompson. Tracking the beginning of Loller’s piece, Schelzig writes:

Thompson, who likes to cast himself as a political outsider, earned more than $1 million lobbying the federal government for more than 20 years. He lobbied for a savings-and-loan deregulation bill that helped hasten the industry’s collapse and a failed nuclear energy project that cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars.

Actually, deregulation delayed the collapse of the S&L industry and allowed some S&Ls to survive. But the broader point is that reporters, especially AP reporters, are very much part of the stories they cover.
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