Friday, March 24
Christopher Graff's byline has been a familiar one to Vermonters.

For nearly 30 years, Graff has worked for the Associated Press in Montpelier and has been its bureau chief there since 1980. Graff has established himself as one of Vermont's most respected, reliable and influential journalists. That's why this newspaper and others around the state are still shocked, perplexed and angry about the AP's decision on Monday to dismiss Graff.

All the AP will say is that Graff is no longer employed by the wire service. Graff won't discuss it either. He told The New York Times this week that he signed a nondisclosure agreement and cannot talk about what happened.

The AP and Graff may be barred for legal reasons from talking. But from what we've been reading and hearing from our fellow editors and reporters around the state, what happened Monday appears to be yet another example of a major media organization caving in to outside pressure.

Two recent incidents involving Graff come to mind.

In January, right-wing talk show host Bill O'Reilly launched an attack against Chittenden Superior Court Judge Edward Cashman for being too lenient in sentencing a child molester.

Graff wrote a pair of stories that debunked O'Reilly's central argument, that Cashman is a crazy liberal judge who said that he "does not believe in punishment.


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" While WCAX-TV misreported what Cashman said and sparked O'Reilly's jihad against Vermont, Graff got the court transcript and reported Cashman's actual words.

As a result, Graff, along with this newspaper, the Bennington Banner and the Rutland Herald, were singled out for weeks of abuse by O'Reilly for being insufficiently anti-Cashman for his taste.

We don't know if AP boss Tom Curley was made uncomfortable by one of his top regional reporters being abused by O'Reilly, but the other recent incident may have been the clincher for AP's decision to terminate Graff.

You may recall that last week, we ran a series of stories and editorials marking Sunshine Week, an initiative by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to call attention to open government and freedom of information issues.

As part of Vermont's contribution to the AP's Sunshine Week package, Graff submitted a column written by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Leahy's column was about the various actions taken by the Bush administration over the last five years to water down the federal Freedom of Information Act. What Leahy wrote was hardly controversial. He has been a staunch defender of open access and open government for decades and he discussed the issue in his column in a measured and nonpartisan way.

The AP didn't see it that way. They removed Leahy's column from the Vermont Sunshine Week package. Apparently, they believed that running a opinion piece -- clearly marked as such -- by a politician without a rebuttal from someone with an opposing viewpoint was wrong.

Never mind that opposing open government is akin to being in opposition to apple pie, motherhood and the flag. The most ridiculous part of this line of reasoning by the AP was that in 2005, when Sunshine Week was inaugurated, they ran a column by Leahy on the Freedom of Information Act.

Have things changed that much in one year?

The AP should be embarrassed by their decision to fire Graff and the perception that it gives to Vermonters that the AP has given in to the claque that constantly screams about "liberal bias" in the news media.

But it's not only that. The AP casually discarded one of Vermont's best journalists and weakened its reporting on statewide issues as a result. As a smaller paper without the resources to cover the Statehouse on a daily basis, we depend on the AP to be our eyes and ears in Montpelier.

We just lost an experienced observer with Graff's dismissal and we believe the AP has diminished its credibility by doing so.