EXPLAINER: How does AP choose which lawsuits to cover?
The Associated Press has tallied roughly 50 cases brought by the campaign of President Donald Trump and his allies, challenging the result of elections. More than 30 have been rejected or dropped. About a dozen are awaiting action. Trump has gotten one court win. It came in a Pennsylvania case about deadlines for proof of identification for certain absentee ballots and mail-in ballots. It didn’t affect the outcome in that state.
While The Associated Press has covered the details of many of these lawsuits, it has not written a story on every one. How do journalists decide which ones to cover, while ensuring fairness and a lack of bias? The answer is straightforward: Stick with the facts.
John Daniszewski, AP’s vice president for standards, has more:
HOW IS AP COVERING THE LITIGATION?
Even before voting began, AP assigned a team of legal reporters to cover litigation in battleground states and to follow those cases through to the end. We constantly evaluate and assess each piece of litigation, and we monitor every hearing and subsequent press conference.
On a given day, we might have a reporter at a trial in Arizona, one covering legal developments in Nevada and another in Michigan. Our AP reporter was one of two national journalists at the hearing in a federal court in Pennsylvania where Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani argued before a judge.
WHY IS AP ZEROING IN ON SOME LAWSUITS AND NOT OTHERS?
Some lawsuits could have greater impact because they were filed in a battleground state as votes were being counted, or because they could halt vote certification in certain states. Also, we’ve paid close attention to litigation that could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s easier to file civil litigation because the bar is lower than for criminal cases, where there’s a higher burden of proof. So not all the lawsuits are likely to have impact or are likely to be newsworthy — and this is true in general, not just when it’s about elections.
The AP has reported on most of the litigation. AP reporters and editors have read every lawsuit and their affidavits to assess which ones are the most newsworthy because of their potential impact on the overall election.
HOW DO WE KEEP TRACK OF ALL OF IT?
We are tracking all of the litigation that we can find, and we look out for decisions, new filings and case dismissals. You can see that in our interactive, which is updated every time there is a development.
HOW DO WE MAINTAIN FAIRNESS IN THE COVERAGE?
As with all stories, AP reporters and editors approach the topic with an open mind, then collect facts and assess them. In legal cases, that means looking carefully at the allegations made by the plaintiffs, the responses of the defendants, any motions and evidence presented, other facts that might come into play, and the responses of the judges or other jurists involved.
If a case is brought by a presidential candidate’s own lawyers with substantive evidence attached that raises important legal questions around election integrity and fairness that could affect the outcome of the race, that kind of lawsuit would merit a full-blown story.
If a judge looks at the motions and the evidence, and then awards a legal or procedural win to an election challenge, that certainly deserves a story.
Other lawsuits may be brought by third parties, with scant evidence, or raise legal questions that have been dismissed or adjudicated already or elsewhere. We would track those cases but not necessarily do a story.
Remember, hundreds of lawsuits are filed in the United States each day, and journalists use their judgment about which ones merit news coverage. Often the filing of a lawsuit is not enough in itself to merit a story. The news comes when arguments and evidence are presented and there is a ruling of some kind.
Follow our election legal developments interactive here: https://interactives.ap.org/embeds/LW8CB/9/