The FBI abruptly scrapped a plan to grade news coverage of the agency as positive, neutral or negative, reports the Washington Times. The Times reported Monday on the grading system, though FBI officials steadfastly declined to say why they needed to rate reporters' work. The agency quietly dropped the task from a public affairs contract solicitation on Wednesday without explanation.
FBI officials had no comment on the reason for the turnabout, but the plan seemed reminiscent of a similar effort of the Obama administration to grade media coverage of its response to the BP oil spill. Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, said such a system posed troubling questions about whether reporters could face fallout because of fair but aggressive coverage. “You would certainly worry this could affect access,” he said. “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.'” After the Times reported on the grading system, the FBI posted a new statement of work for the solicitation with nearly identical language seeking media clipping services, but it omits any mention of a grading system.