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AP fires third staffer over McAuliffe error; Guild files grievances
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AP fires third staffer over McAuliffe error; Guild files grievances

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The Associated Press has fired an Atlanta-based editor, the third employee dismissed over the handling of an erroneous Oct. 9 story about Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor.

AP has fired Norman Gomlak, formerly South Desk Editor in Atlanta, as well as Bob Lewis, a veteran Richmond-based political reporter and Dena Potter, who was AP’s news editor for Virginia and West Virginia.

“I’m extremely disappointed by the AP’s response to this unfortunate incident,” Gomlak said in a statement. “I take my integrity as a journalist very seriously, and I strived to do my best under challenging circumstances.

“I was also saddened by the treatment of my two colleagues: Bob Lewis, a well-respected 28-year AP veteran, and Dena Potter, who was nothing short of a model employee for the news organization.”

The News Media Guild, which represents AP workers, has filed grievances “on behalf of guild-covered staffers” and has requested a meeting next week with AP, said Martha Waggoner, president of the News Media Guild.

She declined to identify which dismissed staffers are involved in the grievance procedures, but other sources said they are Lewis and Gomlak. Potter had a management position and was not represented by the guild.

“The firings have alarmed AP employees nationwide, and the News Media Guild will vigorously enforce the contractual rights of the employees it represents,” Waggoner said in a statement.

The Associated Press has referred inquiries to its corporate communications office in New York.

“I will reiterate that we do not comment on personnel matters,” Paul Colford, director of media relations for the Associated Press, said Tuesday. “I would add only that the action taken this week followed serious deliberation at AP.”

AP erroneously reported the evening of Oct. 9 that documents in a federal fraud case in Rhode Island alleged that McAuliffe “lied to a federal official” investigating Joseph Caramadre, a Rhode Island estate planner who is accused of defrauding terminally ill people.

In a bulletin that night killing the story about 90 minutes after it was first posted, AP said “the indictment did not identify McAuliffe as the ‘T.M.’ who allegedly lied to investigators.”

McAuliffe has said he was one of hundreds of passive investors in Caramadre’s venture and did not know about the allegations at the time.

In tweets the night of Oct. 9, Lewis took responsibility for the mistake and urged outlets that had tweeted the story to also tweet the retraction.

On Monday, news of the firings brought an outpouring of support for Lewis and Potter on Twitter from Virginia officeholders and political aides in both parties and from state Capitol political reporters, past and present.

Talks are underway for a possible post-election social gathering with Sen. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, and likely others to show support for Lewis and Potter.

In a brief telephone interview Tuesday, Lewis expressed gratitude for the expressions of support.

“It’s humbling. It’s very touching and it comes at a time, when, obviously, I really need to know things like that,” he said.

“It’s good to know that there are people out there who thought highly of what I did and what I hope to do again.”

acain@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6645

Twitter: @RTDAndrewCain

Olympia Meola contributed to this report.

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