- - Thursday, August 7, 2014

The FBI has abruptly scrapped a plan to grade news coverage of the agency as positive, neutral or negative.

The Washington Times first reported Monday on the grading system, though FBI officials steadfastly declined to say why they needed to rate reporters’ work.

But the agency quietly dropped the task from a public affairs contract solicitation on Wednesday without explanation, according to contract documents.

FBI officials had no immediate 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 for Northeastern University, told The Times last week that 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.’”

Days 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.

The earlier version had also called for a contractor to gauge the “general tonality” of news stories. That requirement too is missing from the latest contract.