September 15, 2005

The New York Times-Washington Post Headline-Sharing Conspiracy Vindicates Their Longtime Critics

Are you still a “conspiracy nut” when the conspiracy is acknowledged?

You’ll have to excuse those of us who remember The Clinton Administration’s tortured and hysterical layout of a supposed right-wing media conspiracy (“The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce“) if our smiles are a bit wider than usual today.

Editor & Publisher reports that The New York Times and Washington Post have been “co-operating” for years (HT Tapscott Copy Desk via Instapundit), and we now understand why the papers’ front pages often seem so similar.

It’s because they’re intended to be (bold is mine):

NEW YORK When The New York Times on July 16 broke the story of a 2003 State Department memo that had become a key element in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, the paper scored a major exclusive. But when The Washington Post hit newsstands that very same Saturday, it had its own version of the same story. It even credited the Times for the same-day scoop.

Welcome to life under the Washington Post-New York Times swap. As part of a secret arrangement formed more than 10 years ago, the Post and Times send each other copies of their next day’s front pages every night. The formal sharing began as a courtesy between Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. and former Times Executive Editor Joseph Lelyveld in the early 1990s and has continued ever since.

“It seemed logical, because for years we would always try to get a copy of each other’s papers as soon as they came out,” Downie tells E&P. “It made sense to both of us to make it simpler for everybody.” Lelyveld, who left the Times in 2001, declined comment.

What’s stunning about the E&P piece is the failure to even mention the ethical considerations involved in the headline-sharing agreement. So Tapscott makes an obvious but still clearly necessary point:

In any other industry, this would be called “collusion” and the Times and Post editorial pages would be in high dudgeon, demanding anti-trust investigations by the Department of Justice.

Tapscott also wonders if the “cooperation” went beyond headline sharing into other areas. So do I.

Maybe Justice should rehire Joel Klein, the Assistant Attorney General under Janet Reno who tried to break up Microsoft, to do a top-to-bottom investigation of the two papers. Just kidding–Klein would almost certainly be a lapdog for his buds in the liberal press. Justice should clearly consider getting a hard-nosed antitrust person involved in investigating this.

Or is there a liberal media antitrust exemption I haven’t heard about?

It’s hard to underestimate the influence on news coverage a collusive agreement like this may have had, especially before the rise of the blogosphere. If the headlines were in sync, so were the perspectives on the news. Since the main stories in these two papers were the dominant influences at the time in driving what was considered important by other newspaper and TV outlets, the lack of variety in the two papers’ coverage worked to ensure near-uniformity elsewhere.

If the two papers hadn’t colluded, we may have seen non-identical takes on at least the following pre-2004 events:
- The Oklahoma City bombing.
- The 1995 government shutdown.
- TWA 800 crash.
- The 1996 presidential election.
- The impeachment of Bill Clinton by the House and his non-conviction by the Senate.
- The credible Juannita Broadderick rape allegations that were made during the Clinton impeachment and Senate “trial” (in this case, the allegations were NOT reported by either paper).
- The 2000 presidential election.
- The 9/11 attacks.

Another more sinister thought: “Over 10 years ago” places the beginning of this agreement to when the Republicans took over Congress for the first time in 40 years. Could the collusion have been a politically-motivated response to present an appearance of united opposition to initiatives of the new Republican majority and to prevent Bill Clinton’s near-slide into irrelevance after the 1994 debacle?

On the other hand, if the agreement began even earlier in the “early 1990s,” it may have come about in an attempt to counter the rise (read: “threat”) of Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, and other national talk radio figures. By the time Mr. Clinton took office in 1993, the talkers had created a forceful outlet for opposition to Clinton Administration initiatives that gave him serious problems during his first two years in office.

Regardless, the papers need to end their “Vast Left-Wing Media Conspiracy” at once. While not as “simple,” competition will force each paper to improve its product. Goodness knows they both could use some improvement.



  1. Amen, Bizz. If they are willing to share, are they willing to censor, for instance, the monica story, as newsweek did before drudge broke it? Were they sharing philosophies on how to cover republican issues? What is the depths of collusion here? This is wrong, and it taints the MSM for the smear merchants and purveyors of talking points that they are.

    Comment by Mark — September 15, 2005 @ 1:30 pm

  2. Wow Biz… you’re sounding almost as sorry as my liberal friends boohooing about Fox news. You’re not sounding like much of a champion of the free market either. Seems like too many people reading the DaVinci Code if you ask me. The brain finds patterns in collections of date if they are there or not. It’s the way it works.

    Comment by Editor — September 15, 2005 @ 2:18 pm

  3. The conspiracy to share headlines has been exposed. I don’t need a code or a pattern, there is an admission from one of the conspirators (and an apparent BFD to boot).

    The existence of a headline conspiracy is now an admitted and established fact. The speculation, besides the idea that collusion made things “simple” (it always does for the colluders at the expense of consumers who have a right to expect a free market and weren’t getting it in reporting and the arena of ideas), is whether there was a motivation beyond reducing the stress of editors who should have been vigorously competing against each other instead of cooperating in secret. Especially given the hysterical tone of these publications at the time of the Gingrich Revolution, there’s reason to think there may have been.

    In retrospect, it looks like the Clinton right-wing news conspiracy theorists may have been projecting based on the known (to them) behavior of their friends at WaPo and NYT.

    BTW, I’m growing to really despise how you avoid core arguments and try to put words in my mouth. You do it constantly to mischaracterize people’s positions to gain an arguable position. You can do better.

    Comment by TBlumer — September 15, 2005 @ 3:40 pm

  4. Another Step On The Path To 2014

    Compare and contrast the intertwining paths of new media and old, via two items going online simultaneously today: Pajamas Media announces the roadmap to its official launch in November. Meanwhile, this Washington Post article explains that starting ne…

    Trackback by Ed — September 16, 2005 @ 1:19 am

  5. I avoid static. If you don’t like the Times, don’t read it. If you don’t like Fox News, don’t watch it. If you don’t like media, become the media. That’s the American way.

    Personally, I’ve grown very tired of the perpetual victimhood by my friends on the left. If just gets comical when the right adopts the same tone.

    Comment by Editor — September 16, 2005 @ 10:09 am

  6. This isn’t about tone or victimhood (you’re putting words in my mouth again). This is about an admitted conspiracy to share front pages ahead of publication. It’s that simple. The possible effects on news coverage, and thus on the national debate, of the two main liberal media organs (which even today largely drive the news priorities of the nets and most other papers) being closely in sync during the past 10-plus years is worthy of concern.

    “We” (talkers, blogs) have more input now, which is good, but “we” are still mostly in reactive mode. Perhaps initiatives like Pajamas Media might change this.

    Those who do the frontline reporting have a duty to give us their perspective straight without first filtering it by checking to see if it’s the same as what their other news buds have. I would think this is Journalism 101, but NYT-WaPo have failed us in this regard for a decade, and apparently continue to do so. I feel, no, I have been cheated. We all have been cheated.

    Comment by TBlumer — September 16, 2005 @ 10:31 am

  7. Well I certainly hope that you’ve cancelled your subscription to the NY Times & Washington Post ;-)

    I remember Seymour Hersh talking about this in an interview months if not years ago. Matter of factly. No grand conspiracy. Something about seeing it and getting frustracted for being scooped on something.

    Comment by Editor — September 16, 2005 @ 3:31 pm

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