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.