Papers Agree to Exclude Critics in Exchange for "Scoop"
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 2 Jun 100 13:42:46 -0700
Subject: Papers Agree to Exclude Critics in Exchange for "Scoop"
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From: FAIR-L <FAIR-L@FAIR.ORG>
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and news reports
ACTION ALERT: Top Papers Agree to Exclude Critics in Exchange for "Scoop"
June 2, 2000
In accepting a deal to tell only one side of an important story in exchange
for a "scoop," editors of the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall
Street Journal violated fundamental principles of journalism and betrayed
their readers' trust.
According to Howard Kurtz, media reporter for the Washington Post (5/29/00),
"a publicist hired by United Airlines and US Airways offered three major
newspapers a deal that none of them could refuse. The pitch: We'll give
you the exclusive details of a $5 billion merger if you promise not to call
any outsiders for comment." All three papers agreed to this censorious
arrangement, which only fell apart because the Financial Times website
broke the story early, negating the agreement.
It's disturbing that a newspaper would agree to report a major story by
relying entirely on one party in the story for information and comment.
But the editors' explanations only made things worse. The Wall Street
Journal's managing editor, Paul Steiger, claimed to "hate those kind of
arrangements" (which implies that this is not the first), but explained
that "if the news is big enough, we'd rather give it to our readers with
whatever caveats are appropriate." But is a corporate press release without
any outsider comment really "news"? And wouldn't a "big" story call for
even more caution and balance, rather than a "caveat" saying that normal
journalistic procedures weren't followed?
Washington Post financial editor Jill Dutt also put doing the story quickly
ahead of balance: "It does a better job for readers to have the story on
the first day than not to have the story," she contended. As a matter of
fact, Dutt said, the Post doesn't really need outside experts: "The
Washington Post, regardless if no one is called, can give much better
background and context for the significant issues involved in the deal."
And she understands why corporate executives would want "a clear shot at
giving investors your side of the deal before you get all the naysayers."
It should go without saying that it is not a newspaper's role to facilitate
companies' corporate strategy, or to protect them from "naysayers."
Dutt's bottom-line rationale for accepting the airlines' "scoop" under
their restrictions was: "I don't want to get beat."
New York Times business editor Glenn Kramon likewise accepted this kind of
deal-making as the price for being a major player in business journalism:
"We've been serious about business news for too long to be cut out of big
stories like this, and it's about time we were included." But it's no honor
to be included in a race to the bottom where newspapers compete to be first
through abandoning journalistic values like balance, depth and accuracy.
Howard Kurtz is to be commended for bringing this breach of journalistic
standards at major news outlets, including his own, to the public's
attention. But his assessment--that the story underscores "the degree to
which corporate executives, like politicians, are increasingly determined
to shape coverage of their exploits"--is incomplete. Surely it's also a
devastating indictment of the media outlets that accept and abet such
ACTION: A coalition of leading media critics and groups, including FAIR,
has written to the editors of the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall
Street Journal, asking for an explanation of their policy on secret
exclusionary deals like that proposed by United Airlines/US Airways
(http://www.essential.org/alert/releases/secretletrel.html). Please contact
one or more of these papers and let them know that agreements to tell only
one side of a story are not acceptable journalism.
New York Times
E.R. Shipp, Ombudsman
Wall Street Journal
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© 2000 Peter Langston