Some days, the contest between the Daily News and the New York Post is all about counterprogramming: Last Thursday, for instance, while the Daily News put a weary U.S. soldier on the cover (“They Can’t Come Home!”), the Post split its front between the Yankees and cat-loving Brooklyn bank-robbery suspect Catherine Kaczanowski.
But some days, it’s about counterpunching. So the next morning, after National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had testified before the 9/11 commission, the tabs came out with dueling Condoleezzas: the Post with “The Lady Is a Champ,” the Daily News with “How Could She Not Know?”
How’d the same event yield such different results? In some quarters, the answer is simple: Because one of the papers is a craven, hopelessly slanted rag.
Namely the Post , said Daily News editorial director Martin Dunn. “I was going around the newsroom saying ‘That’s the difference between the News and the Post -we’re a newspaper, they’re a propaganda sheet!’” Mr. Dunn wrote to Off the Record.
Somebody sure is a propaganda sheet, said Post editor-in-chief, Col. Allan. The folks at the Daily News , he said, “are becoming more and more determined to attack the Bush administration. They are doing so with increasing shrillness.”
Mr. Allan said such partisanship reflects poorly on his competition. “Frankly, I think it’s borderline disloyal,” he said.
Mr. Allan is no stranger to Ms. Rice. Having met with the national security advisor at an editorial-board meeting-and having heard her address News Corp.’s annual meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun via satellite link earlier this year-Mr. Allan confessed an objective respect for her.
“I am an admirer of her skill and her intellect,” he said. “And, frankly, her commitment to public service.”
What were the highlights of the mutual festival of impartiality? The Daily News featured a half-page infographic in which a pair of body-language experts explained what Ms. Rice had said nonverbally: “[H]er hand gestures revealed her job was to hold back information,” one observed. “[A]fter she gave an answer that she was satisfied with, she brushed back her hair. That’s a preening gesture,” the other noted.
The Post , having already settled the question of how Ms. Rice did in five words, gave infographic space to her interrogators, with Washington bureau chief Deborah Orin handing out letter grades to commission members based on how much bias they displayed. The Democrats averaged C work across the board; the Republicans got a B-minus.
The Republican mark was brought down by commission member John Lehman, whom Ms. Orin accused of offering a “long line of softballs.” The Post ‘s editorial page, meanwhile, declared that Republicans had “hardly tossed softballs at Rice.”
The integrity of the Post ‘s firewall is intact.
Last Tuesday night, The Times went to press with a hot exclusive: Ruth (“Juror No. 4″) Jordan, of Tyco mistrial fame, had told the paper that contrary to her fellow jurors’ reports, she had not been ready to vote for conviction when the mistrial ruling came down. And she hadn’t been flashing anybody the O.K. sign, she said.
The scoop came out of a joint TV-newspaper interview with Ms. Jordan, done by The Times ‘ Andrew Ross Sorkin and CBS News’ Dan Rather. By the time the trial fell apart April 9, the courtroom was crawling with TV bookers and other media reps, according to a reporter who covered the proceedings. Facing a battle royale for juror access, Mr. Sorkin and Mr. Rather formed a heavyweight tag team to win Ms. Jordan.
The theory was that Ms. Jordan would welcome the chance to reach a broadcast and a print audience with a single interview, according to Lawrie Mifflin, executive director of television and radio for The Times . And each outlet could draw on the other’s appeal. “She’s a Times reader, so she was amenable to that part of it,” Ms. Mifflin said.
The joint venture allowed both The Times and 60 Minutes II to get a jump on the competition.
But it wasn’t much of a jump for The Times . By Wednesday morning, Ms. Jordan’s remarks had a third outlet: the late editions of the New York Post . “Tyco Was Mistrial Anyway-Juror 4′s Startling Revelation,” the page 3 headline declared.
“We saw the story on their Web site,” said Post editor-in-chief Col Allan. “It’s pretty simple.”
A lot of craft went into that simplicity, though. The Times had put its own story up on the Web at 10:24 p.m., Ms. Mifflin said. The Post banged out the competing story with facts and quotes drawn from The Times , artfully interlaced with quotes from an apparently obliging Mr. Rather about Ms. Jordan’s demeanor during the interview.
Compounding the insult, the Post credited the interview to CBS, saying The Times had “tagged along.”
The Times wasn’t happy to see that reference. “It was a joint get,” Ms. Mifflin said.
And the grudging credit, in the fourth paragraph, enabled the Post to source subsequent items from the Times story to “the interview,” or to what Ms. Jordan “told Rather.” Mr. Rather, after all, was there for the story.
Mr. Allan declined to dwell on the process behind the story. “I wasn’t here,” he said. “It was late at night.”
Ms. Mifflin said The Times has no regrets about posting the story when it did.
“Most other news organizations are ethical enough to credit their competitors when they get a scoop,” Ms. Mifflin said.
Nor does the paper blame Mr. Rather or CBS. “We thought it was a very good collaboration,” she said.
At 10:30 in the morning on April 14, Dow Jones management and the International Association of Publishing Employees (IAPE) 1096 were scheduled for a bargaining session at the company’s South Brunswick, N.J., office. Not much has changed since the last meeting in March: Dow Jones will continue to offer tightened wages and pricier medical benefits to the staff of The Wall Street Journal , Barron’s and Dow Jones Newswires; the union will continue to resist.
Dow Jones’ official statement on the negotiations remains the same-verbatim-as it was a month ago: “good faith” and “the Company remains confident” and all. Wall Street Journal reporter and union bargaining-committee member E.S. (Jim) Browning said that the company doesn’t seem intransigent, but an agreement today would be a long shot. “It’s not inconceivable, but there’s no sign of it,” Mr. Browning said.
IAPE has got another proposal on its mind, but it’s not on the table today. It’s on the agenda for a different meeting: Dow Jones’ annual shareholders’ gathering on April 21. There, the union will reintroduce a measure it brought up last year, to split the duties of chairman and C.E.O. Peter Kann into two separate positions.
The idea, which echoes Walt Disney Company’s move last month to strip C.E.O. Michael Eisner of his chairmanship, went nowhere last spring. But back then, Mr. Kann was coming off a year in which, amid cost-cutting, he had renounced his own annual bonus for 2002. In 2003, according to Dow Jones’ 2004 proxy statement, Mr. Kann gave himself a bonus again-and, neatly enough, it was twice the size of his last bonus from 2001.
At Dow Jones, where employees have historically nestled in management’s cozy, paternal embrace, that piece of bookkeeping-along with Mr. Kann’s collecting some $2.6 million in stock options-has the union feeling less filial than ever.
“All of a sudden that social contract has been called into question,” said Mr. Browning, a Wall Street Journal reporter for 25 years. Employees were especially peeved, Mr. Browning said, to realize that had they voted to accept management’s austere contract proposal late last year, they wouldn’t have known about Mr. Kann’s auto-generosity till afterward.
“There’s a lot of good will that you lose when you do something like that,” Mr. Browning said.
The family estrangement goes deep, Mr. Browning said. Under Dow Jones’ traditional approach to benefits and compensation, he explained, management “got more money, but you were all basically part of the same system.” Now, he said, he has no faith that top brass will feel the pinch of, say, a less generous medical plan.
“I’m not naïve enough to think that they won’t give themselves a benefit that’s not available to me,” Mr. Browning said.
So to rein in daddy’s excesses, IAPE is taking its case to Grandpa: The union will be lobbying the Bancroft family, Dow Jones’ controlling owners, before the shareholders’ meeting in the hopes of winning their support this year for the split C.E.O.-chairman scheme. The Bancrofts backed a different union proposal last year, which instituted annual elections for the company’s board.
“When you’re talking about any shareholder proposal, that’s where your message has to be targeted,” said IAPE organizer Tim Martell.
In a written statement, Dow Jones declared that it has no interest in restructuring Mr. Kann’s duties. “The Board believes that it would not be in the best interests of the company to adopt a provision that would require these positions to be separated and thus severely limit the Board’s flexibility,” the statement said. “Independent oversight of management is effectively conducted and maintained through the composition of our Board.”
The company also disputes the union’s interpretation of the size of Mr. Kann’s 2003 bonus. While it may have been double the 2001 bonus, it was “considerably lower,” a spokesperson wrote, than the boom-time bonuses he received in 1999 and 2000-reportedly $656,000 and $888,000, respectively.
Meanwhile, even as workers chafe against Mr. Kann’s leadership, some have been following his example and giving themselves a pay raise. It’s part of the work-to-rule strategy that has also led New York staffers to take three different half-days recently-including trooping into the newsroom at 1:30 p.m. last Wednesday.
Under their current contract, staffers are theoretically working 35-hour weeks, so the absence just cuts into their usual unpaid overage. (And dutiful habits die hard: “People are careful to make sure that their beats get covered and their stories get written,” Mr. Browning said.)
“There’s been no effect on the paper,” Dow Jones spokesperson Robert Christie affirmed when asked about the extended-brunch actions.
The other, more lucrative form of clock-watching comes when full-time employees work weekends. The existing contract requires Dow Jones to pay additional wages, at time-and-a-half, for labors on Saturday or Sunday. Workers had let that provision slide before. Now some have taken to filling out time slips, so a six-day week means a 30 percent pay hike.
Mr. Christie declined to provide figures on how many staffers have put in for weekend pay.
According to Mr. Browning, some reporters have also secured more cash by insisting on being paid for appearances on CNBC, which partners with Dow Jones. Other reporters have refused to appear on the air if they don’t get paid.
“The contract negotiations are not affecting our ability to deliver editorial content to CNBC,” Dow Jones declared in a written statement.
The extra money is nice, Mr. Browning said, but it’s meant to be a pressure tactic, not a substitute for management concessions. Paid Saturdays, he said, won’t make up for the trouble of being squeezed into a managed-care health plan.
Still, Mr. Browning said, “if people can get weekend pay out of this and if people can get pay out of CNBC, then God bless ‘em.”
New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati writes Off the Record to note that he pleaded guilty to an excessive charge in last week’s column. Though David Brooks did recycle a gag about snack food that had previously been printed in The Sunday Times , Mr. Marzorati had not run the earlier gag in his magazine. The prior appearance was in the Week in Review. Off the Record regrets the error.
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