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An Inside Look at How NYT's Ownership Meddled with Coverage to Push Their Pet Projects

Hard evidence from one of America's leading media properties of owner interference and obedience by editors.

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In concluding his study of the New York Times under publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Chomsky notes that of the 156 story suggestions he found, a response is recorded in 107 cases, or 69%. The editor made a serious effort to publish stories in all but two of those cases (105 of 107), or 98.1% of the time.” This was slightly less than the obedience Catledge once offered Sulzberger, telling him, “I  daresay that 99 44/100 times we will follow your advice.”

Chomsky’s study is a fascinating overview of how media ownership impacted coverage in the past. It shows how Times staff, sometimes against their better judgment, repeatedly altered their reporting to reflect the biases of the owner of the newspaper.

But is the same dynamic in play at the paper today? We don’t have the internal documentation to show how publishers and editors are interacting, but we do know that the Times has been sensitive to the business interests of its owners.

For example, the Times has obsessively covered Carlos Slim’s bid on Dutch telecom company KPM. Slim isn’t just any investor, he’s the world’s second-richest man who also happens to be the second-largest shareholder of the New York Times. He has faced significant protests over his business practices in Mexico, but those protests have not made it onto the pages of the paper of record.

As Bezos settles into his future role as owner of the Washington Post and other media outlets remain open for the buying, citizens who rely on a free press would do well to consume their news with discerning eyes. Meanwhile, alternative models of media, such as non-profit media, continue to be an important alternative to a news media that is increasingly under the control of a handful of conglomerates.

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