By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Identical triplets

Until this moment, Media Nation has resisted the conspiracy theorists who’ve been wondering about those nearly identical stories that appear in the New York Times and the Boston Globe on the same day.

But now there are three separate incidents, and as every journalist knows, when you’ve got three, you’ve got a trend. So let’s review, shall we?

We begin with “Animal House,” the Democratic congressional crash pad occupied by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and our own Rep. Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts. A worthy feature? Absolutely. Alex Beam certainly thought so, and his piece appeared in the Globe on Jan. 18. So did my former Boston Phoenix colleague Mark Leibovich, whose Times article (sub. req.) also appeared on Jan. 18.

Next up: Sen. Barack Obama’s days as a student at Harvard Law School, the subject of lengthy, front-page articles last Sunday in both the Times (by Jodi Kantor) and the Globe (by Michael Levenson and Jonathan Saltzman).

Finally — and shame on me for not reading the Times first thing this morning — it turns out that Jackie MacMullan’s Globe story on Ted Johnson’s debilitating series of concussions is competing with this front-pager in the Times by Alan Schwarz on — yes — Ted Johnson’s debilitating series of concussions.

So what is going on here? My guess is that it’s not a conspiracy, but it’s not a complete coincidence, either.

Obviously if the New York Times Co., which owns both the Times and the Globe, were looking to save money, it would simply run the same story in both papers. And if the Times Co. were coordinating coverage in some way so that the Globe could neither beat nor be beaten by the Times on local stories, I’m reasonably confident that the Globe newsroom would be leaking like Scooter Libby.

But pure coincidence? That seems pretty unlikely.

Which leaves us, then, with the usual journalistic sausage-making.

Let’s take the “Animal House” story, which is probably the most transparent. The Times is working on a story, and Delahunt figures his hometown paper, the Globe, will get pissed if he doesn’t say anything. So he makes sure someone at the Globe knows about it, as well as when the Times story is slated to run. (You could work this in reverse, too, with Schumer as the tipster. But what about Durbin and the Chicago Tribune? Pathetic. The Tribune picked up the Times piece off the wires 10 days later.)

With Obama, Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, to name just one possible suspect, is quoted in both stories. I’m not saying he tipped anyone off, but these things can come out in conversation through the proverbial friend of a friend of a friend.

Which brings us to MacMullan’s story. It didn’t register this morning, but now this passage makes a certain amount of sense:

Johnson toyed with going public with his story before. He shared his struggles with the Globe last summer, but later requested his comments be put on hold. The recent suicide of former NFL defensive back Andre Waters, who had multiple concussions and suffered from depression, finally prompted Johnson to come forward.

One interpretation is that MacMullan got word that the Times story was coming out, and that she wanted everyone to know she had it first — or, at least, she would have if Johnson had been willing to let her tell his story last summer.

The Times Co.’s ownership of the Globe is such a radioactive topic in these days of downsizing that many observers don’t want to hear any interpretation except the most nefarious. From what I can see, though, these three stories merely add up to One of Those Things.

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15 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Consumed,the column by Rob Walker that runs in the NYT magazine also now runs in the Globe biz section. Have wondered about that…

  2. Anonymous

    I say, so what? Times owns the Globe. These things are bound to happen. Is it nefarious when you notice your Pontiac and your Chevrolet have the same radio, since they’re both owned by GM? No. The point is, Ted Johnson has come forward with a pretty compelling story, although I’d say his addiction to aderral(sp?) raises my eyebrows a bit more–it just goes to show that the average joe can pretty much eyeball any professional athlete to determine whether they are juiced up on something. When your neck is three times wider than your head, that’s a problem. That Andre Waters story a while back was breathtaking, by the way.

  3. Anonymous

    I would be curious to know the duplication rate of the Globe and Times print and on line versions

  4. Anonymous

    The Los Angeles Times had the Obama and Harvard story the Saturday before the Times and Globe Sunday pieces. Sounds like somebody was talking.

  5. Danny L. McDaniel

    Coordination pure and simple. This is journalsim by committee and editorialism by e-mail. Welcome to the future of American journalism.

  6. Anonymous

    Off topic, but Dan, could you please give us fore-warning when you are going to appear on Rooney’s Beat the Press program. I’m sure that they have to book you at least a few days in advance. As far as I’m concerned, you’re one of the main draws–although I do have a bone to pick with you about your comments last night regarding shielding sources and the Libby case.–raj

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Raj: Thanks for the support. I don’t tout my appearances on “Beat the Press” because I’m on about half the time anyway. It’s not like my very occasional forays onto “The Paul Sullivan Show,” for instance.Let me anticipate your observation about anonymous sources and the Libby case. You’re got a phenomenally difficult issue here. On the surface, at least, it looks like Libby felt free to lie to the grand jury because he knew Tim Russert and Judith Miller would never talk. In fact, they did talk.But the journalists said they wouldn’t disclose their sources — period. And then they did. In the future, perhaps a journalist might agree to protect a source’s anonymity provided that source doesn’t lie about the nature of the interview. I don’t know.

  8. Anonymous

    Dan, the bone I have to pick with you regarding “shielding sources” is the following. Consider a couple of scenariosScenario (1). Perpetrator A commits a crime. Witness B observes Perp A committing the crime. Witness B informs Reporter C (who did not observe the crime) that Perp A committed the crime. Reporter C writes a story about it, and Media Outlet D publishes the story.Scenario (2). Perpetrator A commites a crime. Reporter C observes the crime. Reporter C may or may not write about the story.The two are very different. It strikes me that reporters may have a case regarding scenario (1) that Reporter C should be not have to be required to divulge the identity of witness B. But, regarding scenario (2), I quite frankly cannot understand why a reporter C should be allowed to not identify perpetrator A was, merely because he was a reporter.I’ll come back to specifics. One assertion in the Plame identification case was that some government official identified Plame as being a CIA agent, thereby blowing her cover, and, as alleged, committed a crime. The Perpetrator was, per scenario (2), the government official. The witness was the person to whom Plame was outed, in this case a reporter. Reporter C observed the alleged crime. I quite frankly can’t understand how the news media can suggest that Reporter C should not be required to divulge the name of the alleged criminal when Reporter C was in the process of observing the alleged crime itself. (NB: note that this is completely aside from the actual charge against Scooter Libby, which has nothing to do with divulging Plames name.)BTW, regarding Beat the Press, if you don’t toot your horn (and tell us when you’ll be on), it is unlikely that anyone else will. We’ll watch it every Friday night, anyway, but your commentary is always appreciated.Also, is there any indication that Joe Sciaca might be going the talk radio route? Given the cutbacks at the Herald? I usually don’t particularly care for Herald people, but over the years Sciaca has grown on me.

  9. Anonymous

    Raj, If you are who I think you are, I’m sure you’re editors don’t care for you getting beat by Herald people all the time, hence the disdain.

  10. Anonymous

    The last anonymous post was from rajSorry, I’m going to have to register.

  11. Anonymous

    Sorry, I should have been more specific. The 11:11AM anonymous post was from me (raj). I have no idea who anonymous 4:50PM is. Note to anonymous 450PM: I have no editors. I’m not involved in the media industry. I’m a lawyer. I’m just chatting here.–raj

  12. Anonymous

    Dan: This is an easy one, at least in the case of MacMullen….1) MacMullen interviews Johnson, who asks her to keep that part of the story quiet.2) She tells her editors.3) The NYT wire services moves a daily budget mid- to late-afternoon to all subscribers, with its page one choices for the next day.4) The Globe sees it, and, now that Johnson has talked openly, MacMullen writes her story.5) Both stories are published the same day.

  13. Anonymous

    Dan: I know you’re busy with other things, but how about a little reporting on this: Call up your pal Marty Baron and ask him what gives. On a related note, I have noticed over the last six months or so that the Globe often does stories that the Wall Street Journal has had 4 or 5 days earlier, usually feature-y type trend stories.

  14. Home equity loan

    I would be curious to know the duplication rate of the Globe and Times print and on line versions

  15. Anonymous

    even more curious to me — times runs story on A1 — Globe puts it in sportsand Globe gets comments from coach — times does notgo figure

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