January 10, 2017 Last Updated 11:23 am

It’s strictly business: why some journalists may be surprised at the sudden change of tone coming from their editorial pages

Tom, wait a minute. I’m talking about a cop that’s mixed up in drugs. I’m talking about ah… ah… a dishonest cop…a crooked cop who got mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him. That’s a terrific story. And we have newspaper people on the pay roll, don’t we, Tom? And they might like a story like that.

…It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.

The world of journalism is debating just how it will adapt over the next year or so, with some professionals promoting the need for fact-checking, others believing that journalists may need to find protection from prosecution from an administration that believes journalists are “scum”.

““They’re scum,” Trump said on the campaign trail early on. “They’re horrible people. They are so illegitimate. They are just terrible people.”

I was asked by a colleague what to expect over the next year and surprised him and telling him to expect less support from the corporate offices than one might reasonably expect.

“It’s strictly business.”

I don’t think the US media has ever really come to grips with the run up to the Iraq War. Rather than a skeptical press, led by The New York Times, we got the opposite and all that we have dealt with ever since.

Many blame Bill Keller and Judith Miller, but that is too easy.

“(W)e have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been,” the editors of the Times wrote in a mea culpa written in 2004. “In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.”

But why? Why was the information ‘insufficiently qualified’? Because it fit the agenda of the moment. It simply worked to the NYT’s advantage. I believe, and I know this may be a minority opinion, that it was strictly business.

I am not saying the editors were overtly considering the financial position of the paper – it doesn’t work that way. The way it does work is that decisions are made that make life easier, access more open, conflicts less damaging. For a paper always wanting access to power, who needs information to maintain their editorial advantage and reputation, sometimes judgement is less reasoned that it should be. Things are “allowed to stand.”

The media has never been good at introspection, but there was a time when we actually had, unpopular as it might have been, a trade journal that actually was holding up a mirror to the media.

Five years ago today the U.S. media, and administration officials who directed the invasion of Iraq, celebrated the fall of Baghdad while expressing few fears about the future.

“We’re all neo-cons now!” crowed Chris Matthews on MSNBC. Joe Scarborough, also on MSNBC, declared, “I’m waiting to hear the words, ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians, and Hollywood types.”

That was written in 2008 by Greg Mitchell, then the editor of Editor & Publisher – which was then owned by Nielsen, before they exited the B2B magazine industry. He was looking back at the run up to the war and wondering what happened to the news industry’s normal role of asking the hard questions.

What should have been asked, and may have been by some, was why it was so easy to play along.

I have to warn you, it will be easy this time, too.

Already this week, as Congress holds hearings on future cabinet members, the usual vetting is being discarded. More than one publication has hired a far right-wing editor in order to ease the transition to covering the administration. It will be easier, I am sure, to gain access with the publication is seen as aligned with those in the White House.

It’s business. Strictly business.

And what businesses will take priority? Journalists often assume that the business of their business is their publication. But newspaper and magazine owners often have diverse holdings.

I learned long ago that construction owners often vote against the interests of their own businesses because personal income may be more important (Democrats like to spend on construction, Republicans like low taxes, construction owners are more often to be Republicans).

How easy will it be, for instance, for The Washington Post‘s editorial page to support the incoming administration? Fred Hiatt is the editorial page editor at the Post, a position he has held since 2000, through their strong support for the Iraq War.

I expect that the incoming administration will find many friendly faces in the press corps picked to cover the White House, and many editorial page editors ready to lobby on its behalf. Don’t be shocked. Nothing has really changed since 2000.

When TNM first began publishing as a Blogspot blog, one of the first stories run before the official launch was about Nielsen’s shuttering of Editor & Publisher. One of the first run after the launch was that Duncan McIntosh, publisher of Boating World magazine and Fish Rap News, had bought the assets of E&P. Mitchell did not get offered his old job back and has gone on to publish a book or two and writes occasionally for The Huffington Post. There will be no official industry voice this time around. But then again, there was no Twitter in 2003.

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