How the New York Times and Washington Post Reproduce and Credit Each Other’s Trump Scoops

How the New York Times and Washington Post Reproduce and Credit Each Other’s Trump Scoops
Photograph by Evy Mages.

On last Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times podcast The Daily, reporters Michael Barbaro and Matthew Rosenberg discussed the Washington Post‘s resounding scoop the evening before: During a meeting at the White House last week, President Trump had revealed classified information to Russian officials.

Rosenberg, who covers national security and intelligence for the Times, was effusive with praise for the rival news organization: “Hats off to our colleagues at the Washington Post who broke this story,” he told Barbaro. “It is a stunning story, and I’m just glad we were able to quickly match it.”

Rosenberg’s use of the verb “match” hearkens back to one of American newspapering’s oldest traditions: Reproducing a rival’s big stories with your own reporting, or “matching.” Like travel agencies and car dealerships, matching persists despite technological advances that should have logically killed it off long ago–in this case, the hyperlink. Why not have your staff work on new stories, the thinking goes.

But Trump’s unusual presidency has made matching important in a few ways. The first is that when you’re dealing with a White House where explanations can change by the minute, matching knocks down the administration’s ability to insist a piece of bad press is based on a mistake or misunderstanding. If you’re able to reproduce a scoop, it bolsters the work that went into the first piece. Another is that it can help reporters at the paper that just got beat to dig in and learn more, maybe even land a subsequent scoop that advances the story. Finally, and not inconsequentially, web traffic is vital to both organizations now. Why leave all those readers on the table?

Still, for all these visible signs of a digital economy, you can find vestiges of the print-era competition that spawned matching in the first place in these stories. Neither the Post nor the Times has a clean record when it comes to crediting news organizations who whupped them on a story, and both can be stingy—at least in body copy—when it comes to hat tips. Here’s a look at how just a few of the big scoops since Trump’s inauguration echoed between the rivals:

January 26

OriginalTrump pressured Park Service to find proof for his claims about inauguration crowd (Washington Post)

MatchTrump Called National Park Chief Over Twitter Post on Inaugural Crowd (New York Times)

Credit: “The call was first reported by The Washington Post.”

Location: Ninth paragraph.

Link to original story? Yes.

February 9

Original: National security adviser Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador, despite denials, officials say (Washington Post)

Match: Flynn Is Said to Have Talked to Russians About Sanctions Before Trump Took Office (New York Times)

Credit: “Mr. Flynn could not immediately be reached for comment about the conversations, details of which were first reported by The Washington Post.”

Location: Sixth paragraph.

Link to original story? No.

May 11

Original: In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey Demurred. (New York Times)

Match: Comey associates dispute Trump’s account of conversations (Washington Post, next day)

Credit: “Those details were first reported by the New York Times, in an article that may have prompted Trump’s tweet Friday about tapes and leaks.”

Location: Twelfth paragraph. (Though this one isn’t a classic match; it’s more of an additive follow.)

Link to original story? No.

May 15

Original: Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador (Washington Post)

Match: Trump Revealed Highly Classified Intelligence to Russia, in Break With Ally, Officials Say (New York Times)

Credit: “The Washington Post first reported Mr. Trump’s disclosure.”

Location: Fifth paragraph.

Link to original story? Yes.

May 16

OriginalComey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation (New York Times)

Match: Notes made by former FBI director Comey say Trump pressured him to end Flynn probe (Washington Post)

Credit: “The details of Comey’s meeting notes were first reported by the New York Times.”

Location: Ninth paragraph.

Link to original story? No.


Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously the news editor and lead media reporter for the Poynter Institute, arts editor for the now completely vanished TBD.com, and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.