Is the Last Great Newspaper War Happening Right Now?

The Washington Post and the New York Times fight it out as they struggle to gain the public's trust.

August 1, 2017 5:00 am
new york times
The New York Times Office in New York City. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Washington Post and The New York Times have been competing for exclusives on President Trump’s administration for months. The two massive media organizations are “engaged in a duel that resembles the World War II rivalry of American general George S. Patton and British general Sir Bernard Montgomery as they scrambled to be first to capture Messina,” writes Vanity Fairs James Warren.

Both papers feel like there is something fundamental about the nation at stake. They have both used the once-taboo words “lie” and “lies” to describe things Trump has said and both have broke major news about the president and his administration. Reporters from both organizations are even being used as sources for cable-news networks.

The new Vanity Fair piece digs deep into the “last newspaper war” as the two papers face each other and their third enemy: President Trump. The White House criticizes both The Washington Post and The New York Times almost every day. Trump has called the press “the enemy of the American people,” but has also proven to be a primary catalyst for explosive hikes in the Post’s readership.

As for the Times, readership is at record levels. Digital subscriptions are at 2.2 million and total paid readership is around 3.2 million, and monthly page views are about 1.5 billion. Elisabeth Bumiller, the Washington bureau chief for the Times said that “Trump has been very good for the “failing New York Times.” The Times has 1,350 editorial employees, which is about 600 more than the Post. It has 30 more international bureaus and 75 overseas correspondents.

But Dean Baquet, executive editor of the Times, says that they do worry about the Washington Post on national security and politics. Vanity Fair reports that the Times’ foundational accomplishment is that it has maintained the support of a fifth generation of family ownership in the Sulzbergers. But the Times can never hope to match the deep pockets of Jeff Bezos, the world’s second richest man.

Vanity Fair questions the success both papers will have once Trump is no longer under constant scrutiny. Both papers have said they will continue to double down on content. The Times now does 360-degree videos and is available in Spanish and Mandarin.

But the biggest threat to the papers? Many Americans won’t believe a thing they say, no matter what. Only 42 percent of Republicans (and 89 percent of Democrats) believe in the important of the media’s “watchdog” role, according to the Pew Research Center. It is something both legacy papers will have to continue to fight.

Read more about how the media is benefitting from attacking President Trump.

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