Magazine article The Nation

In Bed Together

Magazine article The Nation

In Bed Together

Article excerpt

Knight-Ridder Inc., the parent company of the Detroit Free Press, earned $155 million last year. The Gannett Company, which owns The Detroit News, netted twice that much. By any corporate measure, they are among the healthier media conglomerates in the land. Yet earlier this month, Edwin Meese 3d, in one of his final acts as Attorney General, overruled both his own antitrust department and an administrative law judge and granted The News and Free Press a joint operating agreement.

This cozy arrangement allows the only two dailies in Detroit, the nation's fifth largest market, to combine their business, circulation and advertising operations, thus creating an instant monopoly that will mean higher subscription prices and advertising rates and may cost as many as 500 employees their jobs. Though clearly in restraint of trade, the joint operating dodge is made perfectly legal by the Newspaper Preservation Act, a 1970 law supported by President Nixon and other truckling politicos who feared for their editorial endorsements if the newspaper czars didn't get their way.

The act is predicated on the notion that a "failing newspaper," which for months the Free Press noisily proclaimed it was, deserves to be exempted from the market forces that the nation's mainstream media so vigorously insist should govern all other businesses. Actually, a kind of reverse market force was in play in Detroit, in the view of administrative law judge Morton Needelman. …

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