WaPo v. WaMo: “The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.”

How Big Media acts toward Little Media like Athens toward Melos.

According to Thucydides (that is, perhaps not in primary reality), when the Athenians demanded tribute from the Melians under threat of total destruction, the Melians rejected the demand as unjust. The Athenian ambassador replied that the concept of justice has a place only in dealings among equals; among unequals, the strong do what they will while the weak suffer what they must.

That appears to be the rule of big-league journalism: writers for large publications credit one another while ignoring the work of smaller publications.

My complaint about the Washington Post’s treatment of Haley Sweetland Edwards and the Washington Monthly turns out to have been – unusually for me – understated. I thought the WaMo story had run only this week. Not so. In fact it went online July 8, and was the subject of a blast email. Longreads listed it as #3 that week (and still has it at the top of a “health care” search), and it was Tweeted about by Nick Confessore, Matt Yglesias, and Lydia Depillis of the Post’s Wonkblog. So the WaMo piece didn’t hit the WaPo writers an editors blind-sided as they were putting their piece to bed; it had been in the atmosphere for two full weeks.

And no, it’s not just the Post. Compare this WaMo border story from May with this NYT piece from June.

On the other hand, the Post seems to be a serial offender. Commenter Warren Terra reports:

The Washington Post got a Pulitzer in 2007 for their “exclusive” reporting “exposing” abuses at Walter Reed – essentially re-reporting (and expanding) a story that had been fairly well covered in Salon in 2004-5. The Post articles did not as I recall mention the reporting in Salon. Seems to work.

That’s confirmed by Wikipedia;the original Salon piece seems no longer to be on line.

It all seems pretty disgraceful to me. I’ve written to the two reporters who wrote the RVUC story, and will report on any response.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

5 thoughts on “WaPo v. WaMo: “The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.””

  1. I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon in academic fields related to mine (quantitative finance). Papers coming out of Wall St. or published in trade journals are never cited by academics, even once they become widely known in the larger community. So there are multiple cases of industry research findings being rediscovered without citation in academic papers, sometimes many years later.

    There are models known, over many years, by one name in the practitioner community and a different name among academics. And it’s generally the practitioner work that came first.

    Partly I suppose it’s just the Matthew effect. But it sometimes seems willful, especially by the first academic researcher(s) involved.

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