Over the course of the past two weeks, journalists have gotten used to a new kind of news cycle: the late-breaking bombshell report that dominates political coverage for hours.
The collection of stories — most focusing on President Donald Trump’s administration — that have broken just as journalists prepare themselves for happy hour is remarkable.
A good old-fashioned newspaper war has reignited between the New York Times and the Washington Post, with both papers vying for scoops about the Trump White House and the investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.
Over the past two weeks, the Washington Post reported that Trump passed on highly classified information he did not have permission to share with top Russian diplomats; that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) joked in 2016 that Trump was on Putin’s payroll; that a current White House employee is a “significant person of interest” in the investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials; that Trump was seeking outside counsel to help him navigate that probe; and that Trump asked the director of national intelligence and director of the NSA to push back against the investigation.
The New York Times, meanwhile, published bombshell reports over four consecutive days. Among those: that Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into Flynn, a request Comey documented in a memo; that Trump’s campaign knew Flynn was under federal investigation before Trump named him national security adviser; that Trump pushed Comey to say he was not under investigation; that he called Comey a “nut job” to the same Russian diplomats; and that Russian officials discussed using his former campaign manager Paul Manafort to influence Trump.
What most of those stories had in common — though they covered a vast range of subjects — was that they dropped in the afternoon or early evening, throwing the typically staid evening news cycle into chaos.
On behalf of political reporters who now regard 5 p.m. ET with Pavlovian trepidation: Why?
“There really is no particular reason,” Scott Wilson, national editor of the Washington Post, told TPM by phone. “We’re not holding them, we’re just working on them.”
Wilson said the Washington Post “would have liked to have published” the report about McCarthy, for example, earlier in the day.
“It just took us time inside the newsroom to make sure that we had it as accurately sourced and fairly written as we needed it to be,” he said. “It just turned out that it published at that time.”
Asked whether such stories publish later because of print deadlines, Wilson said, “Really it’s just more coincidental.”
“Certainly we have to have them done by our print deadlines, which is roughly that time,” he added. “But really we’re publishing them when they’re ready.”
Elisabeth Bumiller, the New York Times’ Washington bureau chief, told TPM that the Times publishes stories when they “come together.”
“Sometimes it’s midday, sometimes it’s later in the evening,” she said. “On these kinds of stories about the Russia investigation, we do not sit on them. We post them when they’re ready.”
“There is a print deadline and we obviously try and make that,” Bumiller added.
Both Bumiller and Wilson cited competition among news outlets as an incentive to publish big scoops as soon as possible.
“Stories in this case are so competitive we’re just not going to wait,” Bumiller told TPM.
“It’s a very competitive environment,” Wilson said.
Their respective outlets appeared to find camaraderie on Twitter, at least, in the middle of last week’s busy news cycle.
It’s not just newspapers publishing stories of consequence in the Trump era.
In the past several months alone, CNN reported that federal investigators corroborated sections of a largely unsubstantiated dossier containing allegations of ties between President Donald Trump and Russia; that the FBI used that dossier as evidence to obtain a warrant via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the communications of a Trump associate; that federal prosecutors issued subpoenas to associates of Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn; and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose that he had several meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. while applying for a security clearance last year.
CNN did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment.
The evening bombshells, it appears, will continue. So expect a lot more tweets like these: