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Under Orders From Above, WSJ Takes Apple’s Side in eBook Antitrust Appeal

14670933735_b6510d6d9c_m[1]Did you catch the article in the WSJ a couple days back on Apple’s ongoing fight with its antitrust monitor?

If you haven’t read it yet, I wouldn’t – not unless you want to read NewsCorp’s propaganda position.

For the record, NewsCorp owns Big 5 publisher HarperCollins, which was involved in the antitrust suit as a defendant and does business with Amazon.

The WSJ may be a venerable publication, but every so often they are issued orders to take a certain position on certain stories. When it came to the Amazon-Hachette contract dispute, the WSJ was ordered in September to join one of the attacks on Amazon. And when it comes to Apple’s ongoing ebook antitrust case, apparently the WSJ has been ordered to take the side of Apple.

Do you want to know how I can tell?

I look for the bylines.

While the WSJ will usually credit all of the people who contribute to a story (including original reporter, editor, contributor and more) and list up to 4 or 5 names, sometimes it will publish a piece with no byline at all. That is not an accident so much as it is a sign that no single person wanted to put their name on it.

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The lack of a byline is also an indicator that the piece in question was ordered from above, and is thus suspect. In the case of the hit piece from September, the suspicions were confirmed by the shoddy arguments and factual errors in the article.

And in the case of the piece from earlier this week, I would like you to note that it discusses a legal case – but has no lawyer’s name in the byline, nor even the name of a respected journalist.

Are you really going to trust the arguments made by no one?

I won’t. I haven’t even read the piece, and I don’t plan to do so. While most news articles are biased, that piece is nothing more or less than propaganda.

image by CGP Greytorbakhopper

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Scott Lewis February 18, 2015 um 10:36 am

The article is published under the Opinion section.

Nate Hoffelder February 18, 2015 um 10:40 am

Yes, but it was also picked up by otherwise reputable sources like Publishers Lunch. So i thought it was worth a comment.

Also, I missed the detail that it was under opinion and not business. I bet others will make the same mistake, so it was worth pointing out the flaws.

Scott Lewis February 18, 2015 um 10:51 am

That’s more of an issue for Publisher’s Lunch than the WSJ. It’s clearly marked opinion. I’d ask what flaws… but you didn’t read the article so there it is.

Rob Siders February 18, 2015 um 11:24 am

I’m not sure that the lack of a byline indicates that no one at WSJ wanted their name associated with it. Editorials, which is what these are, are written to represent a consensus of the paper’s editorial board and commonly run without a byline. Here’s a description of this practice from the Chicago Tribune:; and from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: (scroll down to Inside the Opinion Pages).

Nate Hoffelder February 18, 2015 um 11:34 am

The last one was published as part of one of the planned attacks on Amazon. That taints all of the unsigned editorials.

Scott Lewis February 18, 2015 um 11:37 am

What does that even mean? Are you insinuating that their OpEd pieces, especially those without bylines are opinionated, biased pieces meant to illustrate their corporate philosophy and beliefs?

You must have a field day with election time, when papers come out an endorse Presidential candidates. I’m not 100% sure you understand what an OpEd is. I’m out for now. I’m headed to a meeting with representatives of a manufacturer our company represents. We are totally biased in favor of their products, BTW. If I were to blog about them, it’d be 100% favorable.

Mackay Bell February 18, 2015 um 1:32 pm

It’s interesting that you view it as propaganda, since you seemed more than happy to accept what I felt was the more prevailing propaganda in the press, which was that Apple couldn’t possibly win the DOJ judgement on appeal and should just give up. I did read the WSJ opinion piece, and it confirmed many key points that I’ve been thinking myself. Here they are:

1. Contrary to popular arguments that Apple’s legal arguments were shaky, the judges on the Appeals Court seem to vocally agree that Amazon’s share of the ebook market was very relevant to judging Apple’s actions in regard to anti-trust issues in the ebook market.

2. Forcing a special monitor to investigate the inner workings of Apple, given they had not agreed to settle and were appealing the decision, was unprecedented and probably a misuse of the government’s power.

3. Rather than proving she had strong argument, the fact that Judge Cote had to write a 160 page opinion indicated her arguments were not strong and she was overreaching.

This last point is something I had heard over a year ago and made a lot of sense. Many anti-Apple critics kept saying how brilliant Cote’s very long opinion was and how she had made it “appeal proof.” That never made sense to me, and I agreed with another lawyer who felt it was clearly the move of a judge who knew what she was arguing was on shaky legal ground and who needed to head off all the arguments against her decision. Of course, people who hate Apple loved reading a long piece about how bad they were, but if the legal issues where clear, she should have been able to sum it up easily.

So, yes, the WSJ piece is just opinion, but to me, it’s pretty reasonable opinion. There are some serious issues here for business. I don’t think the government should be allowed to use anti-trust laws to stop companies from entering into a new market, especially when another company already has close to a monopoly market share and competition would be helpful. Also, I don’t think judges should force monitors into business to scurry around gathering information to find new crimes during an appeals process on a shaky legal decision. That really is a serious misuse of government power.

There is simply no way Cote’s decision will hold up if it goes to the current pro-business Supreme Court. But it’s looking like it’s going to be tossed out at the Appeals Court. Which is a very good thing.

Nate Hoffelder February 18, 2015 um 1:44 pm

I call this Newscorp propaganda because it not so coincidentally aligns with NewsCorp’s business interests. Or did you forget who owns HarperCollins?

Mackay Bell February 18, 2015 um 2:24 pm

I certainly am aware that WSJ has it’s own agenda, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right in this matter. I’m even willing to concede that it is "propaganda," just as all the anti-Apple opinion you were fond of promoting was also propaganda. Even propaganda can make logical arguments. In fact, good propaganda usually does. (I have my own agenda, I’m a huge Apple fan.)

I think the big publishers (including HarperCollins) did collude with each other, probably illegally, in trying to force ebook prices up. That’s why they agreed to settle. But Apple was in a different situation from them, from an anti-trust standpoint, since they weren’t the ones wanted to raise prices, they simply wanted to sell ebooks.

There can be more than one badguy and more than one goodguy and maybe there aren’t any purely bad or good players in this. I do believe Amazon worked behind the scenes to get the DOJ to pursue this, and I do believe that Cote was more interested in keeping the DOJ happy than following the law. And yes, I believe now Apple is working behind the scenes to get this thing fixed (including trying to change the messaging in the media about it).

Ultimately, I think it’s it’s for the greater good there is another big player in the ebook market other than Amazon. I also believe that Apple entering the market was what spurred Amazon to raise payouts to self-publishers to 70%. I think that Cote’s decision slowed Apple’s entry into that market, which was not a good thing (except for people who hate Apple). As for the big publishers trying to fix prices, well, I don’t really care about that so much. I think they were just shooting themselves in the foot. (But yes, it was probably illegal.)

I also love Amazon, but I think Apple is going to end up with close to a 30% share of the ebook market in the next decade. And I think that will just spur Amazon, Google and the rest to stay competitive, which is a good thing.

Nate Hoffelder February 18, 2015 um 3:15 pm

If this were a sound legal argument then why hasn’t a lawyer put their name on it?

The WSJ has lawyers. It has journalists. It has journalists who are also lawyers. None of those people put their name on this piece, and i see that as a telling condemnation.

Scott Lewis February 18, 2015 um 3:18 pm

Because it’s not a journalist’s opinion. It’s the WSJ opinion. OpEd pages do both sometimes.

Look at the above. There is NO by-line at all. None. It was the overall stated opinion of the newspaper. No doubt there are some on staff that voted for Obama, and some who didn’t. But the paper, without byline, endorsed Obama.

This is the same thing. The paper has the stated opinion. You seem to be concerned that it’s driven by corporate goals. My only argument is why is that a concern? Would they rather advocate for something that they didn’t agree with? This whole argument just doesn’t make any sense.

puzzled February 18, 2015 um 4:48 pm

The big question, is did the WSJ put a disclaimer on the article saying that they were owned by a company that was involved in the events that the court case covers?

Nate Hoffelder February 18, 2015 um 4:55 pm

Ooooooh, now that is a point I missed. How delicious!

And to answer your question: Nope.

Richard Adin February 19, 2015 um 4:29 am

I find it interesting, Nate, that you find an editorial that was unsigned must be (a) wrong and (b) ordered from above, thus (c) not worth reading, concluding, "Are you really going to trust the arguments made by no one?" Which raises a serious question: How can we trust your opinion about an article you haven’t read? Should our conclusion be "Are you really going to trust the arguments made by someone who hasn’t even read what he is disparaging?"

Also, as a journalist you should understand (a) how editorials work and (b) that editorials are often unsigned and (c) that all major media are owned by corporations that have interests other than the media in question that they promote. I would also add that everyone has a legal opinion — you expressed yours many times during the debate over Apple’s guilt, Cote’s running of the trial and opinion, and Amazon’s involvement. Yet none of your opinions were signed by a lawyer. Based on your comments here, shouldn’t they have been?

Nate Hoffelder February 19, 2015 um 6:50 am

"Also, as a journalist you should understand (a) how editorials work and (b) that editorials are often unsigned"

I know how editorials work; it’s what gets published on the first page of the NYTimes business section and on the front page of the NYTimes. Or have you forgotten Streitfeld?

Everything is an opinion now, even (most of) the news coverage. So when some of the opinion pieces are left unsigned, they stand out and deserve comment.

Yet none of your opinions were signed by a lawyer. Based on your comments here, shouldn’t they have been?

Curiously, you forgot to address the other part of my criticism, that there is no journalist’s name attached to that piece, either. In the case of my posts, you have a name and you know who wrote them. That puts me a point ahead of the WSJ, in my opinion.

But even if it doesn’t, your comparison is still a false equivalence. I don’t have the huge staff which the WSJ can support, so my abilities are a hell of a lot more limited.

Scott Lewis February 19, 2015 um 3:02 pm

Man, not to beat a dead horse, but an unsigned editorial is considered the opinion of the newspaper company at large. The big example I already gave is when papers endorse presidential candidates.

It’s just expected that those opinions aren’t at odds with corporate vision, philosophy and goals. To say that they are trying to be self serving is just absurd. To say that they have to be signed is absurd.

Also, it might be an issue of too many people working on the piece. As in, more than 2. WSJ policy prohibits bylines with more than 2 credits, so those pieces would also be uncredited. Be it front page news, or an OpEd piece.

It’ll be my last post on the matter, since really we’re all just starting to pile on you on this one. We clearly disagree, and you clearly aren’t going to change your opinion.

In Buying Engadget, Verizon is Also Buying Its Editorial | Ink, Bits, & Pixels May 13, 2015 um 11:50 am

[…] So yes, Verizon has bought Engadget's editorial, which means they could follow NewsCorp's lead and use Engadget as an official mouthpiece the way NewsCorp uses the Wall Street Journal. […]

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