NYT’s GM Lede Is in the Trunk

The New York Times leads its front page with news of the latest General Motors plan for its future, but the paper buries the lede.

And when i say “buries” I mean buries. The paper doesn’t tell readers until the twenty-third paragraph that GM’s plan would amount to the nationalization of the company.

If bondholders approve the debt-for-equity exchange, they would own about 10 percent of G.M., making them a minority shareholder in a company controlled by the Treasury and the U.A.W.’s retiree trust.

According to the offer, the Treasury would own at least 50 percent of G.M. in exchange for forgiving about $10 billion in federal loans. The union trust, in turn, would receive a stake of about 39 percent.

Instead the NYT leads with the obvious: That the company will have to become smaller in order to survive.

By contrast, here’s the Financial Times’s headline:

US to take majority GM stake

The Wall Street Journal’s:

GM Offers U.S. a Majority Stake

And the Washington Post is best of all:

GM’s New Road Map: Partial Nationalization

The NYT’s subhed calls it “A Bid for U.S. Support,” which doesn’t do the trick on informing about the nationalization. Here’s its headline:

Latest G.M. Plan Cuts More Jobs, Halves Dealers

I’m trying to figure out what the NYT is thinking here. Best I can come up with is that they think GM’s plan is a nonstarter with bondholders, who have to approve any such plan, and they wanted to spin the news forward somehow. But the other three papers here acknowledge that, too, noting that the bondholders don’t really have much of a choice. GM will file for bankruptcy if they balk, which will give them little, if any, upside.

The Washington Post does the best job of the four papers of emphasizing the radical nature of the plan. Here’s its lede:

Once a symbol of capitalist might and U.S. industrial prowess, General Motors would be half owned by the Treasury under a new sweeping plan that would also shut down GM’s Pontiac operations, lay off 21,000 workers and impose harsh terms on the company’s bondholders.

The Journal gets to it in its fourth paragraph:

The upshot would be the transformation of a troubled American icon, leaving it in the hands of the government and its main union.

This is clearly a watershed move, one that would result not only in the nationalization, but in the socialization of the mightiest name in the history of American manufacturing.

The Times just fell down on this one.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.