Early one Sunday morning in the spring of 1996, editors at the Washington Times decided that something in their paper was so terrible it had to be fixed, and that the edition already printed had to be destroyed. Nobody at the Times will say what caused such a stir. And don’t go looking for a paper trail — the Times shredded all 70,000 copies.

Shredding companies — like professional escort services — are among Washington’s most profitable cottage industries, with more than 18 listings in the local Yellow Pages. The Rolls Royce of shredders is the Whitaker Bros. 007S, which slices classified documents into particles 3/32 of an inch wide. “It’s a lot smaller than snowflakes,” says Whitaker salesman George Shugars. And the 007 line is in high demand: Whitaker Bros. is one of the leading providers of shredders to government agencies. The White House, for example, has its own 007.

Whitaker memorializes its legacy in the demonstration area of its D.C. office. There’s the kind that Nixon’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President used to shred Watergate papers. There’s the model Henry Kissinger had when he was Nixon’s secretary of state. And then there’s the type of shredder the U.S. embassy in Iran destroyed documents with before it was besieged by Iranian militants in 1979. What will the exhibit’s next addition be? Whitaker president Vince Del Vecchio won’t speculate. But rumor has it that a small Southern law firm recently bought its very own 007.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

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THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

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