I have long believed a whitelist exists that includes a number of major publications. One reason I think so is because a number of such websites are not "penalized" for duplicate content (unlike lesser mortals like us) from sources like Reuters, AP,etc. (which is carried by a number of these big publications).
Ideally, in case of duplication, Google should only rank the original Reuters news article in their SERPS. However, it is not uncommon to see the same article from other sources like NYTimes appear on the Google search results as well.