For three months, as arson, assaults and property damage by union members have mounted in the strike against the New York Daily News, the violence and vandalism have rarely generated big headlines in the other local papers. In a city that averages more than five homicides a day, such incidents were simply not front-page news.

But now, with the embattled tabloid on the verge of folding, News publisher James Hoge has publicly questioned whether the city's other major papers, the New York Post, New York Times and New York Newsday -- all of which would benefit financially from the paper's demise -- have deliberately underplayed what he sees as a conspiracy to shut down the News. Hoge also blames the city's political establishment for not denouncing the violence.

The unions say Hoge is exaggerating the level of violence and intimidation, and the police say there is no evidence of a conspiracy. But the ugly incidents -- from baseball-bat attacks on replacement workers to firebombs tossed into groceries selling the News to smashing the windows of the paper's advertisers -- have clearly helped keep the paper off most city newsstands.

"I can't conceive of this amount of sustained criminal activity against a prominent business and Newsday and the Post having nothing to say about it," Hoge said. "We've seen no expression from the mayor, the governor or any other public official that this kind of criminal campaign against a business is unacceptable."

Joseph Lelyveld, the Times's managing editor, said Hoge has a point.

"Nobody has succeeded in pulling together all of these incidents in a way that would confirm his charges of union conspiracy through hard reporting," Lelyveld said. "We've tried -- and part of the problem is the attitude of the police department, which has just seen it on an incident-by-incident basis.

"I'm not satisfied with our performance on that. I am satisfied that we've tried."

James Toedtman, managing editor of New York Newsday, said: "There's no conspiracy among other media to gang up on the Daily News. The reality is that bombs by the dozen go off in the city of New York every day. We don't print a story every time a bomb goes off."

New York Post editor Jerry Nachman said Hoge "has attacked or criticized the unions, the governor, the mayor, the police department, the cardinal and the rest of the New York press. . . . It's a little tragic sitting here and having this blamed on the competing press."

Labor leaders say they have consistently condemned the violence. George McDonald, president of the umbrella group for the nine striking unions, said that "the violence Hoge has put on the workers {by hiring nonunion replacements} far exceeds any of the incidents."

Hoge has announced that the paper will close within weeks unless a buyer is found or the strike is quickly settled.

While there is no evidence that the News's competitors are deliberately tilting their coverage, they are in the awkward position of having to cover the same unions with which they also must negotiate. Reporters assigned to the story are likely to be Newspaper Guild members covering their striking colleagues.

The Tribune Co., the News's corporate parent, spent months preparing for a strike while it demanded "management rights" and reduced staffing. But the company never imagined that most of its 12,000 vendors would stop carrying the tabloid -- some out of sympathy with the unions or a desire to avoid being picketed, but many others responding to vandalism and threats. Circulation plunged to half the pre-strike level of 1.1 million, driving most advertisers away.

In the days after the strike began Oct. 25, when union members damaged scores of delivery trucks and stoned buses carrying replacement workers, newspapers and television were filled with stories about the violence. Since then, only a few serious incidents have been given prominent coverage. One such attack took place in December when Carlos Chacon, a nonunion News driver in New Jersey, was dragged from his truck by 12 to 15 men with baseball bats, beaten and stabbed in the abdomen and buttocks. Two News strikers were charged with armed robbery and aggravated assault.

The News has given full crime-wave treatment to what it calls "union thugs," with big headlines blaring "BODEGA BOMBED IN NEWS 'WAR,' " "THEY LIVE IN FEAR OF VIOLENCE" and "IT'S ORGANIZED TERROR: HOGE."

The other papers, however, largely have reported strike-related violence in brief articles, or two or three paragraphs in larger stories, that have done little to convey their cumulative impact. For example:

In a front-page report last Sunday, the Times made one reference to union members "intimidating newsstand operators" in the 27th paragraph.

On Tuesday, a pipe bomb exploded under the car of one News supervisor, while the foreman whose suspension of a worker triggered the strike found his car window shattered for the third time. The Post and Newsday carried short articles. The Times ran three paragraphs with the headline, "No Evidence to Link Bombing of Car to Daily News Strike."

On Wednesday, eight windows were smashed with bricks at a Brooklyn store of Hillside Bedding, and an anonymous caller blamed the attack on the company's decision to resume advertising in the News. Hillside officials say windows were broken at 15 stores last month. Such vandalism against advertisers has received little coverage.

But is there, as Hoge contends, a "centrally controlled conspiracy"?

"One night a replacement driver gets beaten up within an inch of his life," said Lelyveld. "A few nights later a car bomb goes off in Massapequa. Nobody's nailed that story. It's a hard story to nail."

Striking columnist Juan Gonzalez said that "when you throw people out of jobs they can get frustrated and angry and do a lot of things they would not ordinarily do." He also blamed the "goons" in the News's 1,000-member security force, some of whom have been arrested, for provoking violence.

The News has filed racketeering suits against the pressmen's and drivers' unions, their top officers and 23 members. Hoge says the paper has reports of more than 1,330 incidents, with more than 200 vehicles damaged and 80 people hospitalized.

New York City police, whose jurisdiction does not include the suburbs, report 529 incidents. They say 196 people have been arrested -- 20 of them charged with riot, one with arson and the rest facing lesser charges.

"It's not a coordinated effort," said detective Joseph Gallagher. "Each incident seems to be separate."

But Richard Koehler, a former city corrections commissioner who is now a News security consultant, said that when "40 strikers show up at 5 a.m. on Canal Street and trash our trucks and beat up the hawkers . . . clearly there's a conspiracy here."

Records suggest that some News figures may be somewhat inflated. While the paper says there were 43 incidents involving advertisers last month, that includes nine complaints from merchants about legal picketing.

Michael Packenham, the News's editorial page editor, conceded that "a lot of the more than 1,000 incidents would probably not make the news pages of most newspapers," but said "the pattern is more than the sum of the parts."

Most local politicians have backed the unions, including Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D) and Cardinal John O'Connor. Spokesmen for Cuomo, O'Connor and Mayor David N. Dinkins (D) say they have also denounced the violence.

Only the Times has editorialized against the attacks, saying union leaders have been "unable to bring themselves to do more than make barely dutiful statements" against the violence.

Staff writer Laurie Goodstein in New York contributed to this report.