Monday, July 6, 2009

The Washington Post Doesn't Get it

From an NYT update on the Washington Post scandal I wrote about:

The publisher of The Washington Post apologized to the paper’s readers on Sunday after a controversy erupted over the company’s plans to organize sponsored meetings that would include Washington lobbyists, government officials and the paper’s own journalists.

The Post canceled the first of what it billed as exclusive “salons” at the home of the publisher, Katharine Weymouth, after critics accused the paper of seeking to profit from its access to members of Congress and administration officials.

Ms. Weymouth, in a letter to readers that appeared on the opinion page Sunday, wrote that “firm parameters” had not been followed in planning the events. These included having reporters and editors participate as moderators and not setting any limits on what questions they can ask.

“Our mistake was to suggest that we would hold and participate in an off-the-record dinner with journalists and power-brokers paid for by a sponsor,” she wrote.

No, Katharine, you didn't err by suggesting that you might do these things, as though you were planning something innocent and people got the wrong idea. You intentionally and consciously planned to sell access to your reporters- reporters who are supposed to be independent and adversarial. You got caught. Your newspaper is so much a part of the Washington political scene that you probably didn't even realize how obviously wrong this is, but that is not an excuse- that's a symptom of the problem. And to drive home that point,

She added that if The Post were to hold any such event, “everything would be at arm’s length — sponsors would have no control over the content of the discussions, and no special access to our journalists.”

"Arm's length?" What does that even mean?

"No special access to our journalists?" They should not be offering access to their journalists at all. Period.

So we are supposed to believe that lobbyist will pay tens of thousands of dollars to meet reporters, but, after cocktails and a long conversation by the pool about health care reform and defense contracting, these reporters will erase all memories of personal contact and go out and write stories about these people and what they do without being affected at all?

And keep in mind that this is giving them the benefit of the doubt, which they've clearly not earned. I can't think of any reason why we shouldn't assumer that The Post has made a deal whereby these lobbyists are promised favorable stories in return for cash.

Because that sure is what this looks like.

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