A series of planned salons sponsored by The Washington Post and funded by a sponsor that would sell access to journalists and “power brokers” sends a chilling message for the future of American journalism.
Washington Post publisher and CEO Katherine Weymouth issued an apology in her paper over the planned dinners, where the powerful and mighty would rub shoulders with a few select journalists at a shebang paid for by a sponsor. According to Weymouth’s statement, the sponsors would have no control over the discussions and no special access for journalists.
Politico reported that the Post offered sponsorships for the off-the-record soirées - $25,000 for one dinner or $250,000 for a whole series of dinners, where lobbyists would have access to editors, journalists, Congressional Representatives and members of the Obama administration. The first of these meetings was to take place July 21 at Weymouth's home and focus on health care.
“If our reporters were to participate, there would be no limits on what they could ask. They would have full access to participants and be able to use any information or ideas to further their knowledge and understanding of any issues under discussion,” Weymouth wrote in her apology.
She did apologize for the event, but wrote that she believes there is a “legitimate” way to hold such meetings that don’t conflict with the Post’s ethical standards.
Why hold such events? Is it that the newspaper industry is economically hurting and these high-priced dinners would provide a quick influx of cash in the Post’s ailing coffers? Is it selling access to journalists and editors?
Selling access isn’t just wrong from an ethical standpoint – it’s morally offensive, a blasphemy in journalism, the Original Sin of the Fourth Estate. At no time must the journalist be a Las Vegas escort in a motel room filled with sweaty Rotarians looking for a good time.
That’s exactly what would’ve happened at this salon – an elitist gangbang where lobbyists, government officials, Congressional Representatives and corporate bigwigs would convene a powwow to discuss topics of the day. Think of it as an Algonquin Roundtable with controlled dialog, wealthier participants and no public access.
What the Washington Post was trying to do, a dialog between reporters and the high-powered sources they’d never meet, backfired. It was doomed to fail because money was involved. Sponsorship of an event where journalists are involved is akin to pimping out your objectivity and integrity.
Sleazy tactics like this are why people are suspicious of the modern press. There’s a gulf between readers and the journalists and editors as wide as the Grand Canyon and it’s growing every day. Accusations of plagiarism, bias and now selling access for the rich and influential only widen that trench.
This is the worst instance of pay-to-play I've heard. Not because it involves politicians and lobbyists - that system is a well-established clusterfuck of Faustian pacts that's filled Washington for decades - but because a newspaper is perpetrating it. A newspaper - which should find pay-to-play repugnant and harmful to the Republic - is enabling lobbyists and the influential and powerful to schmooze with and have unfettered access to the movers and shakers in government.
Why the secrecy? Why not have a series of town hall style meetings and invite the public to observe and participate in the discussion if it includes health care and other issues? Why sell out your credibility on such a ludicrous, ill-conceived scheme?