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The Washington Post: was anyone really surprised?

July 2nd, 2009 - 3:31 pm

What can I say? That Katharine Weymouth, publisher and CEO of the Washington Post, was shocked, shocked to discover that her marketing department was selling places to a series of “intimate and exclusive” political salons at her house? Or, rather, was she shocked and dismayed to discover that her marketing department had been discovered selling the spots?

Personally, I have a grudging admiration for the brass of Charles Pelton, the Post executive who came up with the idea. “Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table,” one of his fliers advised.

“Interact with key Obama Administration and Congressional leaders . . . Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it.”

The cost? $25,000 to “sponsor” one event (Maximum of two sponsors per “intimate and exclusive” event). Or get a bulk deal on all eleven: only $250,000 for the lot. The Washington Post, incidentally, lost $19.5 million last quarter.

The blogosphere naturally had a field day with the story. Every place from the Daily Kos to The Weekly Standard reacted with disgust (tempered, in many cases, with a dollop of humor: The Weekly Standard reports this “Twitter of the Day”: “i heard joe biden tried to pay the Post $25k to have access to the obama administration”).

My unofficial survey suggests that the word “pimp” has not made so many public appearances since the days of the Mayflower Madam. Once the egg had been thoroughly distributed across the collective countenance of The Washington Post, it was simply business as usual for Ms. Weymouth to step on to her oversized mare to express sorrow, disappointment, surprise (shock, shock, remember?) that such a thing could be going on at her newspaper. “Absolutely, I’m disappointed,” she said.

“This should never have happened. The fliers got out and weren’t vetted. They didn’t represent at all what we were attempting to do. We’re not going to do any dinners that would impugn the integrity of the newsroom.”

Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of the Post, got on to a horse of his to iterate this deep concern about journalistic integrity. Ms. Weymouth was “disappointed,” but Brauchli confessed himself positively “appalled” by the idea. “It suggests that access to Washington Post journalists was available for purchase,” he said, underlining the obvious.

So what do you think? What if the fliers hadn’t gone public: would the salons have proceeded as planned? How much of Ms. Weymouth’s disappointment and Mr. Brauchli’s feelings of being “appalled” are due to the squamous light of publicity, not to say ridicule?I don’t know the answer to that question. But here’s another: were you surprised when you read that the mighty Washington Post was offering lobbyists access to senior Obama administration officials in exchange for a hefty pile of shekels? Or did you react as I did, with a snort of contempt and the muttered exclamation: “it figures”?

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