Washington Post publisher apologizes for perceived as influence peddling dinner plan

July 5, 2009

(ChattahBox) — The Washington Post’s publisher has apologized to readers today (Sunday) for their attempt to charge business leaders and lobbyists for private dinner discussions with government officials and the newspaper’s journalists. The highly esteemed newspaper got caught sending out a brochure offering sponsorships at a fee of $25,000 for one, or $250,000 for an entire series, for an exclusive “Washington Post salon” at the publishers home. The flier said participants were offered a chance to “build crucial relationships with Washington Post news executives in a neutral and informal setting.” It called the health care salon an “off-the-record conversation.”

Initially, the salon controversy was explained away by the Post’s publisher and CEO, Katharine Weymouth as the unfortunate result of an unvetted brochure sent out by an overzealous marketing employee. But  Weymouth, a relatively new publisher, has been more or less forced to step up to take responsibility for the scheme for the off-the-record dinner, where you could seemingly rent a Washington Post reporter.

“I want to apologize for a planned new venture that went off track and for any cause we may have given you to doubt our independence and integrity,” Publisher Katharine Weymouth said in a letter that appeared in the newspaper’s op-ed section Sunday here.

Weymouth said the flier wasn’t approved by her or the paper’s editors, and that it didn’t accurately describe the plan for the small gatherings.  Weymouth claims the paper was planning dinners but including “firm parameters” that gave sponsors no control over content and no special access to its journalists. Reporters wouldn’t be restricted from asking questions, she said.

Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli has already gone on record saying the small-scale dinners were a mistake.

“I think there is a legitimate debate right now about whether we should be doing this at all. We thought there was a way to do so consistent with our journalistic values, but in light of this experience, it is clear that this was a mistake.”

In many ways this scandal is a by-product of our times and I don’t mean our crumbling moral values so much as the paradigm shift in how people get their news today.  The internet has greatly cut into the subscription base of newspapers forcing many out of business or to cut corners to remain profitable. The Post’s Salon debacle was a half baked scheme to bring in cash.  According to the flier, each of the 11 proposed salons would have one or two sponsors who would pay $25,000 to underwrite the event and invite guests. A recent report by Politico indicates this perceived influence peddling may be becoming a standard media practice as the Economist and Wallstreet Journal are said to have also offered their reporters for a fee.


2 Responses to “Washington Post publisher apologizes for perceived as influence peddling dinner plan”

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