The Post’s “Powerful Few”: Newspaper Under Fire for Arranging Dinners Between Reporters, Lobbyists, and Politicians

300px-FdeTroyLectureMoliereThe Washington Post is accused of arranging for meetings between power brokers, lobbyists, and politicians, including Post reporters and editors for $25,000 to $250,000. These meetings are billed as off the record, non-confrontational access to “those powerful few” in the Beltway. Called “Salons,” the entire program is raising eyebrows in both the media and business areas.

This offer includes unique access to the “health care reporting and editorial staff” of the Washington Post.

The flier advertises:

Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate,” says the one-page flier. “Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth … Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama Administration and Congressional leaders …

Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama Administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less. …

Offered at $25,000 per sponsor, per Salon. Maximum of two sponsors per Salon. Underwriters’ CEO or Executive Director participates in the discussion. Underwriters appreciatively acknowledged in printed invitations and at the dinner. Annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000 … Hosts and Discussion Leaders … Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post … An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done. … A Washington Post Salon … July 21, 2009 6:30 p.m. . . .

Washington Post Salons are extensions of The Washington Post brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard,” the flier says. “At the core is a critical topic of our day. Dinner and a volley of ideas unfold in an evening of intelligent, news-driven and off-the-record conversation. … By bringing together those powerful few in business and policy-making who are forwarding, legislating and reporting on the issues, Washington Post Salons give life to the debate. Be at this nexus of business and policy with your underwriting of Washington Post Salons.

I have to agree with critics that this initiative raises some major questions of conflicts of interest as well as questions of basic judgment. Various questions are obvious, such as do these fees include a margin for profit or payments made to Washington Post staff? Since public interest organizations are likely to have less ability to pay $25,000, there is also a concern that the”powerful few” will include politicians and the well-healed lobbyists that they already love to socialize with. Now, however, it is the Post which will be organizing the meetings. Was there really a shortage of the “powerful few” getting together for off-the-record dinners?

Update: The Post has announced the termination of the Salon program, here. Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth said “Absolutely, I’m disappointed. 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.” There is little debate that it should not have happened, but there remains considerable question of how it could happen. This was not some unplanned dinner party among friends. This would have required some consultation and coordination from within the company.

For the full story, click here.

21 thoughts on “The Post’s “Powerful Few”: Newspaper Under Fire for Arranging Dinners Between Reporters, Lobbyists, and Politicians”

  1. mespo,

    “I often wonder if any of the Washington Fourth Estate read this blog?”

    I’ve often wondered that myself. I’m thinking I might be surprised at the number. What I’d really like to know though is have any of them ever contributed. Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

  2. I just heard this on the way home. If we have a coup here the WP a-holes will be at the Whitehouse bidding to tape the freely given confessions followed by the executions. (from marketplace)

    “Telesur excels in Honduras coverage

    As the coup in Honduras continues, few are seeing scenes from the turmoil due to heavy media censorship. Venezuelan news outlet Telesur is breaking through, but the coverage comes at a personal cost. Dan Grech explains.”

  3. The last paragraphy of this interview by Glen Greenwald with Charlies Savage is particularly important in this context. Here they are discussing Obama’s policies on “the war on terror” Charlie Savage points out that the rehtoric, repeated time and again, which is obviously what the WP is on board with, is shaping public opinion. It is confusing people as to what is actually happening in favor of what they are repeated lead to believe is happening. This is a real danger.

    “…GGObama’s generalized approach to the war on terror is not just similar to Bush’s, but it’s actually strengthening Bush’s policies, because in Goldsmith’s view, one of the flaws, one of the mistakes that Bush made, was by not seeking congressional authority in the beginning, he failed to get as much support, as much entrenchment for these policies legally, as he would have been able to had he gone to Congress. And that Obama is actually being more successful in institutionalizing these war on terror policies than even Bush and Cheney were, not only because he’s draining it of a partisan conflict, as you described earlier, but because by going to Congress and vowing to work with Congress, he’s providing a much firmer foundation for these policies and ensuring that they endure for a longer time and might be more invulnerable to judicial challenge as well.

    Do you agree with Goldsmith’s view, that not only is Obama replicating a lot of these policies, but actually strengthening them through his approach?

    CS: Absolutely. That was a great article, and it also reflected the themes of his book, in which he similarly talked about what a great strategic error it was for people in the Bush administration to be so unilateral in their rhetoric. His point was not just making a show of going to Congress, but it was also saying the right things as far as, we really want to respect checks and balances and separation of powers and oversight, we are worried about the Constitution as we do these things, and so it sort of reassures people that as executive power is accreting, that it’s not going to be abused when you hear the person talking like that. Even if under the surface of things the power is the same, as opposed to Bush who made a show of saying, I can do this on my own, the heck with what you think, and so forth. Even if what’s happening on the ground is the same, that rhetoric provides a political context which bolsters public confidence rather than undermining it. But this is all sort of stage-craft, the pageantry surrounding a reality that may be quite similar.

    But I think what Goldsmith would also say – and I think he’s probably also right about this – that it’s not just empty rhetoric, right? Saying the right thing over and over again, and making a show of going to Congress adds up to substance after a while. It adds up to – people should go read that article for themselves, I’m sort of mangling, I don’t want to leave the impression that he was saying or that I think there’s nothing to this. There’s something to it, but maybe not as much as the casual listener would be led to believe.”

  4. I really hate to agree with the Scotsman, but if you haven’t checked out Craig Ferguson’s show, you really should. He’s comedy gold. To my mind, possibly the funniest guy on TV let alone just late night.

  5. If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government…The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair. Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 28

    Our elected representatives, much like some judges and prosecutors (as we have seen in recent posts) do what they will because they know all to well, that they will, most likely, not be held accountable.

    I’ll be interested in the commentary of late-night comedian Craig Ferguson when he hosts the Boston 4th of July celebration. (airing on CBS at 10 PM eastern 7/4/09).

    For those that aren’t familiar with Craig; he became a U.S. Citizen last year. If you’ve never seen the clip below; it’s very good. Enjoy.

  6. Buddha:

    “Anyone surprised by this has never read WaPo. As a source for serious unspun news, they’ve sucked for a long time now.”


    I often wonder if any of the Washington Fourth Estate read this blog?

  7. Agreed to the shoddy reporting. Here’s why this revelation is much worse. This is active engagement in something which is particularly dangerous in a “free” society.

    The WP is brokering marriages between interests groups and govt. officials and assisting in the representation to the public of the policies that emerge from these marriages. The kind word for this is PR, but the truth is they are engaging in propgandizing the population. If they have done this at the behest of our govt. our govt. is breaking the law.

    WP isn’t even a bad newpaper. It’s not a newspaper at all. It is helping to form stories and limit discussion outside the confines of the demands of their co-conspirators. This is like the govt. presenting hand picked “defense experts” to give an analysis of how well the wars are going, only it is even more corrupt.

  8. Anyone surprised by this has never read WaPo. As a source for serious unspun news, they’ve sucked for a long time now.

  9. A.Y.,

    But no mistakes here. They know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and they have no place as a newspaper unless someone takes over and cleans house.

  10. The fliers got out and weren’t vetted.


    A thorough and diligent review of a prospective person or project prior to a hiring or investment decision. Vetting most often refers to an individual or group, such as how a board of directors will “vet out” a prospective CEO or other top management position. Vetting of potential suppliers of a contract or business service is a common practice for the managers of a publicly-traded company, where past business results, costs and personal relationships all figure into the final decision.

    Mistakes are sometimes made.

  11. Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth said “Absolutely, I’m disappointed. 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.”

    IF any one believes this dribble they are (at best) DELUSIONAL!! WaPo got caught with their collective pants down and are trying to back-track on the initiative as quickly as possible….It’s truly a sad day to find the once-mighty Washington Post has sunk to these levels…

  12. Jill

    Off Topic and on the side.

    I am not sure what mental/social/emotional problems that other person has. I hope that they can accept reality in what ever form it takes.

    I do not know you but you are ok in my book.

  13. It really does go well beyond trading favors for access. They are actively involved in arranging meetings, apparently, so everyone can stay on message, and heh- what a nice profit as well. It is incredibly difficult to find real news in this nation. McClatchy refused to suck up. They went three or four layers down in the govt. and produced accurate accounts of events. I find myself going all over the net, just to have even an ounce of luck in understanding what is actually going on in the world and my own nation. 30 pieces of silver costs a lot more these days.

  14. Silly me: I had thought the press were merely whores. It appears they are pimps as well.

  15. What the hell is wrong with a newspaper having a spin and pay or get paid for it. FOX and CNN do it already, Bush had Rather fired for doing his job. We have not had objective journalism since Ronnie Wilson Regan took office.

    Yes I do find a lot wrong with it.

  16. I salute whoever leaked this flier. If they have even one ounce of integrity this story will be covered fully in their own newspaper, taking it to the top of every group involved. Certainly Ms. Weymouth should resign immediately. It is not credible that she knew nothing. This guts the idea of a free press, both literally and figuratively. Many people have suspected this unhealthy trade fair between the govt., business and the “press” has been going on for quite some time. I’m glad it’s exposed. I hope someone stays on this story and exposes all of it. An independent press is crucial to a free society. This is a betrayal of a real trust they should have upheld.

  17. The Washington Post can do journalism or it can’t operate as a broker for lobbyists. It can’t do both. There is no conceivable explanation that would remove the ethical stench from this idiotic plan.

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