As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Village Is Very Sorry For Being The Village

In the Apology of the Week (all respect to Harry Shearer), Katherine Weymouth requests a mea culpa for trying to profit off of connecting insiders in government to the lobby community.

So what happened? Like other media companies, The Post hosts conferences and live events that bring together journalists, government officials and other leaders for discussions of important topics. These events make news and inform their audiences. We had planned to extend this business to include smaller gatherings, a practice that has become common at other media companies.

From the outset, we laid down firm parameters to ensure that these events would be consistent with The Post's values. If the events were to be sponsored by other companies, 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.

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. They would not be asked to invite other participants and would serve only as moderators.

When the flier promoting our first planned event to potential sponsors was released, it overstepped all these lines. Neither I nor anyone in our news department would have approved any event such as the flier described.

The shorter version of this pretty much tracks with my assessment at the time the scandal broke and Weymouth cancelled the dinner: "Now the Post can go back to being influenced by lobbyists and setting conventional wisdom in Washington without all that dirty money changing hands."

The only difference between this proposed salon and the other "conferences and live events that bring together journalists, government officials and other leaders for discussions of important topics" is that the proceeds went more directly into the pockets of the Post in this case. As Marcy Wheeler notes, Weymouth never disavows the actual content of the salons or the even the exchange of money (as long as it's indirect) to set up meetings between lobbyists and politicians - just the fact that this particular salon would be off-the-record.

I don't suspect for a second that lobbyists have much trouble finding their way into the upper echelons of Washington to speak their peace, anyway. The Washington Post simply wanted to charge for drinks to this particular cocktail party. Other than that, they cannot imagine how any of this could be a problem.

One can hardly blame a struggling newspaper wanting to open up another revenue stream. The problem lies in the barely-discernible difference between essentially a pay-to-play scheme and the normal social and political transactions in Washington.

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