Custom Search

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

More On Wapo's Pay To Play Schemes

The Washington Post reports they will be holding internal reviews on salon dinners meant to give access to high profile officials for money.

Isn't this like a cop investigating a crime he has been accused of?

It is clear they are setting up their newly hired marketing executive, Charles Pelton, to be the fall guy, because he worded the brochure for the event planned on July 21, 2009, which has since been canceled.

Last week, The Post said a newly hired marketing executive, Charles Pelton, was responsible for the brochure that mischaracterized the first Post dinner, scheduled for July 21, focusing on health-care reform. Pelton, who remains employed as the newspaper's general manager of conferences and events, has not commented publicly since Thursday.

But while Post executives immediately disowned the flier's characterization, senior managers had already approved major details of the first dinner. They had agreed, for example, that the dinner would include the participation of Brauchli and some Post reporters; that the event would be off the record; that it would feature a wide-ranging guest list of people involved in reforming health care; and that it would have sponsorship.

Some members of the newsroom raised objections about attending an event at Weymouth's house. No change in plans was made.

In the meantime, the home this event would have been held in, was none other than Katharine Weymouth, who published an apology Sunday, July 5, 2009:

Dear Reader:

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. A flier distributed last week suggested that we were selling access to power brokers in Washington through dinners that were to take place at my home. The flier was not approved by me or newsroom editors, and it did not accurately reflect what we had in mind. But let me be clear: The flier was not the only problem. Our mistake was to suggest that we would hold and participate in an off-the-record dinner with journalists and power brokers paid for by a sponsor. We will not organize such events. As publisher it is my job to ensure that we adhere to standards that are consistent with our integrity as a news organization. Last week, I let you, and the organization, down. The Washington Post remains committed, now and always, to the highest standards of journalistic integrity. Nothing is more important to us than that, and nothing will shake that commitment.

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.

We have canceled the planned dinner. While I do believe there is a legitimate way to hold such events, to the extent that we hold events in the future, large or small, we will review the guidelines for them with The Post's top editors and make sure those guidelines are strictly followed. Further, any conferences or similar events The Post sponsors will be on the record.

We all make mistakes and hope to be forgiven for them. I apologize to our readers for the mistakes I made in this case.

We remain committed to you, our readers. We remain committed to the highest standards of integrity. And while we will continue to pursue new lines of business, we will never allow those new avenues to compromise our integrity.

In the meantime, I hope that we can continue to count you as a reader while we promise to continue to bring you the news as it develops, unbiased and with the best reporting and editing we can offer.

Yours respectfully,

Katharine Weymouth

Publisher and CEO, The Washington Post

In hindsight, Wapo's review, or should I say the announcement that they are going to be holding these reviews, understand it was the dinners themselves, this latest which would have been held in the home of Weymouth, that were not quite ethical or as they put it "were problematic and should have been rejected during their planning."

Another tidbit that came of this was that this practice is used by other publications, such as The Atlantic, who promptly rushes to defend themselves:

For a half dozen years, Atlantic Media has been hosting sponsored salon dinners in Washington and around the U.S. I don’t believe that any one of these events had any of the ill intention or effect that some have attributed to The Washington Post concept. But we live on a street too close to the brush fire to pretend no interest. So what I thought I might do is give the detail of the Atlantic Media dinners, address some of the concerns I’m reading now on the Web, explain the virtue I see in this work and end with a personal statement and caveat. Please forgive me if this runs long.

It does run long, so please read the entire letter at the link above.

I wonder how many other MSM outlets are doing this.