Washington Post Scandal: A Sign of the Future?

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Ben Cohen
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By Ben Cohen

A truly astonishing story from Politico:

Washington Post
publisher Katharine Weymouth said today she was canceling plans for an
exclusive "salon" at her home where for as much as $250,000, the Post
offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record access to
"those powerful few" — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer was detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care
lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he
felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the
flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff."

The Obama administration has denied any complicity, with Press Secretary Gibbs saying:

"I don't know if anybody here was. I think some people in
the administration, writ large, may have been invited. I do not
believe, based on what I've been able to check, anyone has accepted the
invitations."

I understand that newspapers are in serious trouble (the WashPo has lost $19.5 million already this year) but acting as an agency for lobbyists is one step too far. Katherine Weymouth has defended the paper, saying the intention wasn't to 'sell' meetings, but rather to create casual environments where lobbyists, journalist and politicians could gather "With parameters such that we did not in any way compromise our integrity"

She continued:

“We do believe that there is a viable way to expand our expertise into
live conferences and events that simply enhances what we do - cover
Washington for Washingtonians and those interested in Washington"

Weymouth is basically trying to defend the indefensible. Newspapers are there to monitor the behavior of politicians and lobbyists, not enable them to create deeper ties with eachother. Regardless of how tactfully the idea is presented, the concept itself is deeply corrupt and unethical. Thankfully, the project looks like it is being killed, but the Post will lose a massive amount of credibility over this.

The sad thing is, other newspapers/sites could follow suite and offer similar type services under a different guise. Connecting powerful people together is a huge industry and it opens up the doors to serious corruption and manipulation. The conflict of interest is simply too large for it to work ethically. Newspapers are already beholden to advertisers, a serious problem in itself. The last thing we need is for the industry to sell itself out to other, more powerful groups of people. If we think journalism is dead now, the future could look far, far worse.