July 5, 2009

Katharine Weymouth apologizes for whatever somehow happened at the Washington Post.

The Publisher and CEO of The Washington Post addresses us dear readers:
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.
My lawyer's eye fixates on one word — in that last sentence: will.

You start out with your terrible, suggestive flier. And just when my mind is screaming quit putting all the blame on the damned flier, you're all let me be clear: The flier was not the only problem.

Okay, so you will confess that you did plan to sell access to power brokers in Washington through dinners that were to take place at your home?

Then on to the crisp declarative We will not organize such events. You skipped a step!

I know you won't organize "such events" now — now that you've been publicly humiliated. You're glossing over the key thing you ought to apologize for: that you did organize a series of dinners at your home to make money giving access to Washington power brokers.
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.
Gah! Must I sort through that? Will anyone sort through that? What are "firm parameters"? And how firm can they be if they don't work? And what are "The Post's values" — other than what The Post actually does? And how does the flier come into existence when nobody could possibly have caused it to exist? There's some abstruse theology here, and it's annoying me.
We have canceled the planned dinner. While I do believe there is a legitimate way to hold such events...

We all make mistakes and hope to be forgiven for them. I apologize to our readers for the mistakes I made in this case.
Which mistakes did you, specifically, make? I can't figure it out from this letter.
We remain committed to you, our readers.
Well, of course. There isn't even any influence to sell if you don't have readers. There's no dilemma here at all for you.
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.
So you're still doing something — ambling down "new avenues" — but you will will will will will will will do it with integrity this time. And if you get caught again, if somebody somehow — not you — stumbles over the firm parameters on the new avenues, then we dear readers will surely hear that you will get it right in the future.

46 comments:

peter hoh said...

Your third paragraph, the one that starts with "Okay," needs to be fixed. Looks like you changed your sentence midstream.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks. I just somehow wrote "to" for "that." Fixed.

Maguro said...

The question that interests me is which "power brokers" were scheduled to appear at these things? Obama administration officials, presumably, but which ones? Hopefully, the most transparent administration ever will fully disclose what was going on here.

save_the_rustbelt said...

Darn, I always wanted to own my own WAPO reporter, I hear they shed less than a dog.

On a more serious note, have the WAPO folks been taking the brown acid? Is this a Woodstock commemorative? The Obama magic making everyone silly?

Flexo said...

Really now, is this all that surprising? Isn't this simply standard operating procedure?

Party, government, and press have been having a three-way for a long time now. They are interchangable, they are one and the same.

I'm still waiting for SOMEONE to comment or even notice that the Washington Post now has a special interest group writing its stories for it under a Post by-line.

Pravda is what it is. We should not be surprised at that.

traditionalguy said...

WaPO is in tune to the DC follies going on today. They WILL find away to be on that last helicopter out of Saigon as the Communists come to town and need a few media friends to cover up thr Crap and Bribe scheme, for a cut of the action. of course.

rhhardin said...

Reporters' integrity is now limited back to attracting soap opera women for advertisers, the original business model, until another way to leverage political corruption is found.

rhhardin said...

Britain's page three girls page three hasn't been tried.

Crash photos page four isn't bad either.

Get some male readership beyond metrosexuals.

Big Mike said...

This sort of thing with the Post has been gone on, off and on, dating back to when Ben Bradlee allowed himself to think he was a close personal friend of JFK. From time to time the Post would even allude to such gatherings in its social pages.

What's different is the regular scheduling and the crass attempt to make money from it.

Big Mike said...

Has been going.

Sunday mornings. Sheesh.

Fred4Pres said...

How about, I am sorry my newspaper is a dirty whore? Call a spade a spade.

Maguro, that is a very good point.

Penny said...

What happened was "pay to play".

Penny said...

Maguro, I believe Gates said that he wasn't aware of anyone accepting this invitation.

The above may not be a direct quote, but it's pretty close because I remember being amused at his choice of words. Not unlike Althouse with Weymouth's choice of words.

AllenS said...

Katharine Weymouth: "I'm sorry that we were caught. You'll never catch us again, I promise."

Lem said...
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Lem said...

We will not organize such events.

We will get a quote from an independent caterer.

NKVD said...

They didn't do it and promise never to do it again.

Curtiss said...

Ms. Weymouth seems to be using the "Racehorse" Haynes defense:

"Say you sue me because you say my dog bit you. Well, now this is my defense:

* My dog doesn't bite.
* And second, in the alternative, my dog was tied up that night.
* And third, I don't believe you really got bit.
* And fourth, I don't have a dog."

Chase said...

This incident is a perfect metaphor for the Obama administration, which - like the Clinton administration - would rather beg forgiveness (without ever admitting wrongdoing) than seek permission.

There will always be wordy, disingenuous explanations when they are caught - and NEVER an actual admittance of wrongdoing. Clinton had so many defenders talking out of both sides of their mouths over Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, foreign contributors, money laundering, missing Rose Law Firm records, selling the Lincoln bedroom, ad nauseum that the country will tire of Obama and his administration's dishonest ways well before the next election. The Bush adminstration could only wish they had thought of the multitude ways to sell access and favor that Clinton savants dreamed up.

So Democrats, when the country stops believing Democrat lies,you can blame Clinton for the dishonesty fatigue.

Meade said...

What do you want to bet they hired John Edwards to write that apology?

The Drill SGT said...
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The Drill SGT said...

i've done professional conferences. You can't do the agenda, or solict sponsors or attendees without divulging who your invited speakers are.

so step one in this little "pay for Play" would have been to invite WH policy folks, and high level deptartment types. Once you get the invites out you can solict your sponsors.

Till you get the speakers, you cant value the event to the sponsors.

The WaPo knows who they invited and who acceped, they aren't telling. their buddies in the WH ar playing dumb also.

so much for comng clean and the public's right to know. Unlike when they hounded Cheney for the Energy TF listees. WaPo sued for that list.

kentuckyliz said...

I did not have sexual relations with that newspaper.

Penny said...

Aside from all that's been written about what is wrong with this picture, I think another talking point emerges.

Why has it become popular to deride successful and profitable businesses in our current culture? We have much more to be concerned about with those companies getting ever closer to the edge of survivability. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and newspapers and network TV are desperate. They can't be our eyes and ears when they are scrounging for their next meal.

Moneyrunner said...

The Washington Post has decided that selling access to lobbyists for up to $250,000 is not that great an idea in view of the controversy it has caused. They think that the problem is in the details: the number of “sponsors” perhaps.

Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli:

Said Brauchli: "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."



Marcus, trust us my friend, selling access to the newsroom and to Obama government officials IS consistent with your journalistic standards.

MayBee said...

Is the problem just with the underwriting, or the dinner itself?

I keep bringing this up, but I remember The Atlantic editor has admitted to having similar dinners. He invites his writers (including Sullivan!) and the likes of Rahm Emmanuel for salons at his home. Off the record, of course.

In my opinion, it isn't just selling the access that is bad. It's the whole darn thing.

Moneyrunner said...

Penny,

You have a future in comedy.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and newspapers and network TV are desperate. They can't be our eyes and ears when they are scrounging for their next meal.

That is comedy gold. Straight out of Seinfeld.

Bruce Hayden said...

Maguro, I believe Gates said that he wasn't aware of anyone accepting this invitation.

The above may not be a direct quote, but it's pretty close because I remember being amused at his choice of words. Not unlike Althouse with Weymouth's choice of words.


Karl Rove, the Evil Sidekick, pointed out the other day that anyone with any real clout in the White House is invariably booked fairly solidly. And, to get to the point where the WaPo was here, they must have had some commitments from someone in the WH.

Maybe, charitably, the WaPo could argue that they hadn't gotten to the point of actually nailing down the speakers and scheduling the actual events, and that this was just a heads up to rake in some up front cash. But the paper would still have to be comfortable that the Obama Administration personnel would show up when required.

So, we still get back to what was said to whom and when between the Obama Administration and the WaPo people.

Bruce Hayden said...

I keep bringing this up, but I remember The Atlantic editor has admitted to having similar dinners. He invites his writers (including Sullivan!) and the likes of Rahm Emmanuel for salons at his home. Off the record, of course.

Yes, the whole thing stinks. And one of the things that I most dislike is that these papers are supposed to be going after the news, and probably the most newsworthy is who is meeting with whom, and where it is happening, esp. at the highest levels in the White House.

So, these papers are, in essence, making news, but then not only are they not reporting it, as is their duty (if you believe their own hype), but they are actively covering it up.

Let me suggest that the WaPo looks worse here, because they rode into national prominence with their destruction of the Nixon Presidency through their reporting. Now we find further evidence that they only publish important news if it will harm their political opponents, and not if it will harm their political friends.

Ralph L said...

so step one in this little "pay for Play" would have been to invite WH policy folks
How do we know it wasn't the other way around: WH people invited the WaPimp to have a salon?
The scheduled date of the event was July 21.

Penny said...

We don't know, but it is safe to say that this administration has been deft at getting exactly what it wants from the MSM.

David said...

The Drill SGT said...

". . . .

The WaPo knows who they invited and who accepted, they aren't telling. their buddies in the WH are playing dumb also."

Exactly.

So will the WaPo newsroom now do a story giving the real details of what went on? Will any other newspaper "investigate" this incredible lapse? And if so, will they get any cooperation from WaPo employees?

This is not just a small inadvertent step over the line. Ms. Weymouth should be on her way out over this one.

And will Gibbs be asked who from the administration was going to participate? Will he lie and spin as much as the Publisher of the Washington Post? Why, yes he will!

We are really screwed when our top news organizations have come to this.

mariner said...

@Ralph L:
How do we know it wasn't the other way around: WH people invited the WaPimp to have a salon?


Excellent point -- I'll bet that is what actually happened.

Clinton rented out the Lincoln Bedroom and hosted coffee klatches for high-rolling contributors at the White House. Obama wanted a go-between for plausible deniability, and the local pet newspaper provided one.

Bruce Hayden said...

So will the WaPo newsroom now do a story giving the real details of what went on? Will any other newspaper "investigate" this incredible lapse? And if so, will they get any cooperation from WaPo employees?

I don't think we can expect that - they tried to hide the story behind the society column or some such in the first place. (Almost) surprisingly, the NYT put it on their first page. A bit of payback maybe?

kcom said...

" The Obama magic making everyone silly?"

Well, I did notice this. Ms. Weymouth has picked up on one of Barack Obama's favorite phrases, "Let me be clear." So she's even talking like him.

I wonder if she's using it in the same way he uses it: "Let me be clear: if you're a family making less than $250,000, my plan will not raise your taxes - not your income taxes, not your payroll taxes, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes." In other words, it's a turn of phrase and has no further significance.

Mike said...

This post makes me proud to be a lawyer.

Anthony said...

One question I have is what is the difference between what the Post may have tried to do and what National Review does with their crusises or the NY Times does with its lecture series. Some of the local all news radio stations in NY have roundtables where they invite business people and government officials to talk.

I wonder if this is much to do about not all that much.

Eli Blake said...

I'm angry because they canceled the event.

Somebody at the Post thought of a unique way to raise money from private sources. And given that the Post lost $20 million last quarter, clearly they do need to do something.

The fear that the contributors at the event would cause the news to be biased is absurd on the face of it. If that were true then why would a newspaper even accept advertising? As Lyndon Johnson, the most worldly of politicians used to love saying about the Senate, "you have to be able to take their money, eat at their table, drink their wine, screw their women and vote against the bastards anyway or else you don't belong here." News professionals can do their job just as well as politicians can (better, I hope) and should be willing to cover a story no matter who is featured-- or they should go find a day job doing something else and write a blog at night. Heck, even Rush Limbaugh, the king of the radio blowhards, recently was able to lambaste the government bailout that saved General Motors even while acknowleging that GM has been a long time sponsor of his show. In canceling the event, is the Post suggesting that they aren't sure they can operate with even as much journalistic integrity as Rush Limbaugh!? Heck, I gave 35 bucks to national public radio last year (which was all I could afford.) Does that mean I should expect that if I'm ever in the news NPR will give me favorable coverage? No, and if I did I'd be delusional. True that $250,000 is a lot more than $35, but the same principle applies.

Besides, if a story is worth telling it will get out there (especially today in the face of all manner of alternative media crowding the airwaves, the internet and even streaming around the world through outer space.) The days when a newspaper could bury a story are gone. Sooner or later it will get out and the only thing the newspaper will bury is its own opportunity for a scoop.

Eli Blake said...

As a follow up though, it is fair to ask what if it's not actual influence peddling they were worried about but the appearance of influence peddling?

The critics of papers like the Post (and they are legion) claim that they are losing money because people don't read them as much anymore because the news is biased. And they jumped all over the Post for this story, suggesting that now the bias was up for auction.

If only that were the reason people don't read the paper. Then presumably the paper could just hire a conservative editor and the subscriptions would start rolling in. But newspapers all over the country are facing similar tough economic circumstances. And it's because the demographic of print readers-- mostly older, less web savvy, is declining in numbers. I know this personally-- I moonlight with a delivery route for the Arizona Republic and just since I took over the route in 2007 the number of subscribers on it has declined by probably 25%. The recession has something to do with it, but even when the recession is over expect that newspapers will continue to struggle. Just over a year ago (before the recession really got going) my own 'hometown' paper, the Winslow Mail, a paper so old that its early editions were full of pioneers, cattle rustlers and gunfighters, shut down.

To be sure, I'm not suggesting that newspapers aren't biased. Nothing of the kind. And it's not like they weren't biased in the days of the founding fathers either-- I mean (since I'm writing this post on July 4), can you imagine the Boston Gazette in the days leading up to the Revolution including an editorial written by the British Governor extolling the virtues of King George just to keep things 'balanced?' If anything, newspapers today are far more even handed in giving voice to divergent views than they have been historically, either 233 years ago or even fifty years ago. Look up the term, 'yellow journalism' if you think that media bias is somehow a bigger dragon today than it has been in the past. Quite the opposite, in fact.

But so what? Unless the bias is specifically caused by the contributor then the bias that the paper may have is irrelevant to the question at hand.

cubanbob said...

Now that the Post have proven themselves to be whores all that is left is the price haggling. At least we know without a doubt they are whores and the Democrats are the pimps. The Post owes Nixon an apology. Now we can dispense with the fiction that the Washington Post is a newspaper and now see it for what it is, a house organ of the Democratic party

Ken said...

Exact translation from media speak "Oops, we got caught. Well, enough of that. Nothing to see here. Let's move along."

The Post, like all the lapdog media, is simply a propaganda organ and Weymouth has no integrity whatsoever.

LutherM said...

I am reminded of the history of J. P. Morgan buying Bear Stearns company for $2 per share, but ending up paying $10 per share because the initial deal wasn't properly documented.
Ms. Weymouth is a reasonably bright and accomplished person, but I do NOT believe that she thoroughly thought through the ramifications of her "Letter To Our Readers"
She wrote, "Further, any conferences or similar events The Post sponsors will be on the record."
Since the "Salons" were to be held chez Weymouth, can we expect that, like the Oval Office, recording equipment has been installed? The transcriptions of Thanksgiving Dinners should prove scintillating, with intermittent "accidental" deletions.
I do NOT believe any and all Weymouth social functions "will be on the record", or should they be - it would lead to a rather constricted life and dull gatherings.

john said...

Standard Operating Procedure:

If you ask permission, you stand a 1 in 2 chance of being told "No".

If you don't ask, you stand a 1 in 4 odds of anybody noticing. In addition, you stand an additional 1 in 4 chance of those noticing actually complaining. At this point, denial will work 1 in 2 times.

So the the odds of "begging forgiveness" are 8 times more successful than "asking permission".

Methadras said...

Jesus, why not just come out and finally say that you are nothing but pimps and whores for President Barely. It's not like no one already knows this, but at least your admission to it would lay rest that whatever semblence of objectivity you pretended to use as a mask for your operations is nothing but an evaporated smoke screen. This way at least people will take whatever you say from now on as coming from one source, in that you basically have knelt at the unzipped pants of your glorious leader to show him your adulation and ever present praise.

Forget you have any credibility anymore. That just doesn't apply from here-on-in.

Veeshir said...

The NY Times has a story attacking the Post for thinking of this firs....errr... doing this.
It's sort of funny and it has this line:
Ms. Weymouth has some inherited good will in part because she leads an organization that is not only family-owned but is also operated like a family

Now maybe I'm just hyper-sensitive, but...... wouldn't your average NYer first think of say, the Gambino Family, when they read "operated like a family"?
That's what I thought and I haven't lived near NY in decades.

Ronald said...

Eli:

You miss the point.

Under all of the explanation you offer of the historically indisputable bias of newspapers and other news organs in the past you omit the damning and also indisputable fact that the WaPo and its fellow travelers purport themselves to be far above such yellow journalism. Have you missed the fact that they are now self-professed impartial reporters of the news and guardians of the truth, unaffected by any political bias, monetary considerations, or human frailty. This is a claim that has been a tenet of faith and a pillar of moral certitude in newsrooms and J-schools across the country for at least 60 years or so. It is also pure bullshit.

By the way, when had they scheduled the same money grubbing cluster for the opponents of the administration? I'm sure in the interest of impartiality that it was already on the agenda, don't you?

And the analogy to LBJ is inept. Sooner or later an elected official has to actually vote. Even Obama was present some of the time. At that moment their "bias" on the issue is decided and becomes public record. Journalists have no such problem. They can be moral and impartial until death, especially with words like "will", "may", "if", and "misremembered." Being a journalist means nevre having to say you're sorry, unless you're as absolutely clueless as WaPo was here and out yourself in plain sight.

And to compare influence peddling to advertising? You get what you pay for when your paid ad is published. Do you really think that the folks paying the money for this meeting were just looking for advertising. If so a simple ad would have been cheaper, and less complicated. Yes it looks like buying good press, because that's what it is.

Let's just be honest. In the good old days Pravda always represented itself as the news outlet of the CPSU. That's being stright with the readership. Do you think the NYT trumpeting "all the news thats fit to print" is as honest as Pravda. I don't think so.

I'd love to see a return to the good old days of yellow journalism with the bias and payola admitted and glorified. The only thing lacking right now is honesty about motive. Let WaPo sel off their bylines and columns to the highest bidder.

And while we're there lets allow dueling and physical confrontations in the House and Senate again. Of course I would not allow firearms during sessions, they might hit an innocent bystander or a Capitol guard and that would be a tragedy. But canes, whips, chairs, chains, and common household implements would be OK. Look at the chances we have lost. Barney Frank and Jesse Helms- McKinney and Gingrich. YouTube would lock up with videos of matchups like these using slightly less than lethal force.

I know I'd watch. The US survived losing Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Can you think of anybody we could lose of that stature.

We have to find some way to limit these folks "service" to their country.