It’s open season on the Washington Post.
The issue is a marketing initiative that not only blurred the line between the editorial and financial sides of the paper, but thoroughly sandblasted it.
Politico broke the story last Thursday with the headline, “Washington Post cancels lobbyist event amid uproar.” Here’s the lede:
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 editor
Let’s stipulate that the whole “Dinner with Lally” thing is a certified concept-with-a-capital-K. More interesting is the name game that followed Politico’s scoop.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz labeled the proposed events “policy dinners,” while the New York Times gleefully dubbed them “Pay-for-Chat.” On leftist Alternet.org, it was, not surprisingly, a “sleazy newspaper scheme.”
Whatever you call it, the Post has clearly blurred the line enough that it should hire a Senior Editor, Optometry.
At first, Weymouth blamed the Post marketing department, which had produced a flier with the headline, “Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate.” But, as Times media critic David Carr joyfully noted in a column snippier than a Newbury Street hair salon, that blame-mongering broke a Washington Post tradition: “[T]hose who are handed the sword,” he wrote, “generally fall on it when trouble comes.”
(Carr also merrily wrote this: “Theoretically, you can’t buy Washington Post reporters, but you can rent them.” Ouch.)
In Sunday’s Post, Weymouth published A Letter to Our Readers, in which she starts off taking full responsibility for the boneheaded enterprise:
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.
But right after that, Weymouth again fingered the marketing department:
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.
That reminded me of something the great W.C. Heinz said in an interview eight years ago. The legendary sportswriter (and co-author of the novel M*A*S*H) told me that over all, he preferred boxing to team sports. ”I’m a great admirer of team sports,” he said, “but there’s always someone you can lay it off on. And you can’t lay it off in a fight.”
Lally Weymouth is in a fight for the Post’s integrity. And she shouldn’t try to lay it off.