The Washington Post was caught flat footed selling access (for as much as $250,000) to “Obama administration officials, members of Congress”, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors. The first event was entitled “Health-Care Reform: Better or Worse for Americans? The reform and funding debate.” Who were they selling this to? Lobbyists and association executives, giving them a chance (in the Post’s words) to “alter the debate”. I kid you not.
Obviously, once exposed, the Post cancelled the private “salon”, which was to be held at the home of WaPo CEO and publisher Katharine Weymouth.
But what I find interesting is that they seem to be embarrassed not by the fact that they were planning to have an event like this, but more because of the way it was crudely advertised. The WaPo business unit countered “This was well-developed with the newsroom. What was not developed was the marketing message to potential sponsors.” In other words, we all know that the news media in the US is bought and paid for by corporations and their lobbyists, but we don’t like it when that fact is made blatantly obvious.
The one-page flyer sent out to prospective attendees included the following:
Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate. Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. … Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders.
A Post spokesman called the flyer a “public relations disaster” (not the event itself, mind you).
UPDATE: A report by Melinda Henneberger, a reporter whose husband works for the Post, comes to the same conclusion: that what the WaPo business unit is “really in trouble for is truth in advertising” — the Post was trying to sell access, they just weren’t subtle enough in their advertising.
UPDATE 2: Weymouth apologizes for the “planned new venture that went off track”. But she keeps justifying the events themselves as something that is “common at other media companies”. Just because the rest of the media companies are corrupt, doesn’t make it right.