Posted by Thomas Nephew on July 7th, 2009
Kathy — can I call you Kathy? great! — I’ve been a little upset about the story in Politico last week about how you and the Washington Post were going to hold pay for play issue “salons”, where companies could pay anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000 to have off the record discussions with top of the line, elite journalists and government policy makers.
Now obviously this was mishandled from the start; these “salons” — heck, let’s just call a spade a spade and call ‘em policy brothels — are a great idea, but the product rollout was terrible. Like you told your loyal servant Howie Kurtz the day the story broke, “This should never have happened. The fliers got out and weren’t vetted. They didn’t represent at all what we were attempting to do.”
But I still accept your abject weekend apology in the Washington Post. Like you wrote, this was a venture that just “went off track,” – kind of like a dog that slipped its leash; I mean, who’s really to blame for that?
After all, how could you be blamed for some business plan by some guy you employ to hold a policy brothel in your home? Sure, the Washington Post business vice president guy — Charles Pelton — said that “newsroom leaders, including Brauchli, had been involved in discussions about the salons and other events,” but seriously: who’s going to believe a guy who can screw up a nice racket like this one?
For my part, I can’t wait for whatever it was you were attempting to do. Like the flyer said — “Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No.” I’m sure I speak for most captains of industry when I say now that’s the way I like my journalists, all shy and respectful, in the “intimate and exclusive” privacy of your own home. I don’t know which of the talent in your stable you were “inviting” to these “salons,” Kathy, but I tell you what: you take a fresh young fella like Ezra Klein, why, it’d be a crying shame not to try to make a little money off him. You brought him in off the mean streets of the blogosphere, you gave him a nice home — you have an investment to recoup! I’m sure there’s many an “underwriter” who’d gladly pay for even just a kind word from him.
For his part, Ezra still seems to hope that “salons could be profitable after all”; as long as everything’s on the record the way you (now) agree it should be. So he’s not against the “pay to play” part — tough as that might be on little papers that can’t attract the high rollers, or the little nonprofit citizens groups who either can’t afford to get past the doorman, or won’t suck up to the “underwriters.” Not his problem — and not ours either, Kathy!
Kathy, like you, I think there’s got to be some “legitimate way to hold such events” — there’s too much money at stake for there not to be! However the events eventually do work, you’re right to want to“review the guidelines for them with The Post’s top editors and make sure those guidelines are strictly followed.” As long as those “guidelines” have 3 or 4 zeroes at the end of ‘em, I’m sure old Fred Hiatt will play ball — heck, just a couple of zeroes would probably get you some of the, you know, less discriminating boys. Am I right or am I right, Jackson?
I’ve been saying for a long time that the way the Post and the Times do journalism only makes sense if you figure they’re doing it for the influence, not for the readers. Thanks for proving me right, Kathy — it might have been better if you’d piled up some board memberships instead, but now that it’s out in the open, go make it profitable!
EDIT, 7/7: D’oh. Weymouth, not Graham.
UPDATE, 7/20: prompted by Nell, I lay a figurative flower wreath at the Internet Archive link to Media Whores Online, 2000-2004.
UPDATE, 7/26: In an e-mail, eRobin went “policy brothels” one better with “message parlors.” Also, on his July 10 “Journal,” Bill Moyers delivered a homily for the ages on the subject. Among the many good parts:
Remember, the invitation promises this private, intimate, and off-the-record dinner is an extension “of THE WASHINGTON POST brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard.” Let that sink in. The “stakeholders” in health care reform in this case do not include the rabble — the folks across the country who actually need quality health care but can’t afford it. If any of them showed up at the kitchen door on the night of this little soiree, a bouncer would drop kick them beyond the beltway.