Alex Massie

The Washington Post’s Humbug: Business as Usual in DC

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Perhaps because hypocrisy and mendacity are such open and prominent features of the British press, no-one is terribly surprised when newspapers live down to everyone's expectations. Newspapers behaving badly is a dog bites man story. They do things differently in America where the Cult of Credentialism and an absurdly-inflated sense of their own importance has made most American papers nigh-on unreadable. The astonishing thing is that it took the public so long to realise this and abandon their worthy, inky morning muesli.

So, who can fail to be amused by the revelation that the Washington Post is whoring itself to the highest-bidder, promising to arrang useful access to Obama administration officials? Not me, anyway. In other words, the Post is acting as a lobbyist. Nothing wrong with that, you may say and you'd be right. Only, of course, the Post's usual attitude to lobbying was summed up by this article, written by Robert Kaiser, as Associate Editor at the paper, in January:

Of all the grand ambitions laid out by President Obama, the nerviest might be his promise to transform American politics. What if U.S. government officials really accepted his definition of public service as "a privilege" that is "not about advantaging yourself," your friends or their clients? Could it actually happen?

Not easily. Washington is broken: Lobbyists and special interests have turned our government into a game that only they can afford to play. They write the checks, and the citizenry gets stuck with the bill. Politics is no longer a mission; it's a business...

Modern Washington takes for granted the exploitation of public service for private gain. Thousands of former government officials have passed through the well-greased revolving door to corporate offices and lobbying firms that hire them for their ability to influence the people and policies they knew about or worked on as public servants. This influence-peddling has often distorted public policy to favor special interests and the wealthy. Over the past four decades, Washington has become an important venue for the great American pastime: not baseball but making money.

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For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post is offering lobbyists and association executives off-the-record, nonconfrontational access to "those powerful few" — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and the paper’s own reporters and editors.

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

The offer — which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator for private lobbyist-official encounters — is a new sign of the lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most newspapers are struggling for survival.

And it's a turn of the times that a lobbyist is scolding The Washington Post for its ethical practices.

"Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate," says the one-page flier. "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 …

“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less. …"

Everything has a price in Washington, of course. But this is, in its own way, both typical and priceless. And, consequently, most entertaining.

UPDATE: The Post's newsroom responds here.

[Hat-tip: James Joyner.]

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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