WaPo ombud demolishes paper’s cover story on WaPimping

posted at 1:45 pm on July 11, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The Washington Post tried to explain away its “salons”, which basically sold off-the-record access to the Post’s journalists and government officials for lobbyists, as a misunderstanding and mistaken marketing campaign by one of its executives.  WaPo ombud Andrew Alexander demolishes the cover story that made Charles Pelton the fall guy, and clearly shows that both publisher Katharine Weymouth and executive editor Marcus Brauchli not only knew that the salons provoked serious ethics questions, their chosen fall guy raised them before producing the fliers that exposed the program (emphases mine, via Instapundit):

Publisher Katharine Weymouth and Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli have now taken full responsibility for what was envisioned as a series of 11 intimate dinners to discuss public policy issues. For a fee of up to $25,000, underwriters were guaranteed a seat at the table with lawmakers, administration officials, think tank experts, business leaders and the heads of associations. Promotional materials said Weymouth, Brauchli and at least one Post reporter would serve as “Hosts and Discussion Leaders” for an evening of spirited but civil dialogue.

While Brauchli and Weymouth say they should have realized long ago that the plan was flawed, internal e-mails and interviews show questions about ethics were raised with both of them months ago. They also show that blame runs deeper. Beneath Brauchli and Weymouth, three of the most senior newsroom managers received an e-mail with details of the plan.

Lower down, others inside and outside the newsroom were aware that sponsored events would involve news personnel in off-the-record settings, although they lacked details. Several now say they didn’t speak up because they assumed top managers would eventually ensure that traditional ethics boundaries would not be breached. …

Some at The Post view Pelton as overly eager and not attuned to the newsroom’s ethical sensitivities. But Pelton raised questions about some of those very issues in a May 21 e-mail to Weymouth, Brauchli and Stephen P. Hills, The Post’s president and general manager. Pelton reports to Hills, who declined to be interviewed.

The e-mail said the plan to hold the dinners at Weymouth’s home “speaks to heavy editorial involvement” through “mixing different editors and beat reporters.” But in arguing for “background only” discussions, Pelton asked if they thought the discussions should be “on or off the record.” And while he endorsed the sponsorship idea, noting there would always be “more than one,” he also said “I want to be sure our newsroom is also comfortable” with the arrangement.

Within an hour of receiving the e-mail, Brauchli forwarded it to his top three editors — managing editors Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd, as well as deputy managing editor Milton Coleman — asking their thoughts.

So the entire notion that this was a result of a marketing group out of control was a lie.  Weymouth and Brauchli both got warnings about the ethical problems of holding secret salons, including from Pelton, and approved them anyway.

That changes the entire character of the story.  The Post, rather than admitting up front that the entire management structure owned this fiasco, essentially issued a series of misleading explanations intended to protect its journalistic credibility.  Instead, they have completely destroyed it by involving Brauchli in half-truths and evasions when absolute honesty was required — and now we find out that several of their newsroom managers knew about the salons and failed to object, even as Pelton reminded them of the issues.

How does the Post salvage its credibility now?

Update: I should also express my admiration for Andrew Alexander, who set the record straight — an excellent job by this ombudsman in keeping the readers’ interests in mind.  Too bad his management didn’t have the same idea.

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Who needs credibility when you have the most wonderful intentions?

Speakup on July 11, 2009 at 1:47 PM

Nice to see the WAPO Omsbud doing his job. Take a lesson NY Times.

William Amos on July 11, 2009 at 1:48 PM

BTW Should link the Politico story about the Obama Admin saying it did nothing wrong Ed. It is stonewalling this story from the policial side.

William Amos on July 11, 2009 at 1:49 PM

It’s always the cover up.

brobin on July 11, 2009 at 1:53 PM

How does the Post salvage its credibility now?

Well… they have an honest ombudsman…

Skywise on July 11, 2009 at 1:53 PM

William, I posted on this already (two posts down from this one).

Ed Morrissey on July 11, 2009 at 1:54 PM

Bring em’ all they way down. It’s time!

BetseyRoss on July 11, 2009 at 1:55 PM

I’m old, so when someone used to say “I accept responsibility,” there was a consequence that had to be paid. What consequence befalls the publisher and editor of the WaPo for ruining the brand image?

JiangxiDad on July 11, 2009 at 1:57 PM

William, I posted on this already (two posts down from this one).

Ed Morrissey on July 11, 2009 at 1:54 PM

I know Ed was suggesting you add a link here to that story. Sorry if I didnt suggest that right.

William Amos on July 11, 2009 at 1:57 PM

The only way to remedy these sorts of problems is for people to boycott the paper until it dies. I would hope that decent people would never link to any WaPo pieces, talk about them in a good light, or purchase the rag. After a debacle like this, that is the only thing to do. Unfortunately, we have seen that this doesn’t generally work out, as the NYT and TNR are both still treated as serious sources, even with their long histories of made-up articles and treason (for the NYT, at least).

As far as any other actions, outside of the market, press passes should be revoked from these fiction journals and government figures should be instructed never to talk to them … but we know that that’ll never happen.

progressoverpeace on July 11, 2009 at 1:58 PM

I have emailed and commented on Andrew Alexander’s blog. This latest posting to his WaPo column is devastating to the leadership of this once respectable paper. The desperation to produce revenue blinded the executives as to the conflicts with their so called high integrity standards.
One cannot claim high standards when they are so obviously not there. No worries. Uncle Don will overlook this little problem for Weymouth. The newspaper business is dead, let’t move on to whatever is next.

d1carter on July 11, 2009 at 1:59 PM

I’m old, so when someone used to say “I accept responsibility,” there was a consequence that had to be paid.

JiangxiDad on July 11, 2009 at 1:57 PM

This is the new world. There’s no atonement necessary, anymore. Just say the magic words, “I accept responsibility” and everything is immediately wiped clean. It’s kinda neat :)

progressoverpeace on July 11, 2009 at 2:00 PM

This was always a matter of our educated elites carrying on the complicated business of ruling the country. All the little people should just carry on with their meaningless regular activities while the media and the Obama Administration work hand in glove to make our world better. And don’t ask too many questions about things you couldn’t possibly understand.

Cicero43 on July 11, 2009 at 2:03 PM

Its amusing for the Post to even think that they actually have any credibilty. Very similar to the delusions that the Sulzberger newspaper, the New York Times, is suffering. They like most leftwing propagandists are facing bankruptcy and rightly so. When a share of your stock is less that a McDonald’s Happy Meal, then the end is near.

volsense on July 11, 2009 at 2:03 PM

So where is Alexander going to get his next job? As for the rest, first you have to HAVE credibility BEFORE you can lose it. Management lied. I’m SHOCKED! SHOCKED I tell you! Like anyone believed their original spin.

GarandFan on July 11, 2009 at 2:11 PM

“Authors should not indulge in deliberate organized propaganda for the best cause under heaven” lest they “destroy all faith and credit in the written world.”
Isabel Paterson “The God of the Machine”

Rae on July 11, 2009 at 2:17 PM

Oops!

“Authors should not indulge in deliberate organized propaganda for the best cause under heaven” lest they “destroy all faith and credit in the written word.”

Rae on July 11, 2009 at 2:17 PM

How does the Post salvage its credibility now?

It salvages its credibility now by doing some hard-hitting investigative journalism on this particular story, exposing all the players and all the facts. There’s a big story here waiting to be told and as pointed out previously, the WH is stonewalling this story from the political side. Who, what, when, where, and why?

PatMac on July 11, 2009 at 2:26 PM

Nixon is grinning in his grave.

Patrick S on July 11, 2009 at 2:33 PM

How does the Post salvage its credibility now?

How about doing some credible reporting on Dear Leader’s administration.
Ha ha ha ha ha. In other words, it won’t ever get its credibility back.

rbj on July 11, 2009 at 2:34 PM

How does the Post salvage its credibility now?
It salvages its credibility now by doing some hard-hitting investigative journalism on this particular story, exposing all the players and all the facts. There’s a big story here waiting to be told and as pointed out previously, the WH is stonewalling this story from the political side. Who, what, when, where, and why?

PatMac on July 11, 2009 at 2:26PM

You have a better chance of Geo. W. Bush getting elected President again than what you suggest in your comment.

jarhead0311 on July 11, 2009 at 2:37 PM

This is the new world. There’s no atonement necessary, anymore. Just say the magic words, “I accept responsibility” and everything is immediately wiped clean. It’s kinda neat :)

progressoverpeace on July 11, 2009 at 2:00 PM

Three Hail Marys and you’re back on the street with Father Rivera.

-George Carlin circa 1970

fogw on July 11, 2009 at 2:44 PM

How does the Post salvage its credibility now?

Why? That sort of contact is status quo for the liberal media. They accept it, they expect it, they participate in it, and they endorse it. The WaPoHo will continue to whore for the Communist/Democrap/Liberal/Marxist/Nazi/Progressive/Socialist criminals, and people like myself will continue to ignore it for the same reason.

oldleprechaun on July 11, 2009 at 3:02 PM

At least they have an Ombudsman that does the job, which makes them a lot more credible than many other papers.

oddball on July 11, 2009 at 3:04 PM

But… she’s hot.

Akzed on July 11, 2009 at 3:19 PM

At least they have an Ombudsman that does the job, which makes them a lot more credible than many other papers.

oddball on July 11, 2009 at 3:04 PM

But for how long? He had better either cool his jets or dust off his resume.

rplat on July 11, 2009 at 3:19 PM

Would it be inappropriate to ask “Hey, who is the newspaper chick in the pic?”

the Coondawg on July 11, 2009 at 3:27 PM

The single most striking thing about this whole story is the incredibly courageous and detailed job that Andrew Alexander did in revealing it! Kudos for him for doing his job RIGHT! In fact, if Weymouth had any sense, she’d immediately make him the managing editor of the newspaper and see if he could bring his integrity to bear on the rest of the foolish lefties that abound at that rag.

Webrider on July 11, 2009 at 3:28 PM

The function of the ombudsman is to point out ethical issues – he has done his job – as he did during the Presidential campaigns when he noted the problem of inordinant and broadbased bias on the WaPo’s pages for the ‘annointed one’.

Nothing came of that, and nothing will come of this.

Business as usual at the WaPo. The owner of the paper is not going to ‘fire’ herself, she is simply going to employ more discretion in her powerbrokering in the future.

Carolina Kat on July 11, 2009 at 3:33 PM

Which would damage the paper more – the Salons or the Cover-up?

ericdijon on July 11, 2009 at 3:41 PM

Typical leftist ethics.

It is not about the ethics compromise. Ever. It is about getting caught or getting bad publicity.

Obama ethics. It was never bad to go to Rev Wrights church. It was bad to be coupled with unpopularity.

seven on July 11, 2009 at 3:44 PM

an excellent job by this ombudsman in keeping the readers’ interests in mind.

Is there any more room under the bus? He’ll be smeared as incompetent, erratic, or just plain crazy before the day is over.

BacaDog on July 11, 2009 at 3:50 PM

Nice to see the WAPO Omsbud doing his job. Take a lesson NY Times.

William Amos on July 11, 2009 at 1:48 PM

Wow. You seriously expect the Slimes is capable of learning?

Where can I get some of those drugs you got?

BTW – the “hot” chick is the publisher. Sad that her mind is so polluted.

platypus on July 11, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Nice to see the WAPO Omsbud doing his job. Take a lesson NY Times.

William Amos on July 11, 2009 at 1:48 PM

Haha, good luck with that.

Del Dolemonte on July 11, 2009 at 4:02 PM

Wow. You seriously expect the Slimes is capable of learning?

Funny thing was a few days ago the NY Times was dumping on WAPO for doing this and admitted they thought of doing the same thing but stopped it because it didnt seem “Ethical”

William Amos on July 11, 2009 at 4:03 PM

It would have been less seedy if they offered strippers and booze at these salons, then you could call it entertainment and leave it at that.

Mr. Joe on July 11, 2009 at 4:05 PM

But Pelton raised questions about some of those very issues in a May 21 e-mail to Weymouth, Brauchli and Stephen P. Hills, The Post’s president and general manager. Pelton reports to Hills, who declined to be interviewed.

How can ya get back credibility if you won’t grant an interview to your ombudsman?

mockmook on July 11, 2009 at 4:15 PM

It would have been less seedy if they offered strippers and booze at these salons, then you could call it entertainment and leave it at that.

Mr. Joe on July 11, 2009 at 4:05 PM

Are we sure they didn’t? This is the lib elite we’re talking about.

platypus on July 11, 2009 at 4:17 PM

I’m interested to know how deep this goes. Other than morons sitting at newsroom management desks, which of the following editorial writers, if any, were in on this scheme?

Post Opinion Writers

Joel Achenbach
Anne Applebaum
David Broder
Jonathan Capehart
Richard Cohen
Jackson Diehl
E.J. Dionne
Michael Gerson
Fred Hiatt
Jim Hoagland
David Ignatius
Robert Kagan
Al Kamen
Colbert King
Michael Kinsley
Ezra Klein
Charles Krauthammer
William Kristol
Sebastian Mallaby
Ruth Marcus
Robert McCartney
Harold Meyerson
Dana Milbank
Courtland Milloy
Kathleen Parker
Steven Pearlstein
Eugene Robinson
Robert Samuelson
George Will
Fareed Zakaria

At a minimum, I’d love a paragraph response from each of these writers to see where they stand. I’d really love to see where Capheart, Dionne, and Robinson stand.

BuckeyeSam on July 11, 2009 at 4:18 PM

How can ya get back credibility if you won’t grant an interview to your ombudsman?

mockmook on July 11, 2009 at 4:15 PM

The best way is to never give it up in the first place. But this is the State Run Media we’re talking about.

platypus on July 11, 2009 at 4:18 PM

It is amazing what stupid things smart people will do. Really.

Terrye on July 11, 2009 at 4:23 PM

Hey, when your WaPo 747 is spiraling in toward terra firma, your options are to bail out, or come up with some innovative procedures pronto. Transforming your aircraft into a cruise ship was probally not the best choice.

I’d be looking for a lot more of this goofiness from the flagship lib rags in the days to come. The entertainment value will be awesome. Let the games begin!

swede7 on July 11, 2009 at 4:24 PM

Regarding Katharine Weymouth and executive editor Marcus Brauchli

The Ho’s must go!

The Ho’s must go!

pabarge on July 11, 2009 at 4:26 PM

This story is already down the memory hole.

Fred 2 on July 11, 2009 at 4:29 PM

It is amazing what stupid things smart people will do. Really.

Terrye on July 11, 2009 at 4:23 PM

Is there any proof regarding the smart part?

Yoop on July 11, 2009 at 4:50 PM

I want to join several others here in stating, not for the first time, that the real story is at the other end of this arrangement- the White House.

Follow this train of thought, if you please:
1. The WAPO “guaranteed” access to WH officials with three weeks to go.
2. Which means they had WH officials already lined up.
3. Which means WH officials had to have already gotten permission to participate.
4. Which means that someone in the WH staff give permission for officials to appear at a for-profit event that is making money off of their official capacities as WH officials.
5. Which means that someone at a very high level in the White House made a policy decision that this kind of obviously sensitive collaboration with the media was okay.
6. How high up was that policy decison made?

Hint at my hunch: his office is not rectangular.

Isn’t there a single investigative journalist in the US that will investigate Democrats anymore?

drunyan8315 on July 11, 2009 at 5:28 PM

Replace Katharine Weymouth with Andrew Alexander!
(I can dream can’t I?)

KyserS on July 11, 2009 at 5:56 PM

How does the Post salvage its credibility now?

They practice a refined ignoring of the problem until it goes away. Think of a Dutchess who’s just farted.

PersonFromPorlock on July 11, 2009 at 8:31 PM

“Hey, who is the newspaper chick in the pic?”

the Coondawg on July 11, 2009 at 3:27 PM

That, my friend, is none other than Katharine Weymouth, Publisher of the Washington Post by birthright. Is there a more perfect photo for this story of journalistic prostitution than the Publisher looking like quite the slut?

Jaibones on July 11, 2009 at 9:44 PM

PS Horndog, a quick Google image search will reveal that this is an uncharacteristically flattering photo. Meow.

Jaibones on July 11, 2009 at 9:48 PM

an excellent job by this ombudsman in keeping the readers’ interests in mind.

Is there any more room under the bus? He’ll be smeared as incompetent, erratic, or just plain crazy before the day is over.

BacaDog on July 11, 2009 at 3:50 PM

Heh! You forgot senile. (Walpin is smiling.)

onlineanalyst on July 11, 2009 at 10:02 PM

The WaPo didn’t want to afflict the comfortable, so they got afflicted for comforting their friends. The afflicted have no friends in the MSM any more: they are to be taxed and given things by government and controlled by government.

With the MSM cheering.

Of course the WaPo has incentive to try and right itself: Washington Times and Washington Examiner.

The Post has better comics. Too bad they are on the Op-Ed page.

The Times has better news coverage.

The Examiner is free and has better coverage, and yet is making money, apparently as circulation drives ad revenue in print and online ads gain revenue there.

The WaPo’s circulation is going down, the Times remains stable and the Examiner is growing… soon, very soon, the major paper in DC will be the WaTimes… and if we are lucky in NY it will be the Post. Post for Times, Times for Post.

ajacksonian on July 12, 2009 at 6:31 AM

How long before Andrew Alexander is looking for a new job?

At least he has proven his courage and his skillz.

JabbaTheTutt on July 12, 2009 at 7:33 AM

For the constitutional free press men & women have died and this is how these newspapers treat this special right? Maybe the new attorney general Eric Holder will straighten out this mess the Obama administration inherited from GWB and investigate the CIA.

Herb on July 12, 2009 at 12:56 PM

Let’s begin listing the Washington Post‘s advertisers.

* Sprint
* Medco

It looks as if Sprint is the main advertiser keeping them going.

Kralizec on July 12, 2009 at 9:57 PM

* Hewlett Packard

Kralizec on July 12, 2009 at 9:58 PM

* Cleveland Clinic

I wonder how many other medical institutions have ponied up, besides Medco and the Cleveland Clinic.

Kralizec on July 12, 2009 at 10:01 PM

* Toyota

They’re using an “O” motif in an ad for their Prius hybrid.

Kralizec on July 12, 2009 at 10:04 PM

Hewlett Packard

Packard Caribbean

Jeff from WI on July 12, 2009 at 10:33 PM