We’ve long argued that the national media has been in the bag for Barack Obama, but we didn’t realize that the Washington Post had been appointed to the position of White House Pimp. According to Politico’s Mike Allen, the WaPo has begun offering a new service — matching up lobbyists with administration officials for face time, or whatever else the client has in mind. Like any pimp, er, business manager, they’re not offering it for free, either:
For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post is offering lobbyists and association executives off the record, non-confrontational 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.
A facilitator! That’s certainly more pleasant than “pimp”. I prefer the Night Shift term “love broker,” which reasonably applies between lobbyists and the White House — and for that matter, between the press and the White House, too.
So how does this work? Do lobbyists and “association executives” drive by the Post’s offices slowly, trying to make eye contact with the security guards or receptionists? Do you offer cash first, or talk in code to avoid entrapment?
“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.[“]
Wow! Spirited and relaxed! But is it a real girlfriend experience?
OK, OK, perhaps it isn’t fair to call the Washington Post a pimp for the White House. Maybe it would be better to call this what it is — prostitution of the press in order to gain cash and sell itself out for access, both for itself and for its clients. After all, with the Post grabbing between $25K-$250K for these soirees, it won’t do to risk its cash flow by being too critical of the White House and its occupants, would it?
Update: An enterprising reader with access to Lexis/Nexis finds this tasty morsel from the Post’s editorial archives. In January 2001, with a Republican White House, the Post found selling access to politicians rather distasteful:
Gone from any of this is the notion that people give money to candidates or parties for reasons of governing philosophy or positions on issues. The big-money folks give to those who have won or might win. Those in power threaten the contributors in plain language: Give to us or you’ll be squeezed out of the game; give too much to the other guys and you’ll be sorry. It’s the kind of sordid operation that a Mafia don would understand, and both parties play with equal vigor. “We’re a hot ticket these days,” one Democratic fundraiser boasted to The Post. “The fifty-fifty split [in the Senate] means something. People want to play, for sure.”
Plenty of members of Congress dislike what they have become, which is one factor that gives reform this year at least a ghost of a chance. They’d rather be legislating than extorting. But as Arizona Sen. John McCain’s battle for change an uphill one. But the sickening spectacle of a speaker-for-rent as a commonplace of Washington politics makes reform as urgent as it is difficult.
But now you can just buy access from the Post, and it’s somehow cleaner, right?
Update II: Allen has updated his article with the Post’s response, which is … hey, it’s just Business:
In response to requests for comment, The Post issued a statement that stopped short of canceling the event.
Kris Coratti, communications director of Washington Post Media, a division of The Washington Post Company, said: “The flier circulated this morning came out of a business division for conferences and events, and the newsroom was unaware of such communication. It went out before it was properly vetted, and this draft does not represent what the company’s vision for these dinners are, which is meant to be an independent, policy-oriented event for newsmakers.
“As written, the newsroom could not participate in an event like this. We do believe there is an opportunity to have a conferences and events business, and that The Post should be leading these conversations in Washington, big or small, while maintaining journalistic integrity. The newsroom will participate where appropriate.”
Huh? If the Post has a lucrative side business that depends on access to the Obama White House, that’s what undermines their journalistic integrity, not whether the news room knew about the program or participates in the events. This just confirms that the Post has decided to act as a pimp to connect “newsmakers” and those seeking influence.
Update III: Howard Kurtz provides the official WaPo response, and notes the problem at the end:
The aggressively worded pitch gives the impression that The Post is selling access to special interests, not just to administration officials and lawmakers – which raises a separate set of questions about cozy relationships — but to the people who produce the newspaper. The Post often raises questions about whether corporations, unions and trade associations receive access or favors in return for campaign contributions to political candidates.
Now the fliers have raised the question of whether the newspaper itself is pursuing such a strategy in exchange for hefty fees from special-interest groups. Access to Weymouth herself, a granddaughter of longtime publisher Katharine Graham who took over as chief executive of Washington Post Media last year, would be deemed valuable by those trying to influence The Post’s editorial policies and news coverage.
The Post Co. lost $19.5 million in the first quarter and just completed its fourth round of early-retirement buyouts in several years, prompting Weymouth to look for new sources of revenue.
Kudos to Howard for playing it straight, and getting to the heart of the problem.
Update IV: The escort service has been canceled, as Kurtz reports in an update:
Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth today canceled plans for a series of policy dinners at her home after learning that marketing fliers offered lobbyists access to Obama administration officials, members of Congress and Post journalists in exchange for payments as high as $250,000.
“Absolutely, I’m disappointed,” Weymouth, the chief executive of Washington Post Media, said in an interview. “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. We’re not going to do any dinners that would impugn the integrity of the newsroom.”
Moments earlier, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said in a separate interview that he was “appalled” by the plan and had insisted before the cancellation that the newsroom would not participate.
“It suggests that access to Washington Post journalists was available for purchase,” Brauchli said. The proposal “promises we would suspend our usual skeptical questioning because it appears to offer, in exchange for sponsorships, the good name of The Washington Post.”
It certainly “suggested” that, and much more.