The Los Angeles Times, no doubt licking its chops over the Washington Post’s stumble, followed up on the WaPimp story from yesterday to find out who actually agreed to attend Katherine Weymouth’s “salons”. The star attractions turned out to be a Tennessee Democrat, with a big maybe from a Barack Obama cabinet official:
Rep. Jim Cooper’s office said the Tennessee Democrat received an invitation this week to attend a dinner on July 21 at the house of Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a Maine Republican, was also among those asked to attend.
In both cases, the invitations came as personal e-mails from Weymouth’s office.
Cooper accepted, believing the dinner would be a low-key chance to exchange ideas about healthcare and other public policy matters, according to his staff. Snowe turned down the invitation. …
The Post also sent an invitation to the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius — a key official in the president’s efforts to revamp healthcare.
The White House said Sebelius hadn’t decided whether to attend.
Cooper decided to attend the salon to take the “low-key chance to exchange ideas about healthcare and other public policy matters.” With whom, and why? This explanation makes no sense at all. Who did Cooper expect to see at the party? Certainly Weymouth, who doesn’t need to throw parties to talk to movers and shakers. Did Cooper understand that Weymouth would bring lobbyists to the party? If not, did he expect to exchange those ideas with the local Boy Scout troop, the Shriners, or Weymouth’s chess club? The taxpayers provide Cooper with an office, in which he works within the law and ethics rules. He can exchange ideas there, instead of making himself into a dancing girl for Madame Weymouth.
For Sebelius, those questions get even more interesting. Barack Obama made a fetish of demonizing lobbyists during the campaign. He even created rules that bar lobbyists from discussing Porkulus provisions with federal employees. Now we hear that Sebelius thought it might be a great idea to rub elbows with lobbyists at tony — and private — “salons” run by newspaper publishers. It appears that for the Obama White House, some lobbyists are less demonic than others.
Howard Kurtz’s final report on the Post’s pimping career focuses on the man Kurtz says is to blame for the entire scandal:
Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth yesterday canceled plans for a series of policy dinners at her home after learning that marketing fliers offered corporate underwriters access to Post journalists, Obama administration officials and members of Congress in exchange for payments as high as $250,000.
“Absolutely, I’m disappointed,” Weymouth 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.”
The fliers were approved by a top Post marketing executive, Charles Pelton, who said it was “a big mistake” on his part and that he had done so “without vetting it with the newsroom.” He said that Kaiser Permanente had orally agreed to pay $25,000 to sponsor a July 21 health-care dinner at Weymouth’s Northwest Washington home, and that Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) had agreed to be a guest. Pelton, who serves as general manager for conferences and events, said he had invited two-dozen business executives, advocates and presidential health adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle. But a White House spokeswoman said no senior administration officials had agreed to attend, and an aide to DeParle said she had received no such invitation.
So it’s all Pelton’s fault? No, not quite:
Weymouth, who had not seen the marketing copy, said that “we will never compromise our journalistic integrity.” But she said other news organizations sponsor similar conferences and that she remains comfortable with the basic idea of lobbyists or corporations underwriting dinners with officials and journalists as long as those paying the fees have no control over the content.
Horsepuckey. Other news organizations might sponsor conferences, which take place in public, with the sponsorship clearly disclosed. If any of them sell sponsorships to private parties in their publisher’s homes, we’d certainly like to know about that. This answer makes it pretty clear that Pelton had it right all along, and that his only mistake was to market Madame Weymouth’s new moneymaking scheme a little too aggressively.
Weymouth confirms that she’d like to turn the Post into a brothel. She’s just haggling over the price.
Update: One commenter notes that “seraglio” and “brothel” are not necessarily synonymous, although I think they are in the slang sense. I’ve changed the last line to be more explicit.