WaPo publisher: Hey, sorry for the sell-out

Katharine Weymouth published an open letter in today’s Washington Post apologizing for the WaPimping scandal that erupted earlier this week.  Weymouth, whose home was to host the “salons” that would have cost $25,000 and up for “sponsorship”, claims that the paper never intended to sell access to its reporters or government officials:

I want to apologize for a planned new venture that went off track and for any cause we may have given you to doubt our independence and integrity. A flier distributed last week suggested that we were selling access to power brokers in Washington through dinners that were to take place at my home. The flier was not approved by me or newsroom editors, and it did not accurately reflect what we had in mind. But let me be clear: The flier was not the only problem. Our mistake was to suggest that we would hold and participate in an off-the-record dinner with journalists and power brokers paid for by a sponsor. We will not organize such events. As publisher it is my job to ensure that we adhere to standards that are consistent with our integrity as a news organization. Last week, I let you, and the organization, down. The Washington Post remains committed, now and always, to the highest standards of journalistic integrity. Nothing is more important to us than that, and nothing will shake that commitment.

So what happened? Like other media companies, The Post hosts conferences and live events that bring together journalists, government officials and other leaders for discussions of important topics. These events make news and inform their audiences. We had planned to extend this business to include smaller gatherings, a practice that has become common at other media companies.

From the outset, we laid down firm parameters to ensure that these events would be consistent with The Post’s values. If the events were to be sponsored by other companies, everything would be at arm’s length — sponsors would have no control over the content of the discussions, and no special access to our journalists.

If our reporters were to participate, there would be no limits on what they could ask. They would have full access to participants and be able to use any information or ideas to further their knowledge and understanding of any issues under discussion. They would not be asked to invite other participants and would serve only as moderators.

When the flier promoting our first planned event to potential sponsors was released, it overstepped all these lines. Neither I nor anyone in our news department would have approved any event such as the flier described.

Had the fliers leaked out of the newsroom, then this may have been believable (and an ironic twist on modern journalism to boot), but that’s not what happened.  The Post had printed the fliers and begun distributing them.  The full-color promotional material advertised a “salon” already scheduled for July 21, less than three weeks out from the point where Politico got hold of one.

Are we to seriously believe that an event that would garner tens of thousands of dollars to the Post, taking place at the home of its publisher, had no oversight in the creation of its marketing materials?  Weymouth wants us to believe that she would put on these for-pay events in her own home but then casually neglect to oversee how the Post promoted it.  If so, Weymouth must be the most laissez-faire CEO in the industry, or perhaps any industry.  I’d sooner believe that a bride ordered wedding invitations sight unseen and refused to inspect them before sending them in the mail to her guests.

Weymouth got caught trying to make a buck through influence peddling, and now she wants to throw her business office under the bus to profess her innocence.  Best of luck with that.

Update: Anthony at Public Secrets says this deserves a Captain Louis Renault Award, and I agree. For being shocked, shocked! that her own organization tried to turn her house into a bordello, Katharine Weymouth gets the honor:

Update II: David Carr at the New York Times isn’t buying it either, which is hardly surprising under the circumstances.

Jazz Shaw Jun 16, 2021 11:01 AM ET