08/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Thomas Frank On WaPo Salons: 'A Moment Of Rare, Piquant Hypocrisy'

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Frank has weighed in on the way the Washington Post attempted to launch a massive "Hey, Lobbyists, Let's All Get Together At Katherine Weymouth's House And Just Gamely Explore Our Body Cavities For A Few Hours, For Many Tens Of Thousands Of Dollars" Campaign, to boost their sagging profits and to reclaim some degree of relevance among Beltway influence-makers. Frank should give the issue a new bit buoyancy, by refreshing the issue thusly:

Even in Washington, it's unusual to see an actual price tag placed on a chance to "alter the debate," as the Post's flier tastefully put it. Stranger still is it to see the city's scourge of public corruption -- the Post broke the Watergate story and the Walter Reed scandal, among others -- seemingly offering its own good offices for hire.

It was a moment of rare, piquant hypocrisy. Let us take it slow and savor every drop.

To begin with, just think of the functions of righteousness that the Post effectively put up on the block. Here was journalism's zealous guardian of professional rectitude with its hand apparently out for a little bit of baksheesh. Here was the definer of the capital's consensus, the policer of its ideological boundaries, seemingly offering to adjust its vast reserves of Washington wisdom for you if the price was right.

Mr. Frank for the win, if only because I spent an hour searching for a term that captured the precise feel of this arrangement, and was unable to come up with "baksheesh." Let's recognize real game when we see it.

Nevertheless, the real service of Frank's piece is the way he bottom-lines the Post's shift from Beltway business-as-usual to the entire new dimension of whoring that some factotum in the bowels of the paper's "business division" just dreamed up, adding a Google Map to Katherine Weymouth's house:

The Post's own confused relationship with power is also often summarized by reference to dinner parties, in this case the ones given by Ms. Weymouth's grandmother, Katharine Graham. "The great men of Washington, up until the Nixon administration, came regularly to Mrs. Graham's dinner parties, the best ticket in town, and as they socialized over good food and wine, the adversarial role diminished," wrote David Halberstam in his 1979 book, "The Powers That Be." "They were close, they were friends, these were not just men of power, they were men of good will, events were seen as they wanted them seen."

All that was missing, apparently, was a price tag.

Oh well, when the subscription price goes up again, I'm sure we'll all lament the way these soirees could have cheapened the newspaper for everybody.

When Newspapers Peddle Influence [Wall Street Journal]

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