I'm at a loss over the fuss about the aborted Washington Post salons. It seems to be taking place in a parallel universe that's totally unfamiliar to me.
In my world, politicians and lobbyists who are successful have symbiotic relationships. They regularly visit to discuss how to advance shared goals. This upsets goo-goos who think that only they should enjoy such links to legislators, but there's little they can do about it except fume, which they've become quite expert at.
The media is constantly trying to take the measure of the lobbyist-legislator relationship,but has links of its own to both sides that allow it to report the process. It floats trial balloons suggesting the Senate Finance Committee may lower the boom on non-profit hospitals and then reports on the devastation the hospitals claim would result.
Any interest group that's a serious player in the process has ongoing links to legislators with power over their industry, irrespective of how supportive those politicians may be. Access trumps ignorant enmity. So it's a given that any serious player in the health reform debate or their agent can quickly get to any senior legislator making the decisions or their agent.
Such contacts may ultimately be reported in the media. Many go unreported, either because the participants view them as private or the media view them as uninteresting. These conversations would continue at the same pace, with only a slightly different structure perhaps, if the media simply disappeared.
A good health reporter at a good newspaper like the Washington Post knows all the serious players in the current debate and talks with them regularly. Which raises, for me, at least, the question as to what harm would be done if the Post staged a fund-raising dinner of its own where the interest groups involved continued their ongoing conversations in the publisher's dining room.
One could argue that they'd be renting a venue that they otherwise have free access to, but the cost would be quite modest and could be written off as a public relations expense.
If the reporters and editors involved were good, they'd meet no one and encounter no argument they weren't already familiar with. And if they weren't good, they'd hardly be worth the time and dollars invested by the paid guests at the event.
So it seems that the Post was proposing to make a little extra money by imposing a modest transaction cost on a process that already occurs. If good desserts were served, the salons could be seen as icing on the political cake.
What's the problem with that?