When we think of the Washington Post, we accord it a special place in journalism's
pantheon of great newspapers. Who can ever forget the role it played in exposing the Watergate scandal? But what now, what now are we to think of the Post that almost has sunk into the muck of selling its reputation as one of the nation's premier watchdogs?
You know the story if you've read all the newspapers, seen all the cable networks and blogs or any other conveyors of news and gossip. For a tab of $25,000 or more, the Post was planning to invite lobbyists and trade groups to attend private, off-the-record dinner parties at the home of its publisher. If the sponsors could drum up a party of 11, the cost would be $250,000. That would have given the attendees the opportunity to break bread, not only with Katherine Weymouth, but also other Post journalists, members of the Obama Administration and of Congress.
Ms. Weymouth claims to be appalled by the project that allegedly was dreamed up by a recently-hired marketing specialist who ought to be fired before the end of the day. There's no doubt that the publisher's late grandmother, Katherine Graham, would have turned over in her grave had she been exposed to such an enterprise. The first of these questionable dinners that would have focused on a discussion of health care issues was scheduled for July 21. Fortunately, it has been cancelled. But no doubt, knowing how cumbersome bureaucracies work, had the project not been leaked in advance, it would have gone forward. It has raised another more important aspect of ethics that has aroused the understandable ire of the Washington Post newsroom. The reason is obvious. Like baseball players who two or three decades ago began to demand cash payments for their autographs, it would not have been long before the invitees to the Weymouth soirees demanded payments from Post reporters for the right to interview their clients. That would be only one more step into the sink hole that has ensnared journalism.
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