Too Much Truth in Advertising at the WaPo?

The business department at the Washington Post has gotten into trouble in what may be a case of too much truth in advertising.

As reported by Politico (7/2/09), the Post circulated a flyer offering–for the low, low cost of $25,000–an “intimate and exclusive Washington Post salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and publisher Katharine Weymouth.” The circular promised the participation of “key Obama administration and congressional leaders” as well as “healthcare reporting and editorial staff members of the Washington Post.”

Lest anyone be confused as to why dinner at the Post‘s publisher’s house would be worth $25,000, the flyer helpfully points out that “an evening with the right people can alter the debate.” It calls the event “an exclusive opportunity to participate in the healthcare reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done.” It’s quite straightforward: The Post is offering to help a deep-pocketed customer an opportunity to alter the healthcare reform process by granting access to government officials and its own journalists.

Naturally, one is not allowed to be that honest about the relationship between money, power and journalism in Washington, D.C. A Post spokesperson told Politico that the advertisement was released “before it was properly vetted,” and that the “draft does not represent what the company’s vision for these dinners are, which is meant to be an independent, policy-oriented event for newsmakers.” Boy, that doesn’t sound as much like it’s worth 25 grand, does it?

Post publisher Katharine Weymouth then did an interview with employee Howard Kurtz in which she vowed they were “not going to do any dinners that would impugn the integrity of the newsroom.” But she was aware “of the plans to host small dinners at her home and to charge lobbying and trade organizations for participation.” And Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli said that “he had been involved in discussions, stretching back to last year, about newsroom participation in conferences”–but the good kind of conference, not the kind that makes you look like a sleazy influence-peddler.

So it looks like they’re going to go ahead with these things–“We do believe there is an opportunity to have a conferences and events business, and that the Post should be leading these conversations,” the Post statement to Politico said–but presumably next time they won’t market them so nakedly as an exchange of money for power. Don’t worry, Post Co., your clients will still know what they’re buying.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.