The Washington Post sent a flier to DC corporate lobbyists and other scum offering them an exclusive, schmoozy dinner with political officials and Post reporters for only $25,000. Now they're disavowing it! Come now. They were just too honest.
There's no denying the fact that the initial pitch the paper sent out was despicable. (How despicable?) So despicable that a lobbyist went complaining about its ethics, to Politico! Sample:
The flier says: "Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of [WP Publisher] Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less. …
"Offered at $25,000 per sponsor, per Salon. Maximum of two sponsors per Salon. Underwriters' CEO or Executive Director participates in the discussion. Underwriters appreciatively acknowledged in printed invitations and at the dinner. Annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000 …
In other words, "Send your CEO or whoever to our publisher's house to schmooze with our reporters and editors and they have to be nice and listen to you, because you paid for it!" Of course they are now scrambling to take it all back. The paper's flack told Peter Kafka that the flier "went out before it was properly vetted, and this 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." And WP editor Marcus Brauchli sent out a strongly worded staff email saying that the newsroom "will not participate in events where promises are made that in exchange for money The Post will offer access to newsroom personnel or will refrain from confrontational questioning."
But! You will note that the idea of media outlets having conferences or events which corporations pay to sponsor and which are attended by the editorial staff of said media outlet, at which they schmooze nicely with said corporate sponsors while not explicitly being ordered not to be "confrontational" are an accepted practice! Brauchli says in that same strongly worded email that "There is a long tradition of news organizations hosting conferences and events, and we believe The Post, including the newsroom, can do these things in ways that are consistent with our values." And the paper's PR person certainly did not rule out the idea of the paper holding this "independent, policy-oriented event for newsmakers," and, presumably, corporate sponsors—she just said the flier was not written well.
Politics is a trade, and trade publications love events like these—some trade magazines make more by selling sponsorships to awards shows and, uh, "policy-oriented events" than they do from selling ads in their publications. And why, dear reader, would any company shell out thousands of dollars to "sponsor" such a craptastic, not-fun evening of stiff cocktail chatter and catered food? Because it offers "access," and engenders good media relations. In practice, most editorial staffers don't have to be ordered to be friendly and chat up the various sources at these things; normal social pressures ensure that that happens.
So you can be sure that these "Salons" will probably still happen in a slightly modified form. Everybody does these things. Even the shocked, shocked Politico has events! [The White House Correspondents Dinner is the fucking epitome of breathless schmoozing, and all these guys love that thing!]
Hey, it's a revenue stream. It's all in what you leave unsaid. The Washington Post just needs to get a better salesman.
[Which is not to say these things are good. Know any more particularly outrageous media events? Email us.]