Administration, Lobbyist, Journalist: Who Can Tell the Difference?

The news cycle these days is like time-lapse photography. Stories are born, flower and pass out of sight again in a matter of hours. For that matter, the Washington Post’s “Salon” program didn’t last much longer than that. Blink, or take a day off from the computer, and you’ve missed it.

Here, via The Examiner, is the invitation that the Washington Post sent to lobbyists for companies in the health care industries; click to enlarge:

washington-post-white-house-health-care-lobbyists.png

The mind boggles: the Post wants lobbyists to bring “your organization’s CEO or executive director” to a “salon” at the home of Post publisher Katharine Weymouth. If you pay $25,000, your CEO can actually participate in the discussion; or you can sponsor all 11 salons for a discounted price of $250,000. What’s the purpose? “Interact with key Obama administration officials and Congressional leaders,” thereby “participat[ing] in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done.”

So the Washington Post is selling lobbyists access to “key Obama administration officials” for a mere $25,000 per evening. Obviously they could not have done this without arranging in advance for those “key officials” to participate. Where does the Obama administration end and the Washington Post begin? That is becoming an increasingly metaphysical question.

There is this, too: participants can “build crucial relationships with Washington Post news executives.” Ask yourself: why would it be “crucial” for health sector companies to have relationships with the Washington Post’s news executives? Is that a threat or a promise?

Ask yourself this: is it conceivable that the Washington Post would have imagined inviting lobbyists and CEOs to similar “salons” with “key Bush administration officials?” I don’t think so.

The Post, embarrassed by disclosure of its cozy, profitable relationships with lobbyists and the Obama administration, has repudiated the “salon” program. Given that their publisher was the program’s host and the paper’s “news executives” were set to participate, the paper’s suddenly discovering its ethical standards rings rather hollow. It’s worth mentioning that the story came to light because a lobbyist who received the Post’s flyer was offended by the ethics of the event and blew the whistle. It’s a sign of the times, I guess.

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