What Are the Right and Wrong Ways to Get Access to the Washington Post?

The Shadow EditorsesTom Scocca: Even if you set aside the money. Which is hard to do! But set aside the money. Why is a newspaper offering to grease the way to backroom meetings between people who want policy and people who make policy?

Choire Sicha: Is the answer “the confusion of influence and influence-peddling”?

Tom Scocca: Here are three editorials from Thursday’s paper, from the page that has Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth’s name on it.

1.

…Congress did not legislate transparency for its own members’ manipulation of the bailout fund…..Members of Congress must avoid even the appearance of manipulating TARP for the benefit of favored constituents, much less themselves. So far, their efforts have been transparently insufficient.

Choire Sicha: Stupid Congress!

Tom Scocca: 2.

Judge Hogan wrote…’Providing the public with access to the charges levied against these detainees…ensures greater oversight of the detentions and these proceedings. As long as public access does not come at the expense of the litigation interest of [the detainees] of national security, the Court believes the public has a…right to access the returns.’ Perfectly put.

3.

The real issue is the council’s ill-advised effort to stop the recording of a public meeting from being aired. Even more troubling is that a council whose members are so obtuse about what the public is entitled to know will now apparently have total control of a public access channel.

Choire Sicha: Stupid courts, stupid councils!

Tom Scocca: Secrecy! Hidden dealing! Suppression of information! If only Senator Inouye had invited his bank and the bank regulators over to Katharine Weymouth’s place for brunch.

Choire Sicha: Well, fortunately, the marketing department of the Washington Post had an interest in transparency!

Tom Scocca: Maybe they should just give the marketing guy $3 million in hush money, like Brauchli got from Murdoch when he left the Journal.

Choire Sicha: Oh boy.

Tom Scocca: I like how Howie Kurtz compared it to the New Yorker Festival.

A number of media companies charge substantial fees for conferences with big-name executives and government officials, but in many cases the sessions are open for news coverage.

[Atlantic Media, Wall Street Journal, blah blah conferences blah...] The New Yorker hosts an annual festival in Manhattan featuring its editors and writers along with other journalists, authors and entertainers. The gathering planned for October is sponsored by American Airlines, Delta, Westin Hotels and Banana Republic.

Uh and the New York Observer has a softball team. That’s not apples and oranges, that’s apples and Tang. Is this where I disclose that I have unsuccessfully sought editing employment at Brauchli’s Post?

Choire Sicha: I bet you were making a secret arrangement in which you exchanged MONEY for ACCESS.

Tom Scocca: Maybe if I’d stapled a $20 to my application letter….

Choire Sicha: That seems… low. Dollar-wise, I mean.

Tom Scocca: Well, people with money don’t need to apply for jobs. Maybe we should start having brunches.

Choire Sicha: Sort of like the Laurel Touby Mediabistro model? Wherein freelancers pay to mingle with editors and advertising people?

Tom Scocca: How much did her site sell for?

Choire Sicha: Oh, well, she sort of sold herself into long-term slavery for some unspecified unclear small millions, which probably in the end works out to about $60K in her pocket.

Tom Scocca: Not bad!

[Some time passes.]

Tom Scocca: Yeah, not so persuasive, the publisher’s note.

Choire Sicha: But there is however a great Joyce Wadler story in the Times!

Tom Scocca: Ha, wow.

12:49 Tom Scocca:came back
1:04 You have disconnected
9:12 Monday, July 6, 2009
You have connected

Tom Scocca: So the Katharine Weymouth letter was not especially soothing. Although who can’t but enjoy a “Dear Reader:” salutation?

Choire Sicha: Oh brother.

Tom Scocca: K. Weymouth seemed undecided, however, as to whether she was addressing a dear singular reader or all the readers at once.

“I apologize to our readers for the mistakes I made in this case. We remain committed to you, our readers….I hope that we can continue to count you as a reader…”

Choire Sicha: Well you know: who was going to edit her?

Tom Scocca: That is always the problem. And it needed an edit. It needed the sort of edit in which the editor asks the writer questions about what the writer is trying to say. E.g. “The flier was not the only problem. Our mistake was to plan and organize an off-the-record dinner with journalists and power brokers paid for by a sponsor. We will not organize such events.”

Tom Scocca: As a reader–a dear reader–I am not quite able to understand what is going on in the second sentence there. There are three components listed.

Tom Scocca: [Off the record] + [with journalists and power brokers] + [paid for by a sponsor]. Is it the presence of all three parts in concert that made this wrong? Would a sponsor-funded on-the-record meeting of journalists and power brokers be OK?

Choire Sicha: Actually, it might be!

Tom Scocca: Possibly! What about a non-funded off-the-record meeting of journalists and power brokers?

Choire Sicha: Well. Corporate communications are intended to persuade and obscure simultaneously. That is why they are both specific and sweeping.

Tom Scocca: What is a “power broker,” exactly? Does that go on someone’s business card?

Choire Sicha: I’m considering it.

Tom Scocca: “Assistant Deputy Power Broker.” But wait, I got so tangled up in the internal logic of that second sentence that I didn’t even get to the confusing relationship between the second sentence and the third.

Tom Scocca: “We did this. We will not do this.” Nor does it get much clearer when she elaborates lower down:

While I do believe there is a legitimate way to hold such events, to the extent that we hold events in the future, large or small, we will review the guidelines for them with The Post’s top editors and make sure those guidelines are strictly followed. Further, any conferences or similar events The Post sponsors will be on the record.

Again, I’m losing track of what “such events” means, if it doesn’t mean such events.

Choire Sicha: Right? These events are like those events. Except not scandalous.

Tom Scocca: The unhelpful framing is:

Like other media companies, The Post hosts conferences and live events that bring together journalists, government officials and other leaders for discussions of importance…. We had planned to extend this business to include smaller gatherings, a practice that has become common at other media companies.

Which other media companies? Is she blaming it on the New Yorker Festival too, like Howie Kurtz?

Choire Sicha: Well that is a shameless gathering of old ladies and Malcolm Gladwell, so, as well she might! Talk about access-trading.

Tom Scocca: Yeah, it’s rife with conflicts. I don’t get it. Is she going to sell tickets to brunch at her house? That is, to the general public, and for less than $25,000?

Choire Sicha: That’d be genius.

Tom Scocca: “And while we will continue to pursue new lines of business, we will never allow those new avenues to compromise our integrity.” “Never” reads a little funny there. Perhaps a “never again” would fit better, in context. Because your integrity done been compromised, lady. I can’t really accept a “we’ll never do these things” from someone who did this thing.

Choire Sicha: Also the specter of “new lines of business” seems super-funky. I hadn’t thought of these pay-per-views as a “line of business” per se?

Tom Scocca: Seriously. Stick to selling test prep to rich kids who are too dumb to get into college without it, Washington Post Company.

Tom Scocca: Anyway, at the risk of getting a tendentious bullet-pointed letter of lawyerly jibber-jabber: isn’t this more or less Dan Abrams’ business model, in this new thing that Howie Kurtz got an “exclusive peek” at?

Choire Sicha: Eh.

Tom Scocca: Consult with journalists!

Choire Sicha: Well, you know, I’ve sort of finally figured out the obvious?

Tom Scocca: Share! I am very slow on the uptake.

Choire Sicha: If you don’t know anyone who’s consulting for Abrams Research Whatever, and I don’t know anyone who’s consulting for Abrams Thinktank Hoo-Ha…. then is it not obvious that The Abrams Society Consultants Inc. is actually just pimping out a lot of unemployed j-school grads and hacky Mediabistro freelancers and having them “consult” even though they do not know anything?

Tom Scocca: So it’s only unethical in the standard way that all consulting is unethical?

Choire Sicha: Sure! Or you know: enrichening. But you know: who’s the sucker? A: The dumb client? B: The knowledge-less consultant? C: All of the above.

Tom Scocca: Gosh, remember when our whole economy worked like that?

Choire Sicha: DO I.

Tom Scocca: Does that mean we don’t have to read Mediaite? I can’t even pronounce “Mediaite.” It’s like one of those words that you reread until it loses all meaning and just becomes a wobbling string of letters, except it’s pre-repeated for you. It falls apart before you even get to the end of it once. Mediaiaieiaiedaieadissippinanaaeititicacaieaea… It’s like “mediate” by way of “Inglourious.”

Choire Sicha: Oh gosh.

Tom Scocca: See also: Dilbert.

Tom Scocca: There’s the business model.

Choire Sicha: How is THAT Free™?

Tom Scocca: It’s free for the boss.

Tom Scocca: Oh, FUCK YEAH!

Choire Sicha: OH. Your BETE NOIRE!

Tom Scocca: Incandescents forever, man!



Previously: Malcolm Gladwell on Chris Anderson’s ‘Free’