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Washington Post - Democracy For Sale

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, July 03, 2009 12:06 PM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: Journalism, Democracy, Conflict-of-Interest, Washington Post, Code of Ethics, Society of Professional Journalists

The Washington Post was planning access to reporters in a nonconfrontational and off the record settings for money, in direct conflict with journalists' code of ethics. 

Access For Money Plan Scrapped After Uproar


Other highlights of the well thought-out SPJ Code include:

  • Integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility
  • Give voice to the voiceless
  • Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two
  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived


IMAGE SOURCE: American flag/ Liberty Film Festival Web site 


On this Independence Day holiday comes a story about the foundation of American democracy for sale.

If injury can be caused by a lack of information, or by misinformation, American citizens might be concerned about a plan by a major news organization that nearly became reality.

The Washington Post was considering hosting dinners or “salons” that would be underwritten by lobbyists or corporations to the tune of $25,000 for a single sit-down or $250,000 for a series of 11. The payoff would be an up-front and personal with reporters in an “off the record” setting that would be “nonconfrontational”.  

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics states that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.  To further those ends, journalists are supposed to “Seek truth and provide a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues”.

And the Code warns directly against the “salon” approach - “Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage”.

For a newspaper industry, reeling from lack of advertising and interest, it seemed like a win-win. Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth sent personal e-mail invitations to Tennessee Democrat, Rep Jim Cooper and Maine Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe, asking them to be in attendance. 

News of the invitations soon leaked to the online news source, Politico, which said it received a copy from a lobbyist.

The newsroom was in an uproar, though there is no word that anyone quit their job over the offense. Strictly following a code of ethics for reporters has meant that they would have to donate to charity a coffee mug they received in the line of work.  

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), said in an interview: "The problem here for the Post is pretty simple, and that is, a news organization derives its credibility from the idea that it's operating in the public interest -- it's trying to gather information and make it public.

"By holding off-the-record events for money, it's hard to see how that generates any knowledge for the public. And it potentially undermines its claim that its first loyalty is to the citizen” reports the Los Angeles Times. 

After the uproar, the dinners were cancelled.     

Cooper accepted believing he could exchange ideas about healthcare while Snowe turned down the invitation.   Both told Post reporters later they had no idea this was a revenue generator for the Post.


In the aftermath Weymouth said the newsroom never vetted the flier and that it “was prepared by the marketing department”. 

The Washington Post Co. has reported a first-quarter net loss of nearly $20 million, which echoes an industry-wide trend in American newspapers.   The Los Angeles Times reports it ran a front-page ad that resembled a news article for which it received criticism. 

The Future

The challenge is becoming maintaining credible journalism on a budget. One solution proposed is to turn newspapers into tax-exempt nonprofits supported by large endowments so they can avoid the pitfalls of the marketplace and continue their vital role in a democracy.

Maryland Sen. Benjamin Cardin has proposed the Newspaper Revitalization Act, which allows newspapers to operate as educational nonprofits, giving them tax breaks similar to public broadcasting.

The Post will continue to search for new revenue streams.  #


Posted by Rick Shapiro
Friday, July 03, 2009 8:37 PM EST

My jaw dropped when I read this story!
Comparing the Washington Post, 2009, to the Watergate era Washington Post, is like night and day it seems.
That the Post even tried this tactic shows just how desperate times are for print newspapers in the USA.
The times they are a changin...
Jane: be happy you are not working at the post this week, nor planning on retiring there!

Posted by Jane Akre
Saturday, July 04, 2009 5:48 PM EST


This has as much to do with injury to us as Americans as a faulty automobile. The media group - Free Press - advises whatever your activist leanings, make keeping the media honest second. Without a credible, strong, and diverse media, we as Americans have nothing. Enjoy Your Fourth!! (Join Free Press, see what it's all about)

Anonymous User
Posted by Steve Lombardi
Saturday, July 04, 2009 10:55 PM EST

This disgusts me. The Washington Post is as wrong with this one as Nixon was about Watergate. They are letting us down. The Editor-in-Chief should resign or be fired. But he’s not alone with a corrupted moral rudder. All major news organizations let us down with Madoff and it demonstrates clearly what is wrong with the news organizations, the Congress, Courts and Wall Street. Together they are making a sham of the First Amendment.

Let’s look at the Wall Street Journal, a news organization that doesn't report on what is wrong on Wall Street, they wait until someone confesses and then tells us what the guilty party says is wrong. Madoff had been exposed to the Wall Street Journal but for years they didn’t act on the story. Why not and why should we believe anything the WSJ reporters report as “the news”? Is the WSJ interested in reporting corruption or their profit margin? Have they gotten too big and too much like a business?

It's the same with Congress. They aren't out discovering wrongdoing, they wait for the guilty party to get caught and then act like they need to do something about it when in reality they knew generally what was wrong, but because of lobbying dollars didn't want to expose the wrongdoers that are contributing to their next campaign.

Combine the Congress, the SEC and the WSJ, all who had the necessary information about Madoff’s scheme but chose to ignore it and there are two branches of government failing and the media gutting the First Amendment. But as you point out it’s getting worse.

Now we’ve got the Washington Post selling access for hundred’s of thousand’s of dollars so Wall Street can persuade them of their version of the news. For pay you get an off the record discussion between the crooks and reporters where the crooks get to tell the news reporters “news” that amounts to distortions, lies and fantasy that the Post will then report to readers anonymously as the truth. What every happened to just reporting reality, honest reality?

Is news just a commodity you buy and sell, as Fox believes?
Are there different flavors of news?
Are there really shades of reality for sale as news print?
Is news just a commodity for sale to the highest bidder?
Isn’t that our complaint about Russian and Chinese Communism?

Disgusting isn’t even the right word or emotion that comes to mind, its corruption. It’s reality according to those controlling Washington politics. According to these rules Nixon and Watergate would never have been exposed. Like I reported before Bob Woodward is dead. RIP. He’s brain dead on his next book tour selling a flavor of reality that has a damn nice cover.

What do they teach in journalism schools now-a-days? How to write a book, add a very slick and impressive cover and focus on profitability while never allowing the truth to get in the way of making a profit. Journali$m 101.

And the news organizations wonder why they are in financial trouble. Shame has been removed from the American culture. We reward people just for showing up; not performance but just for showing up for the news game. I guess the news organizations now want a participation trophy just for putting a paper on our front steps; irregardless of the contents. The heck with whether what’s in it is the truth. The fact they put a paper in our mailbox should be good enough.

Where’s my trophy? Why should I have to do some actual reporting? Hey, I showed up!

Jane, one more thing I’d like to ask you because you’re a reporter. Do they hand out those Pulitzer Prizes for how much hair spray is on your head? Where can I buy one? Do they sell them on Ebay?


Comments for this article are closed.

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