WaPo Does Damage Control After Cash-For-Access Scheme Leaks

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This morning, Politico published a story detailing an interesting flier apparently being passed around DC health care lobby circles: a dinner invitation from the Washington Post at the house of CEO and Publisher Katherine Weymouth, selling access to its news and editorial staff and top Obama officials for $25,000 to $250,000. A health care lobbyist passed the missive on to Politico staff because he felt “it’s a conflict of interest for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its ‘health care reporting and editorial staff.'”

Two and a half hours after the story was published, executive editor Marcus Brauchli sent an internal memo entitled “Newsroom Independence,” in which he stated that the news department will not be attending the dinner. The sentiment echoes the statement WaPo spokesperson Kris Coratti made to Politico:

The flier circulated this morning came out of a business division for conferences and events, and the newsroom was unaware of such communication. It 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.

As written, the newsroom could not participate in an event like this.

Read the full text of Brauchli’s memo and the original flier after the jump.

From: Marcus Brauchli
Sent: 07/02/2009 10:33 AM EDT
To: NEWS
Subject: Newsroom Independence

Colleagues,

A flyer was distributed this week offering an “underwriting opportunity” for a dinner on health-care reform, in which the news department had been asked to participate.

The language in the flyer and the description of the event preclude our participation.

We 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. Our independence from advertisers or sponsors is inviolable.

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.

Marcus

The original flyer:

“Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate,” says the one-page flier. “Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth … Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama Administration and Congressional leaders …

“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of 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 … Hosts and Discussion Leaders … Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post … An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done. … A Washington Post Salon … July 21, 2009 6:30 p.m.”

Late Update:: Katherine Weymouth has announced that the dinners are completely canceled. Weymouth said, “This should never have happened. The fliers got out and weren’t vetted. They didn’t represent at all what we were attempting to do. We’re not going to do any dinners that would impugn the integrity of the newsroom.”

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