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Recently, the publisher of the Washington Post, Katharine Weymouth, advertised a dinner at her home where, for the low price of $250,ooo, you could talk off the record with Post reporters and top Obama administration officials. The first was to be on health care reform (paid for by Kaiser Permanente). Weymouth later ran an unconvincing apology claiming she knew little about the details of the event that was supposed to take place in her own home.

While this story by itself has little direct consequence, it is further evidence of what we all should have learned about the financial elite in the last decade, as I explain in my letter to the Post:

Dear Washington Post,

Weymouth's hard-to-believe apology as well as the original idea for the event itself shows why newspapers and our democratic process are dying: the public is fed platitudes and PR spin to herd them toward pre-approved opinions while the real debate is going on behind closed doors between those who have the money to buy the outcome they want.

The original article shows one part of the problem is nepotism. Weymouth got her job not because she is the crème de la crème of journalists but because she is the grand-daughter of famed owner Katherine Graham. Owning the press no more makes you a competent publisher than being the first president Bush's son makes you a competent president.

When the press is a for-profit business, it is the toy or tool of the wealthy. They can take a good paper and turn it into a worthless rag as has happened at the Los Angeles Times, or they can simply shut it down as is happening at newspapers across the county because though profitable, they don't make enough of a profit margin to please their owners.

We need a new model of press, perhaps like the Guardian in the UK that is run like PBS & NPR here (but the Guardian doesn't have to beg for corporate donations). We should also fully fund PBS & NPR, so they aren't beholden to corporations and the foundations of the wealthy to stay in business.

We need a new model for business and especially news that doesn't depend on the whims of the Katherine Weymouths of the world.

Even better would be if she simply gave the paper to its employees to run as a non-profit.

We need a new model for journalism, business, and government that limits the power of those who only bring money not talent to the table (and NO, bookkeeping scams you learned in your MBA program are no more talents than stealing money from your mother's purse was when you were a kid).

Since the wealthy love charity and their foundations so much, Weymouth could do a great public service by removing herself entirely from the operation of the paper, and letting the reporters choose their own editors from their midst rather than letting the idle rich pick those who are corporate compliant. Then Weymouth should never speak to the reporters or editors again except for a congratulatory phone call when they get their Pulitzers.

If the presidency of George W. Bush, the Enron collapse, the theft of countless pensions, the attempted theft through privatization of Social Security, the banking crisis, our health insurance system that puts profits ahead of saving lives, and our on-going wars for oil and pipeline routes in the Middle East were not evidence enough, Katherine Weymouth provides further proof that the financial elite in this country is as morally and intellectually crippled as George W. Bush--and just as dangerous when their hands are on the levers of power.

professor smartass, signature, john hancock

More on the inevitable extinction of the financial elite

Originally posted to Professor Smartass on Sun Jul 05, 2009 at 09:30 PM PDT.


What will happen to traditional newspapers?

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Comment Preferences

    •  Well said. (0+ / 0-)

      I like this part:

      We need a new model of press, perhaps like the Guardian in the UK that is run like PBS & NPR here (but the Guardian doesn't have to beg for corporate donations). We should also fully fund PBS & NPR, so they aren't beholden to corporations and the foundations of the wealthy to stay in business.

      We need a new model for business and especially news that doesn't depend on the whims of the Katherine Weymouths of the world.

      Profit should not be part of everything we do in the US. There should, for example, be no profit involved at the core of necessary public services beyond employee pay for things such as (as you point out so well) news, police, firefighting, public schools, libraries, prisons, etc. There's too much room for corruption and public disservice.

      Imagine if your local police department were not merely corrupt, but unabashedly, publicly, and shamelessly a for-profit enterprise. I would think we wouldn't allow it from police, at least.

      The scariest part is, I'm wrong. There are people out there who would eagerly embrace such a thing.

      •  Not sure the Guardian is the best example (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It is owned by Guardian Media Group (GMG) though previously it was owned by the CP Scott Trust (paid for out of his inheritance grant). The model is good for independent journalism, but there is a problem.

        The Guardian lost GMG a lot of money last year - somewhere in the region of $35m, which was only offset by them selling a 49.9% stake in the very successful AutoTrader magazine for about $500m.

        There will be further problems for the Guardian if the Conservatives win power - the paper gets almost exclusive Public Sector job advertisements, for which they receive (reputedly) around $100m per annum.

        The Shadow Chancellor has indicated the Government will in future only advertise on its own websites, rather than pay $100m a year from the taxpayer to keep a newspaper afloat. Politically motivated? Perhaps, but four years of losing that revenue, and the Guardian could well go under.

        "Gambling is a principle inherent in nature" Edmund Burke

        by Morus on Mon Jul 06, 2009 at 05:33:08 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  News turns into opinion very fast (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and then spins back into news that people believe. You might as well make Flavor Flav a reporter for the Washington Post. Next thing you know he will be interviewing Newt Gingrich.

    by dauntingideas on Sun Jul 05, 2009 at 09:35:21 PM PDT

  •  As long as we keep up the fund raising we should (0+ / 0-)

    be able to outbid the GOP for their presidenial endorsement in 2012.

    Lets start now and maybe we can get them to write an editorial on a Governor who goes AWOL and a Governor who goes off the deep end.

  •  This is nothing but a WaPo copy cat act (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Fabian, cfk, vets74, getlost, SteveP

    borrowed from The Atlantic.  They have turned "salons" into a great money maker by providing access at a fee.

    Elizabeth Baker Keffer has had a busy year. Last December, she took over Atlantic Live—the event arm of Atlantic Media, parent of The Atlantic, Government Executive, and National Journal. She had already worked for owner David Bradley for 24 years, most recently as publisher at The Atlantic. Now she’s developing new event models, such as salon dinners that bring advertisers such as Allstate, GE, and Microsoft together with journalists, policy makers, and Atlantic editors on a particular topic. Along the way she’s increased revenue for Atlantic Live by 10 percent.

    How have your years with the company set you up for this position?
    What I’ve seen is the intense interest that clients, sponsors, and advertisers have in big ideas and in integrated programs that create more of a three-dimensional message. If done effectively, it can help us stand out from other companies.

    How do your events contribute to the company?
    Atlantic Live delivers added-value programs for advertisers, so we produce events that are earned through an integrated advertising platform. We’re contributing close to a quarter of the advertising revenue, and that’s well into the seven figures. We’ve moved from having a loss at Atlantic Live to a profit.

    Kurtz even wrote about it, and only could muster he famous play dumb questions about it.  He had the story months ago, but had no inkling that paying for access may be a bit of an issue.

    For more than a year, David Bradley, the Atlantic's soft-spoken owner, has hosted these off-the-record dinners at a specially built table in his glass-enclosed office overlooking the Potomac. And the guests, from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to Jordan's King Abdullah II, are as A-list as they come.

    "It's just a joy for me," Bradley says. "These are reflective, considered conversations, which is hard to do when you're going after headlines for the next day's publication." While the guests seem quite open, says the businessman who bought the Atlantic a decade ago, he is new enough to journalism "that I can't tell the difference between genuine candor and deeply rehearsed candor."


    Still, the catered gatherings also sound rather cozy, like some secret-handshake gathering of an entrenched elite. Are the top-level officials, strategists and foreign leaders there for serious questioning or risk-free spin sessions? And what exactly is the journalistic benefit if the visitors are protected by a shield of anonymity?

    Now either Howie didn't research the story and committed journalistic malpractice, or he knew the Post had something in the works and this was literally part of laying the groundwork.  Either way, it doesn't reflect well on Kurtz.

    In any case, the real issue is the Post decided they had better rolodex than The Atlantic so they could charge a premium, A BIG ONE.  And the lobbyists decided they liked it better when they were the ones throwing around money.

    Some should talk to them as well.  Journalists have been co-opted by politicians and their "everything is off the record unless told otherwise" attitude memorably stated by Tim Russert.  Now that they have fully bought in, they think their off-the-record sessions are value adds.  It is quite ridiculous if you think about it.

    They have a symbiotic relationship in the quintessential example of a system that should not have one.  They need each other.  Just like the ratings agencies need Wall Street.  Just like the SEC needs Wall Street.  Just like politicians need lobbyists.

    We have really lost all semblance of checks balances in this country.  And we will are losing all credibility because of it....

    "Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something." - President Barack Obama, April 5, 2009

    by justmy2 on Sun Jul 05, 2009 at 09:53:32 PM PDT

  •  Excellent diary . . . (0+ / 0-)

    and letter, Prof. Smartass.

    For a smartass, you are very well spoken. Keep it up.

  •  She is also illiterate... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    as she wrote:

    From the outset, we laid down firm parameters to ensure that these events would be consistent with The Post's values.

    Websters has these definitions:


    1 a: an arbitrary constant whose value characterizes a member of a system (as a family of curves) ; also : a quantity (as a mean or variance) that describes a statistical population b: an independent variable used to express the coordinates of a variable point and functions of them — compare parametric equation

    1. any of a set of physical properties whose values determine the characteristics or behavior of something <parameters of the atmosphere such as temperature, pressure, and density>
    1. something represented by a parameter : a characteristic element ; broadly : characteristic, element, factor <political dissent as a parameter of modern life>
    1. limit, boundary —usually used in plural <the parameters of science fiction>

    Her's fits number four, only there because the word is so often misused that the eronious use must be included.  Dictionaries are descriptive, even of poor usage.

    •  Not Noah Webster's style (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jacob Bartle

      Dictionaries are descriptive, even of poor usage.

      He was strongly prescriptive in intent. Though of spelling somewhat more than usage.

    •  It's not completely incorrect. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fabian, Downpuppy

      The semantic shift comes from the way that parameters are inputs that determine outcomes. Often something like a design process is said to have parameters — cost, maximum weight, etc. Thus parameters are sometimes thought of as constraints, from which the broadening to “limits” is natural (no doubt abetted by the similarity to perimeter).

      So anyway. Yes, it's not exactly the original meaning. But the new meaning is a perfectly reasonable outgrowth of the old. (I'm not one to use the catch-all rebuttal “words change” to excuse anything, but they do change, and this is a fine example of a meaning broadening through usage without losing expressiveness (compare to paradigm, which has been abused so badly that the word is now all but worthless).)

      Wanna save up to $425 on a hotel room at Netroots Nation '09? Room with me! Please e-mail if interested.

      by Jyrinx on Mon Jul 06, 2009 at 12:39:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What then is a "firm" parameter.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        firm limitations, clear constraints both would have been more accurate.   She seems to have used the less precise word because it sounded scientific.

        For anyone else, no biggie.  But for a newspaper publisher, worthy of note.

  •  Let me guess that this fine letter will not (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    be published...sigh.

    Join us at Bookflurries: Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Sun Jul 05, 2009 at 10:21:17 PM PDT

  •  Newspapers? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I've seen those on TV. People don't get them anymore, do they? Or is milk still delivered in bottles too?

  •  And they wonder why Pitchfork sales are up. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Ms. Weymouth is an Entitled Heir, royalty, to a opinion leader's legacy.

    This is the Media's fault of course. They love celebrity. Its so much easier than fact finding.

    How did that royalty thing work out in 1776?

    Its time for the heirs to legacy brands, legacy educations, legacy empires, legacy wealth, legacy surnames, to politely bow out, buy an estate in Scotland or its American counterpart, Montana, and quietly go raise artisanal cows.

    Figures don't lie, but liars do figure-Mark Twain

    by OregonOak on Sun Jul 05, 2009 at 11:49:18 PM PDT

  •  One Reason at Least That Papers are Dying (0+ / 0-)

    Dumb acting by some journalists is probably not one of the biggest reasons that newspapers are dying off. I'm sure that the popularity of the Internet is high on the list. The bias of many of the papers is likely also high on the list, leading people to seek other news sources.

    I live in the SE Michigan area. I used to read the Detroit News, years ago. Once I began reading other sources of news as well (from various parts of the spectrum), I saw how terribly biased the Detroit News is. It's so left-leaning it's a wonder it doesn't fall off the table. It should come with the disclaimer, "Reading this may lead to a closed and uninformed mind and hurt our democratic process as a result".

    The best medicine newspapers can take is to start taking their obligations and duties as watchdogs of our democracy seriously and quit being so biased one way or the other. Freedom of the Press comes with some responsibility.

    Don't Mark the Box! on racial identity. Let's work towards a color-blind society.

    by Logiker on Mon Jul 06, 2009 at 03:53:50 AM PDT

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