A Question That Needs to be Asked

Most of you are no doubt familiar with the Washington Post salon scandal, where people with very deep pockets were invited to pony up $25,000 USD in order to have a dinner at the house of publisher Katharine Weymouth.

What would you get for that kind of scratch? The movers and shakers at the newspaper would personally introduce you to the movers and shakers at the White House, as well as the reporters who covered them. Pay them cash, and the good folks at the WaPo would create an instant handshake relationship with the very people who are shaping the future of the country, and those who shape public perception of same. If you are a representative from a special interest group, a corporation or lobbyist, this was like sounding the dinner bell at fat camp.

As the article I linked to above points out, this sort of thing is done all the time by newspapers with their foot in the White House press room door. But this time around it was just a bit too blatant to pass the smell test. The wage slaves in the WaPo’s very own bullpen, the ink stained wretches that are never invited to any of the best shindigs because they are “gray people”, screamed bloody murder. No one had asked them, they claimed. HA! Like anyone who spends their days in a newspaper’s board room on the top floor would ask what a reporter thought when bucks were on the line!

I’m rehashing this sordid, tawdry, thoroughly predictable scandal because Glenn focused our attention (as well as the majority of the blog reading world) on an op-ed written by The Atlantic‘s very own Marc Armbinder. Perhaps in an effort to head off similar outrage that would be directed at his own meal ticket, Armbinder makes full disclosure that The Atlantic has been holding similar soirees for years. He even goes so far as to publish an internal Email that was sent down from on high by David Bradley, the chairman of the board at Atlantic Media.

Neither Armbinder nor Bradley dares to utter the dreaded words “lobbyist” or “influence”. Instead the events are presented as nothing more than a polite and genteel discussion, something that someone pining for their old college days might sponsor to relive the thrill of their respective Debating Society. According to Bradley, all sides are carefully included, carefully moderated, carefully civil. He also claims that these dinners are of great constructive value because the participants “…find no other place for such purposeful, engaged, constructive conversation across walls.” Bradley also puts a great deal of emphasis on how there can be no hanky-panky influence- and access-peddling going on because everything that happens at the get-together is strictly off the record!

Uh-huh. And people pay tens of thousands of dollars a pop just to be able to eat rubber chicken and meet people with a different point of view? They can do that over at my house for a lot less money! I’ll even throw in a guarantee that I won’t breathe a word of what goes on inside the privacy of my home. What happens in Chez Rummel, stays in Chez Rummel!

All of the comments to Armbinder and Bradley’s ridiculous attempt at whitewash are worth reading, but the very first one raises questions that I really want to see answered. What the hell do the people shelling out that kind of long green expect in return? According to Bradley, they get nothing of any real value. But that can’t be right since, by The Chairman’s own admission, thousands of people have taken part in penny packets of thirty at a time! That is, what, a minimum of 700 dinners over the past six years???

Damn! I’m in the wrong business!

To quote David Mamet, everyone needs money. That is why it is called “money”. I find it impossible to even contemplate the idea that there are so many ultra-rich idiots that are willing to pay big cash for absolutely nothing in return. Idiots rarely work their way up to ultra-rich status, and those who have it handed to them through inheritance rarely hang on to it for long. They must have expected good value for their bucks, and they must have received that value because they keep coming back for more.

So what did they get? Bradley won’t tell us.

16 thoughts on “A Question That Needs to be Asked”

  1. Something I read by a journalism professor back in the early 90’s has always stuck with me. He said (I’m paraphrasing) that the consumers of advertising supported news media are not the customers of news publishers, they are the product. The advertisers are the customers. The publishers sell the attention of the consumers to the advertisers.

    I think the Washington Post was simply extending its business model a bit. Instead of selling the attention of thousand of readers, they sold the attention of few key movers and shakers. One could say they were selling networking using the company’s knowledge of how Washington insider society/business worked. I imagined that they used the lure of the Post’s cachet (fading though it may be) and its ability to subtly help people’s government careers as a lure to bring in the insiders so that people paying could rub elbows with them.

  2. In the Obama/Pelosi/Reid world, the attitude of government toward your business is the most important survival/success factor…more important than product design, more important than engineering and production, more important than sales and marketing. Businesspeople without “access” will be destroyed, and the sellers of access will do very well for themselves indeed.

  3. “What would you get for that kind of scratch?” Good question, but more importantly, what do the movers and shakers get for years and years of helping the Post rake in that kind of scratch?

  4. Few years ago the Co I worked for suddenly got awarded with a large contract for a courthouse design. It was unusual: typically, the process is long and meticulously documented, from the Client (county) announcing the intent, budget and program, then – competition, then review with several revisions. As I was told, we did participated in initial contest, but came in second and the job went to a local architectural Co. That was 2 years before we got awarded. What happened was that the local architect (and certain recipient) were found guilty of corruption: during the review process the local architect designed and oversaw construction of a summer house for a county official with deciding voice – gratis, of course. The job, with initial survey already done was passed to us instead.

    I imagine this sort of thing would not result in the same outcome in the current climate.

  5. Everybody keeps asking questions about the WaPo end of the deal, but what about the “product” that was being sold – the White House officials? It has already been pointed out that with the event only three weeks away this was not just a trial balloon. By the same argument, that means that the “product” was lined up and ready to go – how else could you “guarantee” access to it?

    So the really interesting questions are “Who had agreed to attend, and from whom did they seek and receive the permission that would certainly be required to represent the White House at a commercial event?” Who in the White House could give permission to participate in such a potentially embarassing event, given all the puffery about lobbyists? That would have to be somebody pretty senior, I’ll bet, hmmmmmm??

  6. Money only exchanges hands when there is an exchange of value. Actually, the $25,000 sounds rather cheap to me.

  7. Uh, yeah, but… but… That ain’t nothin’! What about BLOGGERS getting FREE CELL PHONES?!

    Better bring Congress down on ’em quick! On the bloggers, I mean. Not the WaPo or the Atlantic. Those guys are nice boys. We can trust ’em, trust me.

    Yeah… Right…

    During the Chas Freeman ruckus in March, I recall tdaxp mentioning casually that, yes, of course Freeman took money from our enemies; it’s normal practice in that field, among analysts who don’t care to “live a pauper’s life”. I’m guessing that the “pauper” in question lives better than 95% of Americans. But people in DC with access to power aren’t satisfied with that, and they don’t have to be.

    DC may be less corrupt than places like the PRC, but it’s catching up.

  8. David Foster has it pretty much right, but Sherlock’s question is the big one—why are govt officials there? Who told them to go? What does WaPo owe the govt &/or Obama political operation for making “its” people available to enable WaPo to make money? And what govt favors are lined up for those who put their $s into WaPo’s coffers?

    This stinks beyond belief and saying the Atlantic does it and everyone else, too, does not help. Further evidence of the complete disconnect between our ruling mandarins and the “masses” they exploit.

    This is all SOOOO Chicago.


  9. Earlier “David Foster” said “In the Obama/Pelosi/Reid world,”.
    I suggest that things are worse than he intimated.

    The world Foster refers to is much bigger than the sub-clique of Dem. leadership. The prime example is the inability of John McCain to characterize Obama (it wouldn’t have been over the top for candidate McCain to use the word “socialist” in the same sentance as “Barrack Obama” (not to mention “Barrack Hussien Obama”)). McCain was unable to point out the character, former actions, and plans of his opponent. The reason was, I believe, because he identified with his opponent; a fellow member of the same clique; the same priveleged political club. It appears that the status quo meant more to team McCain than the good of the country (I don’t believe McCain is stupid and therefore I can’t believe he didn’t twig to the radical nature of his opponentknow ….). More knowing political watchers can, I suspect, provide innumerable (without end?) less glaring examples.

  10. The political class likes to game the system so that they fail upwards – I guess that’s a part of the motivation for the whole ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine,’ aspect of this scandal. And, it SHOULD be a scandal.

    Oh, who am I kidding? There is no reason to be so cute – it is SOOOO Chicago. The problem is, everything seems Chicago these days.

  11. I have the same reaction to this scandal as I did to the Gov Blago/Senate seat sale scandal a few months ago—the only thing about this that’s different from business as usual is that someone got too frank and blatant about what was going on.

    As the state becomes more and more involved in the everyday lives and business of the citizenry, the range of opportunities for influencing pols and staffers and regulators et al increases geometrically.

    There is much less opportunity for corrupt influence peddling in a minimalist state which has strictly limited access to its citizens’ money, and limited ability to pass legislation interfering with the everyday activities of their lives and commerce.

    It is no accident that authoritarian states engender an atmosphere of routine corruption, and totalitarian states actually require constant under the table payoffs just to get anything done at all. These circumstances have been well and thoroughly documented in repeated studies of various statist countries. The Soviet Union was renowned for its underground economy and endemic corruption, and we see repeated scandals of the same behavior in China, Zimbabwe, Iran, and many others.

    There is every reason to believe that the increase of state power in the US has and will follow this same pattern. It is the system of limited government and clear accountability that has helped reduce these problems for our citizens over the years, not some inherent goodness in either the people or our political types.

    As Prohibition so graphically illustrated, if society allows the state to intrusively control even the most mundane personal behavior, and control, ban, or tightly regulate very normal commercial endeavors, corruption becomes an tsunami that surges through the social landscape, leaving chaos and destruction in its wake.

    I truly fear that the wave building on the horizon will cause more serious and debilitating damage to our social structures than we can presently imagine. I hope and pray that I am wrong.

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