WaPo Veep: 'All We Want is Tickets to the Balls'
BRAD BLOG: 'They're Yours'
By Brad Friedman on 1/21/2005, 7:53pm PT  

The Washington Post, which recently donated $100,000 to President Bush's inaugural, was granted rare high-level access yesterday in the form of a coveted presidential interview. A spokesman insisted there was no connection, but one grizzled media observer, who requested anonymity so he could still submit op-eds to the paper, said: "Let's face it, the whole thing reeks."

The above was not actually written by us, but by The Post's Howard Kurtz last week in a WaPo article headlined "Influence Being Peddled!"

His piece, which followed-up a front-page article the previous day headlined "Big-Money Contributors Line Up for Inauguration" postulates how terrible it might look "if some blogger" led one of their items with just such a charge. So, Howard, consider it done.

[ed. Note: We've linked the MSNBC version of the original WaPo article above. It has a slightly different headline than the one in WaPo, but does not require a free sign-up to read. The Kurtz response in WaPo is unfortunately not posted on the MSNBC site.]

In regard to the Post's original page-one condemnation (explanation? apology? justification?) of the corporate glad-handing to the Bush Administration, which they themselves have done as well, Kurtz quotes from the pieces list of "well-heeled, favor-seeking supporters", and then says...

And there was this: "Practically all the major donors have benefited from Bush administration policies."

Oh, and by the way: The Washington Post Co. forked over $100,000.

So what the hell exactly does The Washington Post thinks it's doing by contributing $100,000 to the Bush/Cheney inauguration?!

Kurtz admits "the appearance is awful", but to his credit, he tried to get some answers...

Not to worry, the company has an explanation: "We make clear to one and all that all we want is tickets to the balls for our major corporate advertisers," Post Co. Vice President Patrick Butler, who is quoted in the piece, told me.
...
Courting advertisers may be the motivation, but the appearance is awful. After all, the practice is deemed unsavory enough to warrant a Page 1 piece in The Post Co.'s newspaper.

The company has business interests that are affected by administration policies. It owns a bunch of television stations that have FCC licenses, for example. So are we being asked to believe that the Bush administration will not notice that The Washington Post Co. was neighborly enough to cough up 100K for the inaugural bashes? We --- meaning journalists who work in the newsroom --- don't believe that other corporations and trade associations give such contributions without expecting anything in return. In fact, we write about this sort of thing all the time, including yesterday.

And our corporate parent is now playing the same game.

So we appreciate, in this case, his willingness to call his corporate bosses on the carpet, but it hardly gets WaPo off the hook for this appalling business practice.

If we accept the explanation at face value --- that this is merely to provide major advertisers with "free tickets to the balls" --- then we're led to wonder who these advertisers are for which WaPo is willing to float $100,000 worth of tickets for.

Are they willing to post a list of the companies that benefited from this corporate gift?

Shouldn't we have that knowledge when next we read a story in their paper which may concern or affect one of those advertisers?

Do they believe that explanation should assuage our concerns for their impartiality in the future when reporting on affairs in Bush administration?

Their front-pager from last week fails to touch --- beyond a cursory mention that a donation had been made --- on what it was that WaPo had hoped to gain from the donation.

That question seems particular key since, as the article admits, "Practically all the major donors have benefited from Bush administration policies."

And also, should we now take closer notice that the article was co-written by Jeffrey Birnbaum, whose impartiality is already in grave doubt due to his association with the Republican Fox "News" Channel as an official salaried "Fox News contributor"?

Unfortunately, we came across this item too late today to get comment or answers to the above questions from The Post. We'll be on the road for the next week or so, and therefore unable to properly follow up. But we do hope some of the other responsible media sources out there (Hello, RAW STORY?) might be able to push for a more palatable and detailed response to some of the above questions than the one offered in the Kurtz piece.

It should be noted that Kurtz points out that WaPo made similar donations to Clinton's inaugural in '93 and '97, along with Bush's in '01.

It should also be noted that we don't give a damn about that and would like such --- theoretically --- impartial media sources as WaPo to have both propriety and appearance of same no matter which Administration they have a duty to report on for the American people.

Their coverage of affairs in D.C. and beyond is already under deservedly close scrutiny by "the new media" folks like us. We have criticized and will continue to criticize them for their continuing failures to cover the news that Americans need to know about.

We'd recommend, however, that they not make it any easier for those on the Right (who already opportunistically, inaccurately and cynically label them as part of the "Liberal Media") or those on the Left (who already find their coverage sorely and criminally wanting) to tar them with the brush of bias in a media world where they are already rapidly sliding towards dinosaur status.

A $100,000 gift to the Bush Administration, re-gifted as another $100,000 gift to major corporate allies and partners, does not bode well for a deceleration of The Washington Post's unfortunate descent towards irrelevance in a swiftly changing media landscape.