The WaPo’s Broccoli Soup

I’m not so much surprised that Marcus Brauchli has had to admit that he knew the Pay2Play Salons were off the record.

Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli says he knew more about the controversial “salons” the paper had planned than previously has been reported, including the fact that they were being billed as “off-the-record” to potential sponsors.

Brauchli made the acknowledgement in a letter to Charles Pelton, the person hired by the Post to organize what was to have been a series of corporate-sponsored, off-the-record dinners at the home of publisher Katharine Weymouth. Pelton, who resigned from the paper in September, told the Post’s ombudsman the day that POLITICO reported on the salons that Brauchli and other editors had been involved in discussions of them and that the plans had “been well developed in the newsroom.”

[snip]

But in a Sept. 25 letter to Pelton, obtained by POLITICO, Brauchli said he “knew that the salon dinners were being promoted as ‘off the record.’ That fact was never hidden from me by you or anyone else.” And he also acknowledged that he had seen two slide shows on the dinners and received e-mailed copies of the promotional materials for them.

After all, back when the WaPo started to ‘fess up to the fact that “senior managers” knew the details of the Pay2Pay salons, they made it clear those same managers knew they were off the record.

But while Post executives immediately disowned the flier’s characterization, senior managers had already approved major details of the first dinner. They had agreed, for example, that the dinner would include the participation of Brauchli and at least one Post reporter, that the event would be off the record, that it would feature a wide-ranging guest list of people involved in reforming health care, and that it would have sponsorship.

I always assumed when the WaPo said “senior managers,” that probably included the Executive Editor.

But I am interested in a few details. First, Greg Mitchell makes it clear that the Brauchli letter was given to other journalists by the lawyer of Charles Pelton–who Katharine Weymouth and Brauchli tried to scapegoat for the scandal.

However, in a subsequent letter to Mr. Pelton — which was sent to The Times by Mr. Pelton’s lawyer — Mr. Brauchli now says that he did indeed know that the dinners were being promoted as ‘off the record,’ and that he and Mr. Pelton had discussed that issue.”

With that in mind, consider the two investigations the WaPo put together to understand how the WaPo came to sell its editorial line. First, an investigation by the WaPo’s General Counsel.

Weymouth yesterday appointed the newspaper’s general counsel, Eric Lieberman, to review the discussions that led to the controversy.

Much, much more interesting, however, is that the WaPo appointed Brauchli to conduct an investigation.

The review, along with a parallel inquiry by Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli and Senior Editor Milton Coleman, is aimed at avoiding another episode that could damage the paper’s reputation.

So Marcus Brauchli, who knew all the details of this, conducted an investigation to find out how it happened. Perhaps pursuant to that, Pelton left the WaPo. And now Pelton is using the NYT and Politico to make sure that Brauchli doesn’t get to blame Pelton in his whitewash.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

17 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    where did donald graham (and warren buffet) find this piece of vegetal trash – marcus brauchli?

    why, of course, at the wall street journal, where trash piles UP by the yard.

    how is it that wapoop is satisfied with the likes of brauchli and hyatt and andrew alexander (see this crap):http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/18/AR2009091802639.html

    there is only one explanation for both wapoop and for its clone, the nytimes, – they are both headed by rather stupid men.

    and

    they have, and promote, rather slow people at the top of the organization.

    in case you had hope,

    things are not going to change any time soon at wapoop or at the nytimes.

    the nation must wait for economics to have it effect, which will happen, but not in time to benefit present discourse.

    • bobschacht says:

      there is only one explanation for both wapoop and for its clone, the nytimes, – they are both headed by rather stupid men.

      and they have, and promote, rather slow people at the top of the organization.

      If this were really true, no one would buy their papers.
      Unfortunately, perhaps they know their audience all too well. We won’t buy many papers from them, so why should they cater to our standards of journalism?

      They publish for The Village. Their pooporie is, apparently, what the Village wants.

      Bob in AZ

  2. LabDancer says:

    This must be WaPo;s adaptation of Rashomon. Potomac Salons: mostly sodden, shadows cast over all action, lights that blind rather than illuminate, & the woodcutter played by a sprick* of broccoli lodged in the bandit’s teeth.

    *from the Danish “sprick”, imperative [of course] tense of “spricka”, roughly in English: burst, chink or crack.

  3. Mauimom says:

    I can’t believe that Warren Buffett continues to keep Berkshire $$$$ in the WaPoop. Yes, he was sweet on Katherine Graham, but her evil spawn have so thoroughly fucked this paper up that it no longer makes BUSINESS sense to leave money there.

    Warren, you’re smarter than this. Get out.

  4. timbo says:

    The obvious greed of the Washington Post…as opposed to actual journalistic integrity…might explain why folks are not bothering to read that rag any more. It’s a sad thing to see a paper that once seemed to stand for some sort of integrity to be sullied by the current group of buffoons in its leadership.

  5. radiofreewill says:

    If they were selling the Salons as ‘off the record’ – imagine the ‘secrecy privileges’ they would have given to their A1 Cut-out Sponsors!

    The whole Journalistic Package with the WaPo and the NYT – All the Way from the Editors to the Reporters – was Deceptive and Intended to Serve the Self-Interested Motives of the ‘Sources.’

    It wasn’t about the News – it was about Propaganda for Sale – as ‘News’…

  6. BoxTurtle says:

    Normally, for something like this, I’d expect the editor and the publisher to descend like locusts, lay waste to the diseased areas, and rebuild.

    Unfortunately, the editor and the publisher ARE the diseased areas.

    WaPo will survive this with no problem. It hasn’t hurt their sales or their advertising. It has killed the money stream from the salons, at least until the publisher can figure out how to have one without everybody knowing about it. But I’m sure some friendly Moonie will cover that revenue loss.

    Also, TPTB needs apparently respectable publications that’ll promote their talking points.

    Boxturtle (Their key reporters have stayed on as well)

  7. Winski says:

    The WaPo has slipped into the shadowy abyss of Cluster-Fox meta-news and I’m amazed Katharine Weymouth hasn’t announced the sale of the paper to News Corp. yet. It seems the WaPo has done everything that could possibly be required of it by Rupe but it publicly maintains its’ independence…seems like a scam to me but everything that Weymouth has done lately to the WaPo has smelled the same way….

    It is truly a shame to see a once-mighty paper hit the wall…and slump quickly into Rupe’s lair…

  8. orionATL says:

    box turtle @7

    “Normally, for something like this, I’d expect the editor and the publisher to descend like locusts, lay waste to the diseased areas, and rebuild.”

    precisely.

  9. orionATL says:

    bobschacht @4

    i go back and forth on this. yes, these are accomplished businessmen. the wapo mothership is one of the most successful media companies in a deeply distressed industry.

    but then graham and his niece, waymouth, seem to have no sense of the intellectual integrity necessary for a newspaper to be a first-rate corporate product, nor do they seem to care if the wapo is first-rate or not.

    it really is possible to run a first-rate corporation, make some good coin, AND produce a first-rate product, but graham and weymouth just don’t seem to care enough to make this happen.

    when weymouth came in i thought for sure that hyatt would go and the editorial page would pick up a paul krugman or two.

    that has not happened and i now doubt it will.

    newspapers need to understand that the distinction journalists like to draw between “opinion” and “news” is no distinction in the minds of their readers.

    as McLuhan might have said “the opinion is the news”.

    which means, of course, that opinions (editorials, op-eds) must be thoughtful, accurate, and above all, not propaganda for a cause,

    as well as being one person’s opinion.

    and, for example, as george will’s, c charles krauthammer’s, robert samuelson’s, et al, rarely are.

    (in my opinion!!)

    and so i conclude these are rather stupid business leaders, but one could just as easily use “cynical”, “timid and risk averse”, “manipulative of readers”, “uncaring about the public good”,

    or even “republican”.

  10. JohnEmerson says:

    where did donald graham (and warren buffet) find this piece of vegetal trash

    I have no idea what Buffet’s role is at WaPo, but Graham hired this guy because that’s the kind of guy he wants.

    Same for Sulzberger at the NYT. These guys aren’t bystanders, they’re the ones who make things happen. (Both of them run both the operations end and the business end, and the business end comes first.)

    I’ve spent years trying to convince people that a fish rots from the head down, as they say, and that the ones to complain about are the ones at the top. Those two guys want bad journalism and hire with that in mind.

    The Times and the Post are gone. The Czar isn’t going to save us — he’s our main enemy.

    • lambertstrether says:

      Exactly.

      Reporters (who are a problem) report to editors (who are a bigger problem) report to publishers (with the ownership being the biggest problem).

      Sure, Judy Miller was a terrible reporter (except for the people who were managing the WMD disinformation campaign, whom she serviced well). But she only writes the stories. The editor, Bill Keller, is even worse (except for those he really services, of course), since he’s the one who assigns the stories, prints them or buries them (as with warrantless surveillance), and lays them out (on page A1 or A18 or whatever). And Sulzburger’s the biggest problem of all, since he’s the one who signs the checks for it all. Of course, the owners are doing what their owners — the Buffets of this world — want.

      We in the blogosphere, for whatever reason, seem to focus on the Judy Millers and not on the Warren Buffets.

  11. freepatriot says:

    the wapoop, faux gnus, and the rest of the phony fucking journalists are becoming quite the issue, ain’t they

    remember when the repuglitards were gonna sweep the Virginia and New Jersey gov races

    faux gnus an the wapoop been tellin me that since March

    now, it don’t look so likely

    faux gnus an the wapoop only report reality after the election, when the cold hard numbers show how stupid their predictions are

    remember when the repuglitards were gonna hold their 2008 senate losses to 3 seats ???

    supporting the wapoop and faux gnus is reinforcing FAILURE

    I await the day when America rejexs these liars wholesale

    won’t be long now

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