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Politico and the Washington Post Have Become Virtual "Escort Services" for Moneyed Elites

More and more mainstream media are brokering cozy relationships between politicians and lobbyists.
 
 
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The various elite Washington news organizations that have become caught up in the so-called "pay-for-play” or "salon” scandal have now commenced a circular firing squad of sorts -- in an effort to distance themselves from their peers whose conduct they are trying to paint as worse than their own.

That was evident as the editor-in-chief of the Politico called the Washington Post an "escort service” in response to allegations that it also had too cozy relationships with politicians and lobbyists.

It was Politico that originally broke the story of the Washington Post’s attempt to raise money with "salons” at the home of its publisher.

As Ken Silverstein first disclosed on Harper’s website Tuesday, "Politico itself is hardly virginal when it comes to the wall between reporting and chasing revenue.”

Silverstein uncovered evidence that last year, Politico "co-sponsored a party at the Democratic National Convention with the Glover Park Group, a top Washington lobbying and consulting firm.”

Silverstein posted "an excerpt from Politico’s rapturous coverage” of its party:

And then of course there was the Politico/Glover Park Group party. It seemed to be the hot ticket last night, spread over two different bars to accommodate over 1,000 RSVPs. And the line to get in most definitely was loooong. But not for Ashley Judd: She went straight upstairs to a VIP area. A quick glance at the bottom floor took in politicos and those they cover: Madeleine Albright, Joe Klein, MoveOn’s Eli Pariser, Obama spokesman Bill Burton (who was last seen sitting on a couch working on his laptop), Dan Pfeiffer and his wife Sarah Feinberg (Rahm Emanuel spokesgal Sarah Feinberg), Pelosi staffer Stacy Kerr, RNC spokesman Alex Conant, Washington lawyer Bob Barnett, former WH’er Dan Bartlett (talking to who could have been his younger brother due to the striking similarities, but was ABC’s Jonathan Karl), Time’s Rick Stengel, MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Bronson, MSNBC journos Dan Abrams -- clothes less tight this time -- and David Shuster, former HRC head honcho Howard Wolfson, CBS’s Jennifer Yuille, DeLay right-hand lady Shannon Flaherty, communications guy Peter Fenn, lawyer Don McKay, Reid staffer Rodell Mollineau and H’Wood type Danny Strong. Oh! And the heir to Taco Bell, Rob McKay.

Silverstein’s assessment of all of this was devastating: "This intermingling of celebrities, journalists, and politicians, courtesy of big lobbying money, suggests a cabal of insiders who don’t really care who pays for their partying.”

What was the reaction of John Harris, the editor-in-chief of Politico to the disclosures?

Harris bristled at the suggestion that anything he did was even remotely anything done by the Post, saying: "I strongly don’t accept your interpretation that the Post’s salon events and items you mentioned are equivalent in any way. These are essentially social events… I don’t want to be name-calling with the Post, which I’m admirer of. What troubled me about the salons is that you had it advertising itself as an escort service.”

This isn’t the first time Politico has been caught engaging in this type of activity: Last October, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald wrote about the "cozy relationship” one of its top political writers enjoys with a right-wing operative.

Harris’s response was similar to how David Bradley, the owner of Atlantic, reacted, after it was reported that his magazine had also been the broker for elite "salons” for the city’s lobbyists and politicians

Bradley bristled, too, at the comparison of the salons he ran to those by the Post:

Earnest being my strong suit, I don’t know that I ever have stir-the-world words in me….So as to a topic suddenly in our Washington news, I will go for direct instead.  As there is no secret here, you may know much of this detail already.  Even so, I think it is right that these words come from me directly, over my signature (if that image still pertains).

For a half dozen years, Atlantic Media has been hosting sponsored salon dinners in Washington and around the U.S.  I don’t believe that any one of these events had any of the ill intention or effect that some have attributed to The Washington Post concept. But we live on a street too close to the brush fire to pretend no interest.  So what I thought I might do is give the detail of the Atlantic Media dinners, address some of the concerns I’m reading now on the Web, explain the virtue I see in this work and end with a personal statement and caveat.  Please forgive me if this runs long.

Let me begin by saying that I won’t distance myself from this issue.  From some of our earliest events, I have been part of the thinking behind this work.  I’ve approved many sponsored dinners personally, sent out my own invitations, hosted some dinners at my house, welcomed the sponsors in my remarks and written thank you notes to those involved.  I am a part of this work.   Openly.

That led Slate’s media critic Jack Shafer who called the Atlantic’s salons "corrupting” to scathingly write:

In an interoffice memo that he posted to the Web yesterday, Bradley defended the corporately sponsored, off-the-record public-policy dinners that his company has been hosting for "a half-dozen years” in his patented self-effacing manner. He claims that his presence at his sponsored dinners "as to all things -- tends to dampen high spirits.” Elsewhere in the memo, Bradley writes, "Please forgive me if this runs long.” Oh, no, David! It’s your blogspace and your defense! Go on as long as you’d like! I’ll even hold your coat while you do!

Others, also, weren’t fully buying Bradley’s explanation.

Zachary Roth, who broke the original story for TPM Muckraker about the Atlantic’s salons, had this to say about Bradley’s defense of himself.

Atlantic Media publisher David Bradley is defending the corporate-sponsored, off-the-record "salon” dinners that his company has been organizing since 2003, in response to TPMmuckraker’s report yesterday on the dinners.

In a 1500-word "letter” posted on The Hotline, Bradley refers to "concerns I’m reading now on the web” (no attribution, naturally), before explaining why he thinks the salons -- which, as we wrote yesterday, are very similar to the Washington Post’s planned event that ignited a furor last week -- "are full of good purpose.” (He adds that they’re also "part of my best thinking on how we carry forward (read fund) modern journalism.”)

But Bradley falls back in part on the same defense that Post publisher Katherine Weymouth used, unconvincingly, last week: I didn’t read the marketing materials -- obtained by TPMmuckraker -- and they don’t reflect the true nature of the events. He writes:

The Washington Post’s Katharine Weymouth had not begun, in fact, the hosting of policy dinners; I am six years into this work. What we do share in common is that I, too, had not read our marketing materials. I don’t believe ours are egregious but I now know they do not all reflect the central fact of our conversations - dialogue and debate, without the advance of a particular interest. Due diligence now begun, we will make sure that future materials reflect exactly the spirit and facts of the dinners…

And he admits:

I would not rank this last week among my favorites in publishing.

You sort of get the impression that, from the moment Politico’s report on the Post’s planned salon came out last week; Bradley knew it was only a matter of time before the focus turned to his own events.

Nation columnist Eric Alterman also weighed in:

Perhaps the worst that can be said of these salons is that the Washington Post company and the Atlantic Monthly have dragged themselves down to the level of the infamous hucksters nicknamed "Errors and Nofacts.” But the problem of journalistic conflicts of interest is only going to get worse as traditional funding sources dry up. Many of these conflicts, particularly those involving friendship and typical socializing-schmoozing, may be unfortunate but are ultimately unavoidable in a town like Washington where journalistic, political, and corporate elites are so cozy and incestuous with one another.

With more disclosures soon to come about the pay-for-play schemes of Washington elite journalism, the circular firing squad will surely continue.