July 2009 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

July 2009

Winners & Sinners

     Sinner: President Barack Obama, who, exactly one month ago, told the guests at a White House cocktail party held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot that he strongly favored Congressional repeal of the military’s idiotic Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy.  This week, Winner Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings introduced an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act that would have banned the Defense Department from spending any money on investigations leading to the expulsion of gay and lesbian service members.   The Congressman told Winner  Rachel Maddow last night that he had withdrawn the amendment–at the request of the Obama White House.

       Sinners: Every single MSM news organization, including ALL newspapers and ALL wire services, who, as far FCP can determine, have so far completely ignored this appalling decision by the White House (as of 11 AM Thursday morning.)  How could something like this happen? Because no one in the MSM is serious about covering gay issues on a timely basis.

The Bottom Line to FCP from Nathaniel Frank , who wrote Unfriendly Fire, the brilliant and definitive book on this subject: “The White House has made a decision to avoid this issue like the plague.  There is part of me which understands what they’re doing, in terms of prioritizing health care and the economy.  The reason I have limited sympathy for the president is, this is not a hard thing to do.   Issuing an executive order or supporting the Hastings amendment would cost much less political capital than some White House aides seem to think, some of whom are still scarred by the Clinton experience.  I just think if you do something cleanly and swiftly as commander in chief, you’re not going to get all this blow back.”

    Winner: President Barack Obama, for accurately stating that the Cambridge Police Department had acted “stupidly” by arresting a man in his own home after confirming that the man resided there.   The police report written by arresting officer James Crowley makes it abundantly clear that Henry Louis Gates had confirmed with a photo ID that he was indeed standing inside his own home at the time that Crowley arrested him.  “While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence,” Crowley wrote, “I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me.”

The Bottom Line: Gates obviously did everything he could to provoke Crowley, but a better policeman would have ignored the professor’s taunts and left the premises, instead of arresting him.

    Winner : Senior Daily Show Black Correspondent Larry Wilmore, for the best take on this colossal waste of time (segment begins at 5:55 in this clip.)

    Sinner: CNN/US president Jon Klein, who ever-so-briefly behaved like a responsible network news executive, when he sent out an e-mail saying that the wholly invented story that Barack Obama has never supplied his Hawaii birth certificate had been completely debunked by CNN’s political researchers (and every other serious reporter in America).  CNN’s experts told Klein that “In 2001 - the state of Hawaii Health Department went paperless. Paper documents were discarded. The official record of Obama’s birth is now an official ELECTRONIC record.  Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Health Department told the Honolulu Star Bulletin, “At that time, all information for births from 1908 (on) was put into electronic files for consistent reporting.”

    Klein wrote that this “seems to definitively answer the question. Since [Lou Dobbs’] show’s mission is for Lou to be the explainer and enlightener, he should be sure to cite this during your segment tonite. And then it seems this story is dead - because anyone who still is not convinced doesn’t really have a legitimate beef.”

    Then Klein immediately contradicted himself in a series of interviews, because a news division president is never allowed to criticize a profit center (like Dobbs) at a modern American television network. Klein told Greg Sargent that Lou runs “his own show” that merely hosts “panels” with birther theorists and asserted that CNN respects viewers enough to let them “make up their own minds.”  Klein added that what Dobbs does is “his editorial decision to make.”

The Bottom Line: No, Mr. Klein, it is NOT Mr. Dobbs’ decision to make: it is yours, because you are in charge of news standards at CNN, if there are any left.  Your statement is identical to what your counterpart at Fox News said after Glenn Beck declared that Obama hates white people (and then said he did not, 75 second later, and then said he did again, the following morning.)   Which means that CNN has no standards at all.

      For the fastest summary of all of this idiocy, see Winner Jon Stewart’s take from last night, which includes all of the clips of Dobbs for which he should have been fired by, instead of defended by, his boss.  Stewart’s Bottom Line: “Any jackass in a suit willing to go on television and criticize the president can make a pretty hefty living….Forgive me, George Bush.”

   Update: Over at Media Matters, Winner Jamison Foser, has pointed out  that Howie-the-King-of-All-Conflicts-of-Interest-Kurtz has said nothing about the role of Klein, Dobbs or CNN in promoting the phony birther story–but chose to blame Chris Matthews for it instead!! “Think about that,” wrote Foser.  “Howard Kurtz, who is a paid employee of CNN, blamed Chris Matthews, who hosts a show for CNN’s competitor, for giving the birther nonsense attention. This despite the fact that Matthews has been debunking the theories. And Kurtz didn’t say a word about Lou Dobbs, the person who has been pushing this garbage.”

   UpdateII: Felix Gillette reports the only good news here in The New York Observer: so far, Dobbs’ pathetic effort to generate controversy and ratings by promoting the birther debate is an abject failure.   Gillette writes that in the two weeks since he started highlighting this non-story, his total viewers have dropped 15%, from 771,000 in the first half of July, to 653,000 in the second half, while those in the ever-sought-after 25-54 demo have plummeted 27%, from 218,00 to 157,000.

   Winner: Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen, for a superb dissection  of all of the campaign contributions from health care providers to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus.

The Bottom Line, from FCP Contributor Meg Fidler: “Exactly the kind of reporting we the people should be reading routinely–but we’re not.”

    Winner: The comedian from the Australian TV show, Chaser’s War on Everything, who invaded chief Bush administration torture-promoter John Yoo’s law class and impersonated a hooded torture victim.  When the comedian was thrown out of the room, he said “I’ll go the human rights class down the road.  I think you probably won’t be teaching there, professor.” [Special thanks to FCP Contributor Hal Davis.]



Good-Bye to The Magic

Television news has always been a war between the reporters who care most about journalism and the corporate suits who care only about the bottom line.  It was so when Edward R. Murrow was the star of CBS in the 1950’s, and it remained so when Walter Cronkite became the most influential newsman in America, sometime around 1968.  What made Cronkite uniquely important was his status as the last anchor man in America with the clout and the judgement to make that permanent conflict a fair fight–most of the time.

Since his death last week Cronkite has been rightly celebrated for his two greatest moments of courage: his special report from Vietnam after the Tet Offensive–“Who, What, Where, When and Why” he called it–and his two lengthy reports about Watergate in October of 1972, when the only other news organization that was giving that story the attention it deserved was The Washington Post.   

Even as Cronkite was calling Lyndon Jonhson’s war a failure, Cronkite’s boss, CBS president Frank Stanton, was still giving LBJ endless technical advice, in a futile effort to make the Texan look better on TV.  Stanton even helped to redesign the presidential desk in the Oval Office to try to make it look more telegenic.

But because Cronkite was both the most serious and the most profitable anchor in the history of TV news, even as his bosses assiduously cultivated the president, Cronkite was usually able to keep his network straight.

Everything about TV news was more serious back then–from the 20 hours of documentaries CBS Reports routinely produced every year, to the quality of the correspondents in the field–men like Charles Collingwood, Robert Schackne, Morley Safer, Fred Graham, Mike Wallace and–especially–Roger Mudd.   Most TV men and women (including Cronkite) got their basic training at newspapers, at a time when their brains were still considered more important than their haircuts.  And the networks actually paid attention to criticism from the print press, not only because the TV types were more serious about the news then, but also because the criticism from people like New York Times TV critic Jack Gould was vastly more sophisticated than anything being written today.

The CBS support team you didn’t see was just important as the one you did.   Producers like the legendary Mark Harrington were always nearby–or during the conventions, actually sitting in a hole at Cronkite’s left, from which Harrington passed up a steady stream of cue cards with minute pieces of astute political analysis.

Cronkite had amazing timing–and nothing is more important for a newsman than that. He had the good fortune to be the most important face on TV during every major event from the assassination of JFK in 1963 through the evacuation of American hostages from Iran in 1981.  And through every kind of mayhem, he was cool, calm and intelligent.

To those of us who first “met” Cronkite as the anchor of “You Are There,” a history program for children which re-enacted great events, he entered our psyches as a literally omniscient reporter, a time traveler who was able to interview everyone from Paul Revere to Thomas Edison.  And when “Don’t trust anyone over 30” became the battle cry of the Vietnam generation, Cronkite remained nearly alone on the other side of the generation gap as the man who never lost our confidence, and our reverence.  When everything was exploding in the ‘60’s, in the streets at home and on the battlefields half way around the world, Walter was the only public figure who still had the capacity to unite us.

What we called “youth culture” was hardly a staple of the CBS Evening News, so a piece about Don McClean’s “American Pie” jumped out at you as a rare concession to youthful tastes.   But that kind of resistance to pandering was just another pillar of Cronkite’s extraordinary authority.     

Like the front page of the New York Times (especially in its heyday), Cronkite’s news had a capacity to bestow seriousness on a subject that was unmatched by any of his competitors.  So it was enormously important to the Washington Post when Cronkite gave his blessing to the efforts of Woodward and Bernstein at the height of Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972.

It was a political year, and everyone was saying, ‘Well, it’s just politics, and here’s the Post trying to screw Nixon,” former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee remembered this week in Newsweek.   “We were the second-biggest newspaper in the country trying to scramble for a good story—whereas Cronkite was the reigning dean of television journalists. When he did the Watergate story, everyone said, ‘My God, Cronkite’s with them.’” But even Cronkite’s powers were limited.   When Nixon hatchet man Chuck Colson screamed at the corporate suits after the first 14-minute piece aired, the second one was cut back to (a still remarkable) 8 minutes.

When Cronkite was pushed out, at the age of sixty-four, to make room for a younger man, CBS had the perfect successor in Roger Mudd, a superb newsman and a natural anchorman who had been Cronkite’s substitute for years during his many lengthy vacations.   But Mudd was a terrible office politician, and Dan Rather was a brilliant one, so the job went to Rather instead–a bombastic reporter whose demeanor was the antithesis of Cronkite’s soothing calmness.   That disastrous choice was the beginning of the end of network news as we had known in, from the dawn of Huntley and Brinkley, who debuted on NBC in 1955, until Cronkite’s departure from his anchor seat in 1981.

What Cronkite was, really, was an old-fashioned newsman with old-fashioned values, the perfect blend of middlebrow intellect and superb showmanship–the kind that’s so good it’s never even identified as craft.   In Cronkite showmanship was the opposite of  flashiness: it was an innate capacity to look more comfortable in front of a camera than anyone else ever had before.  Indeed, his delivery was so admired within the network, his moments alone in front of the teleprompter were known simply as “the magic.”

Those of us who grew up with him will always miss that magic, and his seriousness.  And like him, we will always bemoan what Glenn Greenewald rightly identified as Cronkite’s greatest failure.

 “What do I regret?” Cronkite asked an interviewer in 1996.  “Well, I regret that in our attempt to establish some standards, we didn’t make them stick.  We couldn’t find a way to pass them on to another generation.”

The news business and our democracy have never stopped bleeding because of that failure.


Winners and Sinners

Winner: Victoria Cruz, a 17-year-old star of WNYC’s Radio Rookies, for a lovely piece about how she and her girlfriend became the first same-sex couple to be named “Best Couple” in her Bronx high school’s yearbooks.  The story, produced by Kaari Pitkin, edited by Marianne McCune, and broadcast on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, also brought Cruz the Hillman Foundation’s very first Sidney Award for an outstanding piece of socially-conscious journalism.

WinnerNewsweek managing editor Dan Klaidman, for a superb cover story about Attorney General Eric Holder. Klaidman’s scoop–that Holder is likely to appoint a prosecutor to investigate the torture abuses of the Bush administration–got all the attention, but the piece also offered splendid insights into all of the tensions between Holder’s Justice Department and Obama’s White House.

Sinner: Scott Shane, for the umpteenth piece about investigating torture in The New York Times which cast the debate purely in political terms and characterized Holder’s intention to appoint a prosecutor as one of “four fronts on which the intelligence apparatus is under siege”–without ever quoting any of the thousands of people who believe that such an investigation is a moral imperative. Shane also wrote that Holder “was close to assigning a prosecutor,” without giving any credit to Klaidman for breaking that story in Newsweek. Meanwhile, Shane’s erstwhile boss in the Washington Bureau, Sinner Doug Jehl, who led the battle inside the Times to prevent torture being described accurately as “torture,” has been chosen by Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli to be the Post’s new foreign editor.

Winner: Arianna Huffington for snatching up Winner Dan Froomkin, who was idiotically let go by The Washington Post last month, mostly because he had no “rabbi” at the Post–and none of the Post’s top editors appreciated the fact that he regularly broke important stories that the rest of the paper’s staff had ignored. Sinner Brian Stelter wrote a remarkably superficial piece in The New York Times about Froomkin’s move, which didn’t even manage to include a full description of Froomkin’s new responsibilities. Besides blogging twice a week for The Huffingon Post, Froomkin will oversee the site’s Washington coverage, supervising four reporters and an assistant editor.

Sinners: Touré, and all the other ahistorical commentators, who said that Michael Jackson was the first artist to get black and white audiences to worship the same music. That crucial crossover was achieved by Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Smoky Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and scores of other black artists of the 1960’s–all before the Jackson 5 released their first single. For one of a thousand examples, listen to this immortal cut from Marvin and Tammi.  [FCP contributor Gregory King points out that this trend actually started even earlier with Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Lena Horne.]

Winner:  The sublime Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker, for managing to link Bob Dylan’s Sara with Alaska’s Sarah, in a piece that was as hilarious as it was substantive: “In Palin’s case, the government that she was declaring independence from is the one that she herself is governor of. She was therefore in the awkward position of having to argue that she has had “so much success in this first term” (e.g., “We took government out of the dairy business”) that “doing what’s best for Alaska” requires her to abandon her post.”  And Winner Frank Rich for reminding us why she remains formidable even though most people find her laughable: “she stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity as the country hurtles into the 21st century and leaves it behind.”

SinnersThe op-ed editors of The New York Times, for asking disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to provide questions for Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing. Once upon a time, discredited former public officials were consigned to the obscurity they so richly deserve when they leave public office. Now they are brought back relentlessly by the MSM to provide “balance”–the way only wise old men like Karl Rove can. (Special thanks to FCP contributor SM.)

Of Orwell and Ensign

 …It  is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts….

All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.

                                         —George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1946

One of the reasons George Orwell was the greatest English-speaking journalist of the 20th century was his insistence on calling things by their actual names. Now more than ever, “political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness,” as Orwell put it sixty-three years ago. In Orwell’s time, when defenseless villages were “bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned” and “the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets,” this was called “pacification.” 

In our own time, when the American government engages in known torture techniques–including waterboarding (183 times for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, 83 times for Abu Zubaydah), forced standing, freezing temperatures, Palestinian hanging (handcuffing a prisoner behind his back until fatigue sets in, the prisoner falls forward, and his full body weight rests on shoulders, thereby impairing breathing), sexual degradation (including the smearing of menstrual blood on prisoners’ faces), and bombardment for twenty-four hours a day with loud music–most of the mainstream press agrees, at the government’s request, to call these things “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Then mindless “ethicists” like New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt write long pieces defending this shameful euphemism–although first prize for stupidity in this category surely belongs to NPR’s Ombdusman, Alicia Shepard, who told Glenn Greenwald, “There are two sides to the issue. And I’m not sure, why is it so important to call something torture?”

Among recent examples of Orwellian misrepresentation, all else pales in comparison with the whitewashing of waterboarding. Still, it is a source of considerable amusement to see Sarah Palin describe her decision to quit the Alaska governorship as the latest proof that she is a “fighter,” or, in the case of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, have your spokesman re-invent an affair with “a dear friend from Argentina” as a hike up the Appalachian Trail.

But it is this week’s newly exploding Republican sex scandal which has inspired some of the most creative use of the English language of all. Earlier, Nevada senator John Ensign admitted that he had had an affair with Cindy Hampton, the wife of his former chief of staff, Doug Hampton.

During the affair, Cindy worked for both the Senator’s re-election committee and his political action committee, and had her salary doubled at both places while she shared her bed with her boss. At the same time, the national Republican party paid off Cindy’s teenaged son, and her husband got a job with a consulting firm run by two more of the senator’s friends, and then another job with an airline owned by an Ensign contributor.

However, all of this this largesse was not nearly enough to shut up the ex-mistress or, particularly, her husband–-both of whom (nearly alone among Republicans) are now calling for Ensign’s resignation from the Senate.

Doug Hampton told a cable-TV interviewer in Nevada earlier this week that his wife had actually received a kind of severance payment of $25,000 from the senator when the affair was winding down. (Hampton also said the payment was an idea of Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn. Coburn denied that he had suggested the payoff, and then said he would never testify about this to anyone, because “I was counseling him as a physician and as an ordained deacon,” and therefore this was “privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody.”)

The report of a $25,000 payment was quickly knocked down by Senator Ensign’s lawyer, Paul Coggin. Coggin said the the payment was actually nearly four times that much–$96,000 for the Hamptons and their children. And since it all came from the senator’s parents, “no laws were violated,” as they might have been, had the money come from the senator’s campaign or political action committee.

But the really creative part of Coggin’s statement was the way he re-branded Ensign’s affair with his former staffer, and its impact on her family. The payments from the senator’s parents, Coggin explained, “are consistent with a pattern of generosity by the Ensign family to the Hamptons.” 

Well, I guess if you ignore the affair and just count the four jobs found for Mr. And Mrs. Hampton and the one job secured for their son, “a pattern of generosity” is exactly what it was.

For the definitive account of this tangled mess, see the transcript of Rachel Maddow’s Thursday night broadcast.

The Washington Post: RIP

The Washington Post died today.  It was five months short of its 132nd birthday.

News of the demise of the once-great news gathering organization came in a story by Mike Allen at Politico.com, which reported that Post publisher Katharine Weymouth has decided to solicit payoffs of between $25,000 and $250,000 from Washington lobbyists, in return for one or more private dinners in her home, where lucky diners will receive a chance for “your organization’s CEO” to interact with “Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post” and “key Obama administration and congressional leaders …”

The decision by the Post’s publisher to sell access to government officials was the latest–and, by far, the most horrific–in a series of disastrous decisions in the last two weeks which, taken together, have destroyed what was once one of the proudest brands in American journalism.

As news of the Politico story raced across the Internet this morning, former and present news executives inside and outside The Washington Post Company reacted with stunned horror.  As Allen put it in his Politico story, “The offer ­ which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator for private lobbyist-official encounters ­ is a new sign of the lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most newspapers are struggling for survival.”

Arthur Gelb, the legendary former managing editor of The New York Times, declared, “Say It Ain’t So, Katharine. Where are the principles set by your grandmother and Ben Bradlee that had for so long imbued the Post? How can your reporters and editors we so admire and respect sit on their hands while this degradation evolves?”

The Post issued a statement which perfectly fits what Washington Post legend Bob Woodward once defined during Watergate as a “non-denial denial”:

The flier circulated this morning came out of a business division for conferences and events, and the newsroom was unaware of such communication. It went out before it was properly vetted, and this draft does not represent what the company’s vision for these dinners are, which is meant to be an independent, policy-oriented event for newsmakers.

As written, the newsroom could not participate in an event like this.

We do believe there is an opportunity to have a conferences and events business, and that the Post should be leading these conversations in Washington, big or small, while maintaining journalistic integrity. The newsroom will participate where appropriate.”

FCP pointed out to the Post spokeswoman that unless the company repudiated this idea altogether by the end of the day, the company’s brand would be dead.

“I don’t appreciate that kind of talk,” said Kris Coratti, director of communications for Washington Post Media.

“You shouldn’t appreciate it,” FCP replied.  But the failure to repudiate this idea will be fatal:

“Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate,” says the one-page flier. “Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth…Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders …“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less. …”

Later in the day, Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli made this stab at damage control:

A flyer was distributed this week offering an “underwriting opportunity” for a dinner on health-care reform, in which the news department had been asked to participate.

The language in the flyer and the description of the event preclude our participation.

We will not participate in events where promises are made that in exchange for money The Post will offer access to newsroom personnel or will refrain from confrontational questioning. Our independence from advertisers or sponsors is inviolable.

There is a long tradition of news organizations hosting conferences and events, and we believe The Post, including the newsroom, can do these things in ways that are consistent with our values.


Over at the Dow Jones-owned site All Things Digital, Peter Kafka offered the swiftest and most idiotic reaction to the news, ignoring the fact that there might be any significant difference between paid and unpaid dinner parties:

But let me play devil’s advocate: What exactly would be so wrong about getting the paper’s reporters or editors to to participate in one of these?

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the Post has been at the nexus of power, money and influence ­ in fact, Weymouth’s grandmother, Katharine Graham, was famous for hosting gatherings much like these at her house. And publications of all stripes ­ including this one, as well as Dow Jones, which owns this site ­ frequently charge fees to attend networking events where their editorial staff participates.

In a chat today on washingtonpost.com, Post Congressional reporter Paul Kane cited Brauchli’s memo as proof that the newsroom would not participate in these confabs–even though the statement of the company’s corporate spokeswoman directly contradicted that. And even if newsroom staffers are excluded from these dinners, the idea that the paper’s publisher would be selling this kind of access remains far, far, far beyond the pale.

Early indications of the collapse of judgement at the Washington news organization included the decision to allow Glenn Beck to host a chat at washingtpost.com-–a scant two weeks before Beck hosted certifiably-maniacal Michael Scheuer on his own program, so that Scheuer could strongly advocate a massive new terrorist attack on the United States by Osama Bin Laden.

Next came the firing of Dan Froomkin, the best and most original reporter on the Post’s website–presumably because Froomkin wrote so many accurate stories pointing up the inadequacies of the national staff of the Post.

But both of those events paled next to this morning’s news, which was leaked to Politico by a healthcare lobbyist. In a piece of remarkable understatement, Mike Allen wrote, “it’s a turn of the times that a lobbyist is scolding The Washington Post for its ethical practices.”

For the first one hundred years of its existence, the Post was a respectable but unremarkable newspaper. All that began to change when Katharine Weymouth’s grandmother, Katharine Graham, chose Ben Bradlee to lead the paper in 1968. During the next twenty-three years, by expanding the paper’s national staff, opening many new bureaus abroad, inventing the Style section and hiring some of the finest reporters in America, Bradlee gave The New York Times the first serious competition it had received from a general-interest newspaper since the death of the New York Herald Tribune.

The paper’s most celebrated period came when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did more than anyone else to unravel the Watergate scandal during the administration of Richard Nixon. Most famously, when Bernstein called former Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell to read him one of his stories, Mitchell exploded, “All that crap, you’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied. Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published. Good Christ! That’s the most sickening thing I ever heard.”

Graham’s granddaughter, Katharine Weymouth, was widely admired within The Washington Post Company as she climbed up the corporate ladder before finally succeeding her uncle Donald Graham as the paper’s publisher. But the extraordinary economic pressures faced by every American newspaper as their traditional business model has collapsed has now led to a comparable collapse in corporate judgment. When historians look back at this event, they will note it as the beginning of the end of newspapers as we have known them.

[Special thanks to FCP contributors DEK & JWS]


UPDATE: The Post Caves In–To Sanity

Reacting to the uproar, Katharine Weymouth announced early this afternoon that plans for the dinners at her house had been cancelled.  Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz reported that   “Weymouth knew of the plans to host small dinners at her home and to charge lobbying and trade organizations for participation. But, one of the executives said, she believed that there would be multiple sponsors, to minimize any appearance of charging for access, and that the newsroom would be in charge of the scope and content of any dinners in which Post reporters and editors participated.”   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/02/AR2009070201563.html