Before Sarah Palin stepped on the story, the talk of the Beltway was Salongate at the Washington Post. The venerable newspaper hatched a scheme whereby it would hold a series of "salons" at the home of publisher Katharine Weymouth in order to sell lobbyists and corporations access to Obama administration officials and the Post reporters and editors who cover them.
"Bring your organization's CEO or executive director literally to the table," read a flier for the first event. "Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders ... Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it."
The proposed ticket price? $25,000. Discount for 11 sponsorships? $250,000. Wonky badinage over crudites at Katharine's pad? Priceless.
Once Politico broke the story, the Post's newsroom went ballistic. The newsies were never asked to participate, and they swore they never would have. Weymouth canceled the scheme, and the Post blamed an aggressive marketing executive/event planner, Charles Pelton, for the debacle, saying he never cleared the fliers with her.
Would you invite a bunch of CEOs and pols to your boss's house without her seeing the invitation? Moreover, invitations to two politicians were sent from Weymouth's personal e-mail address. Oh, and Pelton still has his job.
But the funny part is how everyone -- including the culprits -- agrees this was an affront to all that is good and holy. The New York Times called it a "grievous wound." And because the Times is a dead paper walking, it should know.
Yes, some of the scheme does seem duplicitous. The Atlantic's Joshua Green reports that Weymouth's e-mail to Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) didn't mention corporate underwriting or the presence of lobbyists. Trying to cash in on influence-peddling without giving lawmakers a heads-up, never mind a piece of the action, does seem gauche, like asking a girl on a date only to set her up with a stranger by surprise -- and for a fee.
But here's the thing: What the Post proposed is hardly radical. Lots of major publications -- and by lots, I mean pretty much all of them -- offer an array of meet-and-greet opportunities. The Atlantic, which has been tsk-tsking the Post, is famous for such lavish get-togethers, as are the Wall Street Journal and the Economist. I've been to 10 national political conventions and long ago concluded that they are giant money-laundering operations whereby corporations funnel money through news organizations for maximum schmoozability.