Sunday, July 05, 2009

WaPo publisher's apology shows why newspapers are dying

Recently, the publisher of the Washington Post, Katharine Weymouth, advertised a dinner at her home where, for the low price of $250,ooo, you could talk off the record with Post reporters and top Obama administration officials. The first was to be on health care reform (paid for by Kaiser Permanente). Weymouth later ran an unconvincing apology claiming she knew little about the details of the event that was supposed to take place in her own home.

While this story by itself has little direct consequence, it is further evidence of what we all should have learned about the financial elite in the last decade, as I explain in my letter to the Post:
Weymouth's hard-to-believe apology as well as the original idea for the event itself shows why newspapers and our democratic process are dying: the public is fed platitudes and PR spin to herd them toward pre-approved opinions while the real debate is going on behind closed doors between those who have the money to buy the outcome they want.

The original article shows one part of the problem is nepotism. Weymouth got her job not because she is the crème de la crème of journalists but because she is the grand-daughter of famed owner Katherine Graham. Owning the press no more makes you a competent publisher than being the first president Bush's son makes you a competent president.

When the press is a for-profit business, it is the toy or tool of the wealthy. They can take a good paper and turn it into a worthless rag as has happened at the Los Angeles Times, or they can simply shut it down as is happening at newspapers across the county because though profitable, they don't make enough of a profit margin to please their owners.

We need a new model of press, perhaps like the Guardian in the UK that is run like PBS & NPR here (but the Guardian doesn't have to beg for corporate donations). We should also fully fund PBS & NPR, so they aren't beholden to corporations and the foundations of the wealthy to stay in business.

We need a new model for business and especially news that doesn't depend on the whims of the Katherine Weymouths of the world.

Even better would be if she simply gave the paper to its employees to run as a non-profit.

We need a new model for journalism, business, and government that limits the power of those who only bring money not talent to the table (and NO, bookkeeping scams you learned in your MBA program are no more talents than stealing money from your mother's purse was when you were a kid).

Since the wealthy love charity and their foundations so much, Weymouth could do a great public service by removing herself entirely from the operation of the paper, and letting the reporters choose their own editors from their midst rather than letting the idle rich pick those who are corporate compliant. Then Weymouth should never speak to the reporters or editors again except for a congratulatory phone call when they get their Pulitzers.

If the presidency of George W. Bush, the Enron collapse, the theft of countless pensions, the attempted theft through privatization of Social Security, the banking crisis, our health insurance system that puts profits ahead of saving lives, and our on-going wars for oil and pipeline routes in the Middle East were not evidence enough, Katherine Weymouth provides further proof that the financial elite in this country is as morally and intellectually crippled as George W. Bush--and just as dangerous when their hands are on the levers of power.


More on the inevitable extinction of the financial elite