Conservative Republican Robert McDonnell is rewarding the media company that did its best to make sure he was not elected governor of Virginia. But he is not doing something as ordinary as granting The Washington Post an interview. Instead, he is scheduled to appear at a for-profit corporate-sponsored “conference” put on by the Post that is designed to help launch one of the paper’s new business publications.
Titled “The Business of the Beltway,” the event is invitation-only and costs $175 per person. The public is not permitted to attend, although they can watch the event on-line and submit email questions. The $175 includes a subscription to a new Post publication called Capital Business, described as the “insiders’ guide” to the Washington business community.
McDonnell’s participation in The Washington Post event is perplexing for several reasons, including that the paper strongly opposed his candidacy and savaged him personally.
“Based on his 14-year record as a lawmaker¯a record dominated by his focus on incendiary wedge issues¯we worry that Mr. McDonnell’s Virginia would be one where abortion rights would be curtailed; where homosexuals would be treated as second-class citizens; where information about birth control would be hidden; and where the line between church and state could get awfully porous,” the paper said.
The May 18 Post conference, which touts McDonnell as a keynote speaker, also raises serious ethical questions because it is absolutely clear that the paper is using McDonnell in a blatant and crass effort to make money for the financially struggling and circulation-losing publication.
In its editorials, the Post has claimed to be against undue corporate influence in politics. An editorial on May 9 insisted, “Corporate money in politics is bad enough. Secret corporate money is intolerable.”
But Post chairman Donald E. Graham, at the company’s annual meeting on Thursday, refused to disclose how much the corporate sponsors of the May 18 event, including Bank of America and Verizon Wireless, were paying to have their names associated with McDonnell and other speakers, including an Obama White House economist.
Graham said he thought that McDonnell and other speakers had been informed in advance about the profit-making and exclusive nature of the event. But that is not so clear. A deputy press secretary for the governor is looking into the matter.
The mixing of private interests and public offices is something that the Post claims to monitor. On April 7, Post blogger Anita Kumar had questioned the propriety of McDonnell holding a fundraiser in the governor’s mansion. The event benefitted a charter school.
But raising money for the Post, a profit-making company, at an exclusive conference featuring invited guests from the Washington, D.C. establishment, is apparently something else entirely. The paper is proud of cultivating this kind of corporate influence in its own affairs.
The Post, which lost a number of subscribers earlier this year when it featured a front-page photo of two gay men kissing in celebration of gay marriage, had savagely attacked McDonnell during the campaign for his stands on gay rights, abortion, and other social issues, and said that his plan to build more roads in Virginia was “bogus.”
The Post, a long-time Democratic Party paper, strongly supported McDonnell’s opponent, Creigh Deeds.
In its relentless attacks on McDonnell, the Post said that he had “no significant record, either as a lawmaker or as attorney general, of promoting policies to encourage job growth.” Yet, he is being brought to an undisclosed location in Tysons, Virginia, next Tuesday to speak at the Post event on the subject of “the economic outlook nationally and for the Washington area.”
The attendees are going to be “the region’s most influential business leaders and CEOs,” the paper says.
The phrase “undisclosed location” is being used because advance publicity only says it will be in Tysons, Virginia, and does not disclose the exact location in terms of hotel and meeting room. This is undoubtedly because those who have been invited to attend have been given that detailed information on a confidential, need-to-know basis.
At the Post annual meeting, Post chairman Graham refused to say publicly where it would be held but didn’t see any reason why the information could not be made available later.
Graham defended the conference by saying that the Wall Street Journal had held such an event which cost people $5,000 each to attend.
The Post conference is being held in the wake of the Politico previously disclosing that the Post had been organizing an off-the-record session at the home of publisher Katharine Weymouth that could have cost lobbyists $250,000 a seat. The negative publicity forced the paper to abandon this scheme.
Under Weymouth, the paper has been moving even further to the left, hiring bloggers such as David Weigel, who has called opponents of gay marriage “bigots.”
Asked during the annual meeting about the offensive page-one photo of the two men kissing, Weymouth said she had used it as a teaching tool for her own young children and that the Post opposes discrimination.
Other scheduled speakers and attendees at the May 18 event are Weymouth, Obama economist Austan Goolsbee, Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, and Steven Pearlstein, the marquee name who is being promoted as “a Pulitzer Prize-winning business and economics columnist for the Washington Post.”
The paper has issued “Guidelines for Newsroom Involvement in Live Events” but they appear to justify anything the paper wants to do in its series of for-profit “conferences.” They acknowledge that Post personnel will be involved in events that are “intended to generate revenue” for the Post company and claim that these activities are “a worthwhile extension of our journalism.”
It is not surprising that the Obama Administration would furnish high-level officials to benefit the paper financially. After all, the Post endorsed Obama for president.
However, McDonnell was depicted as a slick buffoon by the paper. The Post said that his plans for roads were “a blizzard of bogus, unworkable, chimerical proposals, repackaged as new ideas that crumble on contact with reality.”
But now that he is governor, the Post figures that it can use him and exploit his office in order to make a buck.
· Stacey Johnson, press secretary for Governor McDonnell, can be contacted by telephone at 804-225-4260. Her email address is: Stacey.Johnson@Governor.Virginia.Gov