Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ethics problems at the WaPo

Surfing political blogs on a Saturday night is usually an exercise in futility; most responsible bloggers have gone on to live their lives, as they should do. But I happened upon an interesting link at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. A quote from David Broder:

"I am embarrassed by these mistakes and the embarrassment it has caused the paper,''
Curious about what malfeasance David Broder has been guilty of, I followed the link, and wound up here, a column by the Washington Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell. I like her; she seems like the kind of person who should be watching over the ethical standards of one of the country's most important papers, serious and responsible. Apparently Broder took some speaking fees from organizations that he shouldn't have. He clearly made a mistake, but how serious is open to question; it doesn't look like he took money in exchange for anything other than giving a talk. He's already semi-retired, so there isn't much the Post can do to him. I used to be a fan of Broder, but I tend to agree with the Kossacks that he has been a font of misguided wisdom of late. I distinctly remember reading him on a regular basis when I lived in DC and occasionally being impressed with his insight. I don't know what happened exactly, but I don't think he has kept pace with how politics has changed. And it's unfortunate that a long career ends on this unfortunate note. He clearly was not thinking clearly.

Woodward also made some speeches, but put all of the money into a foundation. Better, but still somewhat questionable. In his position, I can see why he would do that. He is famous, and this sounds like a way to put that fame to use.

What really blew my mind, though, was this sentence from Howell's column:

Most of all, The Post needs an unambiguous, transparent well-known policy on speaking fees and expenses.
I'm sorry, but what was that verb again? NEEDS? As in, there is a need to be met?


What is WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!?! You cover WASHINGTON. World center of ethical scandals. Congress has clear and specific rules on members giving speeches. Bill Clinton has made a fortune giving speeches. Inviting influential people to show up at a conference to share their wisdom is a very common way of spreading the wealth among the capitol's elite. You didn't notice this?

Allow me to share an anecdote. When I was in high school in suburban Detroit, Carl Levin came and gave a speech. The school had raised money for a speaker's fund in honor of a student who died. We gave a check to Levin at the end of his speech. He immediately gave it back, because he does not accept speaking fees.

That was in the 1980's. Carl Levin has had that policy for AT LEAST TWENTY YEARS. And it hasn't occured to anyone at the Washington Post that maybe they need a clearly defined policy along the same lines? This was the best that they could come up with:
[Executive Editor Len] Downie unearthed a 1995 memo outlining the rules on speeches, but it is not widely known about in the newsroom.
Woodward and Bernstein have been world famous for 35 years. I imagine Post reporters have all kinds of opportunities to make money on the side - they talk to lobbyists, businesspeople, conference organizers, etc., all the time. And the best they could come up with is an old memo from 13 years ago that no one has seen? Hello? The potential for conflicts of interest or the appearance of impropriety in this kind of situation, in WASHINGTON, DC, hasn't occured to anyone recently? My respect for the Post just dropped a notch or two. I'm going to narrow that to say that my respect for the Post's management is what has been compromised here, and leave the reporters and editors out of it. But I am disappointed. I will be watching to see what happens here.


Alan Vanneman said...

There's more to it than you got from Debbie. Ken Silverstein proves that both Dave and Bob are lying their well-anointed asses off. Read this!

JohnTEQP said...

Forgot to post a response earlier, but wanted to say, thanks, that was a good article.