The Washington Post is nixing a reported plan to sell access to its newsroom staff and Obama administration officials to lobbyists and corporate interests, a spokeswoman for the paper said Thursday.
The Politico newspaper reported Thursday morning the venerable Washington paper had invited lobbyists to participate in "off-the-record," non-confrontational meetings with Post reporters and editors, as well as with administration officials and others, by paying between $25,000 and $250,000.
The meetings would have been held at the private home of Post CEO and President Katharine Weymouth, according to the flyer obtained by Politico. The paper said it received the document from a health care lobbyist who was struck by the apparent conflict of interest.
"An evening with the right people can alter the debate," the document promised, according to the Politico report, by former Washington Post reporter Mike Allen. In his report, Allen called the meetings "astonishing."
The planned events would have been a stark break from the paper's storied past, that most famously includes breaking the Watergate scandal. That coverage forced the resignation of former president Richard Nixon, and ushered in an era of reform in Washington that expanded Americans' ability to understand how their government works.
Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein wrote on the paper's Web site that the plan was "appalling" and that he had never been asked to participate in any of the meetings. In its blog, the respected liberal Washington Monthly magazine called the meeting idea a "jaw-dropping scheme."
Kelly McBride, a journalism ethics expert with the Florida-based Poynter Institute, said the plan went against the paper's own values, to make the legislative process transparent to the public. Involving reporters and editors in closed-door meetings of powerful lawmakers and lobbyists "completely undermines that notion of transparency," she said.
In an emailed statement to ABC News Thursday morning, a Post spokeswoman paper called the flyer a "draft" that had not been properly vetted.
"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," read the statement by the Post's Kris Coratti. Coratti did not immediately respond to a request for an explanation of how the vetting process broke down, or whether Weymouth had approved the plan before the document was distributed.
Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli said he had been involved in discussions about holding private events involving newsroom staff, but none like what was described in the flyer. "The idea of doing dinners was openly being discussed, and that they would be off the record," said Brauchli by phone Thursday. "The approach of this particular brochure is far beyond the pale."
Brauchli declined to say whether he had spoken with CEO Weymouth about the flyer, and whether she knew and approved of the event as it was described. "I think I should probably keep internal discussions internal," he said.
"It's hard to imagine that [Weymouth] knew all the details of this," said Poynter's McBride. "It seems to me it would be hard to be the publisher of the Washington Post and not have a clear idea of what your paper's values are."