WASHINGTON POST WANTED PROFIT FROM PRESS ACCESS BUT THERE ARE OTHER WAYS

Submitted by Roldo on Mon, 07/06/2009 - 16:16.

I’ve always had a queasy feeling when local politicians sit down for what are private meetings with editors of the Plain Dealer.

 

It’s like asking for a command performance on the part of the newspaper. And it’s like going on bended knee by the elected official.

 

Just leaves a bad taste.

 

Why not cover the elected official in a normal manner, or go to his or her office and interview them? After all, they’re elected, not you.

 

However, the Plain Dealer editorial board meetings with elected officials certainly aren’t as bad as what the Washington Post wanted to do by selling – for $25,000 an individual to $250,000 for a series – private meetings with politicians, lobbyists and their reporters. At a party, no less.

 

The paper’s ombudsman labeled the disclosure “pretty close to a public relations disaster.” I’d say it was a bulls eye on editorial credibility.

 

The people who make our decisions – elected and unelected – getting together in private meetings called “salons” and at the Post publisher’s home.

 

Just seems more than cozy. Where did anyone get the idea that this would pass any journalistic smell test?

 

It bothersome that politicians would have to essentially demean themselves, having to go before the editorial board and reporters to answer questions that might or might not get reported in the newspaper.

 

I understand the potential value of meetings between editors and elected officials or newsmakers. What a politician might say could become news. It might give insights into what elected officials are thinking or planning.

 

I don’t know how often they are considered off-the-record.

 

I know one off-the-record meeting that was put on-the-record. It was a meeting among former County Recorder Pat O’Malley, former editorial director Brent Larkin and former PD editor Doug Clifton.

 

Larkin wrote: “One morning a couple of months ago, as the war of words between O’Malley and Dimora escalated, O’Malley asked to meet with Plain Dealer Editor Doug Clifton and me at our offices. During that meeting O’Malley told us – not for publication and without equivocation – that he would soon withdraw from the race for Commissioner (he was running in the primary against Peter Lawson Jones, who won.)

 

“Because O’Malley did not keep his word there is no longer any reason to treat the pledge he made that day as confidential,” wrote Larkin in a column.

 

Seem the off-the-record was broken by Larkin. He certainly didn’t write that O’Malley had consented nor did he tell me that when I called him on it.

 

Private meetings with editors can have value for both sides. However, as that case reveals, speakers beware.

 

There’s always that gnawing thought for me that the officials are being forced to say or do something that the newspaper wants.

 

There used to be an apocryphal rumor that there was a tunnel between Cleveland City Hall and the new Press building, sitting across on East 9th street at Lakeside Ave. Why a tunnel?  So Cleveland Mayors could walk secretly over to visit Louie Seltzer, powerful Cleveland Press editor, and get their marching orders.

 

Wouldn’t the telephone be a lot easier and cheaper?

 

During Mayor Ralph Perk’s days, it was an open secret that he’d get advice from the then managing editor of the Plain Dealer (no need to use his name, he’s dead). When I called him to ask about his contact with Perk, he admitted to me that he talked “occasionally” to Mayor Perk.  PD reporters however, told me differently. In fact, reporters said that he often “advised” Perk via telephone and, as I wrote in 1972, “sometime even chastised him by telephone from the PD city room.” When the editor got booted by the PD naturally he got a government job through Perk.

 

You’re not surprised, hopefully, by the conflicts among newspaper editors and publishers, office-holders and business and civic leaders?

 

 

Isn’t PD editor Terry Egger as co-chairman of the Opportunity Road project in conflict when he and his newspaper push for the $350 million in public funds for the road to feed University Circle? Doesn’t that put him in similar conflict as an advisor to elected officials? Who does the publisher of the Plain Dealer represent in such a role? Not the public, surely.

 

The key is access and influence. The Washington Post was willing to sell it to business interests. The fee would essentially buy contact with reporters and officials that work in the very areas of the businesses have financial interests.

 

That a newspaper would be so blatant about it has to bring up questions of how many other ways do they share their access and influence with those who have power. My guess, based on experience and having been there, is that the access and influence is daily and ongoing. Usually, however, there isn’t a set fee for the privilege.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Terry Egger - Cosgrove Opportunity Agent

Roldo, The influence peddling you write about  is, I know,  why households dropped their PD subscription. 

About 10 months ago Mr. Egger wrote in the DD that their were "IMPORANT PEOPLE" in University Circle who wanted an undistracted driveway.
 
For my household that was it.  The next day we called and cancelled our more than a half century long  DD subscription. 
 
The paper was  no longer welcome.      Hypocrisy
 
It was just a PR organ for the paying people.
 
Roldo, many of us  report on Realneo because we want information broadcast to create a stronger community.
 
Our only payment is the sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
 
That's enough.
 
That's a lot!
 
And that’s what will make a difference.