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WaPo Ombudsman On “Salons”: “An Ethical Lapse Of Monumental Proportions”

WaPo ombudsman Andrew Alexander tackled the “salon” scandal in this Sunday’s paper. Alexander cites Charles Pelton, general manager of a new Washington Post Conferences & Events business, as a “key player in the controversy” and said that when the flier was disclosed, Marcus Brauchli and Katharine Weymouth “say they were stunned.”

While Brauchli and Weymouth say they should have realized long ago that the plan was flawed, internal e-mails and interviews show questions about ethics were raised with both of them months ago. They also show that blame runs deeper. Beneath Brauchli and Weymouth, three of the most senior newsroom managers received an e-mail with details of the plan.

Lower down, others inside and outside the newsroom were aware that sponsored events would involve news personnel in off-the-record settings, although they lacked details. Several now say they didn’t speak up because they assumed top managers would eventually ensure that traditional ethics boundaries would not be breached.

Neither Weymouth nor Brauchli can recall anyone raising concerns, although both say they wish someone had.

Alexander’s piece reveals that Brauchli weighed in with managing editors Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd and deputy managing editor Milton Coleman. Both Narisetti and Coleman questioned using Weymouth’s house and committing to a beat reporter.

Brauchli tells Alexander: “When the publisher and the editor both appear to have signed off on an idea, I think it is perhaps true that a certain complacency sets in,” he said. For that reason, lower-level managers might be less inclined “to stand up and say: ‘Whoa, this is a bad idea.’”

Read Alexander’s piece in entirety here.

Also on this topic, CJR: Salons Under Scrutiny: Examining the ethics of sponsored, off-the-record events.

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