Should the Washington Post Have Rejected Sarah Palin’s Op-Ed?

capntrade

Future former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post today, in which she roundly dismissed the idea of cap-and-trade.  The piece is generating quite a lot of discussion, including rebuttals from John Kerry and Sarah Palin From Several Months Ago.

Leaving aside the merits of present-day Sarah Palin’s argument, two of the responses to her piece got my attention.  First, HuffPo’s Art Brodsky posited the publication of Palin’s essay as further evidence of the decline of the Washington Post:

How does the Post regain its equilibrium? How does it recover not only from this disaster but also from the dismissal of popular blogger Dan Froomkin, whose sacking led to great protests from the readers the Post execs didn’t think existed?

Why, by putting the soon-to-be ex-gov on the op-ed page, one of the prime places of real estate left in the newspaper world? Not to put too fine a point on it — is there any sane person left over in the Post management?

I found the question intriguing, but not for the reasons brodsky gives.  Agree with her or not, cop to her expertise or not, Palin’s interconnectedness with energy policy is indisputable, making her voice newsworthy.

What I found interesting was this take, from my old stomping grounds, Politics Daily:

Palin Op-Ed Blasts Obama: A Prelude to 2012?

In case anyone doubts the presidential ambition of her save-the-economy essay, the last words should clear things up: “Yes we can. Just not with Barack Obama’s energy cap-and-tax plan.” Sarah Palin is serving notice that it’s a long while till 2012, with plenty of time to repair an image or, for that matter, create an entirely different one.

This reminded me of 2 incidents during the 2008 Presidential campaign, in whichthe New York Times rejected op-ed pieces from candidates.  The first rejected op-ed was from the Clinton campaign, a decision with which I disagreed.  The 2nd was from the McCain campaign, using the same rationale under stronger circumstances.

In both cases, the Times objected because they judged that each piece essentially consisted of little more than a campaign press release.

By this standard, if you buy Politics Daily’s premise, the Washington Post could be seen as simply renting its op-ed page to the Palin ’12 campaign for free.  It’s an interesting, but thin, premise.

Rather than attacking Palin’s standing or expertise, Brodsky might have been better served making his point on the merits of the piece.  While she attacks the idea of cap and trade that she campaigned on months ago, she presents absolutely no alternative to that policy’s central purpose, fighting global climate change.  As John Kerry points out, she fails to address it at all.

Does this fit in with the Washington Post’s editorial guidelines for op-ed pieces?  Let’s see:

Among the things we look for are timeliness (is it pegged to something in the news?), resonance (is it something that will interest Post readers?) and freshness of perspective (is it an argument we haven’t heard many times before?). You don’t need to have special expertise in a topic. But explaining how your background or experience informs your point of view can make for a more effective op-ed. You also don’t need to have an important title — and having an important title doesn’t mean we’ll publish your op-ed. In fact, because we realize that senators, business leaders, heads of state and the like have access to various platforms where they can express their views, we hold them to a particularly high standard when considering whether to publish them in The Post.

While Brodsky’s premise is wildly overstated, it’s tough to argue that Palin’s piece meets this bar, and tougher to argue that her clickability didn’t play a major part in the Post’s decision to carry it.

On the other hand, in the HuffPo and Politics Daily articles, both authors make the observation/assumption that Palin likely used a ghostwriter in composing the WaPo piece. This may be ignorance on my part, but I don’t think that’s a fair assumption. While it is quite common for politicians to use ghostwriters for memoirs and speeches, I’ve read nothing to indicate this is true of op-ed pieces. Even if it is a fair assumption, it isn’t one I see made about other politicians’ op-ed pieces. Either it’s commonplace, and not worth mentioning, or it isn’t, and thus worth checking.

I asked Governor Palin, via Twitter, if she could confirm that she had written the piece. She hasn’t responded, as she probably gets a million tweets an hour, but it was worth a shot. In any case, it was an insulting assumption, made without basis. It’s the kind of thing that feeds into Palin’s persecution complex, whereas criticism on the merits would be more than sufficient.

Washington Post Publisher’s Apology Doesn’t Wash

Update: This is a piece I wrote for Mediaite that got pushed out by other news.  The WaPo ombudsman is as unimpressed as I am by Weymouth’s explanation.

The hot, steaming mess that is the Washington Post Salon-gate scandal just keeps getting hotter and more messified.  Katharine Weymouth, the publisher who was to host the chummy, “non-confrontational” soirees with Post reporters and Obama administration officials, has issued an apology:

I want to apologize for a planned new venture that went off track and for any cause we may have given you to doubt our independence and integrity. A flier distributed last week suggested that we were selling access to power brokers in Washington through dinners that were to take place at my home. The flier was not approved by me or newsroom editors, and it did not accurately reflect what we had in mind. But let me be clear: The flier was not the only problem (emphasis mine). Our mistake was to suggest that we would hold and participate in an off-the-record dinner with journalists and power brokers paid for by a sponsor. We will not organize such events. As publisher it is my job to ensure that we adhere to standards that are consistent with our integrity as a news organization. Last week, I let you, and the organization, down.

That’s a pretty good start, but then, Weymouth goes on to explain that the way she had planned out the events would have been just ginchy.  So what happened?

When the flier promoting our first planned event to potential sponsors was released, it overstepped all these lines. Neither I nor anyone in our news department would have approved any event such as the flier described.

We have canceled the planned dinner. While I do believe there is a legitimate way to hold such events, to the extent that we hold events in the future, large or small, we will review the guidelines for them with The Post’s top editors and make sure those guidelines are strictly followed.

That sounds a lot, to me, like “Yeah, the problem was the fliers.”

The Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, doesn’t seem to be buying what Weymouth is selling:

Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti issued a statement describing the flier as a “draft.”

The “draft” is a single-page solicitation, printed in full color on glossy paper, which was distributed to potential underwriters for a gathering on health care. It reads: “Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth” on July 21.

Oh, it was a draft.  Kinda like those photocopied sheets they distribute in every office in America for the football pool, or something.  Just a sketchy, hastily prepared spitball-y deal, right?  Not so much.

post-salonflier

Alexander goes on to quote Charles Pelton, whose office produced the flier, taking a curiously high-handed attitude:

“There’s no intention to influence or peddle,” Pelton said this morning. “There’s no intention to have a Lincoln Bedroom situation,” referring to charges that President Clinton used invitations to stay at the White House as a way of luring political backing.

Do you really want to bring up bedroom hijinks here, Chuck?

The one positive, as I have noted, is that the Washington Post’s own Howard Kurtz did a good job in reporting on his own paper’s scandal.  Still, although it’s pretty clear to me that Kurtz got all he could out of Weymouth, some may question whether he really held his boss’s boss’s feet to the fire.

It also has the side-effect of undercutting Post reporters’ ability to point out other journalists’ potential conflicts of interests.  For example, when this story broke, I was immediately put in mind of Dana Milbank’s lecture of HuffPo’s Nico Pitney on Kurtz’s own “Reliable Sources.”  That splinter in Pitney’s eye is looking positively microscopic, now.

Kurtz, ironically enough, raised questions about such conflicts in reporting on the launch of this site.  In responding to criticism about his consulting business, Mediaite founder Dan Abrams was blunt:

Says Abrams: “It does seem I’m being held to a higher standard than anyone else in the history of the consulting world. That’s okay. . . . What some of the purists say is that if you’re engaged in journalism at all, you should not be able to work with business, ever.”

By that standard of purity, it would be tough to argue for the continued existence of the Post, at least under the stewardship of Katharine Weymouth.