In the WaPo's defense, did it really have any credibility left to lose?
"Given Peterson's longstanding agenda, this is like the American Rifle Association putting out the 'Firearms Gazette' or the Tobacco Industry publishing 'Smoking Today.' Naturally advocacy organizations will use whatever tools they consider appropriate to advance their agenda. But a real newspaper would never publish the output of an advocacy organization as its own new story."
-- Dean Baker, on the entente cordiale between Peter G.
Peterson's new Fiscal Times and the Washington Post
Let's say you were a billionaire with some economic hobby horses you love to ride -- like, say, to pick a random example, the imminent demise of Social Security and Medicare, which you maybe aren't all that sorry about. Then let's say you've bankrolled a new "digital newspaper" devoted to eeonomic "reporting." And finally let's say you make deals with selected media outlets to publish "articles" from your "newspaper" -- giving those outlets free "content" and your "newspaper" increased visibility and, to people who aren't paying attention, credibility. Whether or not we dismiss this whole thing as a personal economic propaganda machine, I think we can agree that the free "content" appearing in those media outlets is, well, suspect. ("Suspect" = politespeak for crap.)
What outlets do you suppose might be shopping for such "content"? Well, if it's right-wing enough, we certainly wouldn't be surprised to see it turn up in the Moonie Washington Times, would we?
This is what separates us from a media-savvy billionaire with an agenda. Let's say you're onetime Nixon Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson. You're not hooking up with any stinking Moonie Times, at least not until you've found out for sure that you can't do better. Would you believe . . . the Washington Post?
We know the Post is past desperate for ways to pay the freight. In this real-life account of our little fantasy, progressive economist Dean Baker recalls the brainstorm the paper's hustlers came up with for literally selling access to its editors. Dean, you'll note, is kind of worked up about this latest WaPo frolic. Might he be happier if the "articles" were at least labeled as "brought to you by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation"?
Co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research :
On the last day of 2009 the Washington Post published an article as its own new story that was in fact written by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation funded "Fiscal Times." This marks the unfortunate demise of the Washington Post as a serious newspaper.
As background, Peter Peterson is a Wall Street billionaire, who has spent much of the last quarter century funding efforts to gut Social Security and Medicare. He wrote numerous books with scary titles like "Gray Dawn" that warned of a demographic disaster when the baby boomers retired. He would then use his vast fortune to ensure that these books were widely publicized. He also founded the Concord Coalition and more recently the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, both of which routinely call for cutting Social Security and Medicare in the context of reducing the deficit.
As his latest ploy, his foundation has created a newspaper called the "Fiscal Times." Given Peterson's longstanding agenda, this is like the American Rifle Association putting out the "Firearms Gazette" or the Tobacco Industry publishing "Smoking Today." Naturally advocacy organizations will use whatever tools they consider appropriate to advance their agenda. But a real newspaper would never publish the output of an advocacy organization as its own new story.
Apparently the finances of the Washington Post have become so desperate that it feels it has no alternative. At one point last year the top management devised a plan that would charge lobbyists to have access to Washington Post reporters special high-priced dinners.
This plan was nixed only after the story was leaked in Politico prompting widespread outrage. Turning over sections of the newspaper to advocacy organizations like the Peter G. Peterson Foundation is apparently the Post's latest desperate effort to stave off financial collapse. The Post had a proud reputation as a serious newspaper. It earned this reputation in breaking important news stories and exposing corruption in high places, most notably for its role in exposing the Watergate scandal. It is unfortunate if current economics may no longer support a serious newspaper, however it would have been best for the both the paper and the country if the Post could have died with its reputation intact.