Washington Post cancels plans to offer cash for access dinners

NEW YORK - The Washington Post has cancelled plans to stage paid-for dinners where lobbyists would get access to key players in the Obama administration and the paper's editors.

Lobbyists were to be charged $25,000 to $250,000 to attend the dinners, which were to be hosted at the home of Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth.

They had been promoted in material sent out by the paper's marketing department as "Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No".

However, the plans were revealed yesterday by political site Politico.com and the plan did not go down well in the newsroom of the newspaper which broke the Watergate scandal.

The marketing material was said to have been "circulated by a new marketing arm" of the Washington Post created to host conferences and events.

In response to the negative publicity Weymouth cancelled the first dinner, which has been slated to take place on July 21 with a focus on health care reform.

Healthcare group Kaiser Permanente was in discussions as a possible event sponsor.

The paper's ombudsman, Andrew Alexander wrote on his blog: "For a storied newspaper that cherishes its reputation for ethical purity, this comes pretty close to a public relations disaster".

He said the problem was clear: "The Post often decries those who charge for access to public officials.

"This raised the spectre of a money-losing newspaper doing the same thing -- and charging for access to its own reporters and editors as well."

Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Washington Post, who had been due to attend the dinner, sent a memo to staff saying that "the language in the flier and the description of the event preclude our participation".

He told the New York Times that he knew the paper was seeking paying sponsors, but had not seen the promotional flier.

Weymouth also sent a memo to staff: "A flier went out that was prepared by the marketing department and was never vetted by me or by the newsroom.

"Had it been, the flier would have been immediately killed, because it completely misrepresented what we were trying to do."

Weymouth said any future dinners would not involve the newsroom