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Daily Howler: Weymouth was going to stage a soiree. To manufacture consent?
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THE ANSWER LIES IN THE WORLD OF WEYMOUTH! Weymouth was going to stage a soiree. To manufacture consent? // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 3, 2009

THE ANSWER LIES IN THE WORLD OF WEYMOUTH: By complete happenstance, Lally Weymouth’s first salon was going to be about health care.

Weymouth is the pearl-swirling, upper-crust grand-daughter of former Post owner Katherine Graham. (Translation: Must be seen to be believed.) She became the CEO of Washington Post Media last year. The salon would have been held right in her manse—and darlings, everyone would have been there! Everyone who’s anyone in derailing health care, that is:

KURTZ (7/3/09): Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth yesterday canceled plans for a series of policy dinners at her home after learning that marketing fliers offered corporate underwriters access to Post journalists, Obama administration officials and members of Congress in exchange for payments as high as $250,000.


The fliers were approved by a top Post marketing executive, Charles Pelton, who said it was "a big mistake" on his part and that he had done so "without vetting it with the newsroom." He said that Kaiser Permanente had orally agreed to pay $25,000 to sponsor a July 21 health-care dinner at Weymouth's Northwest Washington home, and that Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) had agreed to be a guest. Pelton, who serves as general manager for conferences and events, said he had invited two-dozen business executives, advocates and presidential health adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle. But a White House spokeswoman said no senior administration officials had agreed to attend, and an aide to DeParle said she had received no such invitation.

Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said he was "appalled" by the plan. "It suggests that access to Washington Post journalists was available for purchase," Brauchli said. The proposal "promises we would suspend our usual skeptical questioning because it appears to offer, in exchange for sponsorships, the good name of The Washington Post."

The Post Co. fliers offered an "intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth."

Darlings! Right in her home—and off the record! You know this really counts!

Chances are, we’ll never really know how Pelton managed to bungle so badly. But let’s use this incident to understand the notion of “manufactured consent.”

Beyond that, let’s use this incident to understand your nation’s long, near-lunatic non-discussion of health care reform. The long, near-lunatic non-discussion to which career liberals have given consent.

Let’s make sure we understand who would have been at that dinner:

  • Lally Weymouth, patrician publisher of the Post.
  • Jim Cooper, the red-state Democrat (Tennessee) who played a large, leading role in defeating the Clinton health plan.
  • Kaiser Permanente, one of the insurance giants which wants to undermine Obama’s health plan.
  • Kaiser Permanente’s checkbook.
  • Presumably, Ceci Connolly, the Post’s top reporter on health care.

Darlings, everyone would have been there! Everyone who’s anyone in undermining real health reform.

For the record, Connolly played the leading role the last time the Post waged an open war on your interests. And to this day, the career liberal world has shut its trap about that gross misconduct. We’ll be watching to see if the kids at your “liberal journals” play a little bit rougher this time. More about them later on.

What was the point of this fine salon? In his opening paragraph, Kurtz attempts to define the problem:

This dinner would have given a big corporate player like Kaiser Permanente “access to Post journalists, Obama administration officials and members of Congress,” Kurtz unconvincingly says. In paragraph four, the Post’s executive editor accepts this framework in denouncing this unseemly plan. "It suggests that access to Washington Post journalists was available for purchase,” he rails. But crackers! Big corporate interests like Kaiser Permanente already have access to major Post journalists. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t. It’s absurd to suggest that they don’t.

An event like this would not be about giving Kaiser “access” to Connolly. This event would be about defining acceptable boundaries of thought and discussion within the Washington In Group. The Group would sit at Weymouth’s table, thrilled to have been invited there. And The Group would learn what you can and can’t say—if you want to remain in The Group.

And don’t worry—the grasping losers who hand you your “news” do want to sit at that table! The want the career advancement such status implies. They long for the high social standing.

How badly do they want to be there?

In 2003, the grasping climber Margaret Carlson explained the process with remarkable candor in the 26-page autobiographical chapter which drove her semi-book, Anyone Can Grow Up (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/18/03). In that chapter, Carlson described the gruesome process by which she attained social standing inside DC’s elite. In her inspiring up-from-steerage tale, she—the child of working-class, Irish Catholic parents—ends up sitting at the right hand of Post publisher Katharine Graham!

What a story! It all began when Michael Kinsley took her to a soiree—at the home of Weymouth’s grand-mother:

CARLSON (page 22): My friends didn’t change from year to year, but their jobs did. It was Michael Kinsley...who first took me to dinner at the big, intimidating mansion of Katharine Graham, the reigning queen of Washington and publisher of The Washington Post. Every few weeks, when Henry Kissinger or Barbara Walters was stuck on the tarmac at LaGuardia, I would get a late call asking if I’d like to fill in. Following the Meg Greenfield rule—call anytime before the main course—I always said yes. Eventually, I would go as me. Like the rings on a tree, my evenings with Graham charted my evolution from rookie journalist to old timer.

“I always said yes,” this classic climber wrote. But when social climbers like the young Carlson agree to say yes, they are typically saying yes to more than a set of dinner invitations. They are also saying yes to the constellation of political views which guarantee them a continuing seat at such Very High Tables.

They’re saying yes to what The Group believes. They’re saying no to everything else.

Today, Carlson is one of the biggest fools in Washington. (She’s also a regular, simpering guest on our biggest “progressive” TV show! Surely, the gods rock with laughter.) But in her very valuable book, she gave us a very valuable look at the desire of these social/career climbers—the desire to gain acceptance at The Highest Washington Tables. But darlings! To gain acceptable at those tables, there are certain things you mustn’t say— mustn’t believe, contemplate or even discuss. Over the past fifteen years, one of the things you couldn’t discuss was this remarkable set of data—perhaps the most remarkable data-set we know of in the world:

Total health expenditures per capita, 2003

United States $5711
Australia $2886
Austria $2958
Belgium $3044
Canada $2998
Denmark $2743
Finland $2104
France $3048
Germany $2983
Ireland $2466
Italy $2314
Japan $2249
Netherlands $2909
Norway $3769
Sweden $2745
United Kingdom $2317

Those are astonishing data. Over the past fifteen years, they’ve almost never been discussed. Everyone but Krugman understands—you simply mustn’t discuss them. Long ago, Kinsley took Carlson to Graham’s house. Last week, he wrote a column in which those data, though highly relevant, simply never appeared.

That dinner at Lally Weymouth’s house wouldn’t have been about giving Kaiser Permanente access to Connolly. If anything, that dinner would have been about giving Weymouth access to her own reporters and editors—giving her the chance to show them where the lines have been drawn. On the national level, Rep. Jim Cooper is not well-known or highly visible. But he played a leading role in defeating Clinton’s health plan—and there he is in Kurtz’s report as Weymouth’s lone confirmed guest!

At dinners like this, Washington’s sprawling collection of climbers learn what they’re allowed to think/discuss. And the pay-offs for consent are huge, as Carlson explained in her book. The heart-warming end to her Climber’s Tale involved her daughter’s wedding. By now, a reigning queen was simply “Kay” in this uplifting tale:

CARLSON (continuing directly from above): One day Mrs. Graham complained that she’d never been asked to my house. A few months later, I was giving a going-away party for Kinsley, who’d been wooed to be editor of by Microsoft’s Bill Gates. It seemed the perfect occasion to hide behind. She came, she tossed salad, she scooped ice cream. She became a fixture at my house.


When Courtney decided to get married in 2000, Kay asked if she would get married in her garden, and that began a wedding my mother would have been proud of. I didn’t make Courtney’s wedding dress, as my mother (and I) had made mine. She preferred one by Vera Wang, proving there can be progress from one generation to another.

A generation of climbers got the message. Their daughters could get that Vera Wang too—if they were careful never to mention the actual shape of world health care.

At such salons, consent gets manufactured within a grasping pseudo-elite. A Kaiser was going to pick up the tab. Was the grand-daughter of a “reigning queen” going to sketch her land’s boundaries?

Ceci would have been there: Presumably, Ceci Connolly would have been there. As we noted earlier in the week, the children of the career liberal world have agreed, to this very day, not to discuss the astonishing things she did the last time around. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/09.) A list of some major players:

In 1999, Dana Milbank and Charles Lane agreed to ignore her astounding performance. Both got hired by the Post.

In 2000, Richard Wolffe told the truth about her work, anonymously—then never spoke up in his own voice. He got hired by Newsweek. Newsweek is owned by the Post.

In 2000, Seth Mnookin couldn’t see what the fuss was about. He got hired by Newsweek.

In 2006, Ezra Klein told the truth once, though he didn’t mention the Post or Connolly. He never told the truth about this matter again. He now works at the Post.

Josh pretty much lied in your faces two separate times in the summer of 2002. In those days, he was still thinking about a mainstream journalistic career, as he told the Times last year.

Citizens have almost never heard what Ceci did the last time around—because your heroes have kept their traps shut. Presumably, she would have been at Lally’s soiree. Manufactured consent! Ain’t it grand?

OK, we’ll probably do it: What did they all agree to ignore? So you’ll have a better idea, we’ll probably post some (lengthy) material about Connolly’s work in 1999. Next week.

Sorry, but no: We’ll let you manufacture the jokes about the Post’s “Lally-gagged” scribes.