Let me leap to the defense of my corporate slavedrivers at the Atlantic Media Company and say that I find this piece by Slate's Jack Shafer pretty thoroughly unconvincing. I'm biased, of course. But can Shafer really believe that "Every new off-the-record venue drives a measurable quantity of political discourse out of the public sphere and into the private"? If that's really a problem, then he has a lot more to complain about than the Atlantic Media Salons!
Fortunately, the quantity of political discourse isn't fixed or zero-sum. The potential public benefits of off-the-record discussions are many (as Shafer must know) and it is obviously not that case (as Shafer suggests) that each additional minute spent off the record leads to a one-for-one drop in the amount of time spent on the record.
That said, I do think there is a different issue here. My problem with the original with the Washington Post salons was that the business side was promising that the editorial side would operate under some constraints. The Atlantic Salons, to the best of my knowledge, don't have that problem. (I think the critical sentence from Atlantic owner David Bradley's memo on the subject is this one: "There is no constraint placed on either the moderator or our guests as to the questions raised or the opinions expressed.") But a good question, acknowledged by David, is whether this can be achieved in practice. And I think Slate Group editor Jacob Weisberg was right to bop me on the head for missing this point: "invited to a nice dinner at the publisher's house, journalists don't need to be told to behave."
(Also: I agree with what Megan McArdle writes here. I wrote this post and then read hers, only to realize she covered a lot of the same in-defense-of-the-corporate-masters territory.)
Photo: I can't find any pictures of the redesigned Atlantic on Wikimedia!