Washington Post Editor Back on the Hot Seat

Did Marcus Brauchli lie about the "salon dinner scandal"?

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A year after taking the reins as executive editor at the Washington Post, Marcus W. Brauchli is on the hot seat thanks to a "Postscript" published in the corrections section of the New York Times. The Postscript adds a crucial nugget of information to the paper's coverage of the Post's "salon dinner" scandal earlier this summer, when the Post was attacked for promoting corporate-sponsored dinners with political leaders as 'off-the-record. Originally, the New York Times reported that Brauchli "had not understood the dinners would be off the record," absolving him of responsibility. Now they say a letter proves that he knew it all along. Readers and fellow journalists are furious:

Readers Revolt! In an online Q&A session ostensibly about the Post's most recent redesign, Brauchli was grilled by readers on a variety of subjects, including the summer salon-dinner scandal. One reader from Rochester, New York argued that the paper's coverage of health care was biased because of the salons. Brauchli corrected him, saying the salons were never held, and also offered a mea culpa: "Yes, I realize that the salon dinner episode was embarrassing and damaging to our credibility, but I would say to you: judge us by our journalism." Next, a reader from Philadelphia wrote in addressing the New York Times bombshell:

I'm sorry, sir, but I lost all respect for you after reading the letter you sent to your former colleague. You knew that it was reported that you claimed to have no knowledge of the off-the-record promises, and you chose to allow that to stand. You scapegoated an employee, and misled the public. Of course, that version is being generous, and its every bit as likely that you just lied to the NYT's reporter, hoping not to get caught.

Brauchli explained himself:

When these events were planned, we intended that the information from them would inform and shape our coverage, without attribution. That is not, under our rules, off the record.

They were later promoted as "off the record," and I knew that before July 2.

As I have said repeatedly since then, I failed to reconcile the language and the intentions, which I should have done.

The notion that I lied to the New York Times "hoping not to get caught" is absurd.

The Press PouncesĀ  Several writers have also called him out.

  • Media Matters Jamison Foser slammed Brauchli for ducking questions about his guilt. He summed up: "Imagine how the Washington Post would react if, say, John Edwards invited them to a press conference, then took only pre-screened questions about how great he is, refusing to allow anyone to ask about his affair and his false statements about it. That's essentially what Marcus Brauchli did today. It shows nothing but contempt for Post readers, and makes a mockery of the concepts of transparency and accountability."
  • The Guardian's Dan Kennedy was initially acerbic: "Indeed, revisions such as Brauchli's are sometimes described as - well, you know. Lies." Then he gave a broad analysis of the damage the revelation has done to Brauchli and the Post. He ended on an even sharper note of irony: "More than anything, Brauchli's actions call to mind a rule made famous nearly 40 years ago by - yes - the Washington Post...I'm referring to the rule that it's never the initial wrongdoing that gets someone in trouble. It's the cover-up."
  • Daily Finance's Jeff Bercovici called for Brauchli's resignation: "This is serious. This isn't about journalistic judgment; it's about integrity. Brauchli was given a chance to take responsibility, and he responded by falling back on the exact sort of obfuscation and hair-splitting that newspapers like his exist to demolish. And he's still doing it."
  • Gawker's Foster Kamer takes on both Brauchli and the New York Times, the latter for revealing the new information in the comparatively timid postscript form: "So, that happened. Brauchli-the executive editor of one of the largest newspapers in America-lied to the New York Times about how much he indeed knew about the ethical violations he and the Washington Post were in pursuit of before they killed the idea. But why'd the Times bury it in the corrections section?...Either the Times is embarrassed they didn't dig deeper or needed to set the lines running for a larger report on how Brauchli's completely full of shit."

The convoluted Brauchli/Salon timeline of awareness, i.e. "who knew what, when? "has also been explored by Joe Strupp for Editor & Publisher, Gabriel Sherman for The New Republic and Greg Mitchell for the Huffington Post.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.