Aug
24
2010

Conflicts and Transparency at the Washington Post

Washington Post ombud Andy Alexander devoted his August 22 piece to lauding how the paper handles storiesabout its parent company and itsvarious business entanglements–which, as he explains, are rather extensive. The Washington Post Co. owns Newsweek, several television stations, and the Kaplan company, which runs the for-profit Kaplan University,the subject of recent critical media reports.

As Alexander put it:

The list of Washington Post Co. holdings and interests is extensive, and the relationships are complex. Whenever a news story discusses investment giant Berkshire Hathaway or its chief executive, Warren E. Buffett, it must note that he is a Post Co. board member. Likewise, stories about Facebook must mention that its board includes Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham. Any story about LivingSocial, the consumer-oriented social networking site run by Tim O'Shaughnessy, must disclose that he is Graham's son-in-law.

How have the Post's editors and reporters been able to keep track ofthese conflicts? Alexander explained that

The Post's newsroom intranet added a list of holdings by the parent Washington Post Co., along with the names and primary business affiliations of its directors. The instructions are clear: "When we write about something that could impact, positively or negatively, one of those interests, we should be as transparent as possible about disclosing those relationships."

At the start of the piece, Alexander wrote, "I regularly hear from readers deeply suspicious that The Post has concealed a self-interest." Given the array of Post conflicts, that is understandable. So in the interest of disclosure, why not make the Post's newsroom list of holdings and board affiliationspublic?

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.