Since 2010, the Washington Post has been banking on its pedigree and prestige by putting on Q & A sessions with influential Beltway personalities—sponsored by corporations directly involved in the topics of discussion. Event sponsors include Bank of America, Eli Lilly, Qualcomm, WGL Energy, AFLAC, GlaxoSmithKline and UnitedHealth, among others.
These events, billed as “Post Live,” are generally fluffy, non-combative industry hype sessions sponsored by a relevant corporation and quarterbacked by a Washington Post columnist or reporter to lend it gravitas. The ideological scope, as one would expect based on who funds them, ranges from “how capitalism and the US military can be more awesome” to “capitalism and the US military are already awesome.” This ideological capture is seen most starkly in Post Live’s coverage of healthcare and war.
Four events from March, June, September and December of 2016, titled “Securing Tomorrow,” were all sponsored by weapons manufacturer Raytheon and the Center for a New American Security, a DC think tank largely funded by weapons contractors, the US Department of Defense, the Japanese government and US oil companies.
Needless to say, how politicians can slash military budgets and prevent war from happening in the first place were entirely absent from the discussion, as evidenced by videos of the event found on the Post’s website.
The series’ Beltway-friendly banter featured Post columnist David Ignatius, who spoke mostly in the first person plural when talking about the US military, chatting it up with Deputy Secretary of State Robert Work (3/30/16), National Security Advisor Susan Rice (6/10/16), Director of Intelligence James Clapper (9/20/16) and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson (12/13/16). Opening remarks were given by a representative from Raytheon, the sponsor.
Raytheon, whose bombs were used by Saudi Arabia to kill 140 people attending a wedding in Yemen last October, heavily promoted the event, tweeting out links to the live video stream throughout the day.
Post spokesperson Kris Coratti told FAIR: “The Washington Post draws a hard line between the content of our events, which are developed and run by our newsroom, and our sponsors. Sponsors do not pay our people, nor do they have any say in the programming.”
When FAIR asked how the sponsors could have no say in the programming when they literally give remarks at the program, Coratti responded, “Opening remarks are their own, and not part of the news program.”
That would be hard to discern from the event agenda (posted on Twitter), which sandwiched the “Sponsor Remarks” of Raytheon VP Rick Hunt between the “Welcome Remarks” of the Post’s VP of communications (Coratti herself) and the “Conversation” with Secretary Johnson—all listed in the same typeface.
Healthcare is another frequent topic of Post Live events. A session asking “Is Technology Improving Your Health?” (6/14/16) was sponsored by Philips, which describes itself as “a leading health technology company focused on improving people’s health.” A program on “Chasing Cancer” (12/6/16) was presented by AFLAC, an insurance company that specializes in cancer policies, with additional support from Pfizer and Genentech, makers of cancer drugs.
Most recently, a Post Live event on the future of the Affordable Healthcare Act (12/12/16) was sponsored by industry giants GlaxoSmithKline and UnitedHealth. Filled with industry executives, the topic of single-payer healthcare was taboo, as Corporate Crime Reporter’s Russ Mokhiber (1/12/17) noted:
Was anyone who was supportive of single-payer national health insurance invited to participate? No.
And the Post insists that the sponsors had nothing to do with this.
Speaking at that healthcare session last month, GlaxoSmithKline’s Caroline De Marco made it clear that in her company’s view, a Medicare-for-All single-payer system was not an option.
“Maintaining a market-based system with strong collaboration between the government and private sector is the best way to insure patient affordability and access,” De Marco said.
Similarly, at no point in the security series did Ignatius feel the need to interview anyone outside the US military apparatus on how to “secure tomorrow.” No peace advocates, no anti-war voices, no budget skeptics in Congress. Of course, such participants wouldn’t boost the Post’s insider cred, nor would they attract big sponsor dollars from $44 billion weapons contractors.
As with most instances of corporate influence, what makes the Post Live series dodgy isn’t that journalists and business executives all gather in a room and hatch anti-poor and pro-war conspiracies. It’s that such gatherings, by design, exclude any voices that would meaningfully question corporate sponsors or the US apparatchiks who take part. It’s a process of filtering rather than overt collusion; and it’s inherent in a business model that trades on the independence and credibility of a journalistic institution as an alternative revenue stream for their parent corporation.
Please contact the Washington Post and urge it to stop allowing corporations to sponsor events when they have a direct financial interest in the subject.
Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan
Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.
Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. You can find him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.