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Selling the Washington Post

Strong editorial in the Wall Street Journal today deriding The Washington Post's embarassing attempt to sell access to the paper and administration officials at a "salon" on health care at publisher Katharine Weymouth's house.

The episode is, of course, a sad commentary on the state of the American newspaper. But as the Journal editorial notes, it also says something larger about our culture.

Even worse were the lame excuses offered by the paper's brass, who blamed one another after the embarrassing story broke and immediately cancelled the get-together. The flier hadn't been properly "vetted," they said. Ms. Weymouth had been out of town. Plus assorted other feeble explanations.

If this was a slip it was a Freudian one, the kind that tells us something true and revealing about what is going on inside.

We are living, after all, in a sort of conflict-of-interest golden age. Professionalism is for sale almost wherever you choose to look. Among the forces that most conspicuously drove the late real-estate bubble, for example, were appraisers and bond rating agencies that apparently decided to put themselves on the market.

The city of Washington is an extreme case of this marketized world. The capital swarms with hired guns, payola pundits, and think tanks on a mission. Every bad idea that has ever appealed to the funding class is well-represented here. And with the coming of the health-care debate, as the Post itself has noted, the entire apparatus has swung into well-compensated action.

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