Monday, August 15, 2005

Matt Mendelsohn on Poynter: WaPo should rethink sponsorship

Poynter Online - Forums: The Washington Post is one of the many sponsors of the Pentagon's upcoming hooray for the troops march. And lots of people are scratching their heads. Including Matt Mendelsohn.

"We're not talking about sponsoring bobblehead night at the local AAA ballpark. There's a war going on -- the Pentagon is in the midst of waging it and the Post is in the midst of covering it. That ought to be enough to cancel out any seemingly benign sponsorship deal dreamed up outside of the newsroom. Certainly you can go deeper and consider things like the fact that the war doesn't seem to be going so well, or, say, that there appears to be yet another attempt here to connect the events of 9/11 with the war in Iraq, or even why an event called 'Freedom March' requires participants to register their names with the Pentagon, but there's no need to. The first argument should suffice.

Washington Post publisher Bo Jones told E&P, 'If it turns out to be a political event, we would disassociate ourselves from it.' How are you going to swing that? Are you going to take the banners down mid-event? His words were echoed by Post spokesman Eric Grant, who said, 'The walk was never presented to us as a rally to support the war and we would be very disappointed if it took that approach.' Well, here's some due diligence: the headlining act of this upcoming affair is a faded country star who got himself back into the news with a song called 'I Raq and Roll.' The song manages, in one fell swoop, to deride anti-war protesters, glorify the use of smart bombs in Iraq, and make Lee Greenwood's 'God Bless The U.S.A.' actually seem complex. So much for the no-connection-to-the-war argument and so much for a dignified tribute to the victims of 9/11.

Jim Farley, vice president for news at WTOP, another contributing sponsor of the march, defended his station's support by saying, 'They're supporting American troops worldwide, supporting troops, not the policy, and they're honoring people who died in the Pentagon attack on 9/11.' Not the policy?? Um, the Pentagon is the policy. How can you separate the two?"

UPDATE: Editor & Publisher has this quote from Rick Weiss, a Post science reporter and co-chair of the Washington Post unit of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, noted the hypocrisy of the paper's involvement, since it bars reporters from participating in partisan events. "It is dismaying, to say the least, that I can be fired for participating in a peace march while my employer feels free to co-sponsor an event that so blatantly beats the drum of war," Weiss stated.


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