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Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post

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Since 2010, The Washington Post has sponsored something called Washington Post Live. The Post calls it a “live journalism platform.”

About once a month, Post Live holds an event and invites “top level government and business leaders, emerging voices and newsmakers” to discuss “the most pressing national and global issues of the day.”

The Post “directs all editorial content including speakers, topics and moderators.”

“Our programs are an extension of our journalism, and offer a balanced viewpoint and a diversity of speakers,” the Post says. “The conversations are on-the record, open to all media and have multiple sponsors.

Post Live may have multiple sponsors, but the lead sponsor is Bank of America.

Up until yesterday, the Bank of America logo appeared in the upper right hand corner of the Washington Post Live home page.

Yesterday, after the Post started getting questions about Bank of America’s relationship to the Post Live, the Bank of America logo was taken down.

The Post refused to reveal how much Bank of America paid for its prime sponsorship or what it got in return – other than the logo on the front of its web site.

Post spokesperson Kris Coratti Kelly told Corporate Crime Reporter that “sponsors of events do not have any say in the topic.”

But one thing that Bank of America does get is a chance to open the Post Live events.

For example, the December 16, 2016 Post Live event – a conversation between Post political reporter James Hohmann and Newt Gingrich – was opened by Bank of America’s Tony Allen.

“We are very proud to continue our partnership with the Washington Post,” Allen said. “We are incredibly fortunate to be part of this partnership and believe the opportunity to support this meaningful dialogue about our country’s path forward and the responsibility we have to ensuring its future is critical to the health of our country.”

Allen gave a 90 second pitch about how great a company Bank of America is, including – “Bank of America employs about 200,000 people, 52 percent of whom are women, 40 percent of whom are people of color.”

Ben Bagdikian

“Our driving belief is that aligning our interests with that of the American people make us a better, stronger organization,” Allen said.

Allen didn’t address how Bank of America’s record of law breaking aligns the Bank’s interest with those of the American people.

Nor did the Post.

When asked why the Post Live has had not one program since its inception on corporate power or corporate crime, Coratti Kelly responded by saying that the Post newsroom “has written extensively and frequently about the actions of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and accusations of criminal behavior by corporations.”

True.

But then again, the newsroom isn’t sponsored by Bank of America.

A review of the hundred or so Post Live events since 2010 shows that not one has addressed the regulation of Wall Street, or corporate crime enforcement, or consumer protection, or environmental protection.

The September 2012 event titled Advancing Medical Innovation was sponsored by Eli Lilly and was dominated by industry executives.

A December 2016 session titled — A Look Ahead: Health Care —  was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline and UnitedHealth.

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 health care 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.

Last year, one of the Post’s early ombudsmen — Ben Bagdikian — passed away.

In its obituary of Bagdikian, the New York Times wrote that Bagdikian “rebuked newspaper publishers who pressed journalists to promote advertisers’ interests, breaching the traditional wall between news and business.”

Clearly, the wall that Bagdikian knew has been demolished.

The Post should throw Bank of America, Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline and UnitedHealth out of the building and build the Bagdikian Wall.

Build the Bagdikian Wall.

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Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

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