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Saturday, July 11, 2009

We’ve already established what you are, ma ‘am.

Now we’re just haggling over the price.

I was shocked when Politico broke the WaPo story, although, perhaps, I shouldn’t have been. While the ethical lapse seemed obvious and the chance that the story would break out into the wild and start killing reputations seemed high, you don’t often go wrong putting money on the most cynical bet.

The Washington Post’s ill-fated plan to sell sponsorships of off-the-record “salons” was an ethical lapse of monumental proportions.

It just seemed dumb. Their ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, explains the story well and the story is certainly interesting. But even after reading the whole thing, I just couldn’t get that old George Bernard Shaw quote out of my head.

And I couldn’t shake the idea that the Washington Post was setting the price for their integrity and reputation--the virtue of any newspaper--awfully low. I don’t think that “cheap whore” gets you far in a tough business and a tough economy these days. Then again, virtue doesn’t seem as valuable as it once was (which says more about contemporary American culture than it does anything specific about the Washington Post).

As of late this week, only two Post readers cited the controversy as a reason for canceling their subscription. Only about 50 readers had written critical letters to the editor, about half the number The Post typically receives on a controversial topic.

That’s depressing as hell to me. Where, indeed, is the outrage?

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