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Exclusive: Washington Post fails to disclose blogger’s ties to White House

By Ron Brynaert
Friday, July 2, 2010 11:12 EDT
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UPDATE: Washington Post responds, promises it will require full disclosure from all “Leadership” contributors

Kris Coratti, Communications Director of The Washington Post, issued this statement in response to Raw Story’s report. Our original story follows.

“On Leadership panelists are not employees of The Post, nor are they paid by The Post. They are leadership experts from government, military, corporate and educational fields. Patricia’s bio was last updated before she took on the advisory role to the White House, but it was an oversight on our part not to have updated it. We will be updating it today.”

“In addition, we will be reaching out to all of our panelists to request they update their bios and disclose any potential conflicts.”


A week after a Washington Post blogger was forced to resign, in part, because conservatives felt that the paper wasn’t properly labeling his political ideology, an examination of West Wing payroll statistics by RAW STORY reveals that the Post is failing to disclose another blogger’s connection to the White House.

The Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports Friday, “More than 460 White House employees are paid a combined $38.7 million in salary, according to White House payroll statistics released Thursday as part of an annual report to Congress.”

“Three people — an adviser, a policy adviser and a special assistant — work for free,” O’Keefe notes, without naming any of them.

Those three people are: Special Assistant to the White House Council on Women and Girls Maggie Chen; Dr. Shale L. Wong, an adviser to the Office of the First Lady Michelle Obama on childhood obesity; and Patricia G. McGinnis, Advisor to the Obama White House on leadership programs for Presidential Appointees.

McGinnis’ Georgetown biography notes that she “is the former President and CEO of the Council for Excellence in Government, where she created and led a number of innovative programs to improve the performance of government, during her 14 year tenure” and also “serves [as] a panelist and blogger for the Washington Post ‘On Leadership’ website.”

She has worked as a management consultant in the private sector, including the FMR Group, a firm she co-founded. Her government experience includes stints at the Office of Management and Budget, where she led to effort to establish a cabinet level Department of Education, the Senate Budget Committee, and the Commerce and Health and Human Services departments.. Pat is an elected Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. She serves on numerous boards and has advised several presidential administrations on leadership and transition efforts.

But the Post bio at “On Leadership” — described as “an open and lively forum for an discussion of what makes for great leadership” — neglects to mention the White House gig.

Former President and CEO of The Council for Excellence in Government, Patricia McGinnis teaches leadership and management at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute.

McGinnis was also listed as an unpaid adviser in the White House payroll statistics released in 2009.

According to the Post’s media ethics policy, “This newspaper is pledged to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest, wherever and whenever possible. We have adopted stringent policies on these issues, conscious that they may be more restrictive than is customary in the world of private business.”

Connections with government are among the most objectionable. To avoid real or apparent conflicts of interest in the coverage of business and the financial markets, all members of the Business and Financial staff are required to disclose their financial holdings and investments to the assistant managing editor in charge of the section. The potential for conflict, however, is not limited to members of the Business and Financial staff. All reporters and editors, wherever they may work, are required to disclose to their department head any financial interests that might be in conflict or give the appearance of a conflict in their reporting or editing duties.

Since McGinnis’ position is unpaid, the Post may have decided that full disclosure wasn’t at issue. However, some of McGinnis’ posts regarding President Obama might be considered fawning.

In January, McGinnis wrote for the Post, “The first year of Obama’s presidency has produced an ambitious agenda for change, which congressional Republicans have resisted at every turn with chilling partisanship.”

Viewing the defeat of health-care reform as the “Waterloo” for Obama, the opposition party has shamelessly fanned the flames of misinformation and fear. But this should have come as no surprise to the president, his hill savvy staff or top notch cabinet. The case for their ambitious agenda, including health care reform, is quite compelling but we did not hear it–clearly and repeatedly–as we might have from Reagan or as we surely heard the drum beat of negative anti-reform slogans.

I give President Obama high marks for his policy choices: to stabilize the economy; to regulate the banks; to tackle the rising cost of health care and gaps in coverage; to improve the lagging educational achievement of our public schools; to create a market for alternative energy sources; to insist on exit strategies from Iraq and Afghanistan; to improve the sharing and use of information about security threats to our homeland, and to collaborate actively with the UN and other nations to respond to disasters such as the unbelievably terrible earthquake in Haiti.

President Obama is calm under pressure. He has risen to every challenge by calling on his excellent leadership team, considering a variety of perspectives and digging in to understand the implications of the choices he makes. He has worked hard and taken his responsibilities as president quite seriously. In doing so, he has neglected his strength as a great communicator in order to focus more in-depth on policy.

In April of 2009, McGinnis wrote for the Post, “President Obama reached out beyond the official meetings with world leaders to build trust and good will among the people–in an unprecedented series of town hall meetings in France, Germany and Turkey. This global engagement of the public will go a long way to building the reservoir of credibility and trust we will need to build partnerships and support tough decisions down the road. The saber rattlers may deride it as soft but I call it smart.”

“For example, President Obama seems to have a more collaborative, nuanced leadership style than his democratic opponent Hillary Clinton or his predecessor, George W. Bush,” McGinnis wrote for the Post in March of 2009.

The Washington Post Company has been slammed in the past for failures to disclose pertinent information.

Media Matters, Columbia Journalism Review and Stinky Journalism have all reported on various disclosure issues.

Last week, Politico’s Ben Smith wrote, “The current flap over Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel has its roots in a fact that suprised me when I learned of it earlier this year: The Post appears to have hired Weigel, a liberal blogger, under the false impression that he’s a conservative. The new controversy over the revelation that he’s liberal is primarily the Post’s fault, not his, except to the degree that he allowed the paper’s brass to put him in an unsustainable position.”

…. Before the Post hired him, he’d written about whom he voted for and what he thought of various people and movements, and any of his regular readers knew that he’d migrated fairly comfortably into the liberal blogosphere, if its libertarian side. His keen understanding of the conservative fringe has been a source of steady entertainment to the left. There’s no precise analog on the right, but conservatives take similar joy in reading, say, John Fund on ACORN.

But the Post seems simply not to have understood what they were getting when Klein suggested they hire him. National editor Kevin Merida told me for my story on the subject in May that he never asked Weigel about his politics, and Klein said he presented him to the paper simply as the best reporter covering conservatives. (Weigel’s blog is subtitled, “Inside the conservative movement.”)

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original to include comment from The Washington Post. It removes an earlier reference that the Post‘s PR office had not yet responded to an inquiry about the story.

 
 
 
 
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