More Ethics Confusion at The Washington Post

Washington D.C. theater scene blogger and critic John Glass has caught the Washington Post with its ethical pants down. He alertly notes that a line in a recent Post story about the appointment of a new Artistic Director for the prestigious Studio Theater reveals that interviews for the position took place in Washington Post offices. Studio is an active Post advertiser that, like all D.C. area theaters, is significantly dependent on the paper’s theater reviews for its audiences. In this regard it is also in competition with other theaters for the Post critics’ approval. Doesn’t this situation require objectivity and an arm’s length relationship between the newspaper and the theater? Why is the Washington Post actively involved in a professional theater’s choice of artistic leadership?

The number of ways the Post can show favoritism and bias in the crowded D.C. theater market is disturbingly large. There are nearly 80 professional theaters in the Post’s territory, all seeking prompt reviews, favorable criticism, good placement in the paper and feature stories, and neither the Posts budget, nor its staff, nor its inclination will permit the same coverage of all. An especially chummy relationship with one of companies raises legitimate questions about fairness and objectivity towards the others.

Not that the Post needs to care. The only newspaper approaching competitor status for the Washington Post is the hapless, “Moonie”-owned Washington Times, which has given up theater reviewing as a cost-cutting measure.  The Post’s attitude regarding complaints of mistreatment often mirrors that of Bell Telephone in its monopoly days, as  parodied by Lily Tomlin on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”: “We’re the phone company. We don’t care, we don’t have to.”

The Studio episode does raise new questions about the paper’s sensitivity to ethical issues in general and the appearance of impropriety in particular. If something this obvious doesn’t cause someone at the Post to question the ethics of assisting an artistic organization whose work it is supposed to judge, what else is slipping under the ethics radar?

Glass sums the problem up nicely:

“I would have thought the newspaper’s internal procedures would have eliminated such activity, since it has been brought unpleasantly to their attention twice in just the last year: selling access at “salons” and the media coverage of one of its columnists, in the words of their ombudsman “that is at odds with Post rules.”  This way of doing business in a very political town has now apparently found its way into the theater.”

3 thoughts on “More Ethics Confusion at The Washington Post

  1. The question I have is why did they need to use space at the Post to conduct interviews? and did anyone at the post participate? Also you would think that Studio had the space to conduct interviews. They may have wanted to keep who they were interviewing secret by taking it out of their space but to me that’s crazy as we are talking about interviewing for a position of an artistic director not some top secret position at the CIA.

    • Yeah, I have the exact same questions. I’m guessing someone at the Post is on the Studio Board (though I can’t locate the list), but even if that’s the reason, the Post should steer clear.

  2. Or, in the words of railroad magnate William H. Vanderbilt (which he later denied, but the interviewing reporters were unanimous): “The public be damned.”

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