Fortunately, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli is trying to extricate the news staff from this offer of pay for access to its reporters.

“Offered at $25,000 per sponsor, per Salon. Maximum of two sponsors per Salon. Underwriters’ CEO or Executive Director participates in the discussion. Underwriters appreciatively acknowledged in printed invitations and at the dinner. Annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000 … Hosts and Discussion Leaders … Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post … An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done. … A Washington Post Salon … July 21, 2009 6:30 p.m. …

"Washington Post Salons are extensions of The Washington Post brand of journalistic inquiry into the issues, a unique opportunity for stakeholders to hear and be heard," the flier says. "At the core is a critical topic of our day. Dinner and a volley of ideas unfold in an evening of intelligent, news-driven and off-the-record conversation. … By bringing together those powerful few in business and policy-making who are forwarding, legislating and reporting on the issues, Washington Post Salons give life to the debate. Be at this nexus of business and policy with your underwriting of Washington Post Salons."

UPDATE:  The Post’s ombudsman call this a “PR disaster.”  But Brauchli doesn’t have complete deniability.

The flier came out of the office Charles Pelton, who joined The Post recently to find ways to generate business through conferences and events. The Post, like many struggling newspapers, is desperately seeking new sources of revenue.

“There’s no intention to influence or pedal,” Pelton said this morning. “There’s no intention to have a Lincoln Bedroom situation,” referring to charges that President Clinton used invitations to stay at the White House as a way of luring political backing.

Pelton said newsroom leaders, including Brauchli, had been involved in discussions about the salons and other events.

“This was well developed with the newsroom,” he said. “What was not developed was the marketing message to potential sponsors.”

Brauchli acknowledged discussions, but said they had centered on “identifying events that we think are worthy of newsroom participation, whether it’s a conference or a smaller event.”

Had they talked about where to draw the line on participation by reporters and editors?

“I thought we had,” he said, adding that he takes some responsibility for “not communicating effectively enough what the limitations were for newsroom participation.”

Brauchli did not rule out such participation, but said it would have to meet conditions that ensure there are no ethical conflicts for the newsroom.

“We would want to determine the subject matter,” he said. “We would want to assure ourselves that there were multiple sponsors and not sponsors with a vested interest.”

And, he said, “our preference is that things always be on the record.”

Still, it’s nice to have the opportunity to pay to sit down with a reporter in such a setting.  Do you think a reporter would feel comfortable questioning sources when the publisher is looking over his shoulder and about to deposit a check for $25,000 from the poor schmuck the reporter is trying to cut down to size?

UPDATE 2: Event is cancelled