There are two “Chinese Walls” of which I’m suspicious. One is the wall that supposedly stands between the analyst side and the investment bank side of many Wall St. firms. The idea that analysts will be objective knowing their company holds major stakes in companies is, I’m pretty confident, pure fiction. Working with start-ups as they go public or seek venture capital, I’ve seen first hand behavior that just isn’t kosher. To be fair, part of that opinion is colored by my contention that you can’t trust Wall Streeters as far as you can throw them.
There is another wall I’m not as certain about, but again, I have my doubts. A story in yesterday’s Washington Post begins with the lead:
On one point, there is no dispute: [Post Publisher] Katharine Weymouth did not like the subject of a Washington Post Magazine story that was headed toward publication and the piece wound up being killed.
Howard Kurtz’s story provides little comfort that a divide hasn’t been breached in a story about a quadriplegic that was planned for the newspaper’s Sunday magazine.
Weymouth said Monday night that any impact she had was "completely inadvertent, because I would never interfere in an editorial decision and I had no intention of interfering." She said that she had not even read [author Matt] Mendelsohn’s story, but that she had "used it as an example" with editors "of the kind of fare we should be moving away from."
"Katharine didn’t kill my piece," Mendelsohn said in an interview Monday. "But unfortunately, an offhand comment by Katharine might have set the stage for the piece to get killed. . . . Something she said perhaps created a climate for somebody down the chain to think that’s what Katharine wanted to happen."
…Marcus Brauchli, The Post’s executive editor, called the sequence of events "an unfortunate coincidence" but said that the publisher, who runs the business side of the newspaper, did not interfere with what is clearly a newsroom decision.
Other Post editors denied that Weymouth killed the story. But the idea that publishers’ don’t impact a newspaper’s stories is ludicrous. Of course, that’s to be expected. If you’re paying the bills you want a newspaper you can be proud of.
But the wall isn’t violated by a publisher yelling across it to the editors, “Stop the presses until I approve.” It’s by remarks made during soirees – or even salons – by publishers that give the editors marching orders. When is that editorial interference is debatable. But the wall is certainly not impregnable.
The latter had this comment by editor Brauchli: “Newspapers spend way too much time explaining themselves.”
Isn’t that what they ask everyone else to do?