Washington Babylon — September 22, 2010, 10:51 am

Broder and Woodward Still on Lecture Circuit

Two years ago, I wrote about private groups offering big speaking fees and perks to David Broder and Bob Woodward, even though both had talked in the past about the impropriety of journalistic “buckraking.” Broder, for example, said in 1996, “It’s clear that some journalists now are in a market category where the amount of money that they can make on extracurricular activities raises, in my mind, exactly, and, clearly, in the public’s mind, exactly the same kind of conflict-of-interest questions that we are constantly raising with people in public life.”

Deborah Howell, the Washington Post ombudsman at the time, wrote a column about my stories. She noted that Broder had worked at the paper for 42 years and continued as a columnist on contract after taking an early retirement buyout. Woodward had also taken a buyout but still consulted for the paper and had a token contract for $1,200 a year. Broder acknowledged that he had twice accepted fees (of up to $12,000), and that his expenses were picked up for the events, which were often held at luxury resorts. He also admitted that he had once taken a free cruise to Brazil (along with his wife) for a speaking appearance. Woodward said all his speaking fees went to a foundation he and his wife run. Much of the money his foundation donated went to help the needy children of Sidwell Friends, an elite private school attended by his children.

Howell, now deceased, concluded:

Broder should have followed his own and The Post’s rules. Woodward’s case is somewhat different, but [then executive editor Len] Downie would like to know and should know what groups Woodward is speaking to in case he wants to object. Woodward’s name and The Post’s are synonymous, and whatever Woodward does is associated with the paper, even if he’s rarely there.

Most of all, The Post needs an unambiguous, transparent well-known policy on speaking fees and expenses. It should deal with charities and those on contract. Approvals for speeches that involve fees should be sought and given in writing by a high-ranking editor. Fees should be accepted only from educational, professional or other nonprofit groups for which lobbying and politics are not a major focus — with no exceptions.

So has anything changed since then? Apparently not.

Last May, Broder was the keynote speaker at a May 19 to 21 conference sponsored by GenSpring Family Offices, “a leading wealth management firm for ultra-high net worth families. With over $20 billion in assets under advisement, GenSpring…is trusted by more than 700 of the world’s wealthiest families to oversee or manage important aspects of their financial lives.” GenSpring is an affiliate of SunTrust Banks, which lobbies congress. The conference, called the “Men’s Retreat,” was held at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida. The conference offered “an opportunity for men to learn and network together, attend and participate in provocative and timely meetings covering the gamut of wealth related topics presented and facilitated by key GenSpring experts as well as select guest speakers who are renowned experts in the fields of finance, communication, health, and wealth preservation.”

Each retreat offers a balanced blend of serious, thoughtful, and entertaining wealth-related and recreational activities, elegant dining, and opportunities to visit local places of interest, some of which may not normally be accessible to the general public. The men’s retreat is open exclusively to GenSpring client family members.

Broder spoke at a dinner on the conference’s first night, immediately after attendees had returned from a visit to the International Polo Club. The following day the conference offered a panel called “Uncle Sam Comes to Dinner: Washington’s Increased Presence in the Ultra High Net Worth Family,” during which the speakers analyzed “proposed and pending legislative agendas to assess how healthcare and tax reform might affect your family enterprise.”

Among the panelists was Patricia Soldano, a lobbyist who heads up GenSpring’s office in southern California and who is president of the Policy and Taxation Group, “an organization that educates on the destructive effects of the estate tax to families and their businesses.” In other words, the conference Broder spoke at was not only hosted by a business with significant interests in Washington, but the group’s lobbying agenda was a notable component of the event.

Broder writes about financial reform and tax policy with some regularity. Last July, two months after the GenSpring affair, he wrote a column in which he cited a poll by a group called Third Way which asked whether voters would prefer job creation programs that relied on new government investments or cutting taxes on business. “Cutting taxes on business won 54 percent to 32 percent,” Broder wrote. “This sounds to me like Ronald Reagan returning to whomp Barack Obama. Maybe all the Republicans have to do is to reject the Bush label and bring Reagan back for an encore.”

In September he wrote a column saying that President Obama “is now prepared to adopt business’ own favorite remedy, and subsidize private firms in hopes they will invest and hire more rapidly…This is the kind of tax reform Republicans can love, and it has now been placed on offer by a Democratic president, even before the election results are weighed.”

Woodward also continues to speak before private groups with big interests in Washington. A review of tax records shows that his foundation continues to give about half of its donations – about $230,000 during the past three years — to Sidwell Friends.

In November of 2009, he spoke to the Semiconductor Industry Association Award Dinner at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose. Last month, he spoke to the Grocery Manufacturers of America at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. (Jenna Bush was another keynoter.)

I emailed Broder and Woodward for comment. Neither replied, just as they ignored requests for comment two years ago. Howell told me at the time that Broder didn’t reply because my questions about his speaking gigs “annoyed” him. That’s a strange posture for a journalist, to put it mildly.

What’s especially bizarre, though, is that the Post has allowed Broder to lie with impunity about his speaking gigs. He first told Howell that he had never spoken to groups that lobby, but admitted that he had after she pointed out that he had addressed lobbying organizations such as the National Association of Manufacturers and a Virginia realtors group. He also told Howell that he had “cleared his speeches” with one of two top Post editors, Milton Coleman (elected in April as president of the American Society of News Editors) or Tom Wilkinson, who no longer works for the paper, “but neither remembered him mentioning them.”

And he also denied to Howell that he had given a speech to the American Council for Capital Formation, even though that group ran an article about his speech in an internal newsletter, which included a photograph of Broder at the podium.
So are Broder and Woodward now clearing their speeches in advance? And if so, why does the Post allow them to speak to private groups that lobby? I can’t answer those questions because I emailed Coleman to ask for comment but did not get a reply from him either.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2018

Driven to Distraction

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dinner Party

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Exiled

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Church and State

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Seven Years of Identity Theft

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Drinking Problems

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Exiled·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

It has become something of a commonplace to say that Mike Pence belongs to another era. He is a politician whom the New York Times has called a “throwback,” a “conservative proudly out of sync with his times,” and a “dangerous anachronism,” a man whose social policies and outspoken Christian faith are so redolent of the previous century’s culture wars that he appeared to have no future until, in the words of one journalist, he was plucked “off the political garbage heap” by Donald Trump and given new life. Pence’s rise to the vice presidency was not merely a personal advancement; it marked the return of religion and ideology to American politics at a time when the titles of political analyses were proclaiming the Twilight of Social Conservatism (2015) and the End of White Christian America (2016). It revealed the furious persistence of the religious right, an entity whose final demise was for so long considered imminent that even as white evangelicals came out in droves to support the Trump-Pence ticket, their enthusiasm was dismissed, in the Washington Post, as the movement’s “last spastic breath.”

Illustration by Andrew Zbihlyj
Article
Church and State·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Just after dawn in Lhamo, a small town on the northeastern corner of the Tibetan Plateau, horns summon the monks of Serti Monastery to prayer. Juniper incense smolders in the temple’s courtyard as monks begin arriving in huddled groups. Some walk the kora, a clockwise circumambulation around the building. Others hustle toward the main door, which sits just inside a porch decorated in bright thangka paintings. A pile of fur boots accumulates outside. When the last monks have arrived, the horn blowers leaning out of the second-floor windows retire indoors.

When I visited Lhamo in 2015, most monks at Serti attended the morning prayers, but not Ngawang Chötar, the vice president of the monastery’s management committee, or siguanhui. Instead, he could usually be found doing business somewhere on Lhamo’s main street. Like all Tibetan monks, he sports a buzz cut, and his gait, weighed down by dark crimson robes, resembles a penguin’s shuffle. When he forgets the password to his account on WeChat, China’s popular messaging service—a frequent occurrence—he waits for the town’s cell phone repairman at his favorite restaurant, piling the shells of sunflower seeds into a tidy mound.

Illustration by Simon Pemberton
Article
The Pictures·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

As he approached his death in 1987, the photographer Peter Hujar was all but unknown, with a murky reputation and a tiny, if elite, cult following. Slowly circling down what was then the hopeless spiral of ­AIDS, Peter had ceaselessly debated one decision, which he reached only with difficulty, and only when the end drew near. He was in a hospital bed when he made his will that summer, naming me the executor of his entire artistic estate—and also its sole owner.

The move transformed my life and induced a seething fury in lots of decent people. I can see why. Peter did not make me his heir for any of the usual reasons. I was a good and trusted friend, but he had scads of those. I was not the first person he considered for the job, nor was I the most qualified. In fact, I was a rank amateur, and my understanding of his art was limited. I knew his photographs were stunning, often upsetting, unpredictably beautiful, distinctively his. I also knew they were under­rated and neglected. But I did not then really grasp his achievement.

Photograph by Peter Hujar
Article
Drinking Problems·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The friendly waitress at the Pretty Prairie Steak House delivers tumblers of tap water as soon as diners take their seats. Across Main Street, the Wagon Wheel Café offers the same courtesy. Customers may also order coffee or iced tea, but it all starts at the same tap, and everyone is fine with that. This blasé attitude about drinking water surprised me: everyone in this little farm town in Reno County, Kansas, knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the liquid flowing from the municipal water tower was highly contaminated with nitrate, a chemical compound derived from fertilizer and connected to thyroid problems and various cancers. At the time I visited Pretty Prairie, last fall, nitrate levels there were more than double the federal standard for safe drinking water.

Illustration by Jen Renninger.
Article
Nothing But·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The truth—that thing I thought I was telling.—John Ashbery To start with the facts: the chapter in my book White Sands called “Pilgrimage” is about a visit to the house where the philosopher Theodor Adorno lived in Los Angeles during the Second World War. It takes its title from the story of that name by Susan Sontag (recently republished in Debriefing: Collected Stories) about a visit she and her friend Merrill made to the house of Adorno’s fellow German exile Thomas Mann in the Pacific Palisades, in 1947, when she was fourteen. It seemed strange that the story was originally …
Photograph by Augusta Wood

Percentage of US college students who have a better opinion of conservatives after their first year:

50

Plastic surgeons warned that people misled by wide-angle distortion in selfies were seeking nose jobs.

Trump fires missiles at Syria, a former FBI director likens Trump to a Mafia boss, and New Yorkers mistake a racoon for a tiger.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today