Letter from Washington: Inside the politico - media power nexus

Greetings, DailyFinance readers. I'm here at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., where I've spent the past two days taking in The Atlantic's First Draft of History conference: a medley of one-on-one interviews with politicians, business leaders (like this guy) and other newsmakers, conducted by the likes of Brian Williams (pictured), Jim Lehrer, Chuck Todd and Michael Kinsley.

It's pretty bold of The Atlantic to have a confab like this after the shellacking The Washington Post took earlier this year for its planned series of sponsored off-the-record salons. Everything here is on the record, but that doesn't mean everyone necessarily thinks it's a good idea. Slate's Jack Shafer pronounced his judgment in advance, declaring it "the year's most tedious event," "a two-day-long episode of Charlie Rose," and other not-nice things.
I can't say that Shafer's been so wrong about the lack of real news this kind of powwow generates. But there have been some interesting moments.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said he doubts that turning newspapers into nonprofits or replacing them with charitably funded entities like ProPublica or the Texas Tribune. "It's very difficult to take such businesses and turn them all into nonprofits," he said. "There's no perfect model."

During an interview conducted by The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, let loose some frank words about Fox News loose cannon Glenn Beck, who drew a sharp rebuke from the White House this week for a misleading segment on Chicago's Olympic bid.

"Only in America can you make that much money crying," Graham said. "Glenn Beck is not aligned with any party, as far as I can tell. He's aligned with cynicism, and there's always been a market for cynicism. But we became a great nation not because we're a nation of cynics. We became a great nation because we're a nation of believers."

AOL chairman Tim Armstrong, my capo de tutti capi, told Atlantic editor James Bennet that AOL is considering adding a paid-content component to its offerings. "I do think there's cases where, if you can add enough value to content, people are going to pay for it," he said. "We're currently working on ideas about pieces of content or types of ideas that people could pay for. I don't know if we'll be successful at it, but we're going to try."

Bennet asked Armstrong if he thinks The New York Times is doing the smart thing by adopting a pay model. Armstrong hedged, but said he thinks there's potential there: "The first thing I do on Sunday mornings is read the New York Times business section. They don't charge me enough for it. They charge me basically for the whole paper what I'd pay for that one section."

Slate founder and newly annointed Atlantic columnist Michael Kinsley introducing Cleveland Clinic CEO Delos Cosgrove: "I'm a very satisfied customer of the Cleveland Clinic. Three years ago, I spent three weeks there having brain surgery. I didn't want to, but they said after six years of Crossfire, it was my only hope." Kinsley tells me that his first Atlantic column probably won't come out until January or so.

As I noted earlier, Dan Rather, who had been scheduled to interview Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, dropped off the program right around the time he lost his $70 million lawsuit against CBS this week. Still no official word on why he canceled, but Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg was his replacement.

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