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At 4:52 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, The Observer emailed The New York Times‘ executive editor, Bill Keller, to ask whether the dinner–an affair wherein journalists who are tasked with covering beltway power spend an evening socializing with it–is at worst, an outright conflict of interest, and at best, well … a bit unseemly. Former New York Times columnist Frank Rich, who recently left the paper to become a columnist for New York magazine, had criticized the paper’s attendance at the event and was said to be influential in curtailing its official appearances a few years prior. (Mr. Rich, who was out of the country, did not respond to The Observer‘s requests for comment.) The Observer wondered whether Mr. Rich’s departure changed the paper’s thinking on the issue. “GROAN,” Mr. Keller responded via e-mail. “SUCH a done subject. Why don’t you try Dean Baquet in the Washington Bureau? I’m sure he’d LOVE to answer your questions.” Seven minutes later, The Observer received an e-mail from Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet.

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