Let them eat cake: the White House Correspondents Association dinner

Ninety-three murders of journalists have been documented in Mexico since 2000, according to Article 19, an international organization devoted to freedom of the press.

Want some names? In the first three months of 2016, there were 69 attacks against the press in Mexico, including the murders of three journalists: Marco Hernández Bautista, Anabel Flores Salazar and Moisés Dagdug Lutzow.

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Mexican reporter Anabel Flores Salazar, a 32-year-old mother of two, was discovered on the side of the road half-naked with her arms tied behind her back and a plastic bag over her head. She worked as a crime reporter for the newspaper El Sol de Orizaba in the eastern state of Veracruz

 

But the journalists, politicians and celebrities didn’t let any of that get in the way of the revelry, schmoozing and self-congratulatory behavior at the White House Correspondents Association dinner on April 30.

Like at the Academy Awards, toned and tanned women in designer outfits posed for the cameras on the red carpet as they arrived. There were actresses Kerry Washington, Vivica A. Fox and Carrie Fisher (with her dog, Gary), models Karlie Kloss, Kendall Jenner and Daniela Lopez, even the entire cast of The View.

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Media and public policy expert Kendall Jenner at the White House Correspondents Association dinner, April 30, 2016. Source: perezhilton.com

 

All the talk after the splashy dinner, more like Anna Wintour’s annual Met Gala than a media event, was about comedian Larry Wilmore’s controversial remarks. None of the talk was about how the event affirmed the close, almost cloying, relationships between the politicians and the political press who cover the White House.

If you want an explanation for the precipitous across-the-board bipartisan decline in the public’s respect for the press, you have it in the White House Correspondents Association dinner.

When I handled public relations for a major corporation, a standard warning to employees likely to come into contact with the media was, “Remember. A reporter is not your friend.” That didn’t mean the media were your enemy, just that no matter how amiable they might be, their objective is to search out the news, to inform the public debate, not to serve as a marketing arm of the company.

The media in Washington, D.C. seem to have forgotten that.

The White House Correspondents Association dinner that began on May 7, 1921 as a somewhat stuffy black-tie event for 50 guests (yes, all men) has expanded to a 2620 guest dinner and a bacchanalia of parties stretching out over days.

A turning point in the dinner’s perception came in 2012 when respected NBC newsman Tom Brokaw said on “Meet the Press” that it was “time to rethink” the celebrity-focused occasion since it, in his words, “separates the press from the people that they’re supposed to serve, symbolically.”

“What kind of image do we present to the rest of the country?” Brokaw asked. “ Are we doing their business, or are we just a group of narcissists who are mostly interested in elevating our own profiles?”

If you wonder where Donald Trump came from, and even to some degree Bernie Sanders, this is it. The whole self-congratulatory White House Correspondents Association affair is a celebration by politicians and the press of their specialness, a reminder of why so many Americans feel abandoned and ignored by the elite decision-makers who live in their bubble of mutual admiration.

“…now it’s not just one night of clubby backslapping, carousing and drinking between the press and the powerful, it’s four full days of signature cocktails and inside jokes that just underscore how out of step the Washington elite is with the rest of the country,” wrote Politico before this year’s dinner. “It’s not us (journalists) versus them (government officials); it’s us (Washington) versus them (the rest of America).”

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