Jewish World Review April 29, 2011 25 Nissan, 5771
A Party for Pundits and Politicians
By Roger Simon
They do not need, as they will get, yet another red carpet and yet another party where their evening wear will be evaluated. (In 2009, Aston Kusher's bowtie was criticized for being too large. Nothing about his date, Demi Moore, was criticized for being too large.)
The answer, I guess, is that the stars get to see the president. And also they must experience a little frisson, a secret little thrill, when they — Kim Kardashian, Eliza Dushko, Justin Bieber! — draw crowds while members of the Supreme Court, sans robes, go unrecognized.
And the parties! The wonderful parties before and after, at which the reporters scan the crowds for important people to prove they are important enough to get invited to parties where important people get invited.
Frankly, the dinner is a burden on the president, whose aides spend hours writing his jokes and briefing him on how to deliver them. Unless they are briefing him on how not to deliver them, as happened in 2007, after the massacre at Virginia Tech, when President George W. Bush said this was no time to be a "funny guy."
Which should be pretty uncontroversial, right? Thirty-two people killed, so the president skips the yuks, right? Wrong! This is the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, and so nothing is uncontroversial.
Columnist Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times: "Why did the killings in Iraq not preclude his being a "funny guy" at other press banquets we've watched on C-SPAN?"
What's more, Rich wrote, the media "served as captive dress extras in a propaganda stunt, lending their credibility to the president's sanctimonious exploitation of the Virginia Tech tragedy for his own political self-aggrandizement on national television. Meanwhile, the war was kept as tightly under wraps as the troops' coffins."
Whoa! And I, sitting there in my tux and clip-on bowtie, thought this was a party. Which, to most, it still is, though a party destined to be endlessly fraught with controversy, especially from the comics who are paid big bucks to deliver monologues each year to "lighten" the evening:
Such as Wanda Sykes' two "hilarious" riffs in 2009:
"Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails. … I hope his kidneys fail. How 'bout that? He needs a little waterboarding. That's what he needs."
To which she added: "It feels so good to have a black president … unless you screw up. Then everyone will be asking, "What's with that half-white guy? Who ordered up a mulatto?"
A blogger who goes by the apt name of BooMan wrote in 2009: "The primary importance of the WHCA Dinner is to document yearly just how out of touch our elite politicians and journalists are with the rest of the country and to confirm the rest of us in our hatred and resentment of this class of people who have led us like thieves and incompetents for decades without let up."
A point Stephen Colbert might endorse. Colbert was savaged in the press after his monologue in 2006, in which he said: "The President makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home."
Mr. (cq) Colbert has not been invited back.
And The New York Times has not been back at the dinner since 2007. "I think our rationale — and this is ours without judging anyone else," Dean Baquet, the Times Washington bureau chief told me in an e-mail, "(is) that it makes it appear that everything in Washington is a big game, theater. But that a couple times a year the press and pols take their costumes off, sing together, mingle with celebrities and act like we are all in it together. I just don't like the appearance."
Baquet pointed out that Times employees are allowed to attend dinners if they have won an award and that he attended a dinner when a Times reporter, the late Robin Toner, was memorialized. But, other than that, dinners such as the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner are off-limits.
"I'm not holier than thou," Baquet wrote. "Not judging. But that's my view. And I feel even more strongly while we are in two wars, other conflicts, and budget battles. It makes us look like part of the establishment. I don't much like that image."
I e-mailed Maureen Dowd, star columnist for the Times, and she had a different view.
"I miss going to the dinner. It's revealing to hear a president give a humor speech. And I always got a lot of work done there. What's the difference if you're talking to sources in a parking garage, a Senate corridor or a ballroom?" she wrote. "As long as Washington has existed, reporters have done some of their work in social settings. You don't drop your professional standards just because you're wearing a cocktail dress."
Me, I'm going again this year. I don't have any professional standards to drop.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
© 2009, Creators Syndicate