No one gets lucky at Washington’s prom

The White House Correspondents' Dinner isn't what's wrong with politics. It's what's wrong with D.C.

Topics: Barack Obama, Media Criticism, Washington, D.C., White House Correspondents' Dinner,

No one gets lucky at Washington's promPresident Barack Obama high-fives Jimmy Kimmel as Caren Bohan, a Reuters journalist and president of the White House Correspondents' Association, looks on, Saturday, April 28, 2012(Credit: AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Every year the White House Correspondents’ Dinner inspires two competing varieties of coverage: celebrity-obsessed fawning and angry tirades about how it represents everything twisted about our broken democracy. It doesn’t, really. The majority membership of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is a much better example of how awful and broken our democracy is. The Washington Post editorial page better illustrates how worthless and co-opted our establishment press is. Yes, it’s an event where vile war criminals like Henry Kissinger are feted and celebrated, but you know where else vile war criminals like Henry Kissinger are celebrated? Literally everywhere they go. The Correspondents’ Dinner is just an awkward roast preceded and followed by depressing parties.

The evening is a result of the fact, feature or bug, that our nation’s capital is located well outside our nation’s media, entertainment and financial capitals, forcing those who call the political capital home and consider themselves terribly important to prove their importance by tricking actual famous and important people into attending a party much lamer than a random Wednesday night back where they live. It’s an anachronistic celebratory dinner for the D.C. political journalism industry that became a TV event, or pseudo-event, completely disconnected from journalism. (The journalists don’t even go to the dinner. No media outlet would waste an expensive seat on a measly reporter.)

They call it Nerd Prom, which is not remotely accurate. Political journalists, socially inept or no, are not nerds. Most of them can’t do math, a fact that campaigns and politicians regularly exploit.

This year, the president delivered some funny jokes about how he once ate a dog. He killed. (Do other democracies do this? I’m honestly asking. Does Australia’s PM have to deliver a stand-up routine to a frigid crowd of media executives and Australian soap opera stars once a year?) Jimmy Kimmel, the professional entertainment, did his best with pretty good material and a cold crowd. (The crowd always fawns over the president’s routine and nearly always greets the professional comedian with stony silence, because the comedian is an interloper. This is part of what happened to Stephen Colbert in 2006.) There are people who are thrilled that the comedian made jokes about the president and people who are mad that the comedian didn’t make enough jokes about the president.

You Might Also Like

Then came the after parties, which are why people in Washington actually get excited for this thing. The bit you see on TV doesn’t actually matter, to anyone. The only reason anyone rents a tux is for open bars and chances to look or maybe even talk to famous people. The Bloomberg Party and the Vanity Fair Party helpfully merged a while back, making that the party for officially important people to brag about getting into. Even if you, professionally, hate politics and politicians and think D.C. should be blasted off the face of the earth or at least paved over and replaced with a giant toll road to a charter school, it is fun to see famous people and drink drinks. (And R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens, that bomb-throwing iconoclast who always held the hippest party of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.)

Michael Dolan wrote a very early version of the gimlet-eyed take on the dinner and the scene that surrounds it, in a 1992 Washington City Paper story that Jack Shafer recently republished at his site. The dinner was in the midst of morphing from a sort of private little party for the D.C. media elite to cozy up with sources into the vaguely national television event it is today:

For years, the crowd consisted mainly of faces known only to those who covered them, but that has changed with the infusion of massive amounts of celebriticity. In the mid-’80s, newsrooms with a self-promotional bent began pitching correspondents’ dinner invites at folks with no association to the news except a desire to be in it.

Now that’s what everyone does. Greta Van Susteren this year invited Lindsay Lohan and Fox News itself invited Kim Kardashian, as if to prove just how much contempt they have for all of us. The New Yorker has lately begun inviting celebrities who straddle the line between hip and overexposed. (Last year: Jon Hamm, Zach Galifianakis, the Coen brothers. This year: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Jason Schwartzman and Aziz Ansari.) The New York Times has wisely avoided the dinner since 2007.

The celebrity invitee arms race is the most degrading element of the entire spectacle. C-SPAN’s valiant attempt to serve the public by holding a camera up to Washington once again had the unintended consequence of making Washington even more insufferable.

It would probably save everyone a lot of embarrassment if they just canceled the damn thing forever, but then Washington reporters would never have a chance to be in the same room as George Clooney, and that is really what gets them up in the morning.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>