There’s a saying that a free press’s key mission is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
At the risk of sounding like a whiny baby who never got invited to one of these gigs, allow me now to say that the Washington Correspondents Dinner is a disgrace to the high-minded mission that the D.C. press corps is supposed to fulfill.
Check out this essay about what’s become of this annual event:
There’s something more than mildly offensive about seeing reporters and their dates parading along a red carpet, a la the Oscars, Tonys, Emmys and the ESPYs.
Those of us who toiled out here in the Heartland — aka Flyover Country — always have thought there ought to be a natural tension between the power brokers and those who cover them, reporting on their dealings to the “unwashed masses” who depend on journalists to tell them the truth.
Here’s how Patrick Gavin describes the event that occurred over the weekend: “What started off decades ago as a stately formal celebration of the best of presidential reporting has morphed into a four-day orgy of everything people outside the Beltway hate about life inside the Beltway—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. It’s not us (journalists) versus them (government officials); it’s us (Washington) versus them (the rest of America).”
Boy, howdy. I couldn’t have said it better.
The D.C. press corps has become something of an echo chamber, where journalists parrot each other’s views and simply cannot wait to be seen in the company of the famous and the powerful. In their own minds, that seems to fit the description of the people who cover government.
I loved Gavin’s note that unlike some of the other dinners — such as the Gridiron — where presidents occasionally are absent, POTUS’s attendance at the correspondents dinner seems to be required. Gavin writes: “The last president to skip it was Ronald Reagan in 1981 and — let’s cut him some slack — he bailed because he had just been shot.”
The press’s mission to afflict the comfortable now seems almost quaint. How can it do so when the comfortable include the very journalists who keep slapping the backs and yukking it up with the folks they are sent to cover?
I much prefer the tension that is supposed to exist between the media and the government. It keeps everyone — reporters and their sources — a little more honest.