It certainly isn’t important in the present scheme of things that President Trump has made a petulant decision not to attend the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. His decision upset some of the dinner planners, but he may have inadvertently accomplished a good thing for Washington journalism.
Over the years, presidents have found time, often reluctantly, to attend the glittery, black-tie dinner, inelegantly known as the Nerd Prom. The dinner boasts the good deed cover of raising money for scholarships. It also is an opportunity for reporters to have a convivial evening with people they cover and to have a good time.
In recent years, however, the Correspondents’ Dinner became a showbiz celebrity event with respected media organizations vigorously competing to bring in as many Hollywood and entertainment world celebrities as could be fitted at a table. The dinner probably reached its nadir when reality television stars, like the Duck Dynasty hillbillies were sought after celebrity guests.
And to continue the Los Vegas glitter, a big-name comic emcee was necessary who often wasn’t as humorous as the President who has his speech writers and outside New York/Los Angles talents working overtime coming up with funny lines. And partly because he is the President, he often received the biggest laughs, his jokes dutifully picked up by television the following day.
Having been both a guest and also having covered the red carpet arrivals for television, it was often disheartening to see respected Washington newsmen acting like 13-year-olds catching sight of Justin Bieber.
The more affluent media organizations like NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Bloomberg, Vanity Fair host impressive cocktail parties, as do several other media organizations with more shallow purses. The dinner is also a big money raiser for the Washington Hilton where most of the parties are held and where the largest ballroom in town is jammed with as many tables and people that the fire marshal will allow.
It is often argued by journalists that this hot ticket dinner, and the more prestigious Gridiron Dinner (President Trump also declined an invitation to attend), exists mainly to get newsmen and political leaders to get to know each other better and to have a better understanding of the roles of each.
There is some rationality to that reasoning, but conscientious journalists are expected to maintain some distance between themselves and the people they cover. Politicians, by their innate nature can be likable, and it is sometime difficult for a journalist to be tough when necessary on someone you cover and enjoy meeting with over dinner and drinks.
Journalistic organizations are aware of this problem and understand that regular beat reporters can get the good day-to-day stories, but if there is a need to dig beyond the daily news events, it takes a reporter who is outside the news beat structure. The Watergate expose by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein is the obvious example where many beat reporters, even at the Washington Post, were opposed to the digging by the young newsmen who eventually brought down a president.
There is no question that the White House is a prestigious beat, but too often the famous newsmen who cover there are more like stenographers taking news information fed to them in press briefings and announcements. It’s a great beat because you get to travel the world with the President and be part of televised press conferences and maybe be seen by people back home.
President Trump, with a greater antipathy toward the press than perhaps even Richard Nixon, has injected new energy into the White House press corps. No reporter there is going to readily accept the often alternative fact information from the White House press office. And that is a good thing. The media and the politicians from municipal governments to Washington, need to have a respected adversarial relationship.
Both sides need to develop a trust for the role each plays and President Trump deciding not to be part of the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner may be off to a good start. Obviously, the thin-skinned president would not have enjoyed the friendly jibs from the head table speakers and he knew that even the powerful media organizations would have difficulty producing glittery celebrity world guest if he attended and he would be blamed, not that he cared. All one needs to do is look at the paucity of Hollywood celebrities at the Republican National nominating convention in Cleveland.
President Trump wasn’t trying to do Washington journalism a favor, but by not attending the Correspondents’ Dinner, he has. Maybe the dinner can truly focus more on its earlier established roll of promoting responsible, ethical journalism. Good journalism is and should be hard work, and just maybe, a dinner focused on responsible, First Amendment journalism, is a move in the right direction.
Joel Payne, Director of African American Paid Media and Advertising for the 2016 Hillary Clinton Campaign, discusses his insights on the final outcome of the election and assesses how both campaigns engaged with African American voters. Payne rejoined Qorvis MSLGROUP in November 2016 following the election.
Chuck Conconi welcomed James Zogby on this week’s episode of Focus Washington for a discussion on the current political climate. Zogby, President and Co-Founder of the Arab American Institute (AAI), discussed the implications of the 2016 presidential race and Donald Trump on the Arab American population.
In the last polls AAI conducted in 2014, the political gap in the Arab American community was 2-1 Democrat and voter engagement was 3-1 Democrat, making voter patterns and party identification similar to those of Hispanics or the Jewish population. According to Zogby, nothing in the last two years has changed that dynamic, even the 2016 presidential election.
The election may not be changing the political leanings of America’s ethnic groups, but it is having an effect on the attitude of Americans about the Arab American community. Zogby states that hate crimes, while nothing new, are still occurring after a sharp increase following the 9/11 attacks. The increase in negativity toward the community, however, is equally matched by positive support from additional groups throughout the years, including African Americans, Latinos, mainline protestant churches and civil liberties organizations. These groups “wouldn’t give us the time of day 20 years ago,” exclaimed Zogby, but now quickly come to the defense of the Arab American community.
Like many Americans, Zogby has hung memorable documents on the walls of his office over the years. The most important document, he explained in the interview, was his father’s naturalization papers. This is important to him because his father came here illegally in his twenties at a time when the Senate “zeroed out quotas and said Syrian trash aren’t welcome.”
Hanging next to his father’s naturalization papers is a parchment from President Obama appointing Zogby to a post in the government. This, he contends, is the nature of the country – where even the son of an illegal immigrant can rise to serve the President of the United States.
“I continue to manifest though, in all the positions I make, the fact that you cannot view America either as fundamentally good or fundamentally evil. We are both. We are the Statue of Liberty and we’re Donald Trump.”
For Zogby, that is the story of America.
By Mary Morgan
Former Financial Times and Washington Times correspondent Nicholas Kralev covered the State Department for a decade. He traveled with four secretaries of state, and his experience has granted him a superb knowledge of diplomacy and foreign service. Finding himself frustrated with the media practices, he quit his job and wrote the book America’s Other Army.
The research for his book granted him unprecedented access to Washington and across the world. He visited over 50 embassies and consulates, and interviewed 600 diplomats.
Diplomats have a never-ending set of responsibilities to ensure national interests. Their day-to-day service affects the lives of millions of individuals across the planet.
His book launch party, held at Qorvis Communications‘ headquarters in D.C., kickstarted Kralev’s tour. On Jan. 8, he announced his hope to launch a podcast series in order to dive into the topic he feels so passionately about.
He seeks to prove that foreign affairs is more than crises, scandals and policies. Kralev has seen the foreign service protect security and prosperity, and he hopes to teach people more about America’s Other Army: The diplomats.
This video, produced by Qorvis’ video team, seeks to help Kralev find sponsors to make the podcasts a reality, and further his dream of unveiling to the public the rigorous role of a diplomat.
By Mary Morgan
Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Atlantic coast this week, and left behind a stream of unparalleled northeastern wreckage. Sandy wreaked havoc in DC, Philly, New Jersey, New York City and Boston, and left some in historic states of emergency.
On Sunday night, the Federal offices of D.C. officially closed for Monday, and the majority of other companies followed suit. The metro and bus systems were also closed. The same occurred the next day, extending the closure through Tuesday. Most residents of Washington, D.C. worked from home, and waited for Sandy’s rude arrival, and her aftermath.
While it had been inevitable for DC to be effected by the storm, the degree of what the damage would be was unknown.
Due to the location that Hurricane Sandy ended up hitting shore, the storm sideswiped Washington instead of delivering a direct landing. Residents awoke Tuesday to find that even a dampened blow was enough to make its mark.
Massive power outages and extensive damage swept across the greater D.C. area. Trees fell into homes; roads were closed due to flooding. By 4 p.m. Tuesday, around 238,000 people in the Washington-Baltimore area had lost their power. Most power outages were concentrated in Northern Virginia, Bethesda and Rockville. The rising Potomac River gained six inches, and hovered inches away from its banks.
DC residents felt the storm in an additional way: This hurricane extended its reach into politics. Gallup suspended its nightly polling of the presidential race. State officials asked residents to bring political lawn signs inside, as to avoid them becoming projectiles. The presidential candidates suspended campaign appearances. Former governors George Allen and Timothy Kaine took breaks from their Senate race. Allen rested at home, and Kaine carved pumpkins with his children.
Much of the damage to the capital is being repaired swiftly. Work resumed Wednesday, and the metro lines returned to normal. Power is being restored, and trees are being removed.
While D.C. residents marvel at how their city was spared, their hearts and thoughts reach out to their northern neighbors. To the residents of New York and New Jersey, we at Focus Washington give you our deepest thoughts and sympathy, and hope that your lives are restored to normal as quickly as possible.