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.
By Colleen Flanagan
Tomorrow decides the fate of the next four years of our country, who will be occupying the White House come January, as well as numerous state and local issues included on the ballot. The polls will be open from 7:00am to 8:00pm at various voting locations in D.C. and Maryland. In Virginia, polls will open an hour earlier at 6:00am and close likewise at 7:00pm.
This year’s election is unique because a record number of residents in the area took advantage of Early Voting. Over the past week, residents waited in lines for up to two-hours long to cast their ballot. The New Jersey government is allowing residents to email or fax in ballots due to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Today you can research ballot issues and follow Washington Post’s comprehensive guide to local and national elections. Tomorrow we here at Focus Washington urge you to get out and vote.
There are many ways to celebrate Election Day in D.C. including events at Busboys & Poets, The National Press Club, and various restaurants and venues around town. The Kennedy Center is featuring Election Night Jam to ring in the Election. One thing’s for sure, no matter where you go the live results will be prominently displayed.
Qorvis‘ Chuck Conconi sits down with Ron Faucheux to discuss the 2012 election. The presidential race as close to a tie as an election can be as Republicans and Democrats focus on rallying their base and swaying undecided voters with their conventions. Democratic National Convention got off to a fast start with a lot of enthusiasm attendees while the Republican National Convention schedule had to get shuffled last minute to due to hurricane Isaac. The Democrats stand a chance to pick up some house seats, but republicans are likely to hold the majority. However control of the Senate is up for grabs.
Pollster Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group, stops by Focus Washington to discuss Romney’s win in Michigan, the outlook for Super Tuesday, and the battle for House and Senate seats.
Dr. Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group, stops by Focus Washington to discuss Mitt Romney’s win in New Hampshire and what the future of the GOP race may look like in the upcoming months.
Today, I spoke with Adam Goldberg, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP. He also served in the White House as Special Associate Counsel to the President from 1996 to 1999, providing advice on crisis communications and political strategy for the campaign finance, Monica Lewinsky, technology-transfer, and other investigations. He joined us in the studio to talk about the field of crisis communication, an area in which Mr. Goldberg has become one of Washington’s top experts.
Welcome to the Inauguration
I know that all the Washington insiders have said it is a waste of money and time to attend the Inauguration day festivities, especially the balls. There is something to that advice, but if you’ve never been to an Inauguration, this is certainly the one to attend. It doesn’t need to be emphasized that this is an historic event.
While it is true that the estimated two to four million coming to Washington for the Inauguration won’t actually see as much as those who remain in the comfort of their living rooms watching on television, there is still the factor of being able to say, “I was in Washington for Barak Obama’s Inauguration.”
I want to offer some words of advice to surviving an Inauguration for all those people coming into town for the festivities. In the years I’ve lived and worked here, I’ve been to several Inaugurations as a reporter. I’ve sat in an icy rain covering the Inaugural Address and stood in the cold reporting along the Pennsylvania parade route. I’ve also been to a few of the official balls at Union Station and the Sheridan Park Hotel. For those who want to be there for the Inaugural Address and parade, the best advice is dress warm and wear comfortable shoes, or boots. Nearly everyone has read about the big snowfall the day before the John F. Kennedy Inaugural and the bitter cold that caused the cancellation of Ronald Reagan’s second Inauguration. It’s the middle of January in Washington, so expect the worst.
It can be a painful experience to attend one of the official Inaugural Balls. The balls are always crowded and uncomfortable. In the ones I’ve attended, there is no place to sit, it is too crowded to dance, there is nothing to eat, and it is virtually impossible to get a drink. People beautifully dressed, mill about the ballroom and wait for the President and First Lady to arrive. When they come they walk onto the stage, wave and do a brief dance and then rush off to the next ball. With the street traffic the disaster it usually is and probably will be worse this time, it is difficult for even the President to get to the 10 or 11 balls he needs to visit. Once the visit is over there is little reason to stay at the ball.
If you are fortunate enough to be invited to one of the private balls, sponsored by one of the state societies or a lobbying or legal firm, those can be elegant and fun. It should be pointed out the President is highly unlikely to attend any of these, but the private functions take on the luster missing from the official events.
For those of us who are Inaugural Ball veterans, there are survival lessons. For example: wear comfortable shoes — women should avoid high heels; hire a car and driver or take metro – don’t drive. If you can avoid checking a winter coat or expensive fur, do so. It is also advisable to not wear that expensive Neimann Marcus gown or mink that could easily be ruined or lost in the crush. If you have spent the money for a car and driver, leave the coat in the car. There were almost riots at one of the Reagan Inaugural Balls at the coat check with long lines and people jumping over the counter to find their own coats. Plan to have dinner before or after the ball, because you won’t get food there. Don’t expect to see any political stars or even media celebrities. They will be at the private events, although a few congressmen and senators will often stop by at balls where they know constituents will be.
All that aside, if you have never attended an Inaugural Ball, this is the year to attend one. If I had never attended one and receive an invitation to attend one this year, I would go. It costs thousands of dollars on travel, hotel, transportation, clothing, and meals for an out-of-town couple to attend one of these events, but in attending, the couple becomes is a witness to history for one of the most historic Inauguration in American history. When you get back home you can regale your friends on what it was like to be part of President Barak Obama’s 2009 Inauguration. Expect annoying problems and discomfort, but don’t pass up the opportunity to be part of it.