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A Washington journalist looks in the mirror; loathes the reflection

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Unread 04.28.15, 09:24 AM
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A Washington journalist looks in the mirror; loathes the reflection

04.27.15 11:15 AM

This year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner*was a typically obscene and obsequious affair, celebrated in ways that suggest there’s no line demarcating professional reporters from professional propagandists.

The fanfare surrounding the event has, in recent years, begun to approach that of a major awards show, with celebs vamping alongside reporters and politicians. Here’s some VOGUE-ing; here’s CNN’s rating*of how funny the president was; here’s something similar*from TIME; and here’s Jezebel paying a special homage*to Obama for getting satisfyingly mad at his ideological adversaries.

Former POLITICO staffer and documentarian Patrick Gavin was allowed space at his former employer to publish an opinion piece, in advance of this year’s correspondents’ dinner, reflecting on all this.

In a remarkable bit of introspection, Gavin concluded the event has become a cynical metaphor for the deepening disconnect between Washington – including the press – and the nation under its governance.

“Something has to change,” wrote Gavin:
Everyone knows the White House Correspondents Association dinner is broken. 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).

Something has to change.

I’ve watched the whole rise of the weekend over the last decade, as it sprawled increasingly out of control and increasingly out of touch — first as a blogger at FishbowlDC and a reporter at the Washington Examiner, then later as a reporter here at politico. Last year I left my job at politico to work on a documentary about White House Correspondents’ Week in Washington, D.C., the year’s most momentous week in arguably the world’s most powerful city. I thought I knew what I’d find, but even I was surprised — much of what I discovered wasn’t pretty. The week acts as a tacky and vainglorious self-celebration at a time when most Americans don’t think Washingtonians have much to be commended for.

Gavin’s piece published on the Thursday before this year’s April 25 dinner, so he had no way of anticipating just how starkly the event, held Saturday, would contrast with the Baltimore “protests” unfolding at the exact same time.

The juxtaposition, on social media, between the Washington revelers’ velveteen isolation and the violent chaos unfolding just a few miles up the road in Baltimore amplified the degree of separation between Washington, D.C.’s political class and everyone else. It helped that self-avowed news outlets like CNN urged viewers to get their fill of the Baltimore riots by following Twitter instead of watching CNN – where the network was “covering” the correspondents’ dinner.

Gavin, the ex-POLITICO curmudgeon fed up with the dinner’s frivolity and unintentional self-parody, made a few suggestions on how the event could be reformed. They include things like forcing the celebrities to bone up on their knowledge of politics and current events, and eliminating the red carpet portion altogether.

But his best suggestion was to audit the White House Correspondents’ Association.

“I asked Ken Berger, the CEO of the non-profit watchdog Charity Navigator, to review the Association’s finances for the first time,” he wrote. “He came back with a tough rebuke of how the Association does business. His criticisms include the fact that there are no independent audits done, nor is there an audit committee. There are no conflict of interest policies in place. Most disturbing is the fact that almost half of the Association’s annual outlays go to its executive director, a ratio that Berger called disturbing. In many years, the executive director gets paid more than gets doled out in scholarships.”

Scholarships, by the way, are ostensibly what the dinner’s all about…even though this picture of the 2015 recipients represents less than 1/1,000th the amount of whorish exposure the press celebs elected to bestow on themselves.

The post A Washington journalist looks in the mirror; loathes the reflection appeared first on Personal Liberty.



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