E! live at White House Correspondents' Dinner. Is that good for journalism?
The White House Correspondents' Dinner, a scholarship and awards event for journalists, has become a star-studded, glitzy, and E!-friendly bash. Some fear it's sending the wrong message.
Nerd prom? Ha. The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is as much a nerd prom as the Super Bowl is a tailgate party.
It’s more of a star-studded, glitzy, Hollywood East elite, inside-the-Beltway bash than a scholarship and awards dinner for journalists.
It’s not for naught that veteran TV journalist Tom Brokaw, who stopped attending the dinner some years ago, turned down an invitation to this year’s gala Saturday night.
“The breaking point for me was Lindsay Lohan,” he told Politico recently of his becoming an outspoken critic of the event last year. “What we’re doing with that dinner, as it has been constituted for the past several years,” he added, “is saying, ‘We’re Versailles. The rest of you eat cake.’ ”
The White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) is a tax-exempt nonprofit that has actually awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to budding journalists since 1991. Last year it awarded 16 college students $132,200 in scholarships.
But let’s be honest. We all know what this is really about: the celeb-studded guest list, the red carpet, the entertainment, and yes, the after-parties. (At least a dozen media organizations, from Vanity Fair to Bloomberg Media to MSNBC, host chichi after-parties in such venues as the French and Italian embassies.)
Oh, and the money. In 2010, the latest year for which tax records are available for the organization, the WHCA spent $432,443 on the shindig, including $378,092 on renting the facility (the swanky Washington Hilton) and associated costs. Media organizations drop $2,750 per table of 10.
But, as the Washington Post points out, that’s small change. When you count the before- and after-parties, some media groups will dole out as much as $200,000 on the weekend’s activities.
You know it’s gotten out of hand when corporate underwriters are called in to sponsor some of the media-hosted after-parties. Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, Smartwater, and Bacardi will provide the refreshments at MSNBC’s party. Five corporate sponsors, including Mercedez-Benz and Corona Light, were listed on the invitation for an event hosted by Capitol File magazine.
But this, we think, is when things hit rock bottom. For the first time in White House Correspondents’ Dinner history, E! Entertainment network announced that it will livestream the red carpet at the so-called nerd prom. What an honor. Like when Kim Kardashian offers to write the forward for your book on the Armenian genocide.
Sure, we know what some of you are thinking: Loosen up, let go. The White House Correspondents’ Dinner long ago gave up pretending that it’s a serious affair.
But here’s the thing. Like financial institutions, media organizations rely on their reputations in exchange for reader trust and credibility. And it’s no secret that the media’s credibility is under perennial siege. (Some 60 percent of Americans said they had little or no trust in mass media, according to a Sep. 2012 Gallup poll cheerfully titled "US Distrust in Media Hits New High.")
In other words, the media need a White House Correspondents’ Dinner like Donald Trump needs self-esteem training.
As Brokaw said about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on “Meet the Press” in May 2012, “If there’s ever an event that separates the press from the people it’s supposed to serve, symbolically, it’s that one. It is time to rethink it.”