There’s something truly awe-inspiring about the Washington media’s resumption of the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in all its tacky, wince-worthy depravity. It’s as if they hadn’t spent the last several years pretending to have gone through a profound reckoning, acknowledging it as a decadent and unnecessary affair that bred suspicion of journalists being too in bed, literally, with the people they’re supposed to be holding accountable on behalf of the public.
All it took was one election to go the media’s way, and boy, did that farce end fast.
CNN ran a promo for its coverage of the event, referring to the dinner as “the unforgettable, star-studded event.” The flashy spot featured clips of the channel’s anchors in pricey formal wear, posing for photos with celebrities on a red carpet, beaming in their most pathetic environment.
It was just six years ago that the very same CNN made a big statement about its “commitment to the health and longevity of a free press” by foregoing the usual celebrity guests at its reserved table and instead inviting journalism students. It was “Make A Wish,” but with a heaping of self-reverence.
During that same time, NPR ran a segment titled “Journalists Reconsider Purpose Of The White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” though the reconsidering of the event was something that happened every single year — the media would take a week in the beauty of springtime to party it up with celebrities (mostly B- and C-List) and highlight their close, personal relationships with government officials. And when it was over, they would take turns lamenting the optics, hand wringing over the possibility that regular readers and viewers might get the wrong idea, a false impression that the media were more or less just an extension of Washington rather than a means for the public to keep it in check.
As recently as 2019 — the last year that the event was hosted until 2023 — an article in Politico claimed that the dinner was “shrinking back to the boring awards ceremony journalists claimed to prefer.”
Tom Brokaw was wheeled out yearly to claim that preference. “I don’t think the big press event in Washington should be that kind of glittering event,” he said in 2012, “where the whole talk is about Cristal champagne, taking over the Italian embassy, who had the best party, who got to meet the most people.” The following year, he said, “This is one of the issues that we have to address. What kind of image do we present to the rest of the country? Are we doing their business, or are we just a group of narcissists who are mostly interested in elevating our own profiles?”
But the idea was never wrong, and the impression wasn’t false. The dinner — encased in back-to-back parties — is exactly what it always looked like.
Trump gave the media an excuse to pretend otherwise. But while he’s gone from Washington, they’re back and happier than ever to distinguish themselves from everyone else outside the city. This time, they didn’t suggest otherwise.