Renowned broadcast journalist, Tom Brokaw denounced the on-goings of the White House Correspondents' Dinner (WHCD) in an interview with Politico on Friday. Brokaw blames Lindsay Lohan’s invite to the event last year by a Fox News journalist as his “breaking point.”
The annual dinner has been a withstanding tradition with the press and media since 1920, but an increase in criticism has been noted in recent years. Former op-ed columnist Frank Rich fore the New York Times in 2007 wrote on the dinner that journalists serve as a “supporting cast” to Washington (year round) and that the profession failed to understand “why it has lost the public’s faith.”
Which raises the question — was the WHCD ever a good idea to begin with? Should reporters, meant to serve the general public unbiased, be displayed as schmoozing it up with government officials and celebrities alike on C-SPAN?
It’s a yes and no type deal. While the criticisms toward the event are valid, it doesn’t mean that the WHCD itself is inherently bad. In fact, much about the event hasn't changed since its inauguration almost 100 years ago.
While the reporters in attendance can’t entirely separate Hollywood from journalism and politics, they can perhaps afford to be more self-aware. Or as Brokaw phrased it, less like narcissists interested in raising their own profiles. Outside of press and politics, the event is also robust in the spirit of charity and takes a much-needed departure from the high-stress bubble that encompasses Washington.
At the WHCD, journalists and the famous come together for a round of laughs mostly at the president's expanse. Current leader Barack Obama has proven more than a good sport about taking shots at himself — and his critics. The showcasing of his birth video is one that still remains popular on YouTube and across the internet.
The WHCD is regularly held on the last Saturday of each April and having celebrities join in on the festivities is nothing new — back in the day were just as much entertainment galore.
While the first formal dinner was held in 1920, its roots lay even further back in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson was said to desire regularly scheduled press conferences with reporters, but was unsure of who to invite to the conferences. Reporters in Washington were sent in a panic when a rumor dictated that the Congressional Standing Committee of Correspondents would do the picking. In response to the anxiety, a group of reporters founded the White House Correspondents’ Association.
A non-profit organization, the Association essentially is a club of journalists who report on everything and anything relating to the president and Washington. Attendance to the dinner used to be pretty sexist with a male exclusive audience, until President John F. Kennedy threatened to forgo the dinner if women weren’t included.
Despite the benefits of this humanizing event that picks apart the distance between the press corps., Washington, and well, everyone else, there still remains the question of credibility. Journalism, by nature, is a profession that thrives on credibility and trust. Without those two factors, any journalist's career can be put at risk, or even, finished. What commentary does partying with Lindsay Lohan having money come out of the wazoo during a time of financial crisis say about the reporters meant to be covering these issues? It certainly won't win them or the crumbling industry any brownie points.
A restraint in glamour and excess, just might.
The dinner this year is taking place on Saturday, April 27. It is to be headlined by television host and comedian Conan O’Brien.