Time again for Washington’s most grotesque spectacle, the one night of the year when the media drops the pretense that it’s at odds with America’s ruling class and excitedly acknowledges its membership in it. The only concession to shame is the cutesy self-deprecation of “nerd prom” to describe the event, a half-hearted attempt by attendees to cope with their enormous privilege. Ironically, this is also the one night of the year when Obama’s sort of likable, as his speech is usually pretty funny. I wonder if he’ll be able to resist a Hillary joke or two given the abundance of material lately. How could he not laugh about his Secretary of State flagrantly defying every norm of ethics and accountability that candidate Obama called for during the heyday of Hopenchange in 2008? It’s a laugh riot.
Politico reporter Patrick Gavin took a break from work this past year to make a documentary about the WHCD, which used to be known mainly for the president telling jokes, then became a celebrity freak show, and now exists as a four-day cavalcade of parties in which politicians, the media, and corporate sponsors get together to backslap other. Believe it or not, notes Gavin, this dinner is supposed to be about raising money to fund scholarships for kids. Emphasis on “supposed to be.”
[W]hy … does the Association only dole out around $100,000 in scholarships annually when some of the richest people in the world are at their dinner? (See: Rupert Murdoch, George Lucas, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, Steve Case, Sheila Johnson, Ryan Seacrest.)
Let’s not forget that this is a town known for its fundraising prowess. If you think those folks won’t cut some serious checks for the scholarship program as the president of the United States and other notables look on and applaud you, then you don’t know how fundraising works…
Everywhere you look there are parties glomming onto the WHCA dinner by trying to squeeze under the umbrella of White House correspondents. There’s “The White House Correspondents’ Garden Brunch,” “The New Media Party to celebrate the Centennial White House Correspondents Dinner,” “The Welcome Reception celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” and “Fusion’s White House Correspondents’ Party.” The list goes on.
But there’s an ugly little secret about all of these hangers on: Whiston says that none of them actually donate to the White House Correspondents’ Association’s scholarship program. Worst still? Whiston and the Association don’t even bother to ask them to.
There are, I believe, something like 2,600 tickets handed out to the WHCD. Imagine if the Association asked $50,000 per ticket for D.C.’s most exclusive political event, a chance to hobnob with Hollywood A-listers, cabinet members, the creme de la creme of political media, and the president of the United States. Think they could get it? Even if you needed corporate sponsors to step in, buy up the tickets, and then dispense them to celebs as part of some advertising arrangement, they’d still raise — wait for it — $130 million. If, as Gavin writes, the ruling class insists on “a tacky and vainglorious self-celebration at a time when most Americans don’t think Washingtonians have much to be commended for,” they could at least atone by actually making it for a good cause instead of merely pretending.
The host tonight is Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live,” the first woman to emcee since Wanda Sykes in 2009 and probably not someone who’s going to give Obama a hard time from the podium. Which raises another good point by Gavin: You would think that a press association, with the president sitting right in front of them, might want to mention that he’s run the most press-restrictive administration in modern American history. If they wanted to be really bold they could have disinvited him in protest; at the very least, they could have Strong or the head of the WHCA mention it tonight during their remarks to make Obama squirm. As it is, he’s the guest of honor and it’ll probably pass uncommented upon. Unless Obama himself makes a joke about it, that is.
C-SPAN will carry the whole thing live, including the (gulp) red carpet. That starts at 6 p.m. ET, with the dinner itself set for 7 p.m. and Obama and Strong due to speak starting sometime after 8, I’d guess. Via Vanity Fair, here’s a snippet from Gavin’s documentary that demonstrates just how far this clusterfark has gotten from its original purpose.