Video: Conan O'Brien to host WHCA "nerd prom"

Not so long ago, the White House Correspondents Dinner actually served a good purpose. It allowed for a more human connection between a President and the tough media professionals clamoring to hold him accountable for his exercise of power. The last time Conan O’Brien hosted it, that made sense, and now he’s back again for a moment of nostalgia:

They hope that Conan doesn’t cross any lines? Why should he, when the press corps itself doesn’t seem interested in doing so? This news prompted me to write a rant for The Fiscal Times about the supine position that the Fourth Estate has taken during the Obama presidency, and which has been more clear than usual this week:

It’s true that Obama has managed to parlay friendly interviews into final words on subjects, with hardly any tough follow-up questions from reporters.  That’s not entirely from Obama’s choice of interviewers, however.  While noting that “[t]he super-safe, softball interview is an Obama specialty,” the pair point out that the most recent partner in that effort was CBS News’ Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, who normally has a reputation for playing hardball with American politicians.

Twenty-five years ago, CBS News anchor Dan Rather called then-Vice President George Bush a “wimp” and got a dressing-down from the World War II pilot.  Last month, when asked by Piers Morgan why Obama chose him, Kroft replied, “I think he knows that we’re not going to play gotcha with him.”  The result, said Kirsten Powers, was something that looked more like “propaganda” from “state-run media.”

Later in the same day as Politico’s essay explained that the press is somehow incapable of asking tough questions during an Obama interview, NBC’s Chuck Todd also insisted that this had nothing to do with a liberal bias in the media.  “[T]he mythology of the big, bad non-conservative media has gotten into some offices,” Todd replied when asked why Republican politicians have become more reluctant to appear on networks like NBC.  Just a couple of hours later, Todd’s network proudly announced that they had just hired Obama’s political strategist David Axelrod as their new political analyst, making Todd’s argument just a wee bit more difficult to take seriously. …

The “nerd prom” is an annual event, intended to provide a respite from the normally-intense scrutiny that the media applies to a President and allow for a more congenial atmosphere.  However, given the lack of intensity or scrutiny coming from the media during this presidency, we’re more likely to see O’Brien get tougher with the President than most of the attendees.  The dinner will give Americans a break from the clown show that has been the softball media treatment of Obama.

IBD isn’t impressed with NBC’s new choice of analyst, either:

As if media bias weren’t troublesome enough, the ascent of President Obama’s top strategist to a plum job at NBC creates an even bigger issue: that of the political establishment becoming the press. Where does it end?

In a way, the hiring of David Axelrod as “senior political analyst” providing commentary at NBC seems like a fool’s errand from a business standpoint.

After all, the White House senior adviser has pretty much been giving NBC and other big media outlets commentary for free during the Obama administration, if the slavish pro-Obama media bias, as well as secretive media-political collaborations such as the “JournoList” listserv are any indication.

But we doubt this is really about Axelrod’s “keen insights into the political process” or however the public relations department intends to market it.

It’s a payoff, a reward for past access, and a one-hand-washes-other act that marks the increasingly symbiotic relationship between the political establishment and the supposedly free and independent press.

Expect to see that on display at Nerd Prom, too, where comedians come closer to seriousness than most of the attendees.