Not-So-Starry Night

LAT's predictably "Hollywood" coverage of Obama fundraiser

So the Los Angeles Times covered the big Obama fundraiser in Hollywood last night. There’s plenty mention of the stars in attendance—Will Ferrell, Sarah Silverman, and Leonardo DiCaprio among them. And we get numbers—well, numbers of a certain kind: Tickets to the reception and dinner at the Greystone Mansion went for $28,500. Entry to the Regent Beverly Wilshire, where Barbra Streisand performed, cost $2,500. There were 300 guests in attendance at the first, and 800 at the latter.

Come on, there’s more to write about than this. The LAT is already in danger of being framed as an entertainment rag; it shouldn’t add to that trending reputation by publishing a piece that dwells on the logistics of an event attended by politically responsive glitterati. At least, that shouldn’t be the focus.

Particularly when the two candidates are taking such different routes to financing their campaigns, fundraisers like this one are prime opportunities to add some contextual meat to the (right) numbers. And while writing about celebrity attendance might practically be a requirement in Tinseltown, it’s important to go beyond call-and-response-style quotes like this one:

As if on cue, John McCain used the Illinois senator’s lucrative detour from battleground states to Beverly Hills to mock Obama’s professed solidarity with working people… “Let me tell you, my friends, there’s no place I’d rather be than right here with the working men and women of Ohio,” McCain told cheering supporters in Vienna, Ohio…

Writers Dan Morain and Michael Finnegan state that the evening “came fraught with risk,” referring to the expectation that Obama would be unfavorably associated with Hollywood’s ruling class at a time of economic hardship. Backing up that (valid albeit simplistic) argument is a video clip paired with the article, a KTLA broadcast segment from Tuesday night, which rather obtusely contrasts the Rolls Royces parked outside the event with the current travails of the economy. “Barack Obama says he understands the economy, and it’s hard to doubt that when the senator can raise millions of dollars in just one day for throwing a few dinner parties,” the reporter says glibly in the voiceover. (It’s no fault of the LAT reporters that the segment is so bad, but it’s an unfortunate pairing nonetheless.)

The problem with reportage like this is that in covering the lavishness of the affair and yet wanting to not completely deemphasize the Important Issues, the LAT ends up with a trite wedding of the two, which is, perhaps, the worst possible outcome (since Obama’s lucrative fundraiser in fact has nothing to do with his understanding of the American economy). And in the process, it misses an opportunity to address more significant fundraising questions.

For an example of one of these more significant questions, check out today’s Washington Post. The article, written by Matthew Mosk, looks into McCain’s questionable use of joint fundraising committees and “hybrid ads” (campaign ads which minimally tout GOP items in order to qualify for RNC funding) to raise pools of money outside of the public funds he is receiving. The article, which uses the same quotes from McCain that the LAT did, is a particularly good example of how to weave a glossy event like last night’s into the bigger story of campaign finance. And that’s a more important fundraising story than the one in which Obama is out of touch with America’s economic woes because he receives money from Tobey Maguire.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.