Remember the sturm und drang two weeks ago following the annual Washington Correspondents Association dinner? The capital press corps was chastised once again for their coziness to power, a few scathing columns attacked a culture of journalistic complacency, and eventually The New York Times announced, through Frank Rich’s Sunday op-ed, that it would no longer attend the event.
Rich gave a good synopsis of why the sight of journalists clinking drinks with press secretaries should offend us all, especially in these days:
This fete is a crystallization of the press’s failures in the post-9/11 era: it illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows. Such is literally the case at the annual dinner, where journalists serve as a supporting cast, but it has been figuratively true year-round. The press has enabled stunts from the manufactured threat of imminent ‘mushroom clouds’ to ‘Saving Private Lynch’ to ‘Mission Accomplished,’ whose fourth anniversary arrives on Tuesday. For all the recrimination, self-flagellation and reforms that followed these journalistic failures, it’s far from clear that the entire profession yet understands why it has lost the public’s faith.
What a bizarre feeling, then, when we opened the paper this morning and scanned the list of guests at last night’s white tie dinner at the White House, in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s visit. Along with the football players, racehorse jockeys, and the ubiquitous Henry Kissinger, were the following four names and affiliations:
David Gregory, White House correspondent, NBC.
Steven Holland, White House correspondent, Reuters.
Richard Wolffe, White House correspondent, Newsweek.
Robin Roberts, ABC.
Huh? Have these people not learned that, at the very least, being seen in a tux schmoozing with Condi and Cheney and Bush undermines our confidence in their abilities to report honestly on these leaders? If anything, this should be a time to do as the Times has done, and retreat from these kinds of public gatherings of press and president. There is no benefit to the news organization or the reporter for attending such an event—except, of course, if you consider the five-course meal that featured “spring pea soup with fern leaf lavender,” “saddle of spring lamb,” and three different wines.
Don’t get us wrong. The members of the press who were there to cover the event—as opposed to attending it—did get to taste part of the meal. They were given samples of the petit-fours that would be served for dessert. But that’s about as much as any good reporter should stomach.