Friday, May 8, 2009

Mixed Vegetables with the President

I do not mock the White House Correspondents Association dinner, though it is easy enough to do.

The prom is Saturday night at the Hinckley Hilton, as ever, and both the smarty-pants set and the "mainstream media" alternate between making fun of the event and speculating about who will be sitting next to Tyra Banks or the Secretary of State or David Axelrod.

I went to a few of these dinners when I was a Washington correspondent for a large Midwestern newspaper, and I generally had a pretty good time.

I would often go with my friend Iris Burnett. Her husband, David, would take photos of us in our party duds and upon arrival Iris would immediately start working 3000 or so people in the room. I would not see her again that evening.

Getting pretty liquored up seemed a prority. My newspaper would generally sponsor a "hospitality suite" before dinner, a good place to establish a beachhead, have several Scotches and figure out which news organization had outdone itself pointlessly rounding up celebrities.

My paper was pretty lame in that regard, but one year a colleague invited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and he showed up. I got to watch him drink and smoke cigarettes, which was fun, and his skills at small talk were just fine.

My experience was that the evening tended to work better if you didn't think much about it.

It wasn't surprising to me how many people who did not get to go to the dinner would argue that it was an exercise in elitist back-scratching, an inapporopriate mingling of reporters and sources that threatened the very fabric of the Republic.

No, what was surprising was how many people who did get to go to the dinner made these same arguments, at least in public.

I had bureau chief for a while who made something of a name for himself whinging about the worms-in-a-bottle nature of the WHCA dinner and DC generally. But every year he'd get to the dinner, then figure out a way to get invited to English commentator Christopher Hitchens' post-party to discuss the great issues of the day with Tom Selleck and that Huffington woman.

I never got invited to that party, but, for the record, Tom Selleck is a hell of a nice guy.

See, it's just a dinner. Too much is made of it. It's a certainty that the sweathogs on Fox News will spend a good chunk of the weekend railing about the press sucking up to President Obama and citing the dinner as evidence.

The New York Times will not attend the dinner. They don't, except when they do.

Me, I never understood why people refuse to grasp a simple fact: People who are interested in the same stuff tend to cluster. For example: The only people who really care about this senator's health care proposal of that congresswoman's political campaign are journalists. That drives the politicos and the pure of heart nuts, but it's true.

So they show up and circle one another, reporters holding a pithy policy assessment in abeyance in case they get a word with the head of OMB or Ray LaHood.

Never my approach. Not my dinner memories. More interesting to note that Dennis Hopper is really, really short. That Colin Powell looks terrified when talking to Barbra Streisand. That Dana Delany looks fetching in a Size One dress. (She's very nice as well). That nothing caps off the evening like being introduced to Richard Dreyfuss' "policy guy."

No regrets. Except for missing the year when Stephen Colbert pissed off the entire Washington press corps. Would have liked to have been half-drunk for that one.


  1. Nice piece of work, StevieD!xx

  2. Used to be invited whenever I had a title. No celebs until Ms. Fawn Hall broke the barrier. Those days, booze and cigars. Today, why chat with Ben Bernanke when you can discuss global economics with Demi Moore. Actually, I'd prefer that. Good copy Daley.

    Charley Powers

  3. Squire,

    An excellent, dry-witted swipe at the hypocrisy of those who cry against such schmoozing only to suck up mightily at the very event.