Ditching Washington's Red Carpet

WHCD Pamela Anderson
Pamela Anderson on the White House Correspondents Dinner Red Carpet by angela n. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

George Washington famously and understandably despised and avoided the airs of royalty, and would have none of them during his presidency. He was a man who prized civility, yes, but the man who refused to be King. He didn’t believe the political class in the newly formed nation of men should be treated like the royals and lords of the monarchy America had just thrown off. He was Mr. President, not Your Highness. It leaves you to wonder how he would feel, then, about Washington, DC today, with its celebrity President and rock star mentality.

It is also true that the press in our nation has traditionally embraced and, at times, wallowed in the adversarial role of keepers of the people’s interests, both prurient and pure, against the interests or oppression of a controlling government. Granted, most of those wallow times have magically coincided with republican Presidents for the last half century, but he fact remains that Americans have treasured and held close the ideal of the renegade press demanding answers from the government. Holding them to account. Keeping them on their toes. But not, one hopes, on their twinkle toes.

Nerd Prom. That is the nickname given to the annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner, a lately grotesque and fawning affair where glitz and glamour replace camaraderie and the reminders of men as countrymen. It is more than a dinner. It is what Newsweek calls a “bacchanal of brunches and parties, vodka bars and swag bags,” which they compare to the Super Bowl. Top media elites, Hollywood celebrities, and politicians gather together in DC for a gala event, carried on cable news and damn the competing news, to rub shoulders and elbows and whatever other body parts they can in a spectacle that the man for whom the city was named would find shameful and not to a small degree aristocratic. And nothing exemplifies this farce more than the despicable red carpet.

Like something out of a movie premiere, the favored few traipse up the Very Important Person runway, to have their pictures taken with one another, to see and be seen. Grotesque. But perhaps, ready for a change.

This year, the documentary film Nerd Prom premiered, which not only documents the hoopla and the glitz but examines it, and the conscience of it. It made a few people uncomfortable, and hopefully, put the wheels in motion for at least one change. A small thing in the great scope, but good thing: it may be time that the red carpet finally dies.

The White House Correspondent’s Association is voting for a new president, and due in no small part to the documentary, the insanity of the WHCD is one of the issues the potential candidates are facing. Nerd Prom has generated a great deal of coverage in the last month or so that expresses the angst many a red state conservative has felt watching the circus, and people are finally taking note of, and perhaps experiencing some embarrassment over just how ridiculous things have become. Newsweek wrote:

With all this excess comes Washington’s version of a moral dilemma. Is this week of partying too much? Does it divide the press from the people they serve, as charged by Tom Brokaw, the former NBC anchor who no longer attends these events even while MSNBC throws one of the largest parties?

The paragraph is itself worthy of parody. That we even have to ask the question is the answer.

The Daily Banter notes that ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl is one of the names in consideration for the Association President who, believe it or not, has responsibilities outside of Party Director.

“I am not a fan (of the red carpet) either,” Karl says, echoing everyone I’ve ever asked about it, albeit more mildly. He adds that “I don’t think getting rid of it is practical, however. News organizations will still want some venue to interview people coming into the dinner.”

This is true, but changing the staging, even if it were just making the carpet a different color and setting some rules of conduct for the media, could have some impact on the circus atmosphere.

“Of course there has to be a more dignified way than the red carpet,” Karl says, adding “that’s something to think about going forward.”

Patrick Gavin, who created the documentary, spoke to National Review recently about the event and what he learned, both as a participant and as a documentarian. “To be honest, far fewer Washingtonians are bothered by the week than should be,” he said. “We’ve kind of become conditioned to the circus of it all, which is a tragedy in and of itself.”

Tragic is the right word. The idea of friendly adversaries gathering together to break bread, perhaps roast each other a bit, and show that we are all Americans, while still respecting the job each side has to do, is a nice one. But it is a fiction in today’s DC. A memory. Maybe in our modern 24/7 news culture, where everything is something and we all talk about it on social media, it can never be that again. But maybe it can be made just a little better. Getting rid of the red carpet – really getting rid of it, not just changing the color of the carpet – would be at least a step in the right direction.

Dignified doesn’t always mean somber or stuffy. There can be a dignity to the event even while it retains the rowdiness of a roast. Let’s scrap the scrambling for pictures on the red carpet so we can at least pretend we aren’t subjects watching the nobles gather for a royal ball.