What You Missed at the WH Correspondents' Dinner – Journalism Celebrated Itself Despite the Need to Be Disciplined

What You Missed at the WH Correspondents' Dinner – Journalism Celebrated Itself Despite the Need to Be Disciplined
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The triumphant return of the WHCA event was an exercise in journalism delusion.

Saturday night in D.C., there was an outbreak of glitzy catharsis as the privileged journalist set of our nation regathered once again for the formerly annual celebration of themselves, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. After two years with no ceremony due to COVID, the people most passionate about the pandemic jammed together in a ballroom to flaunt the very protocols they still want to foist on the public. 

Dr. Fauci managed to be a presence at the affair, while he was not actually present himself. (I’ll show shortly how this was something of a theme of the night.) Earlier in the week, there was a stir in the press circles when Doc Tony announced he would not be attending the dinner out of a sense of COVID caution. In typical Fauci fashion, this was another case of him contradicting himself, as just a day prior, he had come out to say the country had ended the pandemic phase. Also defying his own words – the diminutive doctor was spotted at pre-parties, snuggling with luminaries in maskless fashion.

Then there were the inevitable COVID hysterics…from those who were in attendance. The Washington Post’s Jada Yuan had to utter a hysterical nightmare scenario of the cloistered masses, literally describing the event as a “horror scene.” Bear in mind, that this was a gathering she willingly attended. Also, she seemed perfectly at ease when posting her own glamour shot and discussing the fashions she assembled for this slasher film gala.

As the night got underway it opened with a video shot by late-night talk host James Cordon. He was ostensibly coming to the White House to serve as a new Press Secretary. It was a slog of an unfunny routine taking five minutes as he meets President Biden, prattles with Jen Psaki, before taking the podium in the press room and taking questions from the media. Everyone behaves as if merely appearing on camera was enough to serve as comedy, while delivering the feel of a middle school talent show where a relative keeps insisting how fabulous the painfully unfabulous performance is for everyone.

Taking the podium was the President of the WHCA, Stephen Portnoy of CBS News Radio, to open the event. It took no time at all for this thing to go off the rails. Welcome to the country’s biggest annual celebration of the First Amendment,” said Portnoy ebulliently, to a room full of people who have spent the past few weeks screeching against First Amendment rights. These are the journalists who have been railing against the idea of Elon Musk opening up Twitter, telling us that people having the ability to express themselves freely was a threat to our Constitution.

It felt like a scene where they all raised a glass that had previously been resting atop the opening entry in The Bill of Rights.

Biden Correspondents Dinner
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Portnoy then turned things over for a series of media awards the WHCA hands out. One of those went to ABC News fixture Jonathan Karl, for his deadline reporting on the January 6 riot. Karl saw that the microphones had been abandoned briefly so he jumped in with a brief speech, declaring that the riot was not just an attack on the Capitol but was an “assault on our democracy,” in a completely neutral unbiased non-partisan fashion.

Gayle King, of the CBS Morning Show, was up to present a new award based on the pioneering POC correspondents, but she related an anecdote from earlier in the night. She was attempting to be photographed outside, but was loudly told to move, because “K-ete are here!” Nothing better exemplifies the import of journalism than Gayle King explaining how she and Drew Barrymore were pushed aside on the red carpet because Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson were arriving at the media gala…for some damned reason.

Soon after, there was a mention made that CNN’s April Ryan was in the audience, and it led to a standing ovation when it was noted that she recently became the longest-tenured African American White House correspondent. It felt like a scene from the Academy Awards, where they always feel a need to highlight when a winner is from a notable sub-category – She becomes just the first left-handed agnostic pescatarian to win for best cinematography.

After numerous references to the First Family at the podium (take a sip every time someone referenced ‘Dr. Jill Biden’), it now became time for the President to take to the teleprompter. To get a sense of the mood in the room, possibly the biggest reaction of the night was Biden making the point that all of the Fox News members in attendance had to be vaccinated and boosted in order to attend. 

Biden Correspondents Dinner
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

As expected, the scripted humor for Joe was tepid, at best, with the crowd dutifully laughing at the mirthless punchlines. One gag that thudded like an airline engine falling off of a wing was when Joe mentioned his predecessor losing, and would make it up to him by having his Chief of Staff go over to Fox News, “so he could tell Sean Hannity what to say every day.” This not only made little sense but falls even flatter considering big administration names such as Jen Psaki and Symone Sanders moved to MSNBC to do this very thing.

Joe actually delivered one of the more pointed lines of the night, saying “I’m really excited to be here tonight with the only group of Americans with a lower approval than I have.” They say that the best humor is rooted in the truth, but sometimes that truth looms larger than the humor itself. 

Finally, the night’s featured speaker came up, Trevor Noah, host of the comedic The Daily Show. He did a passable job, comfortable enough as he delivered the expected jabs at a roast with all the impact of a bean bag tossed underhand. One of the more scathing lines of barbs was directed at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who Noah continuously referenced as being in the room. The truth delivery experts in the country ate this up, while completely glossing over the fact that DeSantis was actually not in attendance. The Miami Herald, of course, tried to hold onto the dream that he was there, receiving insulting commentary in person.

Trevor did manage to utter a few biting quips, which largely were not warmly received because, despite all the claims that the night was about self-effacing humor, these journalists do not appreciate having their careers mocked. He called out to Chuck Todd, and said “Chuck Todd, how are you doing? I’d ask for a follow-up, but you don’t know what those are.’’ When he turned to Jen Psaki on the dais Noah dared mention her departure to MSNBC. 

But you know, moving to MSNBC is going to be a big switch up for you. Right now your job is to make the Biden administration look as good as possible, at all costs. Now you’re going to be at MSNBC and you’re going to have to uh…well, you’ll be fine actually…”   

Most notable, however, were Noah’s closing remarks, where he turned serious and schooled these press members on the task of their profession. Noah managed to deliver words that needed to be absorbed by the working media members in attendance.

The key quote to hang onto, here: “You realize how amazing it is in America that you have the right to seek the truth, and speak the truth – even if it makes people in power uncomfortable. Even if it makes your viewers, or your readers, uncomfortable.” 

Now, consider what we have seen from this same press corps the past few weeks, as they railed against the idea of a social platform being opened up to people to have more of a say. Journalists have been squealing about people having a more open forum, and that they as the drivers of the news will lose their grip on the national narrative – it is the journalists who are being made uncomfortable. This means, at least on an information level, they see themselves as the people in power.

Talk about missing the point directly in front of them. The gathered throng at this journalism event prefers to see this night as their version of the Academy Awards, but there is a noted difference in the similarities of glamour and congratulatory back-slapping; the journalists miss the point that they are creating their own problem by battling the very freedoms their industry subsists upon. They toast the First Amendment, all while seeing that right as theirs, and theirs alone. Others enjoying that same freedom are regarded as a threat.

The Oscars possess an over-inflated sense of self-worth, while the Nerd Prom is a display of a lack of self-awareness. It’s amazing how many people could get dolled up in the mirror, while at the same time never managing to see themselves.

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