May 03, 2018

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson

Numero Two-o: Most headliners shows are off the record, and this was formerly the case with the White House Correspondents Dinner as well. It wasn’t exactly a secret, but you didn’t write about it, and you certainly didn’t post YouTube videos. The whole idea was to create camaraderie among groups who would normally never drink together, but do it in a comfortable environment beyond press scrutiny.

This aspect of the event was roundly criticized this past week, with several reporters saying, “We shouldn’t be seen cozying up to our sources.”

Leave it to journalists to say something this idiotic. First of all, cozying up to your sources is what you’re supposed to do to get the sources to give you information. Second, is it better to bring in a hitwoman to demean your sources? But most important, the close contact between reporters and public officialdom has all kinds of unintended consequences, most of them positive. The hanging judge, after several years of being lampooned as a tyrant, becomes a little more lenient in his verdicts—because he has respect for the people who are jabbing at him. The idealistic reporter who dislikes the real-estate developer can’t feel quite the same way after he’s performed “Tea for Two” with him in drag. I became friends with a great federal judge, Jerry Buchmeyer, because he included me in a tongue-in-cheek footnote in one of his written decisions and later sought my opinion of his opinions written in iambic pentameter verse.

The reason cozying up is a good idea is that it humanizes everyone. It makes the reporting better and it makes the public officials more aware of their environment.

The problem with the White House Correspondents Dinner is that they apparently don’t care about this aspect of the event. They’re quite happy to make it into a national spectacle. So that’s their fault, not Michelle Wolf’s.

Numero Three-o: The headliners tradition is a mutual interconnected jousting game, with the officials going at the press and the press going at the officials and a lot of self-deprecation. Somebody could have offered Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway some podium time and some joke-writing help and they could have done something self-parodic and amusing and it would have gone light-years toward softening the bitterness. Ultimately these events are all about showing the clay feet of the government, and the clay feet of the press, and the common humanity of people who spend their days in conflict. The alcohol helps as well.

The White House correspondents, in short, are lazy. They hire a professional comedian who has no more sense of the role of the press than a plumber, and they abdicate their own responsibility to put on a stupid hat and sing bad songs. There are press clubs in Nebraska that could put them to shame. The fiasco of last Saturday night is not Michelle Wolf’s fault—she was a selfish tone-deaf hustler promoting herself—and it was not Donald Trump’s fault—he stays away from the event because he knows he can’t be funny—and it was not the fault of the organization that decided to hold the event in the first place. It was the fault of a generation of journalists who don’t know how to party, don’t know how to play the fool, don’t know how to accept the faults of their antagonists in government, don’t know how to rap or sing or dance or do any of the things normally done at these events—a generation of journalists who think it’s all about fact-checking and being right 100 percent of the time and keeping an all-business face to make sure nobody makes fun of them. A generation of journalists so boring they can’t even enjoy being journalists, much less reporters.

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